Surviving the “Oiligopalypse”

Surviving the “Oiligopalypse”   —by Jinny Batterson

Oiligopalypse—noun: slow-moving global destruction due to the concentrated political and economic power of a small group of fossil fuel interests. 

As Hallowe’en approaches, it seems appropriate to spend time thinking about scary things. Looking around, the oiligopalypse is the scariest thing out there: An oligarchy of oil interests steering us into a slow-motion apocalypse of unimaginable proportions and duration. Even the horrific imagery in the Biblical book of Revelation may not exceed the fires, floods, and wholesale unraveling of ecological and social fabric that we are just beginning to experience.

The oiligopalypse has been many years in the making. The first hints of possible negative impacts on earth’s climate from over-reliance on fossil fuel combustion came over a century ago, during the “Gilded Age” of wealthy industrialists in the late 19th century. In more recent times, concerns focused instead on possible fossil fuel shortages, after a consortium of oil-exporting countries began to restrict supply and to demand higher prices for their crude oil. A difficult period of adjustment led to more efficient use of fuels, innovative ways (like fracking) of extracting more fuel from existing deposits, and greater use of previously discarded “by-products” such as natural gas and methane. 

In the early 1990’s, we experienced both the first Gulf War, to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait’s oil fields, and a highly publicized global attempt to mitigate human climate impact via the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. Retreating Iraqi troops set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells and damaged dozens more, creating a plume of smoke and ash visible from space and fusing about 5% of Kuwait’s surface area into impenetrable “tarcrete.” During the Earth Summit, a binding agreement on biological diversity was signed, along with an initial framework convention on confronting climate change.   

Since then, we’re made halting attempts to address climate change and to rein in our use of fossil fuels, both individually and collectively. Globally, efforts have often foundered on the differences between already-industrialized economies and those still in the process of becoming more fully industrial. Many “developing” nations have bridled at what they view as strictures from North Americans and Europeans to “do as we say, not as we did” without providing needed development assistance to ease global transitions away from fossil fuels.  

Greenhouse gas levels, in the meantime, have reached dangerous heights. Extreme weather events such as prolonged droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods, and monster storms have been decisively linked to human-induced climate change. Earth’s oceans are warming, sea levels are rising, our warming atmosphere has greater moisture-holding capacity, resulting in more intense rain events. Security officials in many parts of the globe refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” increasing the likelihoods of mass starvation, uncontrollable migration, and armed conflict.    

It’s sensible to be scared of an oiligopalypse. What can we humans do to reduce our chances of drowning, burning, dying of hunger or thirst, or of wheezing our way into oblivion? Wringing our hands and/or counting just on improved technology won’t cut it. We’ll need to exhibit more of the human ingenuity that has gotten our species through previous crises, putting our minds, hearts, and material resources into adapting to the changing climate. A few suggestions:

—Get to know your geographical neighbors; set up mutual help networks. When there’s an extreme weather event, far-flung Facebook friends will be of minimal help. You’ll need to give and receive assistance first from those who live nearest you.   

—Simplify your lifestyle and tool set. Find less fuel-intensive ways to get around and to provide food, clothing, and shelter. Walk, bike, use public transportation, optimize your route for a greater proportion of your errands; grow a little of your own food; shop local farmers’ markets and second hand shops; downsize or share living space.  

—Use improved communication channels such as the internet and cell phones to get reliable information about lifestyle alternatives, to broaden your network of climate-savvy friends and acquaintances, and to lobby your elected officials at all levels for better climate stewardship.

—Plant trees that will by one future Hallowe’en have grown large enough so someone’s grandchildren can crouch behind them, then jump out with fake menace shouting “boo!” 

The oiligopalypse, a real menace, is coming. Let’s get ready.     

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