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Peak OilApocalyptic Environmentalism and Libertarian Political Culture$
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Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226285269

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226285573.001.0001

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Abundance, Scarcity, and Limits in the Age of Oil

Abundance, Scarcity, and Limits in the Age of Oil

(p.47) Two Abundance, Scarcity, and Limits in the Age of Oil
Peak Oil

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter documents and contextualizes the phenomenon of peakism in the early 2000s. It explains the attraction of the peak oil theory with reference to three major events that placed petroleum squarely in the public eye (America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq; the sudden rise of oil and gas prices after a decade of stable, low prices; and the growing awareness of anthropogenic climate change), then traces the diffusion of the concept of peak oil and the formation of a primarily virtual social movement. It places peakism in a much broader historical framework by looking at popular beliefs about abundance, scarcity and ‘limits’ (often centered around energy availability) in the United States in the last century and the underappreciated role of fossil fuels in modernity. It argues that from post-World War Two optimism to the ‘Malthusian moment’ of the late 1960s and 1970s to the reassertion of limitless goals and consumption in the 1980s, these patterns of beliefs in abundance and concerns over scarcity are the backdrop against which recent assertions of limits (around peak oil as well as climate change) are often understood.

Keywords:   peak oil movement, abundance, scarcity, limits, growth, petroleum, 20th century American history, energy history, economic history, Malthusian environmentalism

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