A Crude Awakening (2006), a provocative documentary addressing the global peak oil crisis, was recently released on DVD. Although the original film release created some buzz in the Peak Oil thought community, it did not receive significant attention in the wider population. With the ever-deepening oil crises affecting us on economic, political and social levels, the wider DVD release provides us a useful time to review this film as a PlanetThought and discuss its assertions in a broader audience.
A Crude Awakening specifically sets out to warn of another "inconvenient truth" whose effects may not be as ecologically catastrophic as global warming, but which is likely to start having an almost immediate impact on every aspect of our daily lives and the luxuries we have come to take for granted – the imminent exhaustion of the world's oil resources. The film certainly aims to shock its audience into an awareness of what this fact will mean, not in the manner of a Michael Moore exposé or an Al Gore lecture, but rather through bold direct statements that are backed up through interviews with an impressive range of experts, geologists, historians, political scientists, directors of oil companies, energy analysts, consultants and White House advisors.
The documentary initially glides over the history of oil production and its use through the use of old public information films and the provision of statistics, but that's not the real reason why these experts have been assembled. It's the notable participation of political commentators and presidential advisors that make the most significant contribution to the central thrust of the documentary's purpose, which is that not only are oil resources indeed extremely limited and nearing depletion, but that there is a concerted cover-up on the part of our governments to hide the truth from the public. To support this theory, the filmmakers draw clear lines between control over the extraction, production and consumption of oil and the number of wars and conflicts that can be directly attributable to them. Its political experts not only cite the wars in Sudan, Kuwait and between Iran and Iraq, but take it as common knowledge that the war in Iraq and US foreign policy in general are fundamentally governed by the necessity to control the flow of oil to meet the growing consumer demand for it, and maintain it at the cheap prices that both industry and the general public are accustomed to pay for it. So vital is management of this aspect of the economy that any politician who wants to get elected is not going to tell the public that there is an oil problem and that they are going to have to change the whole basis of their industry, economy and lifestyle. Essentially, this documentary suggests that your government is lying to you and waging war to maintain the lie.
If A Crude Awakening doesn't convincingly back up such bold assertions in any detail whatsoever, the evidence of the eventual depletion of oil reserves cannot be denied. The most compelling statements on the subject come from archive footage of an interview with Dr. M. King Hubbert, the first scientist to recognize the severity of the situation, but almost every expert interviewed here agrees that the numbers just don't add up as fewer and less rich deposits are found, yet production is sustained and the reserve figures quoted by the OPEC countries never seem to drop. A time of reckoning is just around the corner - if it hasn't already been reached. Ray McCormack and Basil Gelpke's film certainly achieves the desired impact in showing how this will affect almost every aspect of a world economy that is not just heavily reliant on having cheap oil, but almost wholly dependent on it. The shock of just how cheaply we have come to expect to pay for such a powerful source of energy is effectively made compared to other liquids and you realize that oil is cheaper than bottled water. And whereas the value of coffee works out at about $50 a gallon, the most powerful non-sustainable resource on the planet only costs $3 a gallon.
As a documentary, A Crude Awakening is indeed a little crude, both in its delivery and its presentation. It does consist of little more than talking heads, interspersed with infomercials and time-lapse photography (and an ethic) that owes a lot to Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi), even down to the use of Philip Glass throughout the documentary's music score, but it's particularly crude in its making of bold statements and use of bald statistics without really illustrating them or proving their validity. The documentary however certainly succeeds in making its point and making it very clearly. The fact that an oil crisis is looming cannot be denied and there have been many scares and warnings to attest to its imminence. Whenever "Hubbert's Peak" is reached (if it has not already been reached) and the decline of oil resources starts to be felt around the world, it is going to have a major impact on almost every aspect of our lives.
The documentary argues that it clearly makes no sense to artificially sustain an industry at such a cost, and with the growing economies in Asia and Africa, with primarily China and India now also expecting to enjoy the same luxuries and lifestyle that the west has been accustomed to though cheap oil, the pace for a natural resource that is not renewable and not inexhaustible clearly cannot be sustained for much longer. Failure to acknowledge this fact prevents research and development into alternative sources of energy, and even if the world were to turn its attention now towards investment in new technologies, it could take 30-50 years to make the developments necessary in the best option, the use of hydrogen. While oil is so cheap and there is no acknowledgement that it's going to run out anytime soon however, why would anyone bother to look into it?
There's nothing particularly striking or original about the documentary methods used in A Crude Awakening, but the emphasis is purely on the message and, with an impressive range of eminent expert interviewees, it gets its point across clearly and unambiguously. The world is running out of oil and there isn't anything capable of replacing it in the near future. Our complete dependence on cheap oil for almost every aspect of our current lifestyles means that very soon we are going to face a major crisis, and in all likelihood a lot more war and Middle East turmoil. A Crude Awakening bluntly presents some hard assertions and compelling facts about the nature and extent of oil depletion and you should make every effort to see it.