Skip to content

Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face

Archive

Archive for October, 2010

Some personal and family travel commitments are going to keep me off-line for at least a week. I hope to be able to post again as of the 29th, but more likely my next post will appear on November 1.

Please check back soon.

Thanks!

Continuing with the theme of messaging, I think it’s important to add some considerations to the mix. This is both for those of us who have chosen to do what we can to share what we know about the challenge of Peak Oil, and those trying to understand the complex issues that arise from declining worldwide oil production.

“Unfortunately, politicians don’t seem willing to face a more difficult reality: There is no solution, if by ‘solution’ we mean producing enough energy to maintain our current levels of consumption indefinitely.
“To deal with the energy crisis we must deal with a consumption crisis, but politicians are reluctant to run a campaign based on a call for ‘less’ — the American Dream, after all, is always ‘more.’ But, whether the public and politicians like it or not, our future is about learning to live with less, starting with a lot less energy….
“The most important step in dealing with our energy crisis is to realize just how much isn’t there. Either approach — believing that we can drill our way or invent our way out of the predicament — is magical thinking. Instead of fantasies of endless abundance, we have to recognize that a radical shift in the way our lives are arranged is necessary for survival. [1]

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this is not the nicest or most pleasant message to share with others, especially at this time when the fears and worries about our future economic prospects are so pronounced. More bad news is not anyone’s first choice as a topic of conversation.

“But the passion of opposition [to President Obama] stems, I think, in part from a sense that the way the world once was is disappearing, that this is inevitable, and a repressed acknowledgment of the inevitability actually intensifies a resistance to it.
“The America of the future will not be the America of the 1950s, the teenage years of many of those in the Tea Party movement.” [2]

And therein rests a fundamental problem to be not just acknowledged—that’s the easier part. We Americans want things to go back to the way they used to be, whatever the hell that means, and the bigger problem is that Peak Oil is going to change everything. We are a nation whose prosperity has been created, sustained, and enlarged on the back of the fossil fuel resources whose efficiency and low costs over time have been blessings almost beyond rational thought. And we are not ready by a long shot to embrace the realization that life as we know it is going to now take on different shadings than the ones we have been expecting or hoping for.

Those fossil fuel resources are no longer what they once were, and soon enough they will not be accessible to us with the ease, low cost, and ready availability we’ve come to expect. Business as usual, and/or a return to the way things used to be, are soon enough options that will no longer be ones we can count on. It doesn’t matter that this may not likely be truly noticeable for several—or even “many”—more years. We need even more time than that to prepare, and we’re not doing anything yet! Expanding demand for fossil fuels (specifically oil) is going to clash head-on with a decline in availability, and the math won’t add up. We’re simply not going to have all that we need, and that’s not going to change. Certainly it won’t get better.

Lifestyle choices, industry, transportation, food production, entertainment … you name the topic and “easy and cheap” oil has been a vital reason for its existence, growth, and success. Without the same supplies of easy and cheap oil, something is going to have to give. For most of us, that means adaptations we’re largely unaware of, given how much oil is a part of our everyday personal and economic lives. Worse still, we’re all woefully unprepared to deal with those adaptations.

Ignoring, pretending, hoping … those are all strategies we’d prefer relying on. I’m no different in that regard. The only problem with employing any one or combination of those and similar strategies is that they are useless. Other than that, we should have no problem!

The truth is that many of us are genuinely frightened. Accustomed as we have been for the last dozen or so years at what seemed like limitless prospects for growth and everyone’s own version of the American Dream, what’s happened in the last 3 – 4 years has left us all more than a bit stunned. The government we presumably count on for support and leadership becomes more dysfunctional by the day.

“Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg told me that when he does focus groups today this is what he hears: ‘People think the country is in trouble and that countries like China have a strategy for success and we don’t. They will follow someone who convinces them that they have a plan to make America great again. That is what they want to hear. It cuts across Republicans and Democrats.’” [3]

Of course we all want to expand prosperity and return to a state where we feel as though we are part of something/a nation that is truly great by any reasonable definition. Of course we all want to continue on the paths of growth and unlimited opportunity that seemed ours for the taking just a few short years ago. Why wouldn’t we? That’s been the hallmark of this wonderful nation for decades.

No one is prepared to accept that continuing growth and even greater opportunities aren’t just around the corner. They aren’t anywhere to be found; at least not if we expect/hope/insist/desire/plead for more of the “same.”

I’ve been consistent throughout in asserting a belief that the challenges this energy problem is going to impose upon all of us much sooner than we think are also opportunities for us to re-think, revise, and devise entirely new ways of living and producing. Daunting to be sure, and as idealistically wonderful as that may be, that’s an awful lot of work to undertake when it would be so much easier to just shore up our economy a bit, get people back to work, and then prosper along just like we did in the recent good old days.

“Today’s American voter clearly is demanding instant results from whomever it puts into office….Election campaigns are now based on challengers not being the incumbents – and little else of substance….
“We currently seem about to embark on another round of throwing the rascals out. If as seems likely the economy continues to slide, we could be seeing a pattern developing in which the voters throw out one party and then the other in a vain search for somebody who can return the American dream of ever expanding prosperity.” [4]

This is an imminent strategy destined to fail—a message I nonetheless fear is going to fall on a lot of deaf ears. Sad to say, we may all have to get beaten down some more before we realize the problem-solving approaches that once may have worked are going to be just as ineffectual as the whole ignoring, pretending, etc. etc. line of thought. Until we come to terms with the fact that the economic and employment challenges and obstacles are not going to be solved with a tweak here or a tax cut there, and that we need to start preparing for a very different future on an almost unimaginably grand scale, we’re going to keep repeating these cycles of behavior that serve little long-term purpose other than to eventually frustrate and discourage.

It’s a choice. Not an immediately appealing one, perhaps. But the choice to assume responsibility for undertaking the changes we need to make—politically, personally, economically, industrially, financially—is ours. We’re going to be confronted by a future largely foreign to us, and one we’ll be even less prepared for (or able to rectify) than we might be now if we choose instead to just kick this particular can a bit farther down the road. Do we want to have a meaningful say in how a different future unfolds?

How do we come to terms with the fact that this Great Recession does not lend itself to the same solutions that worked in the past, and that the divisive, ineffective, and wildly dysfunctional and confrontational partisan bickering is only going to make things worse?

What is and will be our vision for the future? How can we find a way to appreciate the need to articulate a consistent and long term vision and then accept the challenges, limitations, and opportunities that await us? How can we do so in a truly bipartisan manner? This is most definitely not a Left or Right issue. But there are some fundamentally egregious approaches to governing and leading and truth-telling that need to be changed. When one party has seemingly decided to collectively create its own alternative and fact-free reality about climate and energy, that strategy is not exactly helpful to the masses. In truth, the cowardice from elements of the Left and the hypocrisy and obstructionism from elements of the Right are each and all appalling—and that’s the nicest thing I can say.

To what possible end is any of this justified? Why do we keep sending people to Washington who cannot seem to think beyond next week, if they think at all?

We need to accept one truth, perhaps a truth more important than all the others: There are no easy, quick, and inexpensive solutions. Period.

There are no liberal or conservative facts about global warming or peak oil. There are just a substantial preponderance of solid, well-reasoned facts, and they are going to intrude into our rosy hopes for the future regardless of our political leanings or assessments and preferences about Big Government, Smaller Government, or Almost No Government. There is no ready solution on the horizon to accommodate (or overcome) the mind-numbingly stupid and extreme partisanship we’ve all allowed to serve as the new norm in Washington.

As significant, burdensome, and frightful as our current economic challenges may be, the ones we’re going to have no choice but to adapt to in the years to come are on an order of magnitude much, much larger and broader than most can imagine. To think that the complexities and widespread impacts of declining fossil fuel availability will lend themselves to Republican or Democratic solutions is beyond ignorant.

We need to change how we work with (or against) “others.” Declining oil production and the ongoing lack of a ready, inexpensive supply of oil to “get us back on track” and then just continue on to ever-expanding horizons of growth and prosperity are going to curtail those expectations dramatically. The challenges we’ll face are not going to be shoehorned into liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, or “other” political theories or solutions. They are well beyond such simplistic approaches.

What we really need are courageous leaders who understand this, can and will speak the truth to all of us regardless of political affiliation, and work with all of us to create the strategies and then devise the means by which we find our better selves and better prospects for a future vastly different future than what we’ve let ourselves expect by default. So too do we need to come to terms with what we face and what is at stake. Those are decisions open to each and all of us.

“Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights — or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things … that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability.” [5]

Let’s not let that bleak vision be the one we fulfill. The choice is ours.

Sources:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-10-05/energy-recognizing-how-much-isn%E2%80%99t-there; Energy: Recognizing how much isn’t there – Published by Energy Bulletin on Wed, 10/06/2010 by Robert Jensen

[2] http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/10/it-gets-worse-as-it-gets-better.html; Change, Reaction, And Conservatism: Reading The Tea Leaves by Andrew Sullivan, October 15

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/opinion/29friedman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion; The Tea Kettle Movement By Thomas L. Friedman

[4] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-09/politics-great-transition; Politics in the Great Transition – Published by Falls Church News-Press on Wed, 09/08/2010 by Tom Whipple

[5] http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/08/06/collapse; What collapsing empire looks like By Glenn Greenwald, August 6

In the course of doing some research on this post as a follow-up to my last one, I came across some quotes I’d saved quite some time ago from a writer disputing Peak Oil back in 2008. (I’ll be discussing related comments from other peak oil deniers in upcoming posts. Also worth noting that Kurt Cobb had an interesting and different take on challenging the deniers, here)

The post I came across over the weekend is a perfect example of the pseudo-factual nonsense that needs to be countered by those of us legitimately concerned about Peak Oil’s impact on our ways of life in the years to come. It’s not to try and persuade those who seem determined to avoid the truth. That’s a fool’s chase. The objective is to ensure that the billions who now depend on fossil fuels to sustain their lifestyles and businesses understand that the reality of fossil fuel decline is soon upon us, and all those things we just accept as how life is are subject to (most likely great) change.

That unknown blogger (apparently the cite now requires registration) offered the following as a basis for his/her denial that peak oil will pose us any problems: “By inventing an engine that is twice as efficient, or a new means of producing plastics that requires half and [sic] many hydrocarbons, we have effectively doubled the amount of fuel available even if we have the same number of litres.” Well … duh! (Why not quintuple it while we’re at it?)

Perhaps if we could learn to flap our arms at just the right angle and speed, we’d learn to fly and wouldn’t need any form of transportation, and then we’d save 2.7 bazillion barrels of oil every year!

That proposal is not worth the paper it’s printed on. But as I’ve discussed before (here), the far-right noise machine that works so diligently to discount the challenges we’re going to face—when the now-plateauing (and eventually declining) levels of oil production clash with increasing (or even sustained) demand—has an annoying habit of couching the majority of their suggestions and solutions with an array of “if’s” and “maybe’s” and “could possibly’s.” Sounds great if the reader pays no attention to follow-ups that involve more of those damned inconvenient facts. I’ve come to believe that that is a hoped-for part of the deniers’ strategy, sad to say.

So where are these magical inventions? (Perhaps there’s a liberal plot guided by that Marxist-Muslim-illegal alien-invalid-President Obama to hide them until just before Election Day?)

How quickly can we expect those built-overnight-I’m-sure inventions in the marketplace? What’s that? Oh … there aren’t any such inventions. I see….so in the meantime we’ll just, uh, ah, keep hoping? Excellent strategy!

The writer then adds: “If we invent alternative technologies….” Duh, again! Exactly what kind of a solution to this problem is “If we invent”? If we invent a machine that enables us to beam ourselves everywhere just like Captain Kirk in Star Trek we’re gonna save a whole lotta oil, too; but I’m not sure we should be counting on that approach any more than this writer’s suggestion/hope/flight of fancy (and this person is not alone in expressing this kind of witless problem-solving). We’re facing some rather daunting environmental and industrial, growth-inhibiting challenges, and I for one would hope that we can begin serious dialogue on how to address them rather than wasting time refuting those whose primary concern is muddying the waters.

I gave the deniers grudging credit for turning global warming and peak oil into political issues open to debate and differing perspectives; but science and geology and facts should not be lumped together with discussions about forms of governance or political ideology. What is to be gained by denying, hiding, or misinforming others about the truth? The problems are massive enough as it is, they do not lend themselves to easy or quick or inexpensive resolution, and taking actions based on fears that one party or another will get a toe-hold on political power at the expense of doing what’s right for hundreds of millions of us who are going to be affected by these challenges (regardless of party affiliation) seems insane at best!

I certainly hope that our ingenuity and drive will devise alternative technologies or better engines or more efficient energy sources much sooner than the decades likely involved, but we need to be doing something a bit more tangible in the interim. Waving magic wands or suggesting that we need do nothing more than just be patient and wait for Mr. Magic-Marketplace to ride to the rescue may not be our most effective approach and actually ought to be fairly low on our list of strategies. It’s comfort food for those who (understandably) feel over-burdened as it is, but it cannot be the best approach offered.

Let’s face it, I’d like it if our fossil fuel resources were unlimited or even one-tenth as easy and inexpensive and effortless to bring to market as the deniers suggest! Sure as hell my life and that of my family would be much easier and we’d certainly be envisioning a much rosier future than now appears certain. As much of an optimist as I like to think I am, I try to avoid crossing over into senseless delusions to get me through my days. Recognizing the immense challenges the declining production of oil will cast upon all of us (even if the actual peak is 5 or 10 or even 15 years away—which I have no illusions about even in my most optimistic moments) is not a pleasant anticipation.

I can think of a thousand things I’d find much more enjoyable to look forward to and write about and advocate for than the problems we’ll soon enough be confronting when we simply will not have the same supply of cheap fossil fuels at our disposal as and when we want them. I’d give anything to pretend that magic solutions are just around the corner!

It’s almost too easy to lob verbal bombs at the kind of nonsense peak oil deniers offer, but lob them we must. Pseudo-authoritative statements like those cited above, notwithstanding the near-total lack of factual foundations, are nonetheless too easily accepted by those who for whatever reason do not bother or cannot be bothered to consider the issues on their own. A large body of support for these kinds of glib and deceitful utterances makes it that much more difficult for Peak Oil proponents to interject some reality into the dialogue, competing as we are with so many other issues confronting us—most of them of greater immediacy than the gradual decline of oil supply and its just-as-gradual effects on our personal and industrial ways of life. We get that!

There is certainly an understandable appeal to following the advice and soothing tomes of those who continue to tell us all will be well and to just keep having faith because we’ve always come through in the clutch before. It’s a great message of course; certainly a much more appealing one than what I and my peers have to offer.

But the deliberately misleading recitation of supposed facts dismissing Peak Oil (and global warming as well) are only part of the problem, important as it may be to challenge that approach. What we as Americans have come to expect (more accurately: demand) is every bit as much of a problem, and one far more entrenched in our patterns of behavior and beliefs than the idiotic pronouncements of the factually-challenged.

The truth is that whatever solutions we ultimately fashion to enable us to transition away from fossil fuels are years away from coming to fruition; not anywhere near as efficient or energy-intensive as the fossil fuel resources we’re now on the back side of using; will cause widespread changes (which may be good, and may not be) in how we live and work and produce and transport ourselves; will require us to use even more of the very resources we’re trying to protect (at the same time we’re depleting them), and we have almost no strategy of any kind to deal with this!

“What are the top three challenges that impede making progress on solutions that will help lessen the negative impact of peak oil?
“I believe the top three challenges to making progress on solutions are: 1) a lack of public and policy maker knowledge on these issues, and strong resistance to understanding and believing that such a profound threat to everything that many of us hold so dear–our big houses, automobile-centered lifestyles, frequent air travel, access to consumer goods from around the world–is close at hand; 2) very strong vested interests that will oppose changes in their industries and how they do business; and 3) our amazing lack of preparation for what we are facing, after investing in a built environment, food production system, transportation system, and overall economy that is so heavily reliant on cheap and plentiful oil.” [1]

In an earlier post (and its follow-up) I raised the issue that our attitudes, fears, and inclination to avoid problems not on our plate today is every bit as much a threat to our future well-being as any other challenge we’re facing now or will soon be. We’ve got our work cut out for us in trying to help citizens understand, but I don’t see that we have any choice. The obstacles are nonetheless imposing.

“Inertia and procrastination are powerful forces in determining human behavior. It is basic human nature to deal with non-routine problems when they become obvious, not before. Very few people will study the Peak Oil future carefully to determine how it will impact them. Denial is encouraged by pervasive public, media, government, and business ignorance of Peak Oil impacts. Indeed, those who become vocal about Peak Oil face ridicule by the vast majority of the ignorant. [2]

“Our cornucopian worldview—our unquestioned belief that we will achieve perpetual population growth, living standard improvement, and economic prosperity through our ever-increasing utilization of the earth’s “unlimited” natural resources—does not permit us to acknowledge our current predicament, much less to take meaningful action to mitigate its catastrophic consequences.” [3]

“Finally, we know from decades of social psychological research that we are less likely to acknowledge a threat that makes us feel guilty than one that does not, and that we are less likely to acknowledge a threat or take it very seriously if addressing the threat is tied to actions that we perceive as unpalatable—such as radically downgrading one’s quality of life.” [4]

The change—and its acceptance—are going to have to come from us. What we have to understand, painful as it is, is that this adaptation (or even the nature of the problems) cannot just be about fuel prices now. We ARE going to have to convert our ways of living and most if not all of our entire industrial foundation and infrastructure currently built upon and dependent on fossil fuels. The sooner we begin, as expensive and even non-profitable as it may be, the less expensive and damaging it will be in the long term. (That’s not much of a trade-off to be sure, and who in their right mind wants to hear that?)

Sympathetic understanding aside, we’re simply not going to have any choice in the matter. It may be nothing more than pure (naïve?) idealism right now, but our leaders on both sides of the political fence, the supposedly unbiased media, industry leaders still too insistent on hanging on to what they have and know, and a public that simply does not want to have to even consider changing most aspects of their lives are all going to have to recognize quickly that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of challenges ahead—and we need to get started on dealing with all of this several years ago.

We need to keep finding ways to get that message across if we care even a little about the future we leave for our children.

Opportunity beckons.

Sources:

[1] http://countercurrents.org/cardoni230110.htm Dealing With Peak Oil By Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz

[2] http://www.countercurrents.org/wirth040908.htm Surviving Peak Oil: Obstacles To Relocation By Cliff Wirth; 04 September, 2008

[3] http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6345 Increasing Global Nonrenewable Natural Resource Scarcity—An Analysis. Posted by Gail the Actuary on April 6, 2010 (a guest post by Chris Clugston from p34-35 of the referenced pdf)

[4] Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger: Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (p.222)

In conjunction with the recent ASPO annual conference in Washington, two articles (here and here) were offered on the subject of getting the Peak Oil message out, and what some of the strategies might be, given that, as the article by Molly Davis suggested: “… almost all of the messaging experts say the movement’s narrative has failed to influence policymakers — or even the major environmental groups.”

Certainly the level of bipartisan political hostility—as we were reminded of in that piece—contributes to the messaging problems. Others advised that finding an “enemy” might be the most effective strategy. The accepted target was the fossil fuel industry. One rationale offered is that facts alone are not enough (true, sad to say), and by demonizing an easily-demonized entity, the peak oil movement may find more sympathetic listeners. I can’t argue with the rationale, but I wonder if the convenience and expediency of targeting the usual bad-guy is the best choice.

I’d like to offer a different enemy—one also easy enough to aim at for a variety of reasons, but critical to those of us who carry legitimate concerns about what life will be like in the years to come as declining oil production becomes apparent. Explaining that we may not really start to feel the pinch of declining oil production for a few—or more—years down the road is a message that needs to be brought home more vividly and urgently. “Peak Oil” won’t show up in the headlines next week, but that provides us with all the motivation we need to help others understand why now it must become a cause célèbre long before its impact begins.

The extremist right-wing is an easy target for those of us who value things like integrity and facts and reality. My favorite blogger, Steve Benen, offered a piece on this topic (here) yesterday, and after I’d completed my first draft of this post, I came across Ron Chusid’s post offering his own take on the same theme.

In his piece, Chusid quoted Michael Hirschorn’s article in The Atlantic:

“Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is famously reputed to have said) that we may each be entitled to our own set of opinions, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. In a time when mainstream news organizations have already ceded a substantial chunk of their opinion-shaping influence to Web-based partisans on the left and right, does each side now feel entitled to its own facts as well? And thanks to the emergence of social media as the increasingly dominant mode of information dissemination, are we nearing a time when truth itself will become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the social-media markets?…More far-reachingly, how does society function (as it has since the Enlightenment gave primacy to the link between reason and provable fact) when there is no commonly accepted set of facts and assumptions to drive discourse? [1]

Why not go after those for whom facts are mere inconveniences to be disregarded when they conflict with a narrow-minded and clearly self-serving agenda? At the risk of starting a cat fight where truth may too quickly become a casualty, why don’t we more forcefully challenge those who deny peak oil (and global warming) and who do so for reasons that generally ignore reality in favor of narrowly-defined interests? Those motivations will ultimately do nothing but promote more eventual harm by denying the truths to those who clearly need them the most.

What causes me more despair than perhaps anything is not the stupidity exhibited by politicians who clearly have forsaken integrity (remember when that mattered?) and truth in order to pander to the least enlightened among us. That groveling for short-term gratification in November is endemic in our political system. The dysfunctions exhibited regularly as indicative of the political norm are certainly discouraging enough. (How does Georgia Senator Richard Shelby, for example, manage a straight face when placing a hold on a Fed Reserve nominee because the man is “not qualified” … when the Nobel Committee has seen fit to award that nominee this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics? If it didn’t affect all of us, this kind of disgraceful nuttiness would just be laughable. Hypocrisy is now high art.)

The shamelessness of politicians is now sadly all-too-routine, but the fact that there are so many among us who manage not much more than a shrug is perhaps even more disheartening.

A recent online opinion published on a notorious right wing website (my first—and I hope last—exposure to that particular mainstay of barefaced nonsense) demonstrated what has now become the usual level of factually challenged, paranoid-laden, and depressingly shortsighted commentary about the energy crisis. I then forced myself (a distinctly unpleasant experience, I might add) to read through several dozen comments in support of the author’s inane pseudo-factual tripe about electric cars and fossil fuel resources. The narrow-mindedness those contributors likewise exhibited in marching lock step with the author, replete with their own brand of paranoia; snarky, self-righteous drivel; and an utter disregard for anything even in the vicinity of truth or rational thought, is breathtaking in its scope! I know all too well this wasn’t an isolated incident.

I won’t dignify the commentary or increase traffic to the site by providing the link here (I’ll do so upon request so you can read it yourself), but that pseudo-factual essay suggested (as have others who don’t really understand the problem, and don’t understand that they don’t understand) that we should just expand our oil “imports from friendly nations” as a solution to the problems of reliance on oil from nations whose politics and policies we oppose.

Just like that!? So … what needs to be done? A phone call … will that take care of it? (Gee, why didn’t we think of that sooner?) So what if these friendly nations have to break their agreements with other nations? We’re Americans … we’re entitled to get what we want! A wave of the wand and presto! More imports!

The far right all-too-consistently tosses out these oh-so-helpful hints without bothering to discuss all the (or even any) facts which, in the real world we inhabit, make their suggestions ludicrously impossible to fulfill. Of course, we run the risk of getting bogged down in he said/she-said arguments that quickly devolve into the lowest forms of “debate”, but why let those types of offerings go unchallenged? They feed on themselves, and it is tiresome and time-consuming to have to rebut all the nonsense. But if we don’t, uninformed readers and listeners have no reason to at least consider the possibility that there may indeed be other facts out there that should at least be examined in order to make informed assessments, rather than accepting the words of the few. More information is rarely a bad thing, and giving everyone the opportunity to examine the facts and engage in rational discourse as a means of seeking common ground makes for a healthier and more productive society.

Seems like a decent enough concept….

This same author also helpfully urges us to just boost our domestic production, conveniently neglecting to offer even one fact as to how that’s to be accomplished in a nation that reached peak forty years ago! The strategy of “just utter it and hope no one asks” has been very effective, but it’s hard to find legitimate defenses for that approach if one genuinely cares about the well-being of our fellow travelers.

This writer also cites the U.S. Geological Survey estimate that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska has “10.4 billion barrels of oil.” Wheeee! We just found about 16 months worth of oil, just like that! (And of course we’ll hoard it all for ourselves, right? I didn’t catch any suggestion that it would go to market.) And what … two, maybe three weeks of drilling on a tiny plot of land oughtta take care of that, correct? Curious that the facts regarding the costs and efforts and time and consequences of drilling in ANWR somehow didn’t make it into the article. (Space restrictions really suck, don’t they?) Disingenuosly (I’m trying to be kind here), he then mentions that this “will replace imports from Saudi Arabia for 20 years” … conveniently omitting the fact that Saudi is just one of our suppliers—and not our leading provider, by the way, so not-so-subtly painting the Saudis as one of our bogeymen may not be quite as effective as he’d hoped. (Damn those facts!)

Using his math—unchallenged—that means in his world we get about 500 million barrels of Saudi oil per year, or about a month’s worth, give or take. (Rounded up, we currently use about 20 million barrels per day here in the U.S. The rest of the math is easy.)

“Saudi Arabia sends 360,934,000 barrels of oil per year (989,000 barrels per day), 20 percent of its total oil exports, to the United States, according to the EIA.”[2]

But what’s a 150 billion barrel exaggeration/40% overstatement of facts among friends, right? It makes the story better, and isn’t that all that really matters? Why worry about the veracity of the narrative when you don’t really care about the present and future plight of your readers and listeners?

As for other suggestions? He did offer that Canada and Mexico could help out by exporting more to the U.S. … the same Canada whose tar sand production shows no indication of reaching a level anywhere near enough to satisfy just our own demands let alone worldwide increasing demand anytime this century; and the same Mexico whose production levels from its largest oil field, Cantarell, has fallen off the cliff in the last few years.

“Pemex says it is getting Cantarell under control, noting that the field’s decline has stabilised at 12 per cent per year – a number many analysts find difficult to believe.
“Cantarell’s production peaked seven years ago at 2.2m barrels a day. Today the field struggles to produce a quarter of that.”[3]

And, oh, by the way:

“Canada reigns as the United States’ leading oil supplier, exporting some 707,316,000 barrels of oil per year (1,938,000 barrels per day) —a whopping 99 percent of its annual oil exports, according to the EIA” [4]

I’m guessing there’s not a lot of room for Canada to do much more than 99%, but why let reality get in the way of some pretty good nonsense. Tweak a few numbers, and our wonderful neighbors to the north should be able to get us somewhere around … what … maybe 162% of their exports? That’s a good number! (If you’re going to make stuff up, try not to go too far over the top.)

Those suggestions oughtta work out just dandy! Thanks!

And just to round out the nonsense (all in one paragraph, mind you) this same writer also informs us that the “continental US has 163 billion barrels of unproven reserves.” Unproven? Why not 163 kajillion barrels; that’s unproven too! He’s relying on “unproven” reserves to bolster his argument? Seriously? Are any of his readers paying any attention at all? Yikes!

The fears of many who feel woefully out of touch and helpless in the face of the current economic crisis (and certainly not without good reason) make it easy to latch onto these “facts” without once taking a deep breath to consider the validity or logic behind the utterances—especially when they’re extended by those in seeming positions of authority or knowledge (and who coincidentally share—and play to—their same intense dislike for government and liberals and assorted other popular bogeymen). To what end?

What is this nonsense designed to accomplish? How does this help us in any way? It would be so helpful if integrity still counted for something when dealing with issues that require a broad consensus (and understanding) for resolution. How can we effectively help enlighten and prepare others who do not have the means or opportunities to learn the truth, especially when one side seems so intent on obliterating it? Where’s the honor in that? So I’ll ask again: How does this help?

How can we as a society hope to properly address the challenges we’ll face when the lack of knowledge in a sizeable portion of our society is so rampant and is so consistently encouraged by a not-insignificant segment of public officials and their sycophant media counterparts?

How do we reach those who clearly need a greater understanding? Peak Oil is not a progressive or liberal agenda. It’s about the facts on and in the ground—facts that affect (and benefit) all of us now, even Tea Partiers and the right-wing machine that works so hard and effectively to cloud the truth. Peak Oil’s impact will also just as surely and adversely affect ardent deniers when the consequences of declining oil production and a warming Earth begin to make their inevitable appearance. By then it will be much too late….

How do we convince the currently un-/ill-informed to empower themselves, to learn that there is in fact other evidence about peak oil that is not (surprise!) about conspiracies, or liberal evil, or an alien, black, Muslim-loving, Socialist-leaning, apologist Martian President? That evidence is what it is: the disturbing truth about our fossil fuel resources and the declining production coupled with increasing demand which will in the years to come make our lives a lot more challenging than we’re prepared to acknowledge or deal with. That’s not pleasant for peak oil proponents either!

What can we do and say to help them understand that peak oil and the climate crisis are not figments of their imaginations easily scorned, but real-life conditions based on real-life facts in a real-life world that will have real-life consequences in their own real lives … much sooner than they’ll be prepared for? We’re all in this, and one’s political leanings or thoughts about government and all the rest will not matter. Peak Oil is not going to single out the fear-mongering, sky-is-falling, loony liberals and preserve the rest!

What help can these citizens expect then from their so-called leaders who so artfully disseminated their fact-free nonsense at a time when genuine leadership and integrity were most needed? Conducting themselves in this manner in crystal-clear reliance on their hope and belief that their followers simply lack the ability or inclination to ferret out the truths for themselves is beyond appalling! And we let it happen! What kind of a nation do we choose to be?

How do you look at a broad swath of an industrial or urban landscape in these times (knowing that there are literally tens of millions of identical scenes playing out across our planet) and honestly believe that the products and production spewing smoke and carbon and exhaust and pollutants into the air—all flowing from our genuinely magnificent innovations and creativity and skill and dedication—have no effect on our atmosphere—cumulatively or otherwise? What kind of delusions are needed to honestly believe that our astonishing levels of progress do not simultaneously carry with them the risks so obvious to so many others among us? What kind of denial mechanisms do these people have in place that allow them to just simply ignore the truth and facts and irrefutable evidence?

Why is the decline of oil production so hard to imagine when we’ve all been exposed to shortages of one kind or another along the way, especially when in this case we are dealing with a finite resource being used with greater demand than ever before? Take a look at those same urban/industrial vistas and ask yourself how can we possibly continue to supply ourselves with enough fossil fuels to keep it all going effortlessly and endlessly—especially when so many millions more seek to emulate our lifestyles in years to come?

How deep must one’s fears and sense of helplessness be that they allow themselves to be manipulated by those who prey on those same fears in order to exploit them for their own selfish gains? How can we help those so clearly in need of truths about our future find their better selves, in the process enabling them to offer their own needed contributions to the dialogue we must continue to engage in?

More worrisome still: How difficult will it be for these people to adjust to declining supplies of energy and the consequences of our warming planet when the people they rely on most have been at best disingenuous, but more truthfully complicit in the slow and steady damage to our society and civilization by exploiting the lack of understanding across the citizenry for their own economic or political gain? These are the people revered as patriots and leaders? How can we expect them to be of any help at all?

Now is the time when citizens need to understand what is at stake. Once we’re up to our eyeballs in declining production and its myriad impacts it’s way, way too late to only then start becoming aware and wonder what to do.

The “What’s The Matter With Kansas Syndrome” has to be among the most disturbingly fascinating themes of modern society. Tens of millions of followers routinely elect officials or hang on the words of those who so clearly do not have their best interests at heart! It’s almost comical in its brazenness now. And come November, we’re likely to see even more demonstrations of this phenomenon. That so many allow themselves to be persuaded of “facts” that are so clearly detrimental to their self-interests, and that they are so unwilling to take time to exercise their own independent gift of thought and reason as we all move closer to cliffs of our own making is amazing! I just wish it were happening in some other place at some other time in history, rather than on my dime!

So what do we do? What kind of nation do we honestly choose to be?

How do we get the message across to so many who are blindly heading for the cliffs?

Sources:

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/truth-lies-here/8246; Truth Lies Here: How can Americans talk to one another—let alone engage in political debate—when the Web allows every side to invent its own facts? By Michael Hirschorn

[2] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/100726/top-7-us-oil-importers; Top 7 suppliers of oil to the US. Really big oil: Where does the US get its crude? Here’s what you need to know. By News Desk — GlobalPost Editors, Published: July 28, 2010

[3] http://money.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=1033627; Mexico’s Pemex wrestles with oil decline By Carola Hoyos in Campeche, Mexico , Financial Times, 29 Mar 2010

[4] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/100726/top-7-us-oil-importers; Top 7 suppliers of oil to the US.

“The world has never confronted a problem like this, and the failure to act on a timely basis could have debilitating impacts on the world economy. Risk minimization requires the implementation of mitigation measures well prior to peaking. Since it is uncertain when peaking will occur, the challenge is indeed significant.” – The Hirsch Report [PDF here], 2005

The number of reports and opinions suggesting that we are near or have already passed Peak Oil continues to grow. (See this most recent one, for example.) The International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, has been dropping more than his fair share of hints in the past couple of years, including this comment:

“[W]e have to leave oil before it leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start the better….”

Several weeks ago, The Australia Institute published a report urging that nations begin serious preparation for a transition away from fossil fuels, an implicit recognition that Peak Oil is indeed a fact and not a theory subject to rational disagreement.

“This paper argues that the time for the world to worry about peak oil is now, while there is a window of opportunity to do something about it. It does not make economic or social sense to delay action until prices are already rising sharply.”

And you can be sure that once prices begin rising “sharply,” it’s a likely indicator that the ready supply of cheap oil is now being curtailed once and for all, and that we have reached peak oil production (which we probably already have). The efforts needed in transitioning from a fossil-fuel based industrialized society to one dependent instead on whatever alternatives are eventually determined to be the most appropriate (but likely inferior) energy sources will undoubtedly cost trillions, and will take years and years to be fully developed and implemented. Too many of us don’t have a clue as to what’s involved. Attempting all of this on the downside of oil production will make the challenges infinitely more difficult. The fact that we haven’t begun to address this with anywhere near the measures of urgency required isn’t helpful.

The post-peak oil world is not one we’ll enter easily, quietly, inexpensively, or quickly.

Those who advocate letting the market dictate how this will all come to fruition conveniently neglect to explain these factors. Expecting that an increase in fuel prices will simply lead to more exploration or the development of alternative sources of energy is not exactly that simple. Alternatives won’t appear out of thin air, fully tested and ready for full public and industrial consumption a few weeks down the road. Those processes likewise take years. Coupled with the fact that investments in energy production has been significantly curtailed during this economic downturn, much more “catching up” is needed just to keep pace, let alone try and get ahead of the curve.

The Hirsch report was quite clear that a 20 year head start before the onset of Peak Oil was the best option for achieving a non-disruptive transition away from a fossil fuel economy. An all-hands-on-deck ten year effort was the next best option, but clearly not one without significant impact on our ways of life and production. Anyone who rationally thinks that we still have enough “time” to effect a seamless conversion from a fossil-fuel based industrialized society to its replacement is delusional; but that’s not to argue in favor of now doing nothing and just hoping for the best.

We’ll need the tools and resources we have now in order to develop, produce, and put into place all that must be revised/created in order for us to properly and successfully adapt to an industrialized world that uses something other than fossil fuel as its primary source of energy and production. And that means we’ll need a lot of existing fossil fuel resources to undertake that process—an additional burden on demand that needs to be taken into account.

We’re past the point of waiting until some better set of circumstances.

Dr. Hirsch’s asked his readers to consider three key issues:

“• What are the risks of heavy reliance on optimistic world oil production peaking projections?
“• Must we wait for the onset of oil shortages before actions are taken?
“• What can be done to ensure that prudent mitigation is initiated on a timely basis?”

His replies were almost self-evident, (and Sharon Astyk highlighted this simple truth for us in her wonderful post last week):

“The obvious conclusion from this analysis is that with adequate, timely mitigation, the economic costs to the world can be minimized. If mitigation were to be too little, too late, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to significant economic hardship.
“There will be no quick fixes. Even crash programs will require more than a decade [my emphasis] to yield substantial relief.”

The Australia report is just as emphatic in stressing the obvious benefits of undertaking the massive transition now:

“As with climate change, the most cost-effective response to the inevitable but uncertain timing of peak oil is to invest in early adaptation. It will be impossible to redesign cities, switch the vehicle fleet to new forms of fuel and transform the location decisions of producers in a timely manner after the oil supply has peaked. Early investment in adaptation measures will pay high dividends in the future, whether in response to peak oil, climate change or simply better city design and reduced congestion on roads.”

The choices are clear: start the almost unimaginably complex, multi-year, incredibly expensive transition away from an economy built on easily available and usually inexpensive fossil fuels to one that we have not invested nearly enough time, thought, or resources to develop as it is; or wait and be overwhelmed by the enormity of those undertakings when we are even more poorly prepared than we are now. The tendency to seek relief for immediate needs in the face of calamity is exactly the wrong thing for us to do with the onset of Peak Oil production. The only way we can provide some assurances of continuing “prosperity” is to plan for the long term quickly, and then start the process of transition immediately. Local efforts or market solutions are not the way to go. We need more leaders who understand this.

And let’s not forget this fly in the ointment (the nonsense of and from right-wing deniers notwithstanding):

“[P]eak oil will make solving climate change much more difficult, because all the solutions to climate change require that we build new infrastructures, new power plants, new solar technologies, new transportation systems, and new buildings that will all be more difficult and more expensive to accomplish after we pass peak. Furthermore, if we tried to address the energy challenges of peak oil by using more coal, oil sands, or oil shale, this could rapidly accelerate climate change. It is critical that we address our coming energy challenges in a way that does not make climate change worse.” [1]

Quite the set of challenges! Time to get started … so what is it going to take?

Source:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/47670 – Q&A: Peak Oil and Public Health by Tim Parsons (interviewer) with Brian Schwartz, MD

Ray LaHood, the Secretary for the Department of Transportation, recently noted on his own blog that in the course of his meetings with city officials at last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors, their primary concern was about transportation (and infrastructure).

These are the elected men and women closest to everyday life for Americans and the ones most directly responsible for ensuring our citizens and industries are properly provided for. They recognize that the only way for this nation to remain competitive—thus helping to ensure a decent standard of living for all us us—is to focus attention, resources, and money on improving the quality (and modes) of transportation while maintaining a solid infrastructure. They also are quite clear in recognizing that guidance, support, and planning must originate at a higher level than city or town government.

Perhaps it’s time we all recognize what they clearly already know: we don’t have valid or viable options other than to spend more money on the fundamentals of our industrialized society. Howl all you want about debt and deficits and all the rest—however legitimate those concerns may be in their own right—we’ll put people back to work and chart a better course for our future in a world of declining fossil fuel resources not by cutting back or doing as little as possible.

Hypocritical “Pledges” that a third grade math student can see mean nothing and an uninvolved federal government are definitely not the solutions. There are no easy or inexpensive or quick fixes, and the sooner this is understood and accepted, the sooner we all begin the heavy lifting needed to deal with the challenges of a post-peak oil world and an infrastructure desperately in need of revitalization.

It’s time to stop pretending that we don’t still have fundamental problems requiring long-term national commitments and efforts. We might also consider suggesting to our political “leaders” as well that they—and we—could profit from perspective and understanding that extends beyond later next week. We’re past the point of tolerating the idiotic political sound bite that appeases only the uninformed. Our leaders need to lead. Pandering cannot continue to be a strategy, although I hold out little hope that that will change any time soon.

“Whether it is massive investment in new fuels or massive investment in redesigning cities, it is likely that governments will need to take a role in preparing for peak oil if they wish to avoid major economic dislocations.” [1]

“The nation’s ports, inland waterways, drinking water and wastewater systems — you name it — are hurting to one degree or another.
“Ignoring these problems imperils public safety, diminishes our economic competitiveness, is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and results in tremendous missed opportunities to create new jobs on a vast scale. [2]

And with the onset of Peak Oil, the need to revitalize the framework from which our production arises is all the more critical, especially when we come to recognize that in a future with limited fossil fuel availability, a repaired and/or revised infrastructure not dependent on fossil fuel resources for maintenance will be a key determinant in measuring progress and success—as will a transportation system not as utterly dependent on fossil fuels as what we now utilize. The time to develop the infrastructure and upgrade the modes of transportation we’ll need in a post-peak oil economy is now.

As it is, we’re looking at years (decades) of effort and expenditures. Compressing all of those responsibilities and requirements into a much shorter time frame resulting from a legitimate supply and demand crisis some years down the road is insane and quite likely impossible. We can’t afford to wait for that moment.

“Tomorrow’s energy contracts won’t be won by the country with yesterday’s energy grid.” [3]

“Other nations around the globe have continued to act on the calculus that state-of-the art transportation infrastructure — the connective tissue of a nation — is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. In the United States, however, we seem to have forgotten.” [4]

We need to start remembering what those other nations already know.

Sources:

[1] https://www.tai.org.au/index.php?q=node%2F19&pubid=788&act=display – Running on empty? The peak oil debate; Policy Brief No.16, September 2010 by Dr David Ingles and Dr Richard Denniss

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/opinion/16herbert.html?ref=opinion February 16, 2010, What’s Wrong With Us? By BOB HERBERT

[3] http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/02/klein-the-case-for-investing-in-infrastructure.html – If You Build It … Now’s the time to invest in infrastructure by Ezra Klein

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/opinion/17herbert.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&ref=opinion&adxnnlx=1258455637-lZ9f+84UVVV0xzhkak7qzg – What the Future May Hold By BOB HERBERT