Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The world -- as we know it -- is doomed

I first read about Collapse during last year's Toronto International Film Festival, so I knew the film had a reputation for knocking folks off center, but who'd have thought that a single talking head could instill so much gloom and doom?

Chris Smith's documentary introduces us to Michael Ruppert, a guy who doesn't need special effects to scare the daylights out of you. He's got peak oil.

Ruppert, a former Los Angeles cop who worked to expose drug-smuggling by the CIA, had his intellectual and emotional epiphany when he discovered the idea of peak oil, the notion that global oil production already has peaked and that we're on the inevitable down slide. For Ruppert, peak oil stands as the most salient fact about contemporary life. Everything else ranks a distant second or third.

I'll give you the condensed version of Ruppert's argument: Just about everything we consume is oil based -- plastics, paints, the tires on our cars, etc. Virtually nothing totally can replace oil as the grease of our economic engine -- not cars powered by electricity, not solar or wind power and not coal.

Because the economies we've built (and which we falsely believe are indestructible) revolve around oil, they're ultimately doomed, and we may already be in the end of days, at least as far as any sustained growth is concerned.

According to Ruppert, a new paradigm must emerge. Our job: to learn how to survive during the transitional period between the steady collapse of the old economic order and the emergence of something more geared to survival on a planet with finite resources. This transition period could take between 20 and 50 years, and it won't be pleasant.

That's a mouthful, and so is the movie. If you expect to see a full-blown nutjob when you watch Collapse, you'll be surprised. Aside from the fact that he chain smokes, Ruppert looks like a guy who might show up at your door to sell you insurance, and his tone never approaches hysteria. He says he's not a conspiracy theorist, but that his "conspiracy" ideas are based on facts, many of them offered in Smith's gripping documentary.

I'm not going to tell you that Ruppert doesn't have critics because that would be untrue. You can look them up. And as many who've written about this movie have remarked, it's not easy for most of us to prove that everything Ruppert says is right. But there's something entirely compelling about listening to this guy, and there's no denying that we've either reached or eventually will reach a point of peak oil production.

Like most prophets who run through the streets shouting warnings of doom, Ruppert does a better job of describing the problem than of offering solutions, but Collapse demands to be seen. These days, it's not difficult to look at the daily run of news (pick your favorite paper, presuming there's still one left near you) and you'll see signs that suggest Ruppert may be right.

And even if he's not: It never hurts to see the world through a different prism, particularly one that challenges us to demonstrate that much of what preoccupies us might be a waste of valuable time -- not just for us but for the whole species. Here's the thing: If the economic sky really is falling, it's going to land on all of us.

Collapse can be seen at the Starz Film Center beginning Friday, Feb. 19. If you don't catch it there, watch for the movie's DVD release.

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