Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is Post-Peak Oil Chaos Inevitable?

Jason Bradford says, "not so fast." That's not to say that there's no risk that some of the social disruption we'll probably experience will turn violent, but that the gloom and doom prophesies are overblown. As pessimistic as I can seem, I actually consider myself quite optimistic that we can readjust our expectations and ways of life more in keeping with the limits imposed by our natural resources. I think some of the dreams I've had in recent years (one of which I shared here a while back) are manifestations of that optimism. One risk factor for violence that Bradford discusses is well worth repeating:
Most riots, in fact, start with police violence. Police conduct is key, even when people in the street start the violence. SWAT teams can do a lot of damage; they generally exacerbate violence when lots of people are involved. In Seattle, for example, the WTO protests only became “riots” when out-of-town, SWAT trained police crossed their own line in the sand and started lobbing tear gas in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Young people enjoying life in that area's outdoor cafes, who had had no part in the protests, rose from their seats and started pelting the police with rocks and their own tear gas canisters. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the hysterical news reports to the contrary, violence was almost wholly the work of white vigilantes inspired by those same reports to “defend” their communities against supposed looters.
Keep the police on a short leash, in other words, if you want to avoid escalating nonviolent protests into actual riots. Same goes for vigilante groups. That might be easier said than done in our current paranoid "war on terra" political climate, but it's advice well taken. There will be plenty to worry about in the coming decades - humanity devolving into some sort of dog-eat-dog hell on earth scenario on a mass scale is probably not one of those worries.

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