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Peak Oil Denial: The Liberal’s Dilemma (Pt 3)

Public Policy

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.
This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right. [1]

[NOTE: This is the third in a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate  – Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, I began an examination of what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective saw as a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University [link to PDF download]. I’m doing so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions.

Studies of everyday reasoning show that we usually use reason to search for evidence to support our initial judgment, which was made in milliseconds. [2]

Our task, then, is to organize society so that reason and intuition interact in healthy ways. [Jonathan] Haidt’s research suggests several broad guidelines. First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. Third, we need to break up our ideological segregation. [3]

Problems solved!

And now, back to reality….I’ve argued in any number of posts that how we approach, plan for, and then finally adapt to the changes Peak Oil and a warming planet are going to impose requires not just better efforts from our so-called political and business leaders. As full as our plates may be, meaningful adaptation to a very different future requires understanding, effort, cooperation, and contribution on our parts as well.

So far, most of our leaders have done an admirable job of ignoring and pandering instead. “Gotta cover my political ass” is the unfortunate, long-lamented but yet-to-be-changed legislative approach for most. No one seems willing or able to get past that and have honest, full-disclosure conversations with the electorate (all of them, not just constituents on the same side of their ideological fence), to thus explain why change is on its way and why (and how) we need to plan for it now. It’s a daunting challenge to be sure, but it’s the only way. (I’m not suggesting that President Obama isn’t attempting to do so. He is. It’s just not enough, and that’s not solely his “fault.”)

It’s well past time for us to ask: What’s the incentive and benefit in keeping people uninformed? Expecting delivery of honest (albeit unpleasant) truths shouldn’t be just an ideal….How is not doing so of any benefit past the next election?

And so again we circle back to more of the perspectives commonly adopted and expressed by those who deny Peak Oil, artfully shared by the above-referenced Mr. Folks. (There’s a lot to discuss. I’ll examine and discuss these points in the final installments.)

That’s been more than enough time to fix the problem, but he’s done nothing but make it worse. If the president had promoted domestic production of fossil fuels as he should have done, we wouldn’t need a quick fix.  We would have had a fix already in place, and it would now be working.

Meanwhile, on his four-stop ‘energy tour,’ Obama continued pushing the failed policies that have resulted in soaring gas prices.  At every stop — even at Cushing, Oklahoma, the heart of oil country — he insisted that drilling for oil is not enough.  It will take “all of the above,” he stated, including greater subsidies for solar outfits like Solyndra and higher taxes on oil companies.  How is that going to bring down gas prices?
At the same time, Obama’s surrogates are attacking Wall Street speculators and ‘greedy oil companies’ for driving up prices.  Those same speculators drove down prices during the Bush administration — why are prices soaring only now, if not as a result of Obama’s policies?  And those so-called greedy oil companies have had to fight Obama for permission to drill anywhere.

For over 40 years the left has brought out one argument after another against fossil fuels.

Whether it is ‘peak oil,’ ‘carbon emissions,’ ‘can’t drill our way out,’ or ‘no quick fix,’ every argument has the same goal: to force Americans off fossil fuels and onto expensive, government-regulated green alternatives.

When Obama tells us there’s no quick fix, he is not suggesting that we should get started on a fossil fuel fix.  He’s saying that since there is no quick fix with fossil fuels, we’re better off dumping them and moving on to renewables. But if the fossil fuel fix is not all that quick, the green energy fix is glacial.  In fact, it is no fix at all, because no matter how many windmills and solar farms we subsidize with taxpayer money, it will not be enough to fuel even one tenth of our energy needs.

The proper course is to withdraw all subsidies and allow market forces to decide where to allocate capital.
Yet Obama refuses to consider this obvious solution, despite the fact that in the real economy and at the state level, where federal regulation has not yet intruded, it is already working.  The oil and gas boom in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states is spurring growth, producing cheap energy, and why can’t you recognize the facts about its limitations and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

If only he could gain control over oil and gas drilling — regulatory control that still rests mainly with state governments — he would soon have his boot on the neck of America’s energy companies — extorting billions from them to further his political ambitions.

If Obama is re-elected, the effort to bring the energy sector under national regulation will only be intensified.  A large part of that effort will be punishing new taxes and environmental regulation at the national level.  None of this will result in lower gas prices.  In fact, it will continue the push toward European price levels, currently at $10 a gallon.
Despite what the president tells us, there actually is a ‘fix’ for high gas prices.  It is to get government out of the way and allow America’s world-class energy companies to compete in the production of cheap and reliable energy.


For starters, the ongoing whining (I know, I know—not helpful, but I am duly acknowledged that this is not a practice limited only to the Right bashing a President on the Left) that President Obama’s policies are either raising gas prices or not lowering them has been thoroughly discredited by a long list of experts from across the political spectrum *, yet the “argument” persists. To what end?

The question I posed above as it relates to our political and business leaders is no less applicable to these “messengers:” What’s the incentive and benefit in keeping people uninformed?

How do we get past that? Can we? We don’t have much of a choice.

More on the way….

* A random search of articles I’ve reviewed in just the last 6 – 8 weeks produced the following list. It’s a nice cross-section of fact-based debunking of the gas price whining mentioned above. The optimist in me says this should be sufficient to put that argument to bed, but it won’t. (A few weeks ago, I also posted a discussion about the President’s “responsibility” for keeping gas prices high.)
by Glen Bottoms
Obama’s most dangerous foe: High gas prices
by Andrew Leonard
Get Real on Gas Prices
Drilling alone won’t bring cheap U.S. oil
by Christopher Swann
Presidents and the Price of Oil
by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson
Empty Promises: Experts Say Keystone XL Won’t Do Anything For Gas Prices
by Stephen Lacey
Gas in the US Elections
by Dean Baker
Driving the politics out of gas prices
by Charles Lane
Presidential Oil Lies: Politicians Lie, the Market Doesn’t
by Nick Hodge
More Drilling Won’t Lower Gas Prices
by Michael Conathan
Who’s To Blame For Current Gas Prices? (Newt Gingrich — Gas Price Fairy)
by Robert Rapier
Energy Experts Debunk Right-Wing Defense Of Oil Subsidies
The Story Behind US Gas Price Pain

by Tyler Durden
The Truth About Obama, Oil And The Gasoline Blame Game-Part I
by Rick Ungar
The Truth About Obama, Oil And The Gasoline Blame Game-Part Two
by Rick Ungar

Big Oil, Big Government, and Big Hypocrisy
by Kevin Carson
Viewpoint: Gas Prices and the Big GOP Lie
by Bryan Walsh
Media produces, laments public ignorance on gas prices
by David Roberts
FACT CHECK: More US drilling didn’t drop gas price
Why the Right’s Zombie Lie About Gas Prices Is Wrong But They’ll Never Let it Die
by Joshua Holland


[1]; How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains by Joe Keohane – 07.11.10
[3]; Why Won’t They Listen? [book review of] ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt – March 23, 2012 by William Saletan

Peak Oil Matters

One Comment on "Peak Oil Denial: The Liberal’s Dilemma (Pt 3)"

  1. Gale Whitaker on Fri, 27th Apr 2012 4:34 pm 

    This a really stupid article and ignores the fact that someday fossil fuels will be too expensive for the futures children. At that point the children will freeze to death or starve to death. we need a plan for extreme conservation and education. The US needs to start hoarding oil from the rest of the world so that we can last as long as possible. I have no hope that these things will happen. It’s more likely that food will get so expensive that people will starve to death. That’s the way humans have always operated and there is no reason to expect a change.

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