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Peak Oil: Is This Approach The Only Option?

General Ideas

The roster of Fellows at the Post Carbon Institute hardly strikes any reasonable person as a collection of bug-eyed extremists out to strike fear into the hearts of mere mortals everywhere. Disagree if one must with the conclusions they draw, but this think tank has shared with the public a variety of thoroughly-research, fact-based reports on energy, fossil fuel supplies, climate, and related issues.

“Extremists” is not the first thought that comes to mind when reading the great body of work the Institute has created over the years. Unless of course you are one of the advocates of fact-free nonsense as policy still out there in full force peddling their views by stirring up their readership with less than admirable efforts to steer policy debates away from reality and into the rabbit hole of denial. Anything or anyone contradicting their narrow and self-serving interests is met with whatever arsenal is available.

Since facts don’t seem to be part of that supply very often, revving up the red-meat buzzwords is Plan B. Why engage in honorable discussions about facts if you can instead just insult or ascribe motivations and objectives existing only in tiny minds? (Probably suggests a few things about the “merits” of their positions and preferred methods of conduct, however.)

The radical anti-fracking advocates at the Post Carbon Institute took over leadership on the whole ‘Peak Oil’ argument a few years ago. Since doing so, they have turned what was at one time a somewhat misguided and short-sighted mathematical endeavor into a full-blown religious cult, in which every data point, regardless of its nature, becomes twisted into a support point for the argument that the dreaded ‘Peak Oil’ – and/or ‘Peak Gas’ depending on what day it is and which side of the bed these activists wake up on – is just around the corner, and nations that depend upon petroleum products for much of their energy mix, i.e., pretty much every nation on the face of the earth, are DOOOOOOMED!

Yeah! You tell ‘em! Thanks for helping me to recall the days of sixth-grade schoolyard debates. Nothing substantive, but if you can glom onto a factoid and spin it as needed without appearing entirely insane or offensive, then use whatcha got! Who cares about serving the public good, properly informing citizens, or even basic decency when you can just toss out this?

What’s the point? Who does this benefit? Certainly not the public.

Post Carbon Institute’s Richard Heinberg recently offered a thoughtful and fact-derived essay entitled “The Gross Society: We’re Entering an Age of Energy Impoverishment” which apparently thoroughly enraged at least one writer who didn’t seem to find much time to actually debate the merits of Richard’s argument in his piece. He did latch on to one relatively minor offering from Heinberg’s article to fuel his entire argument, which likewise suggests that if that’s the best rebuttal available, perhaps some added consideration and reflection might be worth considering.

These people are quite verbose, able to whip out 3,000 word diatribes with the snap of a finger….
Note that the Cult’s entire argument in this piece (assuming you have the patience and lack of anything better to do to actually read the whole thing) hinges on acceptance of the assertion that oil prices are somehow today at historic highs. Think about that for a second:  That assertion is not remotely true in absolute terms, much less in inflation-adjusted terms.

First up, I apparently had nothing better to do and was stocked with just enough patience to endure a start-to-finish reading of all 3000+ words of Richard’s “diatribe” [that was a grueling ten minutes, but I endured, although his reasoned argument differs from what I understood “diatribe” to be]. If anyone else came away from that reading with the idea that this lead Cultist’s “entire argument” hinged “on acceptance of the assertion that oil prices are somehow today at historic highs” I would suggest re-reading the article with eyes open the next time.

That was one point among many. To argue that that trivial spin on a relatively minor point served as sole justification for raising a number of legitimate concerns about future energy supply suggests motivations having nothing to do with engaging in anything remotely-associated with a mature debate about the facts and issues at hand. Why might that be?

Give credit where credit is due, the Forbes’ contributor does offer an impassioned defense of his one-note “historic highs” argument:

That assertion is not remotely true in absolute terms, much less in inflation-adjusted terms.
In absolute terms, the price of oil exceeded the current price for WTI by 50% in 2008, rising as high as $147/bbl before suffering a steep decline at the advent of the Great Recession.  But in inflation adjusted terms, there have been many times in the past when the real price of crude oil exceeded the current prices for WTI or Brent crude.  Just off the top of our melon-like head we can tick off 2011 and 1980, to name just a couple of years in addition to 2008.
More to the point, the price of gasoline is really the key statistic that indicates the true cost of petroleum to any country’s economy, and there is literally no case to be made that current gasoline prices are at historically high levels on an inflation-adjusted basis.

My melon-like head does not process math or economics well … at all. I’ve readily admitted that, so I will not dispute that assertion or the stats cited. But who among the general population cares if today’s inflation-adjusted/absolute/real/whatever prices are lower than those in 1980, or 54 B.C.?

Although the 1%-ers and their loyal followers don’t give much thought to the struggles and challenges of the great majority of fellow citizens, their daily financial struggles and fears aren’t helped much by those academic analyses. For them, prices are high, period. High prices may be a delight to bean-counters focused on bottom lines, but for most others, what needs to be maintained and what needs to be curtailed in the weekly budget matters more.

And regardless of the economic keywords employed, production via hydraulic fracturing, or deep-sea exploration, or Arctic considerations are all more expensive, too. Toss in added risks, investor concerns, those silly environmental issues which we cultists just delight in considering—especially when it comes to contemplating our children’s future—and a host of other issues Richard Heinberg managed to discuss but which our intrepid Forbes’ guy found no rebuttals for, we have some energy supply challenges facing us now and in the years to come.

Reality sucks, rarely more so when it interferes with a narrative premised on ideology first, second, and third.

The Peak Oil cult alternately argues that we are on the verge of reaching the ‘peak’, or have indeed already reached it. Meanwhile, global crude oil reserves and production continue to steadily rise, and every real expert understands that we are just at the tip of an enormous underground iceberg when it comes to identifying and producing global shale oil reserves.
As for the whole ‘Energy Impoverishment’ argument, it is crucial to remember that the goal of the radical environmentalist movement personified by the Post Carbon Institute activists is to deny nations access to abundant, affordable energy that oil and natural gas provide every day. Energy impoverishment is in fact what we will all experience if these people ever do achieve their ultimate goal in life.
At the end of the day, ‘Peak Oil’ theory has become nothing but a religious exercise engaged in by environmental radicals, designed solely as an effort to create alarm in the public’s collective mind about continued reliance on crude oil and natural gas as our main source of energy.
That’s what it is, and if you fall for it, well, shame on you.

A fine, clueless, red-meat, facts-be-damned-(or-ignored), insult-them-because-I have-nothing-else, and doesn’t-get-it-at-all conclusion.  Instead, we’re treated to “[A] religious exercise engaged in by environmental radicals, designed solely as an effort to create alarm in the public’s collective mind….”

Say what? That’s so embarrassingly juvenile, false, and petty it’s hard to imagine an adult wrote it for anyone other than Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart (or Fox News). But why discuss anything about the economic, geological, and production facts and considerations  involved in the fabulous “underground iceberg” and reserves when you can simply toss out a not-even-close-to-true objective of “environmental radicals” to “deny nations access to abundant, affordable energy that oil and natural gas provide every day?”

If anyone is buying that strategy as a sound analysis or critique, “well, shame on you.”

Better still, take up the writer’s offer and “actually read the whole thing.” Then decide. Knowledge is a good thing, and more useful—especially if the future matters to you.

Peak Oil Matters

15 Comments on "Peak Oil: Is This Approach The Only Option?"

  1. dubya on Sat, 31st May 2014 6:22 pm 

    When the forest industry cuts jobs the blame always goes to the environmentalists for harming the industry, never to the ‘efficiency’ of using more diesel and less human power – today the amount of ‘fiber’ being ‘processed’ is not too far down from all-time highs but it takes very few workers to keep the machines running.

    Likewise, when the ‘world runs out of oil (yeah, yeah, I know…)’ the blame will be put on the ‘peak oil alarmists and environmentalists who caused the whole problem.

    Sadly, like the ant & the grasshopper I suspect Richard Heinberg will be right up there as one of the first lynching targets, because, well; uh, because he has a garden and nobody else in the neighbourhood does.

  2. Northwest Resident on Sat, 31st May 2014 7:55 pm 

    A lot of people will fight hard to maintain their state of denial. Those doing so will of course find someone or some group to blame — it is in their nature and part of their denial paradigm. As realities creep closer to those people, many of them will amplify their attacks on whoever they blame — anything but accept the facts and face reality. My guess is that individuals who are prone to hang on to their state of denial are not likely to be a large part of the human genetic pool in the future.

  3. Makati1 on Sat, 31st May 2014 9:09 pm 

    NR, I agree. They will likely be the first to go. If any of us survive, it will be nature’s “survival of the fittest” that makes it through the bottleneck. Do you know any of these people? I’m not likely to be one of them, but I know some who are. They are currently in prison.

    Interesting how the human species may be represented in the next world by our ‘dregs’ of civilization today.

    Do you disagree? Why?

  4. Stephen on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 2:03 am 

    I think our best plan is to have a big policy summit with all the world leaders going down the middle and lower class people, on changing how we use energy. See what people would be willing to sacrifice, what would work better to optimize society for less energy use, and how to put what makes a quality life using less energy higher national priority than corporate profits, economic growth, and the like. We must accept that the best solution energy wise is likely not the most profitable.

  5. Meld on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 2:05 am 

    The thing about criminals is they tend to be rather stupid and abhorrent to the rest of society.

    With humans evolution favours the most intelligent and those able to fashion long distance killing tools. Not big silverbacks with emotional problems.

  6. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 6:55 am 

    Stephen, what you are proposing is rational but the “TOP” cannot manage a change. The complexity of the global system is beyond reform. This system is in disequilibrium and managed degrowth impossible except by a bifurcation to a lower level of economic activity. It will be no different or any better than just allowing the system to run its course. When the only option is decent then does it matter? It will all be a crap shoot. Chaos is not predictable nor rational. Chaos is random. The argument for quick collapse is strong because of the continued damage BAU presents to our vital natural support systems. The argument for maintaining BAU is strong because we need more resilience preparations and “BOTTOM” efforts at lifeboats. Personally I beg BAU to give me 3 more years of relative prosperity to finish my life boat. My short term is complete. I need to do a few more things to complete my long term plan. Don’t get me wrong this whole prep endeavor may be futile but it is organized, rational, and focused. I have been at it 10 years. It is now a passion and life devotion. It involves efforts that those I care about can draw upon to sustain life in a time of crisis. I feel special in this regard but the fire of collapse may consume every effort. Just as I will one day rot in death.

  7. J-Gav on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 11:03 am 

    The dagger in the heart of the current mindlessly consumptive system may well first appear to be a financial collapse, as a number of the more astute observers of our predicament have suggested.

    Chronologically speaking, that makes sense. But among the other converging tsunamis, my own gut feeling tells me that biodiversity loss will seal the deal before climate change, nuclear holocaust, etc.

    Why? Because it’s the poor cousin that’s harder to turn into a blockbuster movie, and thus remains much further away from the public eye. Only a handful of people actually see bees dying massively from pesticide exposure. Not sexy! Not Hollywood!

    However, the results of our wanton destruction of the intricate chain of life (species extinctions 1000 times greater than the background rate = 6th Great Extinction) is, IMHO, what is most likely to blind-side an arrogant, ignorant and irresponsible humanity.

    Childishly taking for granted that the bounties nature provides us with will be there forever no matter what, is a ferociously unforgiving mistake.

  8. Juan Pueblo on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 11:17 am 

    Davy, 3 more years would be great. I will be better prepared by then, too.

  9. Juan Pueblo on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 11:26 am 

    JGav, I kind of don’t care that much about how it will happen any more. I am now focused on simplicity, resilience, redundancy, and survival training and preps for my wife and myself. No matter what comes, you’ll be better if trained and equipped.

  10. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 11:35 am 

    Juan, I have included fasting twice a week to accustom myself to hunger.

  11. peakyeast on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 12:06 pm 

    I have included overeating twice a week to polster myself for times when there is no food… 😉 j/k

  12. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 12:42 pm 

    Peak Yeastie, I have to admit I eat like a wolf sometimes.

  13. Stephen on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 2:43 pm 

    Davy, I think it COULD be managed, even at the TOP if legislation were enacted, and the public was very informed on the severity of the problem. Even the corporate elite will eventually find out and beleive it, if fuel becomes scarce or they realize that a global supply chain is no longer possible or profitable to run. This may force some companies and banks to go bankrupt or force them to concentrate on one small local area with goods assembled close to home.

    But the real challenge is how to educate the rest of the public on the skills to survive without a functioning global supply chain, full employment, an the like.

    This will require many skills our ancestors used, that are no longer passed down from generation to generation, and no longer taught in school (just look at how many hands-on electives have been eliminated over the years due to budget cuts or testing mandates). For example, a very small percentage of the population knows how to be a hunter gatherer. Very few know how to hand make clothes, simple tools, pottery, dishes, cook over an open fire, and other things. Instead, many today are taught just to go to the store and turn on the stove and electronic entertainment today.

    I also don’t think that Marshall Law and killing everyone lower class will pan out either. I think anarchy is far more likely. This is because if the grid fails, unemployment will rise rapidly, depleting the tax revenue pool that funds the military, and this will also cut off the bullet factories, tank factories, and other military equipment factories in their tracks when their supply lines fail or their power fails permanently.

  14. J-Gav on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 6:14 pm 

    Juan Pueblo (is that Jua

  15. J-Gav on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 6:26 pm 

    or is that Juan Pablo? Pues, no importa …

    I think having an idea about where the Big Bite is likely to come from does make a difference when it comes to building defenses against it.

    You’re aware, not everyone is – understanding that meeting some very basic needs is probably going to become problematic in a relatively short time means focus will be paramount.

    But focus on what? Individual survivalism? That won’t cut it. Something bigger has got to happen – but won’t – until a realization sets in that the living beings that inhabit this planet are all part of what makes it tick. Anything less than that could become a suicidal cop-out more quickly than the MSM wants you to know.

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