Sunday, November 11, 2007

World Building and Peak Oil

With apologies to my dear blogfriends who say I make them smile...

For those who read my spec fiction and wonder where I draw my worldbuilding inspiration, there will be a show on the History Channel this Tuesday, November 13. It's called Oil Apocalypse and some info about the show is here.

Petroleum is the bedrock of our current society and it's so much more than just your car! It's food-- fertilizer, tractors, and trucks to ship the stuff to your grocery store. It's home heating oil. In some parts of the country, it's electricity. It's the cheap goods from China that came here on a diesel-fueled ship. It's our military, no matter where they fight or whether you think they should be fighting at all. It's our space program. It's asphalt roads. It's the plane that takes you on vacation or to visit your relatives. It's medicine. It's plastic. Look around you right now and imagine what it would take to replace every plastic item with something made of something else. We'd need rubber (brought by diesel ship), wood (shipped by truck and rail), metal and glass (created in our mostly-defunct factories). Not so simple, is it?

The problem with an oil supply crunch isn't that we can't come up with alternatives but that we aren't. We're not rebuilding our factories and railways, we're not cutting back on use of plastic and petroleum-based fertilizers, and while we're doing better at making solar panels, what are they made of? Yeah. Plastic. When the raw materials get scarce, what's our next plan?

As a nation, we're standing next to the cellar door while the tornado approaches, refusing to take shelter because we don't believe the tornado is real and because going down those stairs might be scary.

I can't speak to whether we'll make the necessary changes in our economy and lifestyle in time to save ourselves from the tornado. But in my fictional world, action came too late and the result was war, disease and a lot of poverty. It didn't happen overnight. People didn't go to bed in the 21st century and wake up to find the lights all out and a medieval world outside their window. The collapse came in fits and starts, with some places doing just fine while others devolved into chaos. Historically, this is how most great societies collapsed, and it's the model I went with for my fictional world.

This isn't a plug for any particular party, politician or policy. I try to keep my blogs non-political. This isn't even a plug for Peak Oil, per se. If you think there's "plenty of time" and it's not our generation's problem, that's your right and privilege. I hope our generation's children and grandchildren feel the same way.

But if you want a better understanding of what prompted me to imagine Will and Diana's world (and for those with access to "Tin Soldier" the world of Amalia and Carina), check out Oil Apocalypse this week. Check your local listings for times.


Michael said...

Very interesting. That seems to make a great premise for a post-apocalyptic story. Not the usual, either. Nice. Oh, here I go to buy your eBook - I almost forgot!

Terrie Farley Moran said...

As a grandmother of five young ones, I appreciate this post.


bjbw said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing a bit of your process with us...I'm always on the look-out for new ideas aqnd inspiration.

Anonymous said...

What a great post. You make me smile, and you make me think, and this post makes me think.

I have seen Oil Apocalypse, and yes, it seems so many people want to just bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away. And it won't.

You do a great job in your fiction exploring the possibilities of just what can happen as a result of and in the wake of just such a crisis.

MaoMao said...

Momma sez the wurld would be a lot bettur place if human beans were like cats.

Kittyhugs and purrs from MaoMao!

Alice Audrey said...

And your oil apocalypse draws closer every year.