Professor discusses cultural effects of energy decline

Kelsey Sutton/Managing editor

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Tom Love, professor of anthropology, gathered with students and faculty to talk about the energy constrained future of the U.S. Love, who is also a member of the environmental studies faculty, discussed the net energy cliff that he believes is dead ahead and its cultural effects April 10 in Riley 201.

“The oil crunch, the shortfall, is coming sooner than people think,” Love said.

Love said there are two types of mindsets when it comes to the end of the petroleum era. First, there are those who see this as a quick and inevitable threat to our daily ways of life.

“These kinds of problems threaten to knock out key subsystems, like long-distance trucking. It becomes almost impossible to do things like hauling bagged lettuce from Southern California to the other side of the country so store shelves might go empty. These waves of unexpected collapse of subsystems looks like a whole house of cards model, things just fall apart,” he said.

But he also said many people see this as a slow crash and aren’t as convinced this will happen anytime soon.

“People have a tough time responding to incremental change. They are more likely to respond to a sudden change, like the threat of war,” Love said. “But if it’s creeping like climate change, it’s harder to mobilize people.”

Responses and solutions to the crisis will vary. He said that the solution will be uneven and heterogeneous. Some regions will be more proactive, such as the Pacific Northwest, with wind and solar power developments and hydroelectricity. This area may be well prepared to deal with a variety of challenges that may be coming.

Love spent the first half of his lecture emphasizing the decline of net energy. Net energy is the flow of energy that’s left over after what’s used for the mining, drilling, processing and distribution of the consumption it’s actually intended for.

“The net energy is dropping. We’re spending more and more just to get the energy,” Love said, also highlighting the problem of the rate of extraction.

Reducing dependency on fossil fuels and cheap oil is the best way to deal with this problem. Americans will need to decrease their frequent mobility and consumption.

“The task is to reduce your reliance on driving. Build habits and practices that will work in a post-cheap oil era,” he said. “Walking, public transit, locate yourself near transit services. Build community, cultivate relationships with people, borrow stuff and reciprocate, work together.”

Love stressed the importance of students taking this problem seriously.

“It will affect you more than its affected people my age. You’re going to have to deal with some issues,” he said. “I like the way your generation is quite pragmatic about it all. They accept what it is, roll up their sleeves and figure out how to deal with it.”

Love said it is easy to freak out about all of this stuff. But he encourages everyone to enjoy the gift of life.

“Take the appropriate steps, adjust your expectations and just enjoy life,” he said. “Take a road trip while you can, travel the world now. It’s a unique moment in history, why not enjoy it?”