A review of CNN: "We Were Warned: Tomorrow's Oil Crisis"

A review of CNN: "We Were Warned: Tomorrow's Oil Crisis"
Tom Fugate
Mad River Post Carbon

This CNN documentary was shown three times on March 18 and again on March 19. Apparently the mainstream media has decided it’s time to alert the American public that there’s a serious problem coming with energy supplies. I suppose that those of us who have been talking about this looming crisis for years should appreciate the fact that it’s finally getting some traction with the media. As a serious discussion of the issue, however, this film leaves much to be desired.

To begin with there was not one mention of the words “peak oil� by anyone. Surely Matthew Simmons at least must have spoken about peak oil with Frank Sesno. Did they edit it out? If so, for what reason? Instead of a serious discussion about the geological realities we are facing what we got was a confusing mishmash of a future oil crisis in 2009 caused by a category 5 hurricane striking Houston followed by a terrorist attack on Saudi Arabia oil infrastructure. Juxtaposed with this we had CNN’s Frank Sesno investigating various possibilities of meeting America’s petroleum “needs�. Osama bin Laden received prominent mention several times as a likely cause of the oil crisis. Indeed the entire film could be seen as one big advertisement for the “war on terror�.

Sesno looks at various possibilities for meeting America’s oil demands: deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian tar sands, and most prominently, George Bush’s current favorite techno-fix: ethanol. There was no discussion of the likely impact of future hurricanes on deep water drilling (25% of GOM oil production is still off line from last fall’s hurricane season), no discussion of the need for increasingly scarce natural gas to process the tar sands, and no mention of the concept of net energy with respect to ethanol or the impact the widespread production of ethanol would have on soil depletion and food production. The net effect was probably to leave the uninformed viewer confused.

The biggest shortcoming of the film was the fact that it completely focused on possible supply solutions while ignoring the demand side. There was no mention of the urgent need for Americans to give up their energy-intensive lifestyles. Indeed it seems to be a given that those must continue. There was a brief mention of the fact that population growth is increasing oil demand (the baby carriages on the freeway was my favorite clip in the film) but no mention of the urgent need to reduce population.

Perhaps I expect too much from us. Perhaps this is the best we can do when faced with the greatest crisis in human history. Indeed it may be too late to save this oil-dependent civilization. A transition away from fossil fuels would need to have begun 50 years ago. There isn’t enough energy or materials left on the planet to re-build all our cities now with peak oil upon us. It just may be that overshoot and collapse is hard wired in our reptilian brains. Hopefully the survivors will learn something from our mistakes.


stevekane111's picture

We Were...Coddled

Thanks for confirming my suspicions. Our hopes that the broadcast media will enlighten the masses are misplaced. It is their mission to subdue us until the inevitable. That we seem to be all too willing to be lead around with blinders on may be something that only natural selection can cure.
xtraspatial's picture

Xtraspatial's take on WWW:TFOC

Please see my blog entry for my response to CNN and brief critique of CNN Presents show.