Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 7, No 3 (2013)

Disaster Movies and the ‘Peak Oil’ Movement: Does Popular Culture Encourage Eco-Apocalyptic Beliefs in the United States?

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson
Issued Date: 1 Nov 2013


Using two large-scale surveys, I argue that the prevalence of apocalyptic popular culture influences apocalyptic beliefs in the United States. I focus especially on Hollywood disaster movies of the 1990s and 2000s, most of which deal with environmental themes, and participants in the ‘peak oil’ movement, a quasi-religious American apocalyptic social movement organized around a vision of energy depletion and social collapse. In these surveys, ‘peakists’ reflect on their relationship with fictional narratives of disaster and destruction. I contend that disaster films influenced major aspects of the ‘peak oil’ ideology, such as the hope for regeneration (or even a better world) as a result of environmental crisis and social collapse; the tendency towards fatalism; and the imagination of social and environmental change as immediate and explosive instead of gradual. This cultural influence is situated in the context of contemporary responses to other environmental issues, such as climate change.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v7i3.289


Astyk, Sharon. 2005. ‘Peak Oil Is Still a Women’s Issue and Other Reflections on Sex, Gender and the Long Emergency’. Online: casaubonsbook/2010/01/31/peak-oil-is-still-a-womens-iss/.
———. 2008. ‘Why Are the Mean Girls Picking on World Made by Hand?’. Online:
Atwood, Margaret. 2003. Oryx and Crake (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart).
Baker, Carolyn. 2009. Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (iUniverse).
Balmford, Andrew et al. 2004. ‘Hollywood, Climate Change, and the Public’, Science 305.5691: 1713.
Bardi, Ugo. 2009. ‘Peak Oil: The Four Stages of a New Idea’, Energy 34: 323-26. Doi: 10.1016/
Barkun, Michael. 2000. ‘Millennium Culture: The Year 2000 as a Religious Event’, in Martha F. Lee (ed.), Millennial Visions: Essays on Twentieth-century Millenarianism (Westport, CT: Praeger): 41-54.
Becken, Susanne. 2007. ‘Developing Indicators for Managing Tourism in the Face of Peak Oil’, Tourism Management 29.4: 695-705. Doi: 10.1016/j.tourman.2007.07.012.
Bendle, Mervyn F. 2005. ‘The Apocalyptic Imagination and Popular Culture’, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 11: n.p.
Black, Brian C. 2012. ‘Oil for Living: Petroleum and American Conspicuous Consumption’, Journal of American History 99.1: 40-50. Doi: 10.1093/jahist/jas022.
Brecha, Robert J. 2012. ‘Logistic Curves, Extraction Costs, and Effective Peak Oil’, Energy Policy 51: 586-97. Doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2012.09.016.
Buell, Frederick. 2004. From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Environmental Crisis in the American Century (New York: Routledge).
Campbell, Colin. 2004. The Coming Oil Crisis (London: Multi-Science Publishing).
Caputi, Jane. 1978. ‘Jaws as Patriarchal Myth’, Journal of Popular Film 6.4: 305-26. Doi: 10.1080/00472719.1978.9943447.
Darley, Julian. 2004. High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing).
Davila, Claudia. 2007. Spoiled. Online:
Deffeyes, Kenneth S. 2005. Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak (New York: Hill & Wang).
Denby, David. 1997. ‘Lava Story’, New York, 12 May 1997.
Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. Ehrlich. 1974. The End of Affluence: A Blueprint for Your Future (New York: Ballantine Books).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1841. ‘Self-Reliance’, in Essays (Boston: J. Munroe & Co.).
Fickas, Bill. 2009. Personal interview. 12 November.
Foner, Eric. 1970. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press).
Gabler, Neal. 2001. ‘This Time, the Scene Was Real’, New York Times, 16 September 2001, Section 4:2.
Gallup Poll. 2006. ‘Y2K Millennium Bug—Wave 3’. Online : com/documents/questionnaire.aspx?STUDY=P9908039.
Gibbs, Nancy. 2002. ‘Apocalypse Now’, Time 160.1: 38-46.
Gilbey, Ryan. 2010. ‘Climate Change Is Inspiring the Ultimate Scary Movies’, The Guardian, 1 January: 28.
Globus, Robin, and Bron Taylor. 2011. ‘Environmental Millennialism’, in Catherine Wessinger (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Millennialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 628-46. Doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195301052.003.0032.
Goodstein, David. 2004. Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil (New York: Norton).
Gupta, Ajay K., and Charles A.S. Hall. 2011. ‘A Review of the Past and Current State of EROI Data’, Sustainability 3.10: 1796-809. Doi: 10.3390/su3101796.
Hall, Stuart. 1973. ‘Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse’, paper for the Council of Europe Colloquy, University of Leicester.
Hanlon, Phil, and George McCartney. 2008. ‘Peak Oil: Will It Be Public Health’s Greatest Challenge?’, Public Health 122.7: 647-52. Doi: 10.1016/j.puhe. 2008.03.020.
Heinberg, Richard. 2004. Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers).
———. 2007. Peak Everything: Waking Up to a Century of Decline (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers).
Helm, Dieter. 2011. ‘Peak Oil and Energy Policy: A Critique’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy 27.1: 68-91. Doi: 10.1093/oxrep/grr003.
Howard, James L. 2009. ‘Global Peak Oil Survey 2009’. Online: http://www. 2971&Itemid=77.
Hulme, Mike. 2010. ‘Four Meanings of Climate Change’, in Stefan Skrimshite (ed.), Future Ethics: Climate Change and Apocalyptic Imagination (London: Continuum): 27-58.
Hulsether, Mark. 2007. Religion, Culture and Politics in the Twentieth-Century United States (New York: Columbia Press).
Inman, Mason. 2013. ‘The True Cost of Fossil Fuels’, Scientific American 308: 58-61. Doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican0413-58.
Jameson, Frederic. 1979. ‘Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture’, Social Text 1: 130-48. Doi: 10.2307/466409.
Jocic, Dusko. 2012. ‘The Gasoline Gangsters’. Online: http://www. gasolinegangsters. com.
Keane, Stephen. 2001. Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe (London: Wallflower).
Kellner, Douglas. 2010. Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush–Cheney Era (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell).
Klare, Michael T. 2001. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (New York: Metropolitan Books).
———. 2004. Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Oil Conspiracy (New York: Metropolitan Books).
Kompridis, Nikolas. 2006. Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press).
Kropotkin, Peter. 1902. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (London: W. Heinemann).
Kunstler, James H. 2005. The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press).
———. 2008. World Made By Hand (New York: Atlantic).
———. 2012. ‘Clusterfuck Nation’. Online:
Lawrence, Felicity. 2007. ‘Pioneering Welsh Town Begins the Transition to a Life without Oil’, The Guardian, 7 April.
‘Life After the Oil Crash’, 2009. Online:
Mann, Charles C. 2013. ‘What If We Never Run Out of Oil?’, Atlantic, 24 April. Online:
McCarthy, Cormac. 2006. The Road (New York: Alfred A. Knopf).
McMahon, Kathy. 2010. ‘Stages of Peak Oil Awareness’. Online: http://www.
———. 2011. ‘The Feisty Life’. Online:
Meadows, Donella H., and Club of Rome. 1972. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (New York: Universe Books).
Mooallem, Jon. 2009. ‘The End Is Near! (Yay!)’, New York Times Magazine, 19 April: MM28.
‘My Movie Influence’. 2012. Online:
Newman, Peter. 2007. ‘Beyond Peak Oil: Will Our Cities Collapse?’, Journal of Urban Technology 14.2: 15–30. Doi: 10.1080/10630730701531666.
Niven, Larry, and Jerry Pournelle. 1977. Lucifer’s Hammer (Chicago: Playboy Press).
Nixon, Rob. 2011. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Doi: 10.4159/harvard.9780674061194.
Nonnecke, Blair, and Jenny Preece. 2000. ‘Lurker Demographics: Counting the Silent’, Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, The Hague, Netherlands.
North, Peter. 2010. ‘Eco-localisation as a Progressive Response to Peak Oil and Climate Change: A Sympathetic Critique’, Geoforum 41.4: 585-94. Doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2009.04.013.
Northcott, Michael S. 2007. An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire (London: SCM Press).
‘Peak Oil Is a Religion’. 2012. Online:
‘Peak Oil News & Message Boards’. 2012. Online:
Peak Oil Poet. 2012. Online:
Pestel, Eduard, and Club of Rome. 1989. Beyond the Limits to Growth: A Report to the Club of Rome (New York: Universe Books).
Pew Research Center. 2010. ‘Public Sees a Future Full of Promise and Peril’. Online:
Roddick, Nick. 1980. ‘Only the Stars Survive: Disaster Movies in the Seventies’, in David Bradby, Louis James, and Bernard Sharratt (eds.), Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television 1800–1976 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 243-70. Doi: 10.1017/ CBO9780511659423.018.
Ruppert, Michael. 2004. Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers).
Saad, Lydia. 2010. ‘Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S.’, Gallup, 12 January 2012.
Sack, Kevin. 2001. ‘Apocalyptic Theology Revived by Attacks’, New York Times, 23 November: A17.
Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. 2013. ‘From Politics to Prophecy: Environmental Quiescence and the “Peak Oil” Movement’, Environmental Politics 22.5: 866-82. Doi: 10.1080/09644016.2013.818303.
Scott-Cato, Molly, and Jean Hillier. 2010. ‘How Could We Study Climate-related Social Innovation? Applying Deleuzean Philosophy to Transition Towns’, Environmental Politics 19.6: 869-87. Doi:10.1080/09644016.2010.518677.
Shils, Edward. 1967. ‘Ideology: The Concept and Function of Ideology’, in Paul Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4 (New York: MacMillan): 975-78.
Slusser, George. 2000. ‘Pocket Apocalypse: American Survivalist Fictions from Walden to The Incredible Shrinking Man’, in David Seed (ed.), Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis (New York: St Martin’s Press): 118-35.
Smil, Vaclav. 2006. ‘Peak Oil: A Catastrophic Cult and Complex Realities’, World Watch Magazine 19.1: 22-24.
Smith, Amanda. 2011. ‘The Transition Town Network: A Review of Current Evolutions and Renaissance’, Social Movement Studies 10.1: 99-105. Doi: 10.1080/14742837.2011.545229.
Sparks, Glenn G. 2010. Media Effects Research (Boston: Wadsworth).
Stirling, S.M. 2003. Dies the Fire (New York: Roc Books).
Survival Podcast. 2010. Online:
Svetkey, Benjamin. 1997. Entertainment Weekly: 3-4.
Taylor, Bron. 2007. ‘Exploring Religion, Nature and Culture—Introducing the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture’, JSRNC 1: 5-24. Doi: 10.1558/jsrnc.v1i1.5.
‘The Movie that Changed my Life’. 2010. Online: com/Collapse-Michael-Ruppert/product-reviews/B003CJXJ8Q?pageNumber=7.
Tuveson, Ernest L. 1968. Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Urstadt, Brian. 2006. ‘Imagine There’s No Oil: Scenes from a Liberal Apocalypse’, Harper’s Magazine, August: 31-40.
Willson, Robert. 1977. ‘Jaws as Submarine Movie’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 15: 32-33.
Wojcik, Daniel N. 1999. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America (New York: New York University Press).
Wright, Kevin B. 2005. ‘Researching Internet-Based Populations: Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Survey Research, Online Questionnaire Authoring Software Packages, and Web Survey Services’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10.3: 11.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy