Energy Vanguard Blog

The Optimism of Pessimism in the Age of Peak Oil

Posted by Allison Bailes on Tue, Oct 19, 2010

The optimism of pessimism in the peak oil worldFive years ago I read a book that freaked the hell out of me - The Long Emergency by Jim Kunstler. I was drinking a lot of peak oil kool-aid that year, but that book really got to me in a way that the others didn't. I had to re-evaluate everything I thought about how the future might unfold, and it scared the crap out of me. It took months before I started to feel 'normal' again.

This happened in 2005-06, at the height of the 'irrational exuberance' (to use Alan Greenspan's term) of the real estate boom. After reading that book, everywhere I looked, I saw an economy hell-bent on creating and servicing suburbia, and it all looked like a house of cards. I feared that the slightest breeze was going to bring it down, and I wondered if I'd survive the social and economic chaos to follow the collapse.

I envisioned hordes of people pouring out of Atlanta and over-running the little farm I lived on at the time. My worst post-apocalyptic nightmares were about to come true. Did I haveGrowing food on a small farm enough time to assemble a band of like-minded souls to come and farm with me and ward off intruders? Would I have to kill someone to survive? Oh, man, the end of the world is nerve-wracking.

The good news is that that economic breeze came in 2008, and although our house of cards swayed, it hasn't all fallen down. We're still chugging along, albeit at a slower, more realistic pace, and the cards are getting reshuffled a bit. The structure is changing slowly but surely, too, as we rebuild the house.

I think the new construction industry may never be what it was just five years ago. We're facing the end of growth, I believe, and seeing a little economic pessimism actually makes me optimistic that we can survive it. The alternative is overshoot, which some say we can't avoid at this point.

I'm optimistic, though, because not only did we survive the economic downturn, but also we're having to undergo a complete re-evaluation of how we do things.

I'm optimistic because the economic pessimism is bringing us back down to Earth. We're having to learn how to live within our means, individually and collectively.

I'm optimistic because I believe that the work I do is critical to moving through this transition in human history as gracefully as possible.

The age of oil in the broader context of human history

This is a special post that's part of the Let's Blog Off phenomenon, which I found out about from Sean Lintow of SLS Construction. The theme for this week's Blog Off is "Is there a reason to be optimistic?" You can see the topic page by clicking the previous link, or go directly to any of the posts by other participating bloggers by clicking the links below.

BloggerTwitterBlog Post Link
Veronika Miller @modenus Modenus Community
Paul Anater @paul_anater Kitchen and Residential Design
Rufus Dogg @dogwalkblog
Becky Shankle @ecomod Eco-Modernism
Bob Borson @bobborson Life of an Architect
Bonnie Harris @waxgirl333 Wax Marketing
Nick Lovelady @cupboards Cupboards Kitchen and Bath
Tamara Dalton @tammyjdalton Tamara Dalton Design Studios
Sean Lintow, Sr. @SLSconstruction
Cindy FrewenWuellner @Urbanverse Urbanverse's Posterous
Steve Mouzon @stevemouzon Original Green
Madame Sunday @ModernSauce Modern Sauce
Saxon Henry @saxonhenry Roaming by Design
Brian Meeks @ExtremelyAvg Extremely Average
Denese Bottrell @Denese_Bottrell Thoughtful Content
Chamois Green @chamwashere Cham Was Here
Betsy De Maio @egrgirl Egrgirl's Blog
Steve Kleber @stevekleber Marketing Home Products
Allison A. Bailes III @EnergyVanguard Energy Vanguard Blog
Ami @beckami Multifarious Miscellany


Emergency Exit photo by lucianvenutian, at

Tags: education, environment & sustainability, peak oil