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Waiting for peak oil: a paradox

Consumption

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As an enthusiastic proponent of fracking, Gene sent me a link to this NBC article

Power shift: Energy boom dawning in America

that argues, among other things, that due to fracking, the U.S. will leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the #1 fossil fuel producer by 2020. Already today, we see amazingly dropping prices of natural gas and many other things will follow. The technologies are getting better all the time. You get the point but you may find more information about these matters.

Just minutes later, I opened the blog of Alexander Ač, a crazy professional Czech and Slovak climate alarmist, any falling-sky alarmist, and peak oil champion:

Resolve the paradox (autom. transl. from Slovak)

And that was quite a contrast. Alexander lives in a different galaxy than Gene. He’s waiting for peak oil every second, every day.

However, the complexities of the real world are making Alexander’s waiting somewhat confusing, much like the beliefs of young rabbis in “Is Electricity Fire?”, a story due to Feynman. The rabbis were trying to solve the puzzle whether the sparkling elevator was fire – an important scientific question because they wanted to know whether they could use the elevator on Saturdays.

Similarly Alexander is trying to find a maximum of a function. And it’s so hard!

The paradox Alexander wants you to resolve is the discrepancy between the graph of the population-adjusted number of miles driven on all roads

and the graph of the U.S. oil production since 1922:

They just disagree! In particular, the first graph shows the holy moment Alexander has been waiting for – the maximum in June 2005. But the second graph shows nothing of the sort. It’s a paradox for Alexander because in his way of looking at the world, the graphs should agree so the oil production should have peaked in 2005, too! But it didn’t. Since a local minimum a few years ago, the U.S. daily oil production went up almost 30 percent.

Now, this is obviously nonsense. If we graphed the total oil production and the total oil consumption, we could get some agreement. But these two graphs are graphs of very different quantities so there is no reason why they should have maxima and local minima at the same places. In particular, the graphs have the right to differ because:

  • the oil production graph is just for the U.S., a small part of the world production
  • the mileage graph is a graph per capita while the oil production isn’t expressed on the per-capita basis at all
  • oil is used not only for vehicles but also in power plants (poor countries), production of plastic matter, fertilizers, and other things and none of the parts has to be proportional to the “whole”
  • the mileage graph doesn’t take the fuel consumption into account; fuel consumption increases for larger cars and in city traffic
  • the mileage graph probably doesn’t include the miles vehicles make outside roads, especially agricultural vehicles on the fields
  • and I may have missed something equally important.

Please feel more than free to correct me and point out some difference between the graphs that is more important than the entries on my list. Which of the things is the most important one?

At any rate, a single difference above would be enough to explain differences in the locations of local extrema of the two graphs. Alexander’s world view is one in which all the graphs are the same (and ideally, all of them agree with the global and local temperature and the CO2 concentration as well). It doesn’t matter whether you draw barrels of oil or miles or ppm of CO2 or Celsius degrees here or there, whether the graphs are for the U.S. or the whole world, whether they’re on per-capita basis or not, whether they include this or that, whether they’re looking at a small fraction of the consumption or everything.

Alexander has pretended to be interested for things like oil production and oil consumption for many years but he has missed every single subtlety (well, they’re not really subtleties) above. He still doesn’t have the slightest clue how the world works. In fact, even when I told him about a subset of the reasons why the graphs differ and semi-joked that the mileage per capita dropped since 2005 because people begin to use Skype (and he therefore had a signal and opportunity to be more careful about the stuff he is writing), he showed another, less important aspect of his detachment from the reality. The stocks of Skype have to be going up, he said! A nice try but there are no stocks of Skype, a company that was bought by Microsoft NL in 2011 (as everyone who is getting e-mails about the “upgrade” of Windows Live Messenger to Skype knows).

Alexander believes that there may exist only one graph, the curve should probably be smooth (another nonsense but strongly believed by similar “thinkers”), and it should have a holy maximum that must be worshiped by everybody. Now, imagine how confused Alexander had to feel since the moment when he was spitted from the artificial environment of a vagina into the real world several decades ago (and he’s getting increasingly confused). There are millions of graphs one may draw and each of them has different locations of the minima and maxima and his prayed-for peak oil maximum is not only non-existent but also ill-defined and utterly ludicrous and unimportant even if it could exist.

If you draw the total production or consumption – not just some per-capita figures – and if you include fracking, it’s pretty clear that there won’t be any peak for quite some time. Alexander will have to suffer through extra decades in which his beloved peak oil won’t be coming but he will surely scream whenever he sees any blip, any foggy signal that may be misinterpreted as the Son of God of peak-oil-and-climate-armageddon-and-all-other-sky-is-falling-crackpot-stories-you-have-not-even-heard-about. He will misinterpret anything and everything that is ever seen or said as well as all the things that weren’t even seen or said, hoping that his neverending sky-is-falling whining is sufficiently loud to convert his psychiatric pathologies into a reality. 😉

the reference frame



7 Comments on "Waiting for peak oil: a paradox"

  1. Cloud9 on Sun, 31st Mar 2013 8:59 pm 

    Great. I’m ready for $1.50 gasoline, dropped costs of production and a new real estate boom. Bring it on.

  2. Beery on Sun, 31st Mar 2013 9:30 pm 

    So let me get this straight: just because one single person’s beliefs are demonstrably lacking in foundation, that means that a mathematical certainty that has been shown to be true over and over again is a myth and your belief, founded in nothing more than pure hope and optimism, is certain.

    Yeah… I think I’ll choose to rely on the mathematical certainty. Oil reserves don’t grow on hope and optimism.

  3. econ101 on Sun, 31st Mar 2013 9:46 pm 

    I dont think you understand quantity and time beery. Sure the sun is going to burn out, but when? Same with oil/gas. There is so much out there you have no idea, think the sun.

  4. BillT on Mon, 1st Apr 2013 12:40 am 

    econ, the sun has blinded you to facts OR reason. When you start calling cooking oil and moonshine ‘oil’ you know the game is over. This fraking is a bubble, a blip on the screen of reality. It does not signify abundance. It signifies desperation.

    The race is on. Will climate change kill us before we can burn all of the carbon fuels or will the supporting financial system collapse first and slow the climate change extinction to come? My bet is that the financial system will collapse in the next few years and close down all of the corporations around the world. Or, at least, cripple them so that fraking and offshore drilling is not possible.

    Remember, it takes many billions of dollars EVERY YEAR just to keep the production of fossil fuels at the $110 range and this cost is only going to increase. When the consumer no longer has money to consume, the game is over.

  5. Cloud9 on Mon, 1st Apr 2013 12:55 am 

    I believe that we will one day be energy independent. Having said that when we reach that independence, our consumption levels might very well be on the level of the 19th century which has interesting implications for our population levels.

  6. Keith_McClary on Mon, 1st Apr 2013 5:28 pm 

    “oil is used not only for vehicles but also in power plants (poor countries)”

    Uhh, those are both USA charts.
    _______________________________________________

    I can explain Alexander’s paradox: It’s the high prices, stupid. Because there’s no more gushers.

  7. Snoopy on Tue, 2nd Apr 2013 2:36 am 

    econ101. I have to say I’m regularly entertained by your comments. I work as a software developer for a bank and so, like hard cold facts but I constantly have to work along with economists like yourself who I believe get their advice from the tooth fairy, elves and sometimes pixies.
    If you’re going to use the sun as an analogy then you really need to consider some facts.
    The sun should start to grow in about 1.1 billion years. So where the sun is at now is the glory days of oil use, when there was plenty of sweet crude. In about 1.1 billion years from now the sun will begin to grow larger and hotter. The earth’s ice caps will melt and, as the planet grows hotter, the oceans will boil away. Should anyone be alive around then, that’ll be a subtle indication that the sun is nearing its end. We are at that stage with oil use. Those signs are there. Yes, there’s lots of oil but its costing a fortune to get it and you as an economist should know that high oil prices shackle economic growth.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-23/how-high-oil-prices-will-permanently-cap-economic-growth.html

    Stop deluding yourself!

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