A Comparison of the Documentaries a Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash and the Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

The world today has fallen victim to an illusion of the golden age, however given some time, our perception of the world will collapse. Our population is exponentially increasing but our resources are aggressively diminishing. How will we be able to provide for the world in the future when we are unable to provide for the world now? The documentary, A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash foretells a world without oil.  The documentary shows that once our oil reserves deplete, our global economy will collapse. Our world today is heavily dependent on oil. It is crucial to every aspect in our lives, without it war will ensue in order to obtain more. The world now will be dramatically different than the world later, it is only a matter of time. Will we have enough time to search for alternative means of energy or is it too late for us?

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight was written by Thom Hartmann in order to increase the awareness of climate change. There are three parts to this novel, the first part introduces us to our origins and that we are running out of oil. It tells us that we are made out of sunlight, meaning without sunlight we would not be here today and how we have made the shift from depending on sunlight to depending on ancient sunlight (oil). He discusses the stories of how our past predecessors have fallen and how we will fall down the same path if we do not plan for the future. The second part of the book explains how we got to where we are today. He provides an explanation from how we transitioned from older culture to younger culture. Older culture was when human civilization lived alongside with their planet and respected it and did not try to dominate it. The younger culture however, attempts to control nature and exploit it for personal gain. The final part explains how we can solve this problem and what we can do to save the world before it is too late. Overall, the book is about our origin, how we got to where we are, and how we can combat climate change.

Thom Hartmann writes this book to bring awareness to climate change and that we need to plan for the future instead of living in the moment. He discusses the fate of our world as it stands and the stories of past human civilizations that have fallen. Later on he explains the damage climate change is doing and the current status of our ocean.  He wants to warn us of what may happen in the future so that history does not repeat itself, and the dangers of relying on one source of energy, and why we need to start reserving oil now to create non oil technology. He provides an accurate depiction of the future so we can be made more aware of what is to come such as aquifer depletion, overpopulation, and how the Ponzi scheme is similar to what we are going through. He wants to show us that we are not prepared for what is to come by stating we are in an age of knowledge scarcity, for example, the media is one-sided, we do not know how to take care of ourselves, and people who rely on television for their information. Lastly, he analyzes the basis of our culture and the transition from older culture to younger culture.

The downfall of human civilization is one of many fates that Hartmann predicts will happen if we keep pumping carbon into our atmosphere. He tells us that our problems are not because of our technology, diet, and etc. Our true problem stems from our culture and how we perceive the world. “Our problems derive not from our technology, our diet, violence in the media, or any other one thing we do. They arise out of our culture--view of the world” (2). We think we are helping the planet through minuscule acts such as recycling, birth control, and preventing deforestation but that alone is not enough. A major shift needs to occur in order for us to save the world and that is the change of our perception of the world. We treat our planet like our trashcans and have no respect for it. We continue to make species go extinct, we ruin ecosystems, and we continue to poison our atmosphere all in order to fulfill our needs. Climate change is happening and we are ignoring of what it is doing to our home.

            Damage caused by climate change is due to the increased carbon dioxide levels being released into the atmosphere according to Hartmann. He explains that climate change is affecting our planet more than we know it and has caused unnatural weather all over. Our global climate is becoming increasingly violent and it will continue down this path unless something changes. “Climate change driven by increasing carbon dioxide levels already appears to be producing huge swings in weather all over the planet...This increased energy makes for less stable and more violent weather worldwide” (69). We have already experienced global increases in temperature and as a result, glaciers are melting. As glaciers melt we face the  problem of rising sea levels. Some animals may be able to escape to a new habitat but an impossible feat for immobile life such as plants and trees. As we pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more heat is trapped causing everything else in the atmosphere to slowly heat up. If we continue to release carbon at our current rate, we will eventually make our home uninhabitable.

            Our actions dramatically affect the ocean’s population, Hartmann says the amount of fish in the sea has plummeted due to our practices. He states that several fish in the ocean have been overfished or exhausted which is detrimental to countries that depend on those sources of food. Countries should fish in moderation in order to give time for sea life to breed instead of making them go extinct. “...the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization released a report that concluded that 70 percent of ocean fish stocks were “fully exploited” (exhausted--all dead) or “overfished” (in rapid decline)” (26). Seafood is a necessity for islands like Japan or Taiwan. They do not have the landmass to host farms and crops to sustain their population. Overfishing has been taken to taken to the extreme where it has even reached the point where “The world’s oceans have lost over 90% of large predatory fish, with potentially severe consequences for the ecosystem” (26). This causes a chain reaction in the ecosystem, if one species does not have enough food to survive, it will die off. We are all interconnected and we depend on them more than we think. Hartmann is warning us of all this exploitation so history will not repeat itself once again.

            History to repeating itself is a danger that Hartmann is warning us about since it happened to many of the fallen empires who took advantage of what they had. Similarly to us, the Mesopotamian empire did not prepare for the future and were living in the moment. They were thriving and their land was able to sustain them until to the point where it could not due to extensive centuries of abuse which eventually lead to their demise. “The collapse of the last Mesopotamian empire...at the very end of their empire did they realize how they had destroyed their precious source of food and fuel by razing their forests and despoiling the rest of their environment...they “knew their way of life was fine...they didn’t realize it wasn’t unsustainable” (107). Resources for the Mesopotamians became scarce and once time ran short, it was too late for them to do anything since they did not have any resources left. Their staple food was barley, but after several years of growth the land became exhausted followed by the rapid destruction of forests. Without their forests, this led to a local climatic change and rainfall became something of the past. It is dangerous to rely on a few resources to sustain life.

There are consequences of being dependent on one source of energy and Hartmann tells us our fate if we continue to follow this path. Many fallen empires have failed to learn from their past predecessors which eventually led to the downfall of many civilizations such as the Sumerians, Mesopotamians, and etc. We are in the exact same situation they are in, but rely on oil. Mostly everything in our world today is run by oil and there is no form of alternative energy available that could substitute that. “...that leads us into a situation that’s uncomfortably similar to Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome: now that we have all these people dependent on a particular fuel, what happens when it runs low?” Likewise, we too are dependent on oil that rules our lives and we refuse to acknowledge it. Our oil will not be able to sustain our way of life forever and when it runs out will we end up like our fallen brothers and sisters? War will break loose similarly to the Roman Empire as resources dwindle and after that how long can we sustain ourselves? We would most likely undergo what the fallen empires went through which is widespread famine, lack of rainfall because of deforestation, and etc. Considering our population, the death rate will rack up in the billions if we allow this to keep happening. What we need to do now is reserve oil to create non oil technology to ensure the longevity of our species.

            We use our remaining oil to create non oil technology before it is too late, Hartmann believes if we do not reserve oil, our way of life will never be the way it is now. We are using and producing oil at a fast rate without concerns for the future. If none were reserved to create non oil technology, it would take a tremendously long time to create non oil technology considering most of our technology uses oil. “There’s also the problem that oil is being “produced” (pumped) without regard to future needs or the life span of wells” (110). We need a lot of oil in order to make non oil technology such as creating solar cells by drilling several rare-earth minerals. If we run out of oil before we can drill enough rare-earth minerals to create enough solar cells, it would be game over. We would not have the energy to obtain alternative energy. In addition, alternative energy such as solar and wind compared to oil is not as good and inferior to it considering its energy output. It is easy to foreshadow of what is to come as resources become scarce.          

            Aquifer depletion and how countries will suffer dramatically when they are unable to obtain water is something Hartmann is warning us about. He discusses that aquifer depletion has already hit Yemen and like most of our problems, it is all connected. Food shortages will happen all around the world if it continues to deplete, it is just a matter of time. “Aquifer depletion is hitting Yemen hard, with aquifers “falling by roughly 2 meters a year,” ...food shortages will begin all around the world within the next decade or two as a result of the loss of irrigation water” (97). Food shortages will occur all around the world because of the loss of irrigation water. Countries that are agriculturally dependent will not be able to grow crops anymore and we would not be able to buy crops from them. We would eventually succumb to a global famine. Water is a necessity to survive, and many countries need oil to survive. Without one or both, it would be destabilizing to our way of life. Resources are becoming scarce and our population is continuously growing at a dangerous trend, these two make a deadly combination.

            Overpopulation was one of Hartmann’s key concerns since we do not have the resources to sustain a population growing at our current rate. The extent of our overpopulation is so severe that we even outnumber rats considering that they were designed to breed. We are breeding at a dangerous rate, we do not even have the resources to feed the millions of people starving in third world countries, we cannot sustain this trend forever and will come at a halt once supply diminishes. “...we became the most numerous mammalian species on the planet, outnumbering even rats. There is now more human flesh on the planet than there is of any other single species. We consume more than 40 percent of the world’s total...food and energy available to all species on Earth” (15). Our population as of right now is approximately 7 billion and we consume more than 40% of the world’s total food and energy available. In addition, we are not doing anything to recycle these sources of energy! We are overfishing our oceans, destroying animals’ habitats, and making it harder for us to survive in the long run. Our population continues to grow tremendously and we cannot even support many the third world countries that are experiencing food shortages. The trend of explosive population growth cannot keep continuing forever, something is going to happen that will halt it and that is lack of resources to sustain ourselves. We are spending our start up capital without preparing for the future.

            Our situation is similar to the Ponzi scheme and startup capital and Hartmann believes we share many characteristics with those two ideas. The Ponzi scheme is where investors are promised quick profitable returns but the thing is another line of investors is needed to pay them back and when you stop getting investors the whole system collapses. As for startup capital, using all of the cash you have and once you have run out, the company crashes and die. These two scenarios are similar to our situation but instead, replace cash with oil.  “A Ponzi scheme is another way in which things go well for everyone, until one day there’s a sudden and catastrophic collapse” (22). The Ponzi scheme is a representation of our reality, when its supply of investors stopped investing money, the company crumbled. They had a limited amount of investors like we have a limited amount of oil. Once you run out, there is no way of getting that money/oil back. “Don’t “pay as you go” --just live off your “startup capital” “(20). Hartmann tells us a story of a company in the making relying on their startup and as it came to an end, they had run out of startup capital in order for them to keep going. Our startup capital is oil and when it runs out will our civilization die out like how the company died out? Many people are unaware of what is going on right now and it is important to get the word out in our age of knowledge scarcity.

            The media being one-sided is one of the viewpoints that Hartmann stresses and how they fail to touch on other perspectives. He refers to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, many newspaper companies were manipulating public view and were pushing against the invasion of Iraq. They made it seem that the majority of the public is pushing for war, however, that was not the case and most of them were opposed to the idea without United Nation sanction. Most newspaper companies failed to portray this side of the story. “The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw a repeat performance of the corporate-owned newspapers molding rather than reflecting public opinion, when 60 percent of Americans were opposed to unilateral intervention without U.N. sanction, yet none of the chain-owned newspapers...editorialized against the invasion (126). The media being one-sided is dangerous, and can make people biased to certain views without considering other views. There is not enough awareness for climate change, media companies fail to get this message across which results in uninformed people with no concern for the future. Hartmann is trying to depict how the media manipulates our views of problems on society so they can build up suspense and milk the consumer for more money rather than being truthful and telling us what is really going on in our day in age. Furthermore, in our digital age, we tend to tell ourselves that we live in an age of knowledge considering it is easily accessible however, would we be able to sustain ourselves if all hell breaks loose?

            Knowledge scarcity is the age we are in according to Hartmann because of the type of information we focus on today. He argues this because people no longer how to take care of themselves and rely heavily on other people for survival. We rely on stores to provide food for us, but if those were to disappear would we be able to take care of ourselves? “People no longer know information that’s vital to sustain life such as how to grow their own food; how to find drinkable water; what’s in their food; how to build a fire and keep warm; how to survive in the natural environment…” (126). In our digital age, we have easy access to knowledge through the Internet to the point where we know more about celebrities than how to survive. Hartmann is trying to show us how far in thought we are from our ancestors. We have lost the knowledge of basic survival functions such as growing our own food, finding drinkable water, how to build a fire, and etc. In addition, if climate change happens, it would be hard to imagine seeing people survive without intervention considering that most people have no idea how to take care of themselves without oil. Hartmann informs us that we are more uniformed today than ever, which is why he states we are in an age of knowledge scarcity.

            Knowledge scarcity is caused by the media and television is an idea Hartmann believes because of how many people rely on television for their news. Most people in the United States own a television set, and rely on media outlets to deliver them information. People are inclined to believe what the news outlets say is true because they are a news company and people who rely on one source of information are in danger of being swayed by the media’s manipulation. “People set aside large portions of their lives to watch a flickering box--hours every day. They rely on that box for the majority of their information about how the world is, how their politicians are behaving, and what reality is…” (130). Not having a honest news outlet is damaging to our country and could turn people’s ideologies left or right depending on who controls the pieces. Our people would be unable to make informed and would rely on what news outlets report which could be biased or not. Take the Patriot Act for example, voting against it is the most patriotic act you could do, voting yes for it would give the government more resources to spy on you. Many news outlet made it seem terrible to not support the patriot act because of the name alone. This is the type of power our news companies hold. The road to where we are now is because of a major shift in thought from older culture to younger culture.

Hartmann indulges us in the perspective of the younger culture and tells us their values and beliefs. He describes them as dominators and conquerors because of their inhumane actions. They destroy everything in their way in order to get what they want, everything they do is for personal gain.“Younger Cultures see themselves as dominators and conquerors. They don’t just live in their own area, support themselves, and defend themselves against invasions; they seek out opponents (animal or human) and capture, enslave, or eradicate them” (141). Hartmann states that where we are now is because we left our older culture behind in pursuit of our younger culture ideals. We put our desires first without realizing the consequences and impact of our choices. The younger culture has lost respect for our home, we continue to exploit it to fulfill our needs while polluting our home. Hartmann emphasizes the respect that is lost for our planet today compared to the older culture, who treated their home with care.

The Older Culture’s ideology and how they perceived their home and what it truly is to them is an idea that Hartmann touches on. When he spent time with the Native Americans he found that they saw Earth as a sacred place and respected nature. They did not want to dominate it but instead, live in harmony with their environment. “...I spent three days with several hundred Native Americans...These are people from what I will later in this book refer to as “Older Cultures,” who even to this day see the Earth as a sacred place and respect the rule of nature that one must live in harmony with one’s environment, and not dominate and destroy it” (144). Hartmann believes that if we are unable to achieve old culture thought, then it is over for us as a species. If we cannot live in harmony with our environment, the fate of our world cannot be changed. A major shift in perspective needs to occur for us to start helping the planet heal, but we cannot do that with our younger culture ideology. Our current culture is hazardous and destroys everything that intercepts with its path, it is who we have become.

The basis of our culture is a problem that Hartmann acknowledges and is a reflection of who we are today. He states that we take what is not ours in order to suffice us whether it is morally wrong or right, as long as we get it. If they refuse to meet our demands, then we negotiate in the means of war, doing whatever is necessary to take what is ours and not ours. “We live in a culture that includes the principle that if somebody else has something we need, and they won’t give it to us, and we have the means to kill them and get it, it’s not unreasonable to go get it, using whatever force we need to” (145). This is the structure of our culture, it is what it is build off of and how we came to be. He tells us instances of the younger culture exploiting and extorting others for personal gain. The United States going to war with Iraq was one of the few; resources were running low and took advantage of their situation in order to justify the attack on Iraq. Another example is when Christopher Columbus took over America, he wiped out a majority of the Native American population and enslaved them in order to obtain resources for his people without considering how it would affect the Native Americans. The younger culture and the older culture has been around for a long time, however, we have become accustomed to the younger culture that the ideology of the older culture is slowly dissipating. Are we too far gone to go back to older culture in order to heal our planet?

Thom Hartmann is worried about the stability of our species and wrote The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight in order to plan for the future so that we can move forward as a civilization. His goal was to convey the fate of the world and how the downfall of human civilization is coming, climate change is happening, and how our ocean is dying. He also wants to warn us so history will not repeat itself, warn us about relying on one source of energy, and how we need to reserve oil now to create non oil technology. In addition, he wants to understand what the future will be like if we continue our harmful actions such as aquifer depletion, overpopulation, and the Ponzi scheme. He explains that we are not prepared for what is to come if we run out of oil because we are in an age of knowledge scarcity, the media is one-sided, we do not know how to take care of ourselves, and too many people rely on their television for information. Finally, he explains how we transitioned from older culture to younger culture and explains the basis of our culture today. Are we prepared for a world without oil? Is it too late to reserve oil for non oil technology? Are we too far gone?