Peak Oil – Are We There Yet?

Ten years ago, an academic named Richard Heinberg published a book that landed like a bomb. The Party’s Over predicted that global oil production would soon peak, forcing tectonic changes for industrial society. The book – praised by environmentalists, name-checked by Bill Clinton – was the first in what would become a whole peak oil literature. A decade later, we still haven’t hit the peak, and new, extreme sources of energy threaten to fuel climate change for years to come. So, were the peak oil-ers wrong? And does the idea of energy depletion help or hurt the effort to break our fossil fuel addiction? Tom Athanasiou, director of Eco Equity, says we have enough fossil fuels to roast the planet, and that peak oil is a dangerous distraction. Aaron Lehmer-Chang, an advocate for locally resilient communities, argues that peak oil is a potent way to talk about our reliance on fossil fuels.

Preparedness Matters More than CO2 Targets

by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang

Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang is an author, activist, and social entrepreneur. He is also a member of the Oakland Food Policy Council and co-founder of Bay Localize, a project of Earth Island Institute.

If we environmentalists were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that several decades of heroic efforts to curb carbon emissions have yielded little progress. Despite repeated warnings from scientists and the inspiring rise of climate activism, global emissions continue to grow, having recently passed the dangerous threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere.

“Passing the 400 [ppm] mark reminds me that we are on an inexorable march to 450 ppm and much higher levels,” says Dr. Michael Gunson of the Global Change & Energy Program. Such views are sobering, to say the least, especially knowing that it takes about four decades for the impacts of prior emissions to take full effect. We’ve already witnessed nearly a 1°C increase in average global temperatures from emissions between 1900 and the early 1970s. If you add the emissions “already in the pipeline” over the decades since, we’re almost guaranteed another 0.5°C in warming by mid-century. This would take us precariously close to the much-dreaded 2°C increase that scientists warn would have severe climate impacts on social and natural systems.

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We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

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