Armageddon on the couch

Psychotherapy for peak-oilers: "It's just a state of mind"

Published September 5, 2006 6:18PM (EDT)

As if there weren't enough puzzling problems in the world to worry about, now wrap your mind around this vexing question. Suppose you are a psychotherapist who believes that the age of peak oil, along with a concurrent global economic collapse, is imminent, or already upon us. What do you do when your patient starts agonizing over his desire to buy a new sports car, without ever once considering the question of fuel economy? Do you even mention the contributions of automobile travel to the challenge of an energy-constrained future? Do you try to hint, ever so gently, that people like him are destroying the planet? Or would bringing up the topic of peak oil be a ghastly therapeutic no-no? Because, after all, that's just what someone in counseling needs to think about: the prospect of a disaster so great as to make individual action seem meaningless. It's kind of depressing.

If this conundrum interests you, you might find the Web site/blog PeakOilBlues to your tastes. Created by Kathy McMahon, a Massachusetts psychologist, the site is designed for people who are having trouble coming to grips with peak oil Armageddon. It's one thing to believe that cheap oil is running out, and understand that you're going to have to change your way of life. But what if, as the site quotes one person saying, you look at a future in which everyone must raise their own chickens and think, plaintively, "I don't want to be a farmer."

If you were of a nasty bent, or hadn't had enough coffee, a site as unremittingly earnest as PeakOilBlues would be an easy target. Quoting Erik Erikson twice is dangerous enough ground. But citing the Firesign Theatre's declaration that "We are all Bozos on this bus" just begs for relentless satirical treatment. And while I understand how, in context, it might make sense to advise people who are worried about a future without cable television that "poverty, like age, is a state of mind," at the same time, such comments make me think there really should be some rules as to what psychotherapists are legally permitted to say to their patients.

Just kidding. Kind of.

But deep down, the site reeks of sincerity. And let's face it, the modern world is undoubtedly crazy-making. I found myself sympathizing with one reader's blog comment: "Global pandemic is considered a certainty by lots of smart people with good credentials in that area. Some other brilliant people think we're in for a religional clash of civilizations. Other well-qualified people foresee environmental collapse. War seems everpresent in its changing nature. Most of the large fish in the ocean are already gone. Oceanic dead zones are on the increase. Tundra is thawing in vast stretches of northern latitudes, releaseing methane in a positive feedback loop driving climate change. Human population is supposed to increase by 50 percent in the next couple or three decades while global energy consumption is supposed to double or more. And so on and so on. We live in interesting times. What's a person to do?"

Indeed. My own preference, when facing such existential angst, is to go for a ride on my bike, which I'm still convinced will help prevent global warming and save on fossil fuels, despite some arguments to the contrary. Not only does a good ride up a hill keep despair at arm's length, but it is also, depending on how expensive your bike is, a lot cheaper than seeing a psychotherapist.

But, hey, talking over your fears and anxieties with someone reasonably intelligent has its advantages, too. As long as they keep their own dystopian anxieties off the table.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works Peak Oil