Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sustainability: Kurt Cobb Speaks on His New Peak Oil Novel

Kurt Cobb wrote his new suspense novel, Prelude, for women readers because they are the ones who generally make decisions about the household.

"If the women of the world think an issue is important, most of the people will follow," said Kurt, who spoke at the Portage Public Library tonight.

He cited the example of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers where women in the 1980s lobbied successfully to make drunk driving a major offense.  They wanted both to punish offenders and to raise the public's consciousness about the dangers of drunk driving.  

Of course, he encourages men to read to read the book as well because the book discusses one of the most serious problems in our world today that's not being talked about:  peak oil and our energy future.

"If I can get to them to prepare their families and communities for peak oil, that can make a big difference."

Kurt decided to author a novel on peak oil because he found that after writing about energy issues for three years the message about our depleting resources just wasn't getting through to policymakers or the general public.  (His blog is Resource Insights, he is a regular writer for Energy Bulletin and the Paris-based science news site Scitizen (pronounced like “citizen”), and he is frequently picked up by the premier energy report site, Oil Drum.)

"Ideas are not infused into our culture until they're in the arts," he said.

Music, literature, art works, and especially films seem to make an issue real. 

His idea is not without precedent.  Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe, completely changed the discussion about slavery in the United States and throughout the world, he said.

Upton Sinclair's 1906 book, The Jungle, was intended to create sympathy for the working classes who manned the knives in the Midwestern meatpacking plants.  However, his descriptions about the way meat was processed horrified the public so much that it led the federal government to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act that same year; it eventually created the industry's watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Movies that focus on issues have affected the public in the past, said Kurt.  "Blood Diamond" (2006) illustrated how diamonds were sold by warring groups to finance their operations.  Diamond companies then responded by making sure this did not happen with their diamonds and they assured their customers that they would not sell products that financed war.

In "Philadelphia" (1993), Tom Hanks, a lawyer, was dismissed from his firm when it found out he had AIDS.  This film raised consciousness about this common practice and then led to legislation that made it is illegal for companies to fire people with AIDS.

Perhaps the most compelling example of movies' impact on people was the 1979 hit, "The China Syndrome."  It dramatized an accident at a nuclear power plant.  Uncannily, the film was released 12 days before the Three Mile Island plant experienced a partial core meltdown.  Because of the similarity between the film and the accident, the film dominated the way people thought about nuclear power plants.  This led to a virtual shutdown of the nuclear power plant industry for orders to build any new plants in the United States.

"That's the kind of impact I'm hoping to get with my book," said Kurt.  "I want people to be concerned enough to prepare for peak oil."

With the help of his high school chemistry teacher, Chuck Harmon, Kurt demonstrates the difference between extracting what's called "light sweet crude oil" (root beer that is easy to suck up through a straw) and hard-to-get oil (yogurt that can't go through a straw but must be "dug out" with a spoon). 

During the first 150 years of the oil age (1859-2009), the easy-to-get oil has practically gushed out of the ground, so all the oil companies had to do was capture it, he said.  We have been running the world on that oil.  However, today, more and more of our global society is dependent on the hard-to-get oil that comes from places like the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and deep water rigs like those in the Gulf of Mexico.

So the problem is not that we can't get the oil, even with our advanced technology.  The problem is that we can't extract it at a rate that will meet the growing demand.

Peak oil is not only about running out of oil; it's about running out of cheap oil.

"Global society is addicted to cheap oil to support endless growth," said Kurt.  "That is why prices have fluctuated so much from $10 a barrel in 1999 to $147 a barrel in 2008.  We have a lot of oil left but not in the form that is easy to get in the amounts that we need at the prices that we want."

Kurt pointed out that once Cassie, an oil analyst and the heroine of the novel, became aware of peak oil, her relationship with oil changed and that changed her relationships with the people around her.

Currently, Kurt is promoting his novel in the Kalamazoo area, but he is preparing for a nationwide book tour.  Prelude is available for purchase online all over the world and is already being sold in Australia and South Africa.

To learn more about the novel or to arrange for a presentation, see the website:

No comments:

Post a Comment