• Peak oil - the end of capitalism, or the beginning?

last modified September 5, 2018 by strypey

In the comment thread following the story of the expanding island, Lentil asks why does the end of oil mean the end of capitalism? It's a good question. Danyl Strype attempts an answer that relate the question back to planet Earth, where we all live.

Why does the end of oil mean the end of capitalism? It's a good question. First, I'd like to point out that this is not a universal view. It's the view of some factions of peak oil researchers, eco-feminists, deep ecologists, and anarcho-primitivists. On the other hand, lots of neo-marxist revolutionaries (including a large proportion of the anarchists) think the end of oil will lead to a multiplicity of localised fascism (which they categorise as a form of capitalism) just as the end of the national regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan led to the resurgence of smaller scale warlords. I assume they think global communist paradise will be achieved by pre-planning an armed, global revolutionary movement to suppress the warlords, but you'd have to ask them.

Personally, I'm not interested in such worst case scenarios. To quote one peak oil writer (Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi oil minister during the 1970s), "The stone age didn't end for lack of stone". The fact is that we've had the means to end oil dependence for most of the last century, but in the 'developed' world (ironic that people assume 'developed' as in *finished* is superior to 'developing') mainsteam society has failed to make this transition to a deeper technological base. Why? For the same reason most people have not made the transition from Windows to a free code operating system (eg GNU/ Linux), despite its technical and developmental superiority. Because of old fashioned inertia - using something new is never as convenient as sticking with the devil you know - and because there are hugely powerful vested interest using every means at their disposal to keep it from happening. Microsoft do it by technical lock-in, domination of standards, mass dispersal of anti-freedom FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt ie propaganda) etc. The oil, forestry and pharmaceutical industry do it via the war on drugs (suppressing hemp production to create a market for oil-based plastics, fuel, paper, patented drugs etc), amongst other things.

However, as the current resource base for this system (ie fossil fuels) dries up and it loses the power to pull the wool over people's eyes, there will be a transition. It will involve a more efficient use of resources, and more intelligent application of technology, but it will not be based on the use of highly concentrated, non-renewable energy to convert living matter into dead matter. From an industrial worldview, it will be a path of 'energy descent', although in truth it will probably capture, store, transform, and harvest from a much larger pool of energy than fossil fuel based industry ever has. Ever compared a city with a forest, and wondered why so much energy is expended to create such a relatively lifeless landscape, or what it would be like to transcend and include the best of both worlds?

This transition will be bad news for the nanny states, the corporate ogres, the media panopticon, and other large-scale accumulations of power. Why? Because energy descent will involve an *unavoidable* global relocalization of management (for the reasons given above by the peak oil activists); of the 'political' realm monopolised by the state; of the 'economic' realm monopolised by corporations; of the 'communications' realm monopolised by mass media etc.There is no guarantee that this will collapse the remains of the class system, the overt patriarchy (and covert matriarchy), religious heirarchy etc and establish an integrated, peer-to-peer economic/ political/ media democracy, but it would be a damn good opportunity to try, and I suspect greatly increase our chances of a successful transition.

Whether it's an anticapitalist transition to a pure communist state that's never before existed, or a pro-capitalist transition to a true free market that's never before existed, is a matter of semantics. In fact, all isms are wasms, and this schoolyard debate between favoured 'isms' is a massive distraction from the serious issues of transition that lie ahead of us.

"Buckle up, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye..." - the Matrix

Some sites for further research:

Permaculture in NZ

Transition Towns in Aotearoa (NZ)

Creative Commons Aotearoa (NZ)

Open Source Society of NZ

Tech Liberty

Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives

Projects for a Participatory Society

Public Patents Foundation

Science Commons

Conservation Commons


Originally published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org (June, 2010)