A Crude Awakening

Written, produced, and directed by Basil R Gelpke and Ray McCormack
Running Time: 83 minutes
Rated: Rated G
When Al Gore's The Inconvenient Truth premiered at the Cannes Film Festival just over a year ago, it facilitated a world-wide change in the level of awareness about global warming. Concerns about climate change and the role played in carbon emissions by human activities is increasing rapidly, much like Al Gore's famous exponential graph, which demonstrates the spectacular rise of carbon dioxide emissions and abnormally high temperatures in the last 14 years.

In Australia as elsewhere, what governments are prepared to do to avert almost certain environmental and economic disaster, could well decide the outcome of elections, and there is no shortage of sources that people can go to find out more about global warming, and the imperatives driving it.

Among the best of them is A Crude Awakening, which brings to any modelling of the future, a disturbing collateral complication. Our rising standard of living and prosperity is largely contingent on the world's finite oil reserves, which not only contribute to rising carbon emissions and global warming, but are being depleted at an alarming rate.

In the past, concerns about the devastating effects on the environment and biodiversity by the release of carbon dioxide and other harmful chemicals into the earth's atmosphere, has been traded-off for the more immediate need to sustain the world's unprecedented economic growth and prosperity - despite the growing inequity between the rich and poor, within and between nations. But as this very well-made, and despite its subject very entertaining documentary shows, the trade-off is becoming unsustainable.

The premise of A Crude Awakening is that at some time in the near future, the world will reach a peak in the rate at which crude oil can be pumped from the ground, where it became trapped in rock after its formation millions of years ago. Once that oil peak is reached, daily production rates will decline over time, bringing with it an end to the way we live currently in the world.

Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack use archival footage, television commercials from the glory days of the automobile industry in the 1960s, and a raft of scientists, academics, and those working in the petrochemical industry, to cogently and interestingly argue their case.

Intelligent guesses are made as to whether the decline in oil production will be swift or slow. The analogy is drawn to reaching the top of a mountain, and not knowing whether the descent on the other side will be sheer or gently sloped. What is not contested by any of the experts in the film, is that oil production will peak soon, if it has not done so already, bringing with it many dangers, and that how we cope in a post-'peak oil' world will largely depend on what we do about conserving present oil reserves, and developing alternative energies.

Gelpke and McCormack graphically illustrate their thesis with photos and film footage of the world's earliest oil fields in their hey-day: the Baku fields in Azerbaijan which produced more than 90
of the world's oil from approximately 1830 to 1930; Maracaibo Basin in Venezuela where oil was discovered in 1917; Texas, where the oil boom peaked in the 1950s, before running dry. These images are then contrasted with the same fields today - industrial graveyards with the rigs resembling nothing so much as the rusting skeletons of dinosaurs.

A Crude Awakening also explores the politics of oil, and the instability of the regions where most of the world's oil is being produced and fought over: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Dafur in the Sudan. There are suggestions that OPEC is deliberately inflating the numbers of its oil reserves, and that without steps to ration oil by making it realistically expensive (in the US which consumes 25
of the world's oil, a cupful of oil costs 2 US cents compared to $US 1.50 for a cup of coffee), and exploring or inventing alternative energy sources, we can expect more 'resource wars' in the future.

A Crude Awakening is an important film to see and digest. Although its vision is at times apocalyptic, it bears testimony to our propensity to hope, and is to be applauded for refusing to skirt the truth, as the many people involved in the making of this documentary see it.

Gil Scrine Films Out Now

Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.