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.” 
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. 
“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.” 
“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.” 
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.
 http://countercurrents.org/cardoni230110.htm Dealing With Peak Oil By Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz
 http://www.countercurrents.org/wirth040908.htm Surviving Peak Oil: Obstacles To Relocation By Cliff Wirth; 04 September, 2008
 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)
 Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger: Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (p.222)