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Peak Oil: This One Is On Us # 2

General Ideas

Mason Inman recently posted an excellent 2012 interview he conducted with James Schlesinger, our nation’s first Secretary of Energy, who passed away shortly before that posting. This is the second part [first here] of my observations on what Mr. Schlesinger had to say about peak oil and related energy-supply considerations. [Quotes here are from that interview.]

This one isn’t exactly a revelation, in and of itself:

Politicians will say things that they think will comfort the public. There are many people who believe, truly believe, that that’s the case. You can read papers in the press all the time, in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, denigrating remarks about peak oil and peak oilists. And it’s not because they are in this politicians [sic], soothing the public. They’re soothing themselves, because they believe that free markets always work.

If it weren’t for the fact that free markets do not always work, that would be completely true. Certainly there’s much to be said for relying on that comforting belief, but automatically imposing that as a conclusion to end further discussion has its drawbacks on those occasions when free markets aren’t working (or can’t work well enough to solve a problem at hand).

It’s also convenient to ignore the consequences of free market efforts when they don’t lend themselves to instant price-supply-demand considerations. Climate change, for instance. And yes, peak oil for another. Neither challenge lend themselves to instant cost-benefit calculations. The problems associated with each unfold slowly, mixing together far too many components and related effects to be reduced to on-the-spot determinations consistent with free market ideals.

Hoping that they do, or deciding they do without bothering to consider (or realize) they don’t does cut down on time spent planning for what happens in those cases. So there is that benefit. But in all honesty, that’s not exactly a benefit … at least other than for a very few. If that’s the objective, then the problems are solved! A few billion others may take issue with such conclusions, however.

[G]eology has got to be remembered. We are not dealing simply with prices going up and supply increases, because supply doesn’t increase when prices go up [when the world is near the peak of production].

Whatever the free market ideals say about supply increases after prices rise clearly does not apply to peak oil considerations. Insisting that they do, period, full stop, is a tactic to bring discussions to a halt. But as far as the benefits and contributions to solving problems? That’s different.

So now what? Reality won’t go away just because free market proponents insist it will … somehow … some way … perhaps. We all need to be better about these pressing issues. Their appearance in full bloom today is not the mandatory requirement before more meaningful conversations, planning, preparation, and adaptation all take place. The problems are here already. It’s now just a matter of degree.

Mason Inman: It seems to me that in the past couple of years, the U.S. has gone beyond complacency and has developed a powerful denial about peak oil. Do you think that is true? I’m thinking of the widespread attitude that fracking has solved the country’s energy problems.
James Schlesinger: Yeah. It’s in part a rhetorical denial. It’s partly [that] the industry feels that way. You read in the papers all the time about how America is going to become an exporter of oil and gas. Well, it’s true [laughs]. We can become an exporter of gas—but we’re not going to become an exporter of oil. It’s just as simple as that….
I think, going back to Hubbert, that a lot of the captious remarks or criticisms of Hubbert with regard to his supposedly being wrong about peak oil—which you hear not infrequently—are based upon a misinterpretation, sometimes deliberate, of what he was saying. Which was, I am dealing with conventional oil fields, and how they are going to have a natural cycle, reach a peak, and diminish. He was not talking about oil sands, he was not talking about Venezuela and heavy oil. He was not talking about drilling down 10,000 feet below the ocean surface. He was talking about what he was talking about. And for people to criticize him for not anticipating this or that, is, I think, intellectually offensive.

That’s certainly an available tactic. But helpful? Not so much.

Perhaps some honesty and fuller disclosures might be worth contemplating?

Peak Oil Matters



13 Comments on "Peak Oil: This One Is On Us # 2"

  1. meld on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 6:17 am 

    The thing is free markets “work” even when they’re not working.

    A depression caused by a collapse in a free market is the free market working brilliantly, it’s clearing away all the usless crap that is no longer relevant. It’s when you start messing with markets and keeping things artificially inflated that things start going wrong.

    What would have happened if the 08 collapse had been left to happen? we would probably be living in a far more better adapted world than we are now. The central planners have papered of the cracks and the signs that the shit is coming and so when it does it will by 1000s of times worse then 08.

  2. Martin Smith on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 6:59 am 

    >The thing is free markets “work” even when they’re not working.

    You missed the point. If we ARE near Peak Oil, and the price of oil goes up, free market theory says there will be more exploration and more exploration will produce more oil and the price will fall again. But if we ARE near Peak Oil, then more exploration will NOT produce more oil. You can argue, in that case, that the price of oil will continue rising, and, eventually, we will do the R&D required to convert the economy from oil to something else. But that requires a collapse of the economy that will mean enormous hardship for billions of people. If that’s what you mean by free markets “work” when they’re not working, then free markets don’t work in this case.

    We KNOW Peak Oil is coming, so let’s begin mitigation by doing the work necessary to convert the economy to be based on renewables and nuclear. If cold fusion happens, fine, but let’s not wait for the “free” market to tell us what we already know.

  3. Davy, Hermann, MO on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 7:25 am 

    Meld, I disagree on a far better world now. Currently there is no widespread starvation and there will be in a collapse BAU. But, you are correct with then (2008) is better than latter (2016). If the immediate 2008 total collapse was averted and a bad hangover allowed to set in then this may have been the best case. We know civilization cannot take too much degree/duration of collapse. So a softer landing is preferable. What happened was the global system “came to” after passing out to a punch bowl for more partying. This party has not stopped. Any of you that have ever been on a real bender know the longer you push it on the harder the crash once it is over. So, even a significant 2008 collapse would have been better than a repressed 2016/2017…..2020 collapse that appears to be in the pike. A collapse where dangerous disequilibrium has been allowed to build. The longer this decent is delayed the greater the disequilibrium’s and the more painful and ugly the adjustments. DMeyer mentioned an excellent concept earlier “collapse velocity” This is what happens when “Martisen’s exponential functions are allowed to do their damage”

  4. Davy, Hermann, MO on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 7:39 am 

    Rhetorical denial and conceptual hypocrisy or “having your cake and eat it too” these are tools the lobby of plenty is using to repress reality. These actions and strategies have “half-lives” their decay will be ugly and nasty for the public when a “collapse velocity” sets in. Once this made up reality falls apart the swiftness of the decay will be a storm. The public will go from normality to crisis in zero to sixty. That is not a good public relations strategy!

  5. paulo1 on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 9:21 am 

    Guess who this is?

    “Make no mistake, we will not allow rioting in the streets. Despite what any individual thinks about Wall Street Bankers my Govt has decided their efforts and actions are integral to the rebuilding of America’s economy and continued prosperity. Therefore, I have drawn a red line on the asphalt of our major cities and have instructed our peace officers to keep the peace. My friends, we will come through this together and America will be stronger for having done so. Any questions”?

    “Mr President…Mr President, does this mean the Student Loan Alleviation Program (SLAP) will be now cancelled”?

    “Of course not, Candy. Helping our students and future tax payers (voters) is an integral part of our platform. I see no reason not to proceed as planned. Next”?

    Paulo

  6. Juan Pueblo on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 12:19 pm 

    Davy, I think you misunderstood Meld. He said better adapted world, not better world. If I have understood you correctly before you agree that if we had avoided these artificial post 2008 bubbles, we would better adapted to a decline reality today.
    An opportunity was wasted to set a better course in 2008, as will continue to be the case in the future. The longer BAU lasts, the harder the blow will be, but we all want more time to prepare. What is the word for that? Connundrum?

  7. Davey on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 1:12 pm 

    Juan, a part of me wonders if a BAU in serious crisis and not collapsed is the preferable state for adaptation and mitigation strategies. I worry that a collapse of BAU may leave little to work with. My comment to meld regards life is generally good now compared to what we would have now with a 2008 collapse. But none the less 2008 was an opportunity lost. But collapse was avoided so there is no widespread famines. Collapse equals widespread famine in my book.

  8. Tedman on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 1:21 pm 

    Ohhhh great doomer porn!!! Let me get my popcorn!!

  9. Northwest Resident on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 2:03 pm 

    “Collapse equals widespread famine in my book.”

    I took a “shortcut” around the stop light the other day, right behind the local supermarket in my area. Wouldn’t you know it, backed up to four different loading bays were four big trucks, unloading their food supplies. Two had California license plates, one had a Nevada license plate and I didn’t quite catch the other one. The food in that store is totally dependent on shipments from out-of-state, and no doubt a lot of it comes into the ocean ports from even further away than that. There is NO SYSTEM IN PLACE to stock the food shelves with local produce, if there is any local produce to be stocked at all. Hey, we’ve got tons of wineries around here and quite a few nut orchards. So collapse? No food. Hey, let’s all survive on grapes and nuts — when they’re in season. Excellent plan. Sure fire widespread famine, that will be the result of a global economic collapse. And let’s not even talk about countries in the far east where millions of huddled masses depend entirely on rice, grain and fertilizer imports to provide their meager daily meals — kiss those poor people goodbye in a collapse scenario.

  10. meld on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 4:50 pm 

    But people don’t just stand around and die in a famine, they move to somewhere food is available. In a fast collapse scenario people would be moving around all over the US to find the place that can get them the most food. It wouldn’t be pleasant but it wouldn’t be madmax.

  11. Northwest Resident on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 5:41 pm 

    meld — How are people going to get around in the USA in a fast collapse scenario? Take a bus? Ride a train? Hitchhike? In a fast collapse scenario, the gas stations will have no gas, the cars will only take people as far as the one tank of gas will get them (if that far). After that, they’re on foot, and in case you haven’t seen the average American lately, let me tell you, he/she isn’t going to get far on foot even in the best weather conditions. Fast collapse equates to “stranded where you are”, more or less. And the chances of food being where you are when that fast collapse hits is slim to none for most people.

  12. Davey on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 5:52 pm 

    Meld, great point if there is food elsewhere. What about no food elsewhere and others also on the move in the direction one is moving. That might be disorienting.

  13. Tedman on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 9:33 pm 

    people can go 50 miles or more a day on a bike…it will not take long to get to where people have stored up and “prepped up”! Fast collapse won’t matter war will ensue and and nuclear bombs will be flying….better hope for a slow collapse…

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