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(Inside Higher Ed) The impending collapse of civilization should, as Samuel Johnson said about being hanged in a fortnight, wonderfully concentrate the mind. For most of the interview subjects whose responses Matthew Schneider-Mayerson analyzes in a recent book, that collapse is inevitable, if not already underway.

“Peakists” skew, on the average, pretty far to the left of the stereotypical American survivalist in ideology, but there is a meeting of minds on strategy. Peak-oil activism — as the author, an assistant professor of social sciences at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, presents it — consists mainly of: (a) stockpiling necessities, (b) consuming less and (c) blogging while you still can. This sounds awfully unambitious, even by the standards of a politics of diminished expectations.

Schneider-Mayerson’s questionnaire drew responses from about 1,750 committed adherents of the peak-oil scenario in 2011. That year now looks like the end of peak oil’s era of maximum public exposure. My own unscientific survey of otherwise well-informed people suggests that the whole concept is less than universally familiar, so first a word of explanation.

The claim that oil production has peaked, or will soon, is grounded in a hard ecological and economic reality: as the pool of oil in a well shrinks, it takes more effort and expense to pump out. The return on investment will eventually hit zero. An enormous amount of petroleum remains underground, but the energy consumed in extracting each barrel will exceed the energy produced by burning it. And once we reach that point on a worldwide scale — as must happen, sooner or later, when the last untapped deposit has been located and exploited — the effect can only be catastrophic.

Over the past 150 years or so, petroleum has been both abundant and relatively easy (hence profitable) to extract. Huge, complex and interlocking institutions and technologies became possible thanks to eons’ worth of solar energy condensed in liquid form by the decay and burial of vegetation over untold millions of years. The next 150 years do not look quite so promising.