NO OIL IN THE LAMP by Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow

reviewed by Rusty Pritchardno oil

Most books about Christianity and the environment are of the "can't live with it" variety—about the problems of climate change, mercury pollution, solid waste, or toxic chemicals. Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow have brought out a book—No Oil in the Lamp: Fuel, Faith, and the Energy Crisis—of the "can't live without it" kind. Oil runs the planet, fuels our transport, feeds the fertilizer industry, and processes our food. Human society depends critically on a resource that is running out.

Peak oil is the name given to the empirical observation that oil consumption, for any given resource base, tends to peak when the stocks are about half gone. After the halfway point, for a variety of reasons, consumption begins to drop. This is true o every scale, from individual wells to well fields right up oil regions. It's probably also true at the global scale. Technology and new discoveries can delay the turning point but can't prevent it. At some point in the future, we will be consuming much less oil.

Rising consumption of oil brought rising prosperity for most of the world's people. It was slower coming for some, unequally distributed, and attended by messy transitions, predatory institutions, massive ecological damage, and the collapse of many traditional institutions and societies. But the fact remains that abundant oil fueled massive consumption of other resources and unprecedented advances in health, lifespan, leisure, education, technology, recreation, political freedoms (for some), and diminished experience of violence. Nearly every manufactured item and nearly every service we enjoy is a product of the oil boom. What will the bust bring about?

Less of everything, unless substitutes can be found. The authors consider in detail the ability of alternatives to maintain current levels of prosperity, and they find that natural gas, coal, nuclear power, and renewables are unlikely to make up for the decline in oil. Energy efficiency helps, as does conservation. Dematerialization is a buzzword used by some futurists to imagine an economy decoupled from resource use, but it's a fairy tale. Mellen and Hollow are both realists and idealists. We will need to make do with less, and we would be better off making do with less. Our real need is for the moral courage to face a very different future and the holy imagination to rethink what makes a flourishing society. They dare to imagine a prosperous way down.

Readers will be encouraged by the participatory forms of community development embodied in the Transition Cities movement that the authors describe. There are key roles for Christians and churches to take on in catalyzing inclusive planning for the decline in energy use. One chapter of the book offers a theology of peak oil, which will help Christians offer a hopeful, scriptural, and moral perspective as they engage what is largely a secular conversation. The authors have a profound vision of the church as salt and light in the preparations for an energy-constrained future, and the book provides the information and inspiration needed to get started.

A natural resource economist, Rusty Pritchard is the CEO of Flourish, equipping Christians to engage the world of environmental science and action.

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