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Advice for foolish virgins

19 July 2013

James Currall considers what we should do before the oil runs out

No Oil in the Lamp: Fuel, faith and the energy crisis
Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow 
DLT £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT469 )

THIS is a book written by two people who are clearly passionate about an issue that, by their own admission, they have failed to make a significant number of fellow Christians enthusiastic about. While the title is presumably a reference to Matthew 25.3, it is the subtitle that indicates what this book is about.

The thesis is simple. The reserves of oil, on which so much of our current lifestyles depend, are finite. Production has peaked, and supply will diminish over time. That will require either a gradual or an abrupt change to the way we live and to international relations. This phenomenon is generally referred to as "peak oil". Seven chapters lay out the problem, and discuss the pros and cons of different types of energy.  

Four more suggest what might be done about it, and how a "soft landing" might be achieved. The authors do not, however, see peak oil as simply an economic or scientific matter. Two additional chapters paint Christian attitudes as being part of the problem, and attempt to start the development of a "theology of peak oil". The first digs up Lynn White's arguments concerning the interpretation of Genesis 1.28 from the 1960s: an unease with the Green movement's supposed pantheism; an alleged Christian obsession with personal salvation and an apocalyptic vision; and Western Christianity's selling out to materialism.

I am sure that there is some truth in these charges, but am less than convinced that it adds anything significant to the otherwise very informative chapters on the problem.

A few sections contain a brief discussion of moral issues, but this is fairly lightweight. Simply stating something to be a moral issue does not automatically mean that it should be a significant, specific concern of those who profess to be Christian. It is possibly this assumption that lies at the root of why the authors do not find the Christians to whom they have lectured flocking to their cause.

The theology of peak oil revolves around the prophetic writings and social justice, Ecclesiastes and human wisdom, Jesus's teaching about not storing up treasures on earth, living with shared possessions as the early Christian communities did, and preparing for the Second Coming. Again, the four chapters that discuss practical solutions contribute far more than this initial attempt to sketch a theology.

If you want to explore the idea that peak oil is an important and neglected aspect of the energy crisis, you will probably learn a great deal from the bulk of this book. If, however, you want to explore Christian ethics and a theology of energy- production and -use, and community living, you might find yourself less richly rewarded.

The Revd Dr James Currall is a scientist and a deacon in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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