Author lists 5 concerns about oil-hungry economy

Swarm, the debut novel from The Pas, Man., author Lauren Carter, is on the Canada Reads Top 40 list.
Lauren Carter, author of Swarm a novel is on the Top 40 Canada Reads 2014 countedown. (Jason Mills)

The public campaign for Canada Reads 2014 is winding down, with this year's books being chosen according to how they might change our perspective on some aspect of the world.

Nominations came from across the country. The list now reflects the top 40 on the list and on Sunday, Nov. 3, it will be narrowed down to 10.

Lauren Carter's debut novel Swarm made it to that top 40 list. Though she grew up in northern Ontario, Carter has been living in The Pas, Man., since January of this year.

Because Swarm is set in times of peak oil, SCENE asked Carter to list her five top concerns about our oil-hungry economic system:

1. Climate change

In early October, the results of a vast analysis of global climate models by the University of Hawaii were published in Nature magazine. Their findings showed that within only a few decades the lowest temperatures on Earth will still be warmer than those of the past 150 years.

A month earlier, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that they are now 95 per cent certain that humans are the cause of climate change.

Still, we are pumping billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually and continue to do everything we can to run our world on oil. Cue Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.   

2. Ecological disasters

Remember Deepwater Horizon? In 2010, the Gulf of Mexico oil rig set a world record for the depth of its drilling. Then, a few months later, an explosion on the offshore rig caused the largest ecological disaster in U.S. history.

While pipelines spill into the Alberta muskeg, oil companies continue to work at the limits of technology.

They are drilling deeper and deeper, further north than ever before and in areas of extremely sensitive ecology where any accidental spill could break BP’s 2010 record and create catastrophe.

3. Widening gap between rich and poor

Peak oil naysayers like to say that there’s lots of oil left in the world and, yes, that’s true. The problem is where it is: deep under oceans buffeted by storms increasing in intensity because of climate change, or trapped in sand and rock thousands of metres underground, the extraction of which hugely impacts the environment.

Pulling out oil and gas in this way costs a lot of money. Therefore, the price of fossil fuel needs to be higher in order for companies to make a profit.

While there’s a “shale revolution” happening in the U.S., much of the refined product is actually being shipped overseas where demand (and therefore cost) remains high and this source is also limited.

As we continue our dependence on fossil fuel resources and a way of life built on cheap energy, the price of everything will rise as the resource becomes scarcer, increasing the disparity between those who can afford to continue the good life and those who can’t.    

4. The hangover

I’m sure you know the experience: party hard and you’ll suffer but if you pace yourself, the morning after will be a whole lot easier. By denying the eventual end of a resource we’ve built our whole society on, we’re only setting ourselves up for a really, really difficult and deadly Sunday morning.

Wouldn’t it be better to rally and start discussing how on Earth we — or our children and grandchildren — are going to cope with a reality where everything is much more expensive and we have to live more locally?

Of course, some — like people in the Transition Town movement — are already having these discussions and they deserve to not be on the fringes but pulled into the mainstream.

5. Continuing the lie

When the subprime mortgage crisis hit the U.S. in 2008, hardly anyone was talking about the connection with the price of gas.

Climbing higher and higher over the preceding years, it topped out at nearly $1.50 per litre here at home at that time.

Suburbanites driving to their jobs in downtown Winnipeg were feeling the pinch, never mind those people further south whose mortgage rates had shot up and who still had to drive the SUV an hour into work. This shocked me. But it makes sense.

Collectively, as a society, we are all necessarily entangled in this way of life. Even if you’re out protesting fracking for the sake of our groundwater (and somebody has to), you probably still drove a vehicle to get there and might have had an orange at lunch. What’s the answer? I’m not sure.

As a fiction writer, as an artist, my job is not to offer solutions but instead to ask the questions.  

Hear Lauren Carter, author of Swarm on the Weekend Morning Show with host Terry MacLeod on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 7:45 a.m. Voting for the Top Ten of Canada Reads 2014 ends on Sunday, Nov. 3.


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