In the last half century, there have been several efforts to create awareness about a looming crisis, namely, the end of oil age. Recently these efforts have escalated due to the following reasons:
1. The slow down in the discovery of new oil fields.
2. Effects of climate change becoming apparent
3. Pollution creating health/ecological problems
Modern lifestyles are wrapped around oil products and thus it is an extremely ardous if not impossible task to decouple this link. The demand for oil continues to steadily increase. Several environmentalist, eco-enthusiast and even people who have defected from the oil & gas sector have written articles and produced documentaries.
As oil is a finite resource its depletion is inevitable. In trying to bring home the cataclysmic nature of the events that can potentially follow the end of oil age, some of these documentaries have used apocalyptic tales and emotive language. An overriding passion to save mankind and the planet is the main driver that runs through the narrative.
Flagging up this depletion issue is not something new. In 1974 Marion King Hubbard, a geoscientist, originally presented the idea of Peak-oil. He later showcased his research on TV and complied it in a form of a book . A clip of his interview televised in 1976 can be seen below.
Even though the message in the above clip by Hubbard was very clear, it did not resonate with masses at the time. It was in fact dismissed and deemed alarmist. The voices since have grown louder and the presentation has become much better. However, despite the numerous efforts to raise awareness, little has transpired in altering the way of life we continue to live and future we envisage.
In this article four, hard hitting documentary films on the end of oil have been sampled. Although at times some of the facts presented in these documentaries may be skewed to highlight a point but nonetheless they are still valuable for students who are studying energy issues. They should also be of interest to anyone looking into environmental issues, politics and international relations.
Four of the best end of oil documentaries are mentioned below:
1. The Collapse (2009)
A monologue has never been as interesting as captured in the film “The Collapse”. Investigative journalist Michael Ruppert sits on a chair and articulates a vivid account of reality or rather his perceived reality. The tone and nuances of his voice sets his narrative as engaging as a thriller. The animations and archival footage used to accompany his talk is very cleverly interspersed and edited. Directed by Chris Smith and released in 2009, it is as persuasive a documentary as can get. Interestingly due to the prophetic language and predictions made by Michael Ruppert, the film remains fresh, even today. For anyone who enjoys conspiracy theories, this is an absolute treat.
2. Tipping Point-End of Oil (2011)
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, tipping point by Tom Radford is a multiple award winning documentary. The film begins highlighting mankind’s enhanced ability through oil power making him a force of nature. It is Canada’s response to the shadows of greed overcasting Alberta. It is an expose’ of an industry that is looking at tar sands as the largest proven reserves. Interestingly, the highly acclaimed film maker James Cameron’s own creation Avatar was inspired by the devastation caused by the exploitation of Canadian tar sands. The film explores the ecological damages caused by the practice of extraction of hydrocarbons from sand and how the oil industry operates to get its way. In a post oil world, tar sands are on the crosshair of a gluttonous industry followed by shale gas and shale rock.
3. Planet Oil (2015)
Planet Oil is a well researched and nonpartisan documentary, that was recently produced by the BBC. It was presented by Prof Iain Stewart (University of Plymouth) who has profound knowledge of geology and the oil industry. It is the longest film in the list and spans over three, hour-long episodes. Despite its length, it maintains its grip on the audience by using interesting parables and connecting dots. It steps back in time to the very the first chapter in the history of oil use. It tells of the time when the use of oil for light had almost driven whales to extinction. Oil was then discovered in Pennsylvania. And how that discovery compelled JD Rockafella to sell his grocery shop and become the richest man in the world is also a subject covered in Planet oil. The coming of age of oil age is thoroughly explored. It leaves the audience with the question of not when oil will run out? but what would it be like when it does?
4. There is no tomorrow (2012)
“There is no tomorrow” is a short and sharp animation, that is loaded with well researched facts and useful information. It covers the topics of peak oil, energy usage, economic growth and resource depletion. It also explores their interconnection. Its best feature is the way it tries to explain tricky ideas and mathematical concepts by way of simple animations. It caricatures the facts it wants to highlight. There is no tomorrow is condense and anyone taking notes would struggle to cope with the information without hitting the pause button. Nonetheless, for students interested in energy issues it is a valuable resource. The animation takes its queue from the pro-capitalist and pro-growth animations that came out post world-war such as “Going Places” (1948), “Meet King Joe” (1949), “Why Play Leapfrog” (1949), “What Makes Us Tick” (1952), “It’s Everybody’s Business” (1954) and “Destination Earth” (1956). It does a thorough job of taking a swipe at them and poses a solid rebuttal. The film does get dark and depressive at times and is overall a heavy watch, but the intake of plenty of fluids will get you through.
Also worth mentioning
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Inconvenient truth is probably the most well budgeted environmental documentary film of our time. The film cuts into lectures of Al Gore delivered at various venues and follows his mission trail. The film does not dwell on possible aftermath of peak oil and so is not included in the above list but it does address the issue at hand, namely climate change. It was a game changer among climate change documentaries and did the most business at the box office. It divided opinions around the world generated a lot of controversy on its release. If nothing else, students can take notes on how to make power points extremely fascinating.
Witten and directed by Josh Fox, it is one man’s journey of exploring shale gas extraction that started with a reception of letter in May 2008. In the film, Fox investigates the effects of “Fracking”(Hydraulic Fracturing) mainly the water contamination, environmental pollution and the ill effects it has on communities. In one dramatic scene, a subject is able to set his tap water on fire due to the presence of high amount methane his water supply. This was attributed to the gas leaking into his aquifer courtesy fracking. Gasland is an impactful and well made documentary that is a must watch for people who have received a letter from the gas industry.
All These documentaries paint a gloomy picture about the future, some in a much darker shade than the other. The consensus that can be extracted from all of them is that our current addiction to oil is unsustainable. At present oil just doesn’t power us with electricity, it helps us build, it helps us grow food and even the clothes we wear. Switch to renewables is provide a relief in power sector and to some extent in transport, but not in the consumer goods and construction sector.
The mentioned end of oil documentaries not only help in understanding the complex world we live in today but also identify to path towards sustainability. They are no doubt invaluable resource for any student.