A Review of
No Oil in the Lamp: Fuel, Faith and the Energy Crisis
Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow
Paperback: Darton Longman & Todd, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Geoff Maddock
It seems to me there are two colossal issues in need of our full attention right now. One is called the Climate Crisis and encompasses the complex metrics of climate change, extreme weather, rising ocean levels, melting glaciers, and all manner of events that evoke images of the end-times. The second is often called the Energy Crisis. These are deeply connected and might be understood as two sides of the same coin. This second crisis awakens us to the simple fact that we are using more and more of diminishing and finite resources to work, recreate, get around, and eat.
Debates rage about which of these crises will prove our undoing first. Few doubt we are in very serious trouble one way or another. This book is a powerful and much needed study of the Energy Crisis. While there has been a good number of Christian writing on Creation Care and the Climate Crisis, precious little work has been done by Christian writers and thinkers to help God’s people come to grips with the serious set of issues surrounding energy.
For this reason, I am exceeding grateful for the efforts of Mellen and Hollow. In clear and careful ways these authors guide the reader through some disturbing and ultimately depressing territory. I found it very difficult to read more than a small section at a time because the facts of the matter are stark and the repercussions are difficult to imagine. Peak Oil (the theory that we will very soon or have already used more than half of the planets oil deposits) is accepted as fact by oil barons and environmentalists alike. The real question is how humankind will experience, manage, and respond to a radically different world in the wake of this decline. One author has called it “The Long Emergency” (James Howard Kunstler) and this sobering phrase should alert us to the fact that this crisis requires of us an uncommon mix of fierce attention and careful deliberation over an extended period.
This book goes into excruciating detail laying out our current global appetite for energy and where we source the energy that makes our world what it is today. Mellen and Hollow provide us with a comprehensive list of economic data as well as expansive discourses on alternative energy. They explore the perils of continuing with a “business as usual” approach and the possibilities available in a future dominated by diminishing and more costly energy. The authors do a masterful job of explaining the crisis to those of us who foster an almost religious trust in the saving power of the free-market economy and new technologies. Our faith and trust is misplaced in an economic model that has only come about because of inexpensive, plentiful energy. The days of cheap oil are gone.
They convincingly argue (for most of us in the West) that we are addicted to our current standard of living because we believe luxury and convenience are parts of our birth-right. They challenge the sentiment that modern Western luxury-living is for everybody on planet earth and we just need to get the politics and technology arranged so that all people can experience excess. With strong analysis and a proper sense of lament they show that the math just does not work for this scenario. It is simply impossible for all of the people on this planet to live in the relative privilege to which we in the West have become accustomed.
Along with this and many other stark realities, Mellen and Hollow guide the reader in thinking deeply about what Christians should expect from life and how our sense of entitlement has poisoned our ability to truly love our neighbors. So where can we go from here? Do we give in to an apocalyptic vision of the future? How do we live once we accept this inevitable energy decline?
The way forward in this grinding struggle is to accept the fact that the last 100 years of human history is pure anomaly. We have used up this miraculous gift of fossil fuels and we need to find a way forward according to the Christian virtues of simplicity, sacrifice, generosity, and social justice. The details of this way forward are varied and complex but the authors point to several models including the wonderful work encapsulated in the Transition Movement (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ ) .
Much of the material in No Oil in the Lamp is difficult to bear and so I highly recommend this book for a shared reading. These are some of the biggest issues of our time and deserve collective lament, reflection, and action. In summary, I came away from the book with these simple insights about how my own imagination needs to be transformed:
Resilience, not Sustainability.
Hope, not Fear.
Transition, not Panic.
Generosity, not Hoarding.