Review: National Geographic “World without Oil” — Two Thumbs Down
Review: National Geographic “World without Oil” Feature
Last night I happened to catch a “Nat Geo” feature called “World without Oil.” I expected a good argument for transitioning away from oil. However, the WWO that had me yelling at the TV. See online clips:
The video portrays forty years of economic chaos with no vision for an alternative future gives short shrift to the amazing process being made towards renewable energy and energy efficiency. Watch it and judge for yourself.
The video, part of series called, “Aftermath” shows a world in which oil suddenly runs out – overnight. All hell breaks loose. In the first few days – long lines of cars and skyrocketing fuel costs at gas stations, hording of gasoline. Within a few weeks most flights are cancelled with passengers stranded at airports; coal shipments to power plants diminish blackouts plague cities; businesses close; families panic. Soon government steps in and bans non-essential travel; roads are empty; looters are stealing vegetable oil for diesel fuel. Less and less food gets to urban markets resulting in long angry jostling lines (controlled by armed guards) only to find a few miserable half rotted potatoes and carrots on the shelves.
The misery continues for a decade with people leaving cities in droves (to go where?) and government imposes martial law; the whole country is a no fly zone. A family has a medical crisis, the horded gasoline doesn’t get the car started and the parents lift up their child and start running to the hospital (cut to meds running with gurneys down dimly lit halls). Silver linings – exorbitant fuel prices have eliminated war. According to WWO, biofuels – much of it coming from corn – saves the day. No mention of the severe environmental costs of corn-based ethanol. See previous post.
Finally, the feature jumps to “40 Years.” While some cities have been abandoned, others are beginning to rebuild themselves but in very different ways – old parking lots and rooftops are now urban gardens, all food is being grown locally and Central Park in New York, one big farm, now looks Iowa. Things are running on biofuels made from giant algae ponds. There is light at the end of the funnel.
Had this feature been aired as a Fox News special, I would have simply flipped the channel. But National Geographic, hmmmm. I’m not sure of the motivations of the WWO creators or sponsors. However, the message is clear: without oil (and corn-based ethanol) civilization is doomed and so is your family. No cars, no work, no products (everything is plastic), no food. Pretty scary stuff.
Yes, we are terribly dependent on oil and need to wean ourselves – but we need to do so in an orderly way. What’s irresponsible (and arouses my suspicions) is that WWO fails to provide an alternative scenario. The only progress in WWO comes after four decades of collapse and unprecedented human suffering, despite the fact that many good solutions are springing up before our eyes. How much better the feature would have been had it gave an alternative scenario and focused on positive trends already in place, e.g. the enormous growth in the number of local growers supplying food to urban markets – not to mention huge strides being made in energy efficiency, wind power, or solar heating and power. Why no discussion of the sky rocketing number of sustainable US Green Building Council LEED-certified buildings?
National Geographic has done a lot excellent of magazine articles and TV features that have provided dramatic visual evidence of the destruction wrought by fossil fuels and other environmentally destructive practices. For example see recent global warming feature on Global Warming or a food article on the impacts of gold mining. It has also had features on renewables.
So, Nat Geo¸ let’s get back on track.