Skip to content

Peak Oil Matters

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

Archive

Archive for February, 2011

[NOTE: This is the third in a subset of posts (see the first one here) in a new PeakOilMatters series (which began here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

In my last post, I cited concerns raised by clearly liberal writers castigating the “vision” for the future offered by the starboard side of the GOP.

Echoing the concerns about budget priorities, Jim DiPeso recently posted a quite reasonable piece in the FrumForum about Republican budgetary cuts. (I don’t usually agree with David Frum’s politics, but I always respect his approach. He’s a conservative whose proffered opinions—and those of most of his contributors—show no signs that his eyes are bulging out of his head as he critiques the Left. I’m confident the only tin foil in his home is found in a kitchen drawer and not on his hat rack. We could use a few hundred more on the Right just like him.) Mr. DiPeso makes the following observations:

“Business heavyweights, think tank thinkers on the right and left, and even climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg spent the better part of 2010 calling for significant increases in energy research R&D to stir up the fires of technological innovation, drive economic growth, and reduce pollution.
“Now, along come House Republicans, lumbering into the budget china shop and battering the crockery in a ham-handed attempt to appear fiscally responsible.
“Their proposed budget resolution, setting spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, has knives out for energy science and technology research….
“[E]nergy R&D is long-range tech development that likely would not be picked up by private sector CFOs seeking more near- term returns for their risk capital. Once promising lines of inquiry are bunged up by federal budget politics, innovations that might have spawned new industries and smarter ways to use America’s energy resources would fall by the wayside.” [1]

How are we supposed to develop any semblance of national strategy, how do we plan for and move into a future with vastly different energy resources and needs, and/or how are industries and businesses expected to plan intelligently beyond the next Election Day if we’re all subjected to a seemingly complete inability of certain “leaders” to think beyond tomorrow afternoon—especially since the thinking they are presently engaged in is so pathetically narrow-minded and often quite heartless? Is there some magic potion that will provide us all with the innovations and definitive solutions we’ll need without the customary years of research and trial-and-error approaches that we’ve relied upon since the dawn on mankind?

“Republican leaders like to claim that the midterms gave them a mandate for sharp cuts in government spending. Some of us believe that the elections were less about spending than they were about persistent high unemployment, but whatever. The key point to understand is that while many voters say that they want lower spending, press the issue a bit further and it turns out that they only want to cut spending on other people. [2]

I’m guessing that that preference, while appealing in a narrow-minded, self-centered, oblivious-to-the-rest-of-the-world sense, is not likely to fly with all of the “other people.” It sure as hell won’t be doing this nation any good in the long run.

Having said that, I appreciate full well that the complex and expensive propositions bandied about as means of solving the just-as-complex problems confronting us are not as clear-cut as any of their proponents would like. We do have some profound budgetary and deficit considerations that cannot likewise be postponed interminably. There is no “this side is 100% correct and the other side is 100% incorrect” option.

But the basic economic issues we are all contending with seem fairly clear: no one is spending any money because no one (aside from a few well-placed wealthy old white guys, and I exaggerate only a bit) feels all that confident about their own financial future or that of the nation. If no one is spending, then business has no incentive to hire or keep the full staffs they might still have on board. If they aren’t producing or hiring, and instead are shuttering doors or letting workers go, then that means even fewer people are spending money, and it’s easy to see how that spiral works.

Why is this proposition so difficult to understand and act on?:

“Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.
“At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.” [3]

Do we cut government spending at a time of critical need of millions, causing them to suffer even more? Does our government spend more and add to the financial burdens of the next generations? It would delight just about all of us if the obvious, one-and-only Answer lent itself to a ten second explanation and one day implementation. As if….

Budget cuts sound nice now and appease a certain segment of the electorate and the politicians bound and determined to pander to them at all costs, but what brilliant solutions will they have at the ready 5, 8, 12 years down the road when financial situations are more dire, our infrastructure is in even greater need of extensive and expensive repair and renovation, transportation costs have risen beyond the tolerable for many owing to a decline in production and thus availability, resources needed to revamp our entire industrial foundation are are less availing, and we’re tripping over ourselves in a mad scramble to try and make good on promises left unfulfilled today? And oh by the way, there will be a lot more of us making increasing demands on a shrinking pie. That is not good math….

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

Legitimate criticisms of government spending cannot be cavalierly tossed aside in every instance. There are no magic financial formulas that can or will address the burdens such spending potentially imposes on our collective future.

But do we permit the well-to-do and the secure leadership in Congress to eliminate the very strategies and efforts we’ll need in a changing future while simultaneously casting out millions more, and announce that if budget cuts cause more harm, then “so be it”? (Thanks Mr. Speaker!)

As Paul Krugman noted in the same essay cited above:

“How can we expect voters to appreciate fiscal reality when politicians consistently misrepresent that reality…?
“The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts — and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes — and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?
“The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy….
“Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.”

He’s right, of course. Tomorrow is another day, and if political leadership can pass along responsibility for the genuine hard work we’ll need for years to come to some other leaders years down the road, well … that strategy probably ensures a restful night’s sleep at least. Campaign funds will still flow and the loudest if most short-sighted supporters will be happy that today we’ve avoided adding to at least one problem. We can all just worry about the future we’re sacrificing until … you know … later.

Meanwhile, of course, the lingering consequences of this Great Recession will remain largely unchecked, the problems of declining oil production will surely and steadily create additional woes for many years to come to both individuals and industry, the massive income inequality that so undermines the dreams of millions will expand even more, and a lessening and cheapening of the very traits (educational prowess, technological innovations, etc., etc) that have long made this fabulous country the envy of the world will continue their unabated march downward, dragging a substantial majority of us down with it, now and for years to come. What a cheery thought!

But we are not powerless, and although the choices may be daunting now (and will surely be exponentially more daunting the longer we wait to start having grown-up conversations), opportunities remain to restore this magnificent nation to its predominant perch on the world stage—with its own attendant benefits. We own the choices, and we embrace them by first understanding the options we have and then begin to make decisions about what kind of a nation and a people we want to be.

Do we—can we—recognize that spurring demand through government intervention will aid production and hiring, which in turn leads to more spending on the part of those being hired and growing at least somewhat more secure about their financial prospects (and oh-by-the-way, pumping more revenue back into the government’s coffers to help pay down that deficit and maintain at least a modicum of compassion and care for the truly needy)? Can we appreciate that circumstances remain such that our federal government must lead, for there are no other viable options? Yes, that path carries its own risks and consequences as well. None of this is free or easy … I get that, too.

Are the budgetary “solutions” now being offered really the best way forward? Is it even possible for any of our leaders to consider our well-being beyond 2012? Can they begin to deal with the facts confronting us and the challenges to be faced in a world soon enough to be far different than the one in which we now find ourselves?

A crystal ball would be nice. On the assumption that that option is probably not forthcoming, our choices will be guided by a collective decision that the prospects for a better future are best met and addressed by decisions to create more opportunities now, or to restrict them now in the hopes that the sacrifices to be made (by all but the wealthiest, it must be noted) will in time produce a reinvigorated industrial and economic foundation.

To me, the choice (not without considerable risk and its own set of burdens) is clear:

A warming planet that will no longer have the same levels and quantities and quality of energy resources needed to at least sustain us at comparable levels of well-being, coupled with an increase in demand from millions of additional consumers, mandates that we make difficult but doable choices now to re-build our nation so that we continue to serve as a beacon for progress and prosperity. Tearing more of it down is a curious strategy, since all that’s left is a giant hope that things won’t get worse in the interim. Good luck!

In the end, as is usually the case, we may get exactly what we deserve. We might want to start thinking about that….

More still to come….

Sources:

[1] http://www.frumforum.com/gop-cuts-target-clean-energy; GOP Cuts Target Clean Energy by Jim DiPeso – February 16, 2011
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/opinion/14krugman.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss; Eat the Future By PAUL KRUGMAN – February 14, 2011
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/opinion/19blow.html; Empire at the End of Decadence By CHARLES M. BLOW – February 19, 2011

[NOTE: This post is the second in a subset begun on Monday (here), both of which are part of a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

I’ve asked those questions—or variations thereof—on numerous occasions in the past. Until we find satisfactory answers—destinations, if you will, then whatever we keep doing will continue to just produce more of whatever it is we keep producing as pseudo-solutions to the problems we all face in varying degrees.

While this blog is first and foremost about the challenges spawned by the gradual decline of oil production in the face of increasing demand and the expectations of economic growth/business as usual, I am not unmindful of the fact that Peak Oil, like global warming, or unemployment, or the costs of our ongoing military battles, or the deficit, or the troubles associated with financial institutions, or the amount of our debt other nations hold over us, or (INSERT HERE any number of equally urgent national problems from a list of hundreds of them) is not a stand-alone problem.

Every issue we’re contending with on the national stage has some connection to dozens of other problems and issues and concerns and shortcomings. That makes fashioning acceptable solutions just a wee bit dicey, what with the tens of millions of opinions floating around and the urgency felt by just about each and every one of us that our unique set of problems must have priority over everyone else’s. Not exactly a recipe for prompt and satisfactory success. And when you add to this mix the clear strategy exhibited by some of our “leaders” that denying, ignoring, misrepresenting, or pretending is the best approach, then we really have our work cut out for us!

We’re all in this together, and whether we want to believe or admit to that or not won’t matter. Global warming will not afflict only those in a corner of the Florida Peninsula or the suburbs just outside of Phoenix. Declining oil production won’t affect only Cambridge or Berkeley liberals. Unemployment issues aren’t limited to a couple of suburbs in Detroit or Dallas. It’s not just soldiers from Seattle or Kansas City who are being hurt or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And not a single one of these or dozens of other national problems is dependent in the slightest on political ideology, whether it’s the product of reasoned and rational deliberation or a bug-eyed, paranoia-laden, fact-free, delusional rant. We have far, far too many of the latter and too few of the former.

“As a society, we’ve lost our way, and there is no chance of getting reoriented if we can’t find the courage to make some really tough decisions about warfare, taxes, public investment, the crying need to educate all young people, and the paramount importance of gainful employment as the cornerstone of a revitalized America.” [1]

We’re seemingly paralyzed by the vastness of change confronting us at every turn. Too many of us feel absolutely powerless over so much—so much so that clinging to what we once knew and experienced seems like the safest port in the storm. Whatever challenges we faced or problems we overcame in the past are known to us. We dealt with them and moved on, and so we derive comfort in that knowing—solace and understanding completely absent from the dizzying array of changes and challenges we face. We do our best to focus only on the small pieces we feel we have some control over here and now and in our own little corner of the universe. So much else takes place “out there” in ways we do not understand or have control over (e.g. the financial markets and energy and climate; and even the workings of government), and most of the time, all of those problems are simply too much to embrace. I get that.

We have too few leaders providing a vision which suggests that charting new paths now will lead to betterment in the future, and so we rigidly insist that going back to “business as usual” (whatever the hell that means nowadays) is the only path forward. Rarely, however, do you advance by retreating and then retreating some more.

“The thing is, we’re living as if we are guaranteed to go onward and upward into a better and brighter future. Our nation’s (relatively short) history encourages this fallacious thinking. Like spoiled children, we want freedom without responsibility. But that’s impossible. You cannot defy the law of gravity forever.
“To be truly free is to be responsible. To be responsible is to make choices today that demonstrate wise stewardship of our resources and our liberty. To be responsible is to see the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. To be responsible is to sacrifice now, as previous generations did, so as not to bind future generations to the tyranny of debt, poverty, foreign powers or their own appetites.” [2]

Are we prepared to do that? There are few indications that we are. As more and more economic woes afflict more and more of us, we retreat that much further into our own private little shells, doing all that we can to keep our and our own family’s heads above water. Anything “out there” that may or may not affect us in this moment is simply not worth considering. Surely the nebulous, slowly evolving impact of Peak Oil and/or global warming over months and years and decades to come is as foreign to most of us as sitting down to dinner with Martians. Our plates are full today … right now! The balancing act our burdens of the moment impose on us are quite enough as it is, thank you very much.

Trouble is … denial, postponement, procrastination, and simply ignoring reality will only take us so far. This strategy is all that some of our esteemed “leaders” are offering us (while simultaneously making damn sure that the billionaires among us aren’t dragged down as well). We ought to understand some of these facts more clearly than we do. Allowing some leaders to toss us occasional bones that appease tangential concerns about “values” or frightening us about deficits (a legitimately serious problem, to be sure) while they carry on activities that in the long run will cause us all only more harm is something we need to rein in soon.

“The House early Saturday approved a huge package of spending cuts, slashing more than $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid, and even some military projects, as the new Republican majority made good on its pledge to turn the grassroots fervor of the November elections into legislative action to shrink the size and scope of government….
“The package, which is intended to finance the federal government though the end of the fiscal year, now heads to the Senate, where it stands absolutely no chance whatsoever of passing. Indeed, House Republicans knew this before the vote, and didn’t care — this isn’t about governing; it’s about right-wing lawmakers pounding their chests in order to impress their reactionary base. House leaders could have worked with Senate leaders on a spending compromise, but Republicans chose not to bother….
“[I]t’s hard to overstate how brutal these cuts really are. Overnight, 235 House Republicans voted to slash education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, among other things.
“The projected job losses from these cuts, we learned this week, could total 1 million American workers, all of whom would be forced into unemployment, on purpose, because Republicans think it’d be good for the economy.
“As the House GOP sees it, we can’t afford these expenditures because of the deficit they helped create. We can, however, afford massive tax breaks for people who don’t need them, which cost a lot more, and which Republicans didn’t even try to pay for.” [3]

“The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a lengthy, wonky analysis yesterday of the Republicans’ proposed cuts – – it really is worth reading — and today offers a summary of some of the top-line provisions. Among other things, the proposal would:
“ * Cut Head Start, which provides at-risk children up to age 5 with education, health, nutrition, and other services, by an amount equivalent to the cost of serving 157,000 children.
“ * Cut Pell Grants, which help students afford college, by nearly 25 percent, affecting all 9 million students who receive them.
“ * Cut, by more than half, Workforce Investment Act funding to provide job training, job search, and other employment assistance for low-income adults and workers whose jobs have been eliminated.
“ * Cut, by more than half, two funds that help communities pay for sewage and wastewater treatment and for upgrading facilities that ensure safe drinking water.
“ * Cut funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 22 percent, for the Food and Drug Administration by 10 percent, and for the Food Safety Inspection Service by 9 percent.” [4]

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

“Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the American people didn’t vote last November for fewer jobs, teachers and cops and more sickness, pollution and hunger.
“In fact, I’m sure the crazy one in this story is the House Republican caucus, which late Friday night proposed, in its spending plan for the rest of the current fiscal year, doing all of the above.” [5]

Is this what we want for ourselves and our children now? Is this the kind of future we consign them to?

What’s the plan if we don’t spend money to support and enhance an already-complex-beyond-our-abilities-to-grasp economic and industrial system supporting equally already-complex-beyond-our-abilities-to-grasp lifestyles? Is cutting back on infrastructure and research and investment and regulations ensuring healthy qualities of life and countless other equally vital pillars supporting and sustaining us all the road to travel?

Is it truly better to lay waste to all kinds of programs that hurt more and more people in more and more ways for longer and longer periods of time—distracting most of us so that some leaders can instead focus on policies designed to “assist” the top less than 1% or 2% of us (and it’s time to put the trickle-down theory to bed: it’s an idiotic, useless sound bite, groundless fiscal policy, and nothing more)?

What happens when we’re done cutting? What does this nation look like 3, 5, 10 years from now when growth has been cut off, when we have in far worse condition an already-horrendous infrastructure and transportation system which are nothing less than critical to our continued well-being? How much help will those few handfuls of really rich white guys be—the ones who’ve been assured that their financial “well-being” remains untouched and unaffected by the travails of the other 350 million or so of us?

THIS is the future we want to encourage? Can we honestly allow ourselves for one more day to think we’ll have more money, time, opportunity, and agreement ten years from now to invest even more in infrastructure and transportation than is needed now? Seriously? What laws of the universe are we going to suspend so that these problems do not worsen in the intervening years? We’re several trillion dollars behind as it is. Perhaps the two “visionary” congressmen mentioned in my last post might conjure up some more magic legislation to solve these issues.

Pushing these problems to a future with a smaller and still ever-declining supply of fossil fuels available to rebuild or sustain or repair even more than what’s now required of us is a good strategy?

The painful truth is that with a decline in oil production in the years to come—coupled with increased demand, less investment and research into alternatives—we’re rendering any prospects for growth and improved well-being nothing but delusional aspirations. Actions taken or not taken based on the facts we all must contend with here on Planet Earth carry consequences. What we decide and accept today will determine what kind of a future we live in, and what kind of a life we bestow on our children.

Do we start planning—intelligently, courageously, rationally, and without mindless ideology—for a different and hopefully better future, or do keep our heads buried in the sand, relying instead on a hefty dose of ignorant and narrow-minded leadership to serve as our guiding lights? Hope has its place in what we must address and plan for, but to just hope that this bad dream will stay away is not the path we ought to be considering.

If that’s what most of us decide in the end is our best bet, then good luck … we’re going to need a lot of that.

More to come….

Sources:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/opinion/09herbert.html?_r=1&ref=opinion; The Impossible Dream By BOB HERBERT – November 9, 2010
[2] http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-dreher_17edi.ART.State.Edition1.adb331.html; Peak oil is coming, and we’re unready by Rod Dreher – August 17, 2008
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_02/028080.php; HOUSE APPROVES BRUTAL BUDGET CUTS by Steve Benen – February 19, 2011
[4] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_02/028072.php; IT’S THAT BAD….by Steve Benen – February 18, 2011
[5] http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2011020613/gop-budget-madness; The Republican Budget Is Madness By Bill Scher – February 13, 2011

[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

I have such good news for everyone! It appears that not only has an elected Republican official discovered the solution to Peak Oil and other resource depletion concerns, we may not have to worry about global warming either! Isn’t that fantastic?

“GOP Lawmaker Mike Beard Claims God Will Provide Unlimited Natural Resources”
“Mike Beard, a Republican state representative from Minnesota, recently argued that coal mining should resume in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, in part because he believes God has created an earth that will provide unlimited natural resources….
“‘God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable,’ Beard told MinnPost. ‘We are not going to run out of anything.’” [1]

“Montana Legislator Introduces Bill To Declare Global Warming ‘Natural’ And ‘Beneficial’”
“A bill has been introduced in the Montana state legislature to declare global warming a ‘natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it,’ and that it is ‘beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.’ State Rep. Joe Read (R-MT), a farmer and emergency firefighter.” [2]

Wow! That’s all I can say about these two news items. (Yet “Wow” says so much nonetheless, doesn’t it?)

I have no doubt that each of these presumably well-meaning officials are fine citizens and all, but given the challenges we face—not just with the evolving problems which both Peak Oil and global warming will impose, but certainly the more pressing employment and financial difficulties we all face—exactly how much cluelessness (a nicer ring to it than delusional) are we supposed to admit into public discourse by leaders we hope are actually intending to make beneficial contributions?

I wish I could say that these two examples of witless, mind-bogglingly dumb legislative beliefs were isolated incidents, but every day brings more examples that many of our presumed leaders (except when they are protecting the interests of the few terribly disadvantaged rich, old, white guys) have become completely disengaged from Planet Earth’s realities. And they continue merrily along (passing right past the “brazen” and “hypocritical” stop signs) because we let them. This is a problem that affects all of us.

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

Are we prepared or even capable of accepting truth and facts and reality? Are too many of us so baffled, overwhelmed, or even frightened by the changes and challenges of these times that we must resort to these kinds of responses and “solutions”? While those strategies may offer some curious short-term levels of appeasement, they are slowly but surely dragging down the rest of us. We cannot afford to get bogged down in debates about utter nonsense or legislative efforts that seek to alter reality.

All too often it seems that we are planning for our future by ignoring it, and the factors with which we must now contend. I’ve repeatedly urged that all of us need to take some time to become at least a bit more knowledgeable about the problems we’ll all soon be confronting. And if these two legislators are any indication of what some are considering discussion-worthy, we need to get more informed in a hurry.

Now, all of a sudden, there’s a God who’s apparently been a bit slow on the uptake and has suddenly realized we’ve got some resource problems, so poof! all of our needs are going to be taken care of? For the companies digging their way through the tar sands and shale deposits in the western portion of North America and spending all that time and money and energy and effort to convert tar sands in oil for us, there’s a new message:

“Pack it up and enjoy the spring! God is gonna get us some oil right quick and we are all set, but thanks for your help. Would you mind re-planting those forests on your way out? Be nice if you could drain away all those tailings ponds too … safely of course.”

Then again, maybe God has that one covered, too, although … this kinda has me wondering why He didn’t supply us with all these extra natural resources a bit sooner, before we started spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico or poisoned and degraded a good chunk of Alberta, Canada, or went off to fight wars in the Middle East and spent zillions of dollars to protect our oil interests out there … but again, I know He’s busy.

I just hope Mr. Beard’s God doesn’t sidetracked again with all those other prayers and what-nots. He can get Himself tied up with so much else so easily and so quickly. Can we count on Rep. Beard to keep this whole natural resource replenishment high up on His “to-do” list?

Then again, if God is gonna take care of our resource issues, perhaps the good congressman might ask Him about … oh, I don’t know .. taking a look-see at child abuse? Homelessness? Child poverty? How about a cure for cancer? Perhaps some jobs? Lowering college tuition? How about some extra food for a couple hundred million poor people around the world? Might be good to end a war or two. Let’s see … what else? I’d love it if the Red Sox win the World Series again this year, and would be thrilled if the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup, ‘cuz I’ve been waiting almost 40 years for that. Maybe God is Sox and hockey fan? He certainly seems to have a lot of other teams covered.

By all means, worship however, Whoever, Whatever you choose. It remains one of our founding, steadfast principles. But in these oft-troubled times, injecting what amounts to not much more than fanciful nonsense into the meaningful planning and discussions that need to occur is simply inexcusable. We have enough burdens to deal with without devoting precious time and energy and thought to the daft and delusional.

And as for our Montana farmer/firefighter/representative: Global warming is now beneficial to business? Seriously? What business is he talking about? This gentleman admittedly consulted no experts, and instead “relied on his own experience and understanding of the issues.” Ummm … okay. I know a lot of people who could use some extra cash right about now, so perhaps some legislation to make bank robbing “beneficial”, Mr. Read? And while you are on a roll, putting cinnamon donuts on the food pyramid chart as a daily staple would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll admit that the approaches suggested by these two legislators are certainly novel ones to employ in trying to solve our budding (already-budded and in full bloom?) energy and environmental challenges. I guess it’s at least doing something, rather than ignoring or pretending we don’t have issues. I imagine that denying facts takes a fair amount of work, so if we can instead just count on God to fix all of this (any day now, would be good, by the way) or instead just simply decide that all the melting and flooding and extreme weather and gradually rising temperatures are actually good for us, then I guess that’s a “solution.” Who knew you could use legislation to defy the physical laws of the universe?

Or … how about, instead, we bring a group of rational, intelligent, well-meaning, visionary adults in the room who are at last willing to admit that there are any number of unpleasant, disturbing, unwelcome facts (remember the days when they mattered?) that must be addressed; that we’ve got some problems that need attending to before they become catastrophes; who will stop insisting that if it’s not a perfect solution that meets with the approval of all 645 of their various constituencies with all of their varied interest and demands then it simply cannot be considered, and then finally figure out that we might need to be just a bit more intelligent and coherent about what we do—collectively—going forward.

It would be a welcome change if ideologies were left out in the hall, and integrity was restored to problem-solving (which of course means that cherry-picking facts, misrepresentations, misleading and/or disingenuous distractions, and related strategies are likewise left outside.) Sure wish it was that simple….

I’ll continue this theme in my next post.

Sources:

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/mike-beard-natural-resources-god_n_824312.html; GOP Lawmaker Mike Beard Claims God Will Provide Unlimited Natural Resources by Nick Wing. February 16, 2011

[2] http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/17/montana-global-warming-bill/; Montana Legislator Introduces Bill To Declare Global Warming ‘Natural’ And ‘Beneficial’ by Brad Johnson. February 17, 2011

[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (which started here) through the next few months whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.
Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]

~~~

Earlier this week, my wife and I returned from an 8-day trip to the West Coast. After suspending their annual sales conference for the past two years, my wife’s company resumed the practice this year. (The usual methodology is to alternate West Coast and East Coast locales, so we’ll be attending next year’s conference here in the East.)

Lavish sales conferences took a fair share of media and public pounding a couple of years ago, during the heyday of TARP funds and “corporate bailouts”. An easy target of course, and as is typical of easy targets, some of the bashing was perhaps justified, some was definitely not, and much of the facts supporting the reasons for conducting these events never made their way into the public domain.

I won’t devote too much to resurrecting the good image of the national sales conference. I will, however, point out that my lovely wife works an average of 70 – 75 hours each and every week. Hands-down, she is the best and most honorable businessperson I have ever encountered. I’ve certainly listened to enough of her customer calls from home to speak with considerable authority—the immense level of respect from peers and the phenomenal success she richly deserves are ample evidence if my word is tainted by personal bias.

On 6 major holidays during the year, the vast majority of her customers (but not all, of course) have the good sense not to call her. But that leaves almost 360 other days of the year when they do call, or ask for meetings, or otherwise require some of her considerable skills and services (as does her management, and peers, and colleagues in related professional fields who also seek her out). Sunday night call around 9:30? Check. Meeting at 8:30 Tuesday evening? Check. 7:30 a.m. call on Friday? No problem. 1:00 a.m. computer time to catch up on all the paperwork she didn’t get to that day? Almost every night. Vacation? No such thing … just a bit less time on the phone and computer those days.

Now, I don’t recite these facts—which I’ve been a first-hand witness to for all of the eight-plus years we’ve been together—to toot her horn. She doesn’t like me or anyone else doing so, for one, and her reputation speaks for itself. Year in and year out, customer surveys about her are off the chart, and deservedly so.

I point this out because one of the primary objectives in gathering several hundred of the country’s best and brightest is her company’s desire to let these high-performance, high-quality professionals meet and exchange ideas and information, strategies, marketing techniques, and a host of other brain-picking opportunities because it’s generally the only time of the year that it’s at all feasible to get so many together in one place. Now, there are of course business meetings during the multi-day conference (we tack on a couple of days whenever we do the West Coast trip if for no other reason than to try and adjust to the time difference), but the free exchange of information and ideas and critiques play an absolutely invaluable part in the successes these many individuals enjoy.

They succeed? So does the company. Better service ideas for customers? They benefit, too. All in all, just about the most effective way for high-ranking company professionals to pick the brains of peers and executives—all with the primary purpose of improving what they do. Kinda hard to argue against the strategy.

This conference was decidedly more low-key and less extravagant than the heady days of the early 2000s. We’re talking serious extravagant years ago, yet not a soul was heard to complain inside or outside the company. Big, big bullseye during TARP, and most understood what was happening. It was hurtful to hear criticisms from people who clearly had no idea what they were talking about, as it was from people who did. Part of the process….

Why was I there, along with most other spouses and significant others? The company’s perspective on this has always been to recognize and extend appreciation to those whose support, holding down of the fort, or other assumed household/family responsibilities in turn frees up the professionals to do what they need to do. It is, on balance, a nice gesture. Did we miss the conference these past two years? Sure! But we survived, and would have had the conference remained in suspend mode this year.

Speaking for myself, while I appreciate the efforts of my wife’s company executives to “honor” the spouses et al (and this company does make a sincere effort in doing so), I’ve always looked at what I do here on the home front as being part of our personal “deal.” The trips are always a great deal of fun; we go to places (Vancouver, for instance) that we would not likely have visited on our own, and partake of activities (a concert in the Arizona desert or a hot-air balloon ride, for example) we’d surely never have the chance to do on our own. The resorts are wonderful, the warmer and sunnier February climates are usually quite agreeable with us hearty winter-slogged New Englanders, and we do eat well.

So why all of this in PeakOilMatters?

As one could easily imagine, getting together in one location nearly a thousand sales professionals, spouses, executives, ancillary staff, and anyone else I’ve neglected to mention is no easy feat. Of course it has to be quite expensive. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. But several hundred hotel rooms, a dozen or so meals per person, and air fares or similar transportation and travel expenses for a thousand or so individuals, speaker fees, cultural and entertainment expenses, and probably fifty other items I’ve omitted ain’t cheap!

But even that’s not the point. As oil production begins its slide downward, and increased fossil fuel costs or basic availability become prohibitively challenging, what happens to conferences like this? I cannot imagine even the most profitable company won’t triple-check much, much higher costs and transportation expenses (assuming those remain readily available for people scattered across the nation) before deciding to put together anything even approximating the kind of once-a-year extravaganza that has long been part of the sales industry culture.

Again, I’ll survive quite nicely if I never attend another one. It’s always been a great perk, but life goes on. But my wife and her peers? The benefits they derive from the personal exchanges with fellow professionals and executives are incapable of carrying any monetary value. Few do not benefit greatly from these gatherings. A rising tide lifts all boats….

Will they manage to carry on without the annual sales conference? Almost all will, no doubt. Surely there will be alternatives to the once-a-year national splash, but something will have been lost in the adaptation to fossil fuel decline. When industry after industry must deal with the elimination of these and similar business gatherings and the personal exchanges of information, a diminution of quality will creep onto the landscape. To the outsider, few tears will be shed, but when quality in all its manifestations declines, the effects are not restricted to only the industry or company in question.

The decline of peak oil means much more than higher prices at the local gas station. Cutting a wide swath across all industries is bound to trickle down and affect each of us in some way, easily measureable and recognizable, or not.

What’s their Plan B?

[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.

Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

Are we even a bit content with what is happening to us? Most polls clearly suggest we are not. Extracting ourselves from the Great Recession has proven to be an undertaking of beyond-monumental proportions. No one should be thinking that we’re home-free just yet, although I’d love to be the messenger for that bit of news!

It’s safe to assume that no one is looking for more problems to add into the mix. Certainly challenges that show no signs of affecting any of us in our immediate future are ones we can safely ignore for now. At least that’s the theory and/or thought and/or hope. If only….

“Preparing our communities for peak oil is no easy task. From local zoning codes to national highway bills, just about every policy and infrastructure decision made since World War II has prioritized driving over walking, bicycling and taking public transportation. As a result, today most Americans and Canadians are powerless to meet even their most basic daily needs — whether going to work or buying food– without using a petroleum-powered car or truck.” [1]

If only the problems associated with Peak Oil were “limited” to transportation issues (although surely that will be among the biggest hurdles to overcome, given transportation’s level of dependency on fossil fuels). As the parallel series of posts I’m running will be demonstrating (see this recent post and this earlier one, for example), there are a lot of additional considerations and difficulties to surmount when we begin to more directly experience the effects of an ever-declining supply of fossil fuels.

“… we need to do more than come up with new technology to solve the problems we now face. We also need to rethink and remake our entire infrastructure, our economics, and even our culture. This isn’t just a project for a crack team of scientists. This one is going to need the help of every one of us.”[2]

Not exactly the kind of message any of us are eager to hear right now, or next month, or probably even next year.

The point, however, is that adapting to a world of constantly-declining oil supply and production calls for precisely that kind of massive, mind-bogglingly complex endeavor. No matter how much magic technology one is pinning their hopes on to save the day, changing everything that now depends in some way, shape, or from on a ready and inexpensive supply of petroleum and petroleum-based products is going to take a good long while. Measuring those efforts and tasks must be done in the language of decades.

How much longer should we be waiting before we begin?

“If we do work on a new, sustainable system, how can we get our minds to even think in terms of what life might be like, essentially without fossil fuels?” [3]

It’s a safe bet that the first ten responses anyone can conjure up to that question involve … ignoring it. Wrapping our minds around the concept of “life as know it” becoming “life about which we have no clue” is way, way too much for just about anyone to contemplate now or anytime in the foreseeable future. I’m with all of you on that one.

Confident that I speak for just about everyone reading this, I want nothing more than for life to return to the way it used to be not so long ago, with the same kinds of chances and opportunities as we had back then, and I’m not really looking for anything to rock that boat, thank you very much. That is far and away the easier and more preferable approach! If only…

The vast industrial, political, economic, and cultural changes we’ve witnessed in just the past handful of years has been breathtaking in scope! The intricate facets of globalization and related financial and energy resource complexities are too much for most of us to handle or even think about. The fact that a good portion of those changes have been met with great resistance or (in the case of the Great Recession), have caused considerable anguish and suffering, makes it easy to long for the heady days when life was good. Back then at least, all that was undermining the good life was hidden from view. Not knowing was a good thing!

Having that option again is certainly an appealing one right about now! If only….

We’re too far down the path of great change to do anything about it, unless wishful thinking is one’s idea of constructive and productive effort. Resistance to change changes nothing. It does serve to make life more challenging when it comes time to “pay the piper”, but that’s an outcome we need to stop desiring. We’ve kicked the cans about as far down the road as is possible. It’s time to do battle with the facts, and it is surely requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, as I’ve laying out for all us as carefully as I can.

What kind of a nation do we want to be? Not just in 2011 or 2013, but how will our next generation fare as a result of the choices we make and policies and plans we implement now? Peak oil (and I’m intentionally ignoring climate change issues—at least for purposes of writing this post) is not a problem that we’re going to “resolve” and then move on. Oil production and supply are about to (if they’re not already doing so) tip and start a long slide down a slope that has very few remaining inclines. It will not get better.

I would like nothing more than the promises of unconventional (on the simple little condition that they not make the environment worse, cost much, nor deplete other essential resources) and alternative energy resources to reach full fruition last week. But facts remaining damned annoying when we deal with energy, and the simplest fact is that there is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us since the Civil War era. That ship has now sailed, and all of the Plan B’s combined can’t cut it yet.

We’re many, many years and considerable, painstaking research efforts away from easing our way out of fossil fuel dependence. And when supply is on the wrong side of plentiful, and demand will continue to charge far ahead of what’s going to be available, we’ve got some issues. Change is coming. We don’t have to like it, because the truth is that at least in the immediate aftermaths of the more serious consequences that will soon enough make their appearance, not much will be spark joy in our hearts about the state of our energy supplies and resources.

What we do have a choice over is how soon we commit ourselves to not just accepting the many changes, but proactively addressing them head-on by an intelligent mix of truth, courage, insight, wisdom, planning, and implementation—all to unfold over a good many years. Piece o’ cake! Well, maybe not … but far from an insurmountable task. (I’ll have more to say about “change” in an upcoming post.)

We can also decide here and now that these changes will forever be awful and burdensome and unfair and all the rest. No disputing that. But, the opportunity also exists for us to find our better angels, put the still-awe-inspiring capabilities and talents and resources and visions of this proud nation and lead the way. Not easy; not soon; not inexpensive. But most assuredly doable.

Good to have choices….

Sources:

[1] http://postcarboncities.net/node/3593; Showing leadership on peak oil – Posted 8 October 2008
[2] Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century; Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder; Wiley Publisher, 2008 – p. 188
[3] http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/What-Can-we-do-Now-About-Peak-Oil.html; What Can we do Now About Peak Oil? by Gail Tverberg

In a recent post (here), I indicated that there were two more recent articles unseriously attempting to persuade readers that all is well in oil-production world. I’ll discuss the second piece today. (There are always more, of course, but these two jumped out at me as “better” examples of misguided attempts to deny that we have any fossil fuel resource problems.)

This Fortune magazine piece describes with near-breathless delight the apparent findings of not just one or two or four, but six “huge” oil fields! The existence of these fields is not exactly new news, but no matter. The good news touted here, however, is that we’re “awash in petroleum.” Such good news!

Let’s jump right in [emphasis added is mine]:

“There are many oil reserves around the globe that remain untapped, and explorers continue to discover new fields deep beneath the earth’s surface. Depending on how the controversy surrounding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge turns out, the U.S. could exploit oil reserves in the area, despite potentially grave environmental consequences.”

“Depending”; “could” … along with “might potentially”, “if” “could be possible”, and an array of similar, carefully-worded utterly-lacking-in-certainty phrases are the apparent stock in trade for those denying those annoying facts about declining world oil production.

Kind of like the “job-killing”, “death panel”-laden health care legislation … these buzz word continuously repeated (without bothering to explain any of the actual facts that the rest of us deal with here on Planet Earth) sooner or later take on a life of their own. Soon enough “could exploit oil reserves” to the many non-discriminating readers simply becomes “lots of easily-accessed oil just waiting for someone to stick a straw in and pump it all out and so-what-the-hell-are-you-all-waiting-for?”

“Depending on how” the “controversy” (?) pans out in the Arctic means … what? Mentioning just the political controversy (my assumption as to the reference) over which nation can lay claim to any possible resources in the Arctic ignores a whole lotta other issues like finding it; getting to it; producing it! Hello! We’re talking about the possibility of finding and extracting fossil fuel resources in the Arctic! The place that’s very, very cold and has a lot of very, very thick ice on top of … everything … most of the time!

Realistically, full production is several decades away, and the total isn’t likely to meet even 5% of our needs. “Cheap, easy, soon” are words one will never hear when discussing the “potential” oil in the Arctic. Damned facts….

And what’s with the “despite potentially grave environmental consequences”? That actually sounds vaguely serious. Perhaps reporter Shelley DuBois might have lingered for just a moment on that phrase and explained … anything about it? “Grave” and “consequences” in the same sentence rarely lead to good things. But hell, if that’s just going to slow down the process of skipping past facts, then by all means, ignore away!

“Elsewhere there are even more reserves, but they’re often in places that are either geologically or politically difficult to access. Some of them come with dangerous security risks to drilling.”

Well that’s a relief! Still reeling from the whole “grave consequences” thing, for a moment I thought there might be some more problems. But since there’s no explanation, I guess not! That was a close one … whew!

This piece then provides brief statements about these 6 “huge” oil fields. [NOTE: all statistics to follow are taken from this Fortune article unless indicated otherwise.] I’ll touch on just a few points.

Mexico’s Chicontepec Basin has 10 billion “estimated” barrels of recoverable crude oil. Wonderful … that’s four month’s worth of world demand, and all from a country whose oil production has tanked in recent years. Hard to imagine a lot of money has been poured into the infrastructure during this decline, so one should wonder about the capacity to extract the fossil fuels, but let’s give Mexico the benefit of the doubt.

Mentioning the recent decline in production in passing at least counts for something, even if there is no tie-in to how this off-setting depletion in existing fields might diminish the attractive estimates from Chicontepec Basin. I guess there’s not much to be concerned about.

The big kahuna in this article is Venezuela’s Orinoco Basin, “a huge chunk of reserves inland, in a stretch of about 20,000 square miles” that is estimated to hold more than 500 billion barrels of oil. Very impressive to be sure. In fact, a 2006 article from petroleumworld.com suggested reserves of more than a trillion barrels, although only about 25% – 30% was then deemed recoverable. I have seen similar figures elsewhere, but I’ll go with Fortune’s figures for this discussion. (About a year ago, I wrote a post devoted to Venezuela and issues relating to its oil production capabilities. You can get more info’ here.)

What the 2006 article was thoughtful enough to provide (perhaps space limitations precluded Fortune from supplying this innocuous fact) is an explanation that producing Venezuela’s “heavy oil” is … well, what you might imagine producing heavy oil to be like:

“Coaxing marketable oil out of the extra-heavy sludge and coal-like deposits of the Orinoco is extremely expensive, labor- intensive, and has required both the technological muscle and cash of Big Oil.”

There goes any possibility of “cheap, easy, soon”! And let’s keep in mind that that country’s leader, Hugo Chavez, is not what anyone would consider to be a fan of ours. We should not expect lots of oil favors from him. As the author of this Fortune article states: “U.S. relations with Venezuela have been tense.” Relations between loony Tea Party extremists and far left bloggers here have been similarly “tense.” I’m not seeing much in the way of better scenarios any time soon.

“The country estimates a substantial jump in production from the area, claiming that the Orinoco will add another 400,000 barrels per day to its production by 2016.
“There’s some debate over whether they’ll make that goal — and even over how much oil Venezuela currently produces. Venezuela claims that its national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA produces 2.96 million barrels per day. U.S. estimates are generally lower, around 2.09 million barrels per day.”

Let’s give Venezuela the benefit of the doubt, round up to 3 million barrels per day, and then tack on 400,000 more per day. My math says that’s 3.4 million barrels per day, or almost 1.25 billion barrels per year. Very impressive. Gonna take a while to squeeze out 500-plus billion barrels at that rate (completely ignoring the fact that a one-third recovery is a good ballpark figure for production from most fields.) Of course, this assumes (I can do that, too) infrastructure and investment/economic/production considerations remain supportive, and that those pesky “extra-heavy sludge” factors don’t prove too daunting. I’m sure someone will invent something soon to take care of that—ideally at very low cost, easily utilized, and one that restores the oil fields and basins to pristine environmental conditions in no time at all.

The next source of magic are Brazil’s Santos and Campos Basins, estimated to hold “up to” 123 billion barrels of crude oil. Certainly not a pittance!

But like Jeremy Bowden’s article which I discussed last week, curious facts about the efforts to produce these fields popped up in the DuBois article:

“East of Rio de Janiero, Brazil’s Santos and Campos Basins contain tremendous oil reserves in something called a pre-salt layer. The oil and other petrochemicals are trapped under about two miles of salt and rock layers, which starts about a mile deep in the Atlantic Ocean.”

So … a few hundred bucks worth of investment, coupla weeks off the coast of sunny Brazil, a little bit of work here and there, and presto, we have 123 billion barrels of oil, right? (I’m just supplying “facts” about production … the Fortune article didn’t get around to that. Perhaps, however, I underestimate the challenge? Ya’ think?)

The other 3 fields mentioned in this article are first, an estimated 45-100 billion barrels superfield in Iraq—a real hot-bed of civility, sound infrastructure, solid government, and all the economic wherewithal any oil producer might need, right? And let’s just ignore this little bump in the road:

“The problem with Iraqi oil production is in the refining process. Right now there aren’t enough refineries with capacity to process so much crude. There’s also a paucity of fresh water in the region–a key resource for petrochemical processing.”

The “refining process” is the only problem? Seriously? All by itself that’s an enormous challenge and one not likely to be successfully resolved any time soon. And fresh water in the desert to fix that other problem will come from … ? Sure hope none of the Iraqi citizens get to those limited supplies of water before the oil companies do. They might drink it, or something!

DuBois then discusses the (estimated) 11 billion barrel offshore Kashagan field in Kazakhstan. Slight issue, easily resolved I’m sure:

“Offshore Kazakhstan is tricky to develop. The oil is sulphurous, and it’s combined with a high quantity of high-pressure natural gas. Also, drilling platforms have to be incredibly sturdy to weather the harsh conditions in the Caspian Sea.”

I’m not seeing “cheap, easy, soon” there, either. Also not seeing any facts to explain how those challenges might be handled—easily, cheaply, or soon.

And finally, the jaw-dropping, whopping 1.8 billion barrel (estimated, of course) Jubilee field off the coast of Ghana. That is, Jubilee “could ultimately produce” [my emphasis] that much oil. Pigs could fly, and we all could win the lottery tonight, too. But 1.8 billion barrels of oil is 1.8 billion barrels, enough to satisfy world demand for damn near … 3 whole weeks!

We’re well past the time when we need those in the know about the oil industry to speak the truth and only the truth. We who are not in the know need to better understand the facts and consider the sources of information supplied, and of perhaps greater importance: what’s not being explained. Motivations for disseminating various levels of information can be complicated.

Might not be a bad idea for our leaders to consider this strategy of telling the truth and offering us a heads-up, too.

Our work is cut out for us—all of us.

[NOTE: This is a the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.

Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

I’ve stressed the importance in recent posts about our need to better understand the facts about oil production, given that the unending decline is going to have a dramatic impact on us in the years to come as the full measure of Peak Oil gradually—or not so gradually—unfolds. (And let’s not even begin to discuss our need to possess a fuller understanding of our economic policies and their impact on our future; the truth about global warming—and not the political ideology which denies it, together with a host of other national and international issues that continue to impact us now and likely for many years to come. I’ll leave those topics to other writers.)

Is it better to know and understand—difficult and perhaps even frightening though this may be—or do we rely instead on others whom we hope are acting in our best interests to handle these challenges for us, freeing us from such burdensome responsibilities? Most of us do, after all, have plates quite full with our own worries and responsibilities—all the greater over these past few years in the wake of our Great Recession. Few will volunteer to pack those plates with more concerns … especially vaguely-defined and certainly-not-happening-today-or-tomorrow problems such as Peak Oil and global warming. “Trying to figure out how to pay for new shoes for Junior this weekend; not much time for me to worry about whether or not I can afford (or even find) a fill-up for my SUV in 2013. So sorry!”

Understood, of course. Every one of us can pop off a half-dozen similar responses in a matter of seconds when someone like me broaches the subject of Peak Oil’s challenges and consequences. I have my own ready-made set of replies to deny and/or ignore that looming problem.

But a short term strategy like that is all but guaranteed to cause us many problems down the road. Most of us probably understand that intuitively, but there’s just too much else on our plates today, next week, and next month to really wrap our minds around a problem that really is “out there in the world someplace,” and not bothering us too much today. I get that, yet I honestly don’t know how much greater our capacity can, or ought to, be for postponing difficult conversations and undertakings until … “later.” Later is too late; it usually is when employing the tactics of denial and delay.

I’d like to think that this is a perfectly logical and reasoned and measured-in-tone proposition, but I also know that it’s largely devoid of influence at the moment. That’s what must change, and there will be no magic formulas (or magic words) for how to make that work amid the sea of concerns and problems almost all of us are now contending with under our own roofs. One step at a time.

I’ve also tried to make clear that preparing for and then dealing with Peak Oil is at the outset a “two-track” approach: not only do we bear responsibility for stepping up our knowledge and involvement; we also need some serious quantities of truth-telling from our political, industry, and media leaders. We can’t hope to fashion and then implement any meaningful strategies if we don’t have an honest assessment of what challenges we need to address! Seems fairly elementary….

“Citizen or politician, however, it is undeniably difficult to show political leadership on an issue as challenging and unpopular as peak oil. Much like global warming, it’s an incredibly huge and complex issue that requires a certain amount of scientific and technical knowledge to fully understand — and it also happens to threaten our very way of life.” [1]

As I and others have already discussed, the various impacts of Peak Oil are quite unlikely to be pleasant for any of us at the outset. While the effects will emerge slowly (we hope) but steadily over a considerable period of time (the longer and slower the better), the sheer relentlessness of those effects will in and of themselves create a fair amount of disruption and perhaps even some measure of panic.

Planning ahead is designed in no small part to address the latter concern. Knowledge and careful planning based on that knowing will go a long way to minimizing fears that might otherwise bloom in full. More often than not, it’s what we don’t know that proves more harmful. Telling the truth is a pretty good antidote.

“The first thing that occurs to me regarding a post-Peak life is facing the near-certainty that you will have to live such a life. Our economy and society have been built on certain assumptions – the assumptions of ever-increasing technological advancement, convenience, comfort, and prosperity….
“The first preparation you can make is to bravely face the future, take inventory of all of its implications, and then begin to harden yourself to be able to cope with it.” [2]

“[M]any of us have become so attached to our lifestyles that we would risk oblivion rather than let go of the things that we tell ourselves are so important. This leads to all manner of convoluted thinking.” [3]

That is why we need to be more informed, involved, and courageous enough to understand and accept that changes are coming. It will be no small feat to rid ourselves of the beliefs about unlimited and unrestrained abundance or the sense of entitlement we arm ourselves with in the face of disruptions or restrictions. It is also precisely why the above-referenced group of leaders must play their part and find the levels of integrity needed to be honest with us.

“[Energy investment adviser Jim] Johnson said that energy-industry insiders quietly acknowledge ‘peak oil’ and the dire economic and social consequences that are implied by doing nothing about it.
“‘Energy prices will go through the roof,’ Johnson said, ‘and people don’t see it coming. Worst, we deny that the cause is us and our profligate style of consumption.
“‘But first, he said, people ‘must wake up and understand what’s going on here.’” [4]

We need more Jim Johnsons to be telling us the truth, and far fewer deniers whose motives for kicking up a lot of dust seem to have no connection to the “common good.”

Just a hunch, but the ire that might be directed at them for finally speaking truths will dissipate far more quickly and will have arisen with much less intensity and anguish than if they hold off doing so until it’s damn near too late. Pay a little now or a lot later. Hiding from the facts can continue only for so long. How much do we want to risk?

“Our problem now is that we have built a complex economy that depends on oil and other fuels. We can see that we will have less oil in the future. The question is, ‘What we should do, in planning for a change in the world…?’
“We are trying to model the future based what we have now, but our current model is very much tied to our current fossil fuel use. It is hard to imagine that our system will work for the long term.” [5]

It won’t. That is the task at hand. Very few decisions we will make as individuals and as a nation will have greater and more long-lasting impact and influence than how we decide to deal with the looming challenge of peak oil. We’ve already wasted too much as it is. Let’s not waste more.

That is what we must accept, that is what must be explained to us, and a solution for that task is what must guide us all as we slowly but surely slide into a world where the fossil fuel resources that have provided us a breathtaking array of technological and industrial achievements will no longer keep pace with the demands placed upon them. The math of declining supply and increasing demand simply does not work so that we can continue on with “business as usual” … or even more.

No easy answers; no inexpensive solutions; nothing we can slip quietly into place in the next week or two that’s going to solve … anything about Peak Oil. We do have our work cut out for us. No more doubts.

Whatever it is we might want or feel entitled to will have to give way to the courage of knowing and understanding what the new scenarios and circumstances will be, and then lead from that knowing. We have the chance to resume our position of leadership and excellence—for those worried that we’re not feeling or demonstrating that we’re “exceptional” enough—but we will do so from a different platform and with different resources and purposes to guide us.

Crisis or opportunity? That choice has not yet been taken from us.

More to come….

Sources:

[1] http://postcarboncities.net/node/3593; Showing leadership on peak oil – Posted 8 October 2008
[2] http://thewellrundry.blogspot.com/2008/08/importance-of-timing-of-peak-oil.html; The Importance of the Timing of Peak Oil – August 15, 2008
[3] http://www.peterrussell.com/Speaker/Talks/WBA.php; Who’s Kidding Whom? Is Sustainable Development Compatible with Western Civilization? by Peter Russell
[4] http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2008/08/18/2981/waking_up_to_the_threat_of_peak_oil; Waking up to the threat of ‘peak oil’ By Ron Way | Aug. 18, 2008
[5] http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/What-Can-we-do-Now-About-Peak-Oil.html; What Can we do Now About Peak Oil? by Gail Tverberg

I’m well aware that there is an unfortunately successful and all-too-often-employed strategy (lack of integrity aside) used most often in politics but certainly in discussions about Peak Oil and global warming, where the frequent repetition of any combination of lies, half-truths, misstatements, misrepresentations, and disingenuous propositions eventually leads to belief on the part of far too many people.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts (here and here, for example) that I think it’s important to challenge widely-disseminated examples of peak oil denial rather than letting the disingenuous arguments take root. The decline in oil production is a big enough problem as it is; creating doubt for reasons having no discernible value is at best questionable and should not go unchallenged is possible.

To that end, I came across two articles last week that caught my attention. Predictably, the same patterns of “explanations” and offerings cropped up there just as they have in other articles I’ve highlighted before. I guess if you cannot deal with facts, there’s not a whole of room for much creativity when addressing fossil fuel production. I’ll deal with the first article today, and save my discussion for the other one for an upcoming post.

First up is a piece from Jeremy Bowden, whose first paragraph touts one of the more popular terms in denial-land: the finding of “massive” oil fields. Whenever I read that, the antenna goes up and into full lock mode. Usually accompanying glowing exhortations about these magical fields where solutions to all our problems reside are phrases touting the wonder of technology and ingenuity. Bowden does not disappoint.

This article of necessity raises the specter of OPEC’s role in world production: “It is the technical expertise and project management skills of the most dynamic multinational and independent oil companies that hold the key to these new hard-to-get-at reserves, rather than the whims of Arab dictators or the level of OPEC budget deficits.” Always good to have an enemy to whip out at a moment’s notice (not that I’m an OPEC fan, mind you.)

I’m still not entirely clear on why quotes like this are supposed to be persuasive, but they do frequent writings which dispute peak oil:

“James Burkhard, a managing director at energy consultancy IHS CERA, says the recent upstream developments mean oil and gas will continue to be pillars of global energy supply for decades to come. ‘The competitiveness of oil and gas and the scale at which they are produced mean that there are no readily available substitutes in either one year or 20 years,’ he added.”

He’s absolutely correct. There are no readily available substitutes, but that’s the problem! Saying that oil is currently our one and only is not even a bit helpful. All it does is to emphasize how utterly dependent we are on this finite resource—a resource that by all reasonable indications peaked several years ago and will continue a steady path along a not-always smooth or linear slope of decline … and we are woefully unprepared. (This recent post is only the latest in a lengthy list of concise and easily-understood explanations about Peak Oil.)

So what comfort does it offer us to indicate that all we have is all we have, when more of it is being demanded and less of it is being produced?! That math just doesn’t work.

Bowden also points out that Canadian oil sands now provide us with more oil that does Saudi Arabia. And….?

Saudi supply is being counted out by many other nations whose fossil fuel demands are only increasing; Saudi production is also being increasingly diverted to and for its own uses, and its fields are not immune to the same rates of depletion as are most other older fields, so … what’s the point here? Like most other articles which promote Canadian tar sands as the Great Salvation, no mention whatsoever is made here of the environmental degradation; the poisonous tailing ponds left behind; the immense demands on water; the costs, effort, and/or time involved in extraction, or the fact that production rates aren’t all that spectacular to begin with!

But why deal with any of those facts? They simply get in the way of a good insincere argument. (And Bowden also makes it a point of stating that U.S. oil production increased “for the first time in decades.” Our production peaked more than forty years ago! A slight one year uptick—from shale, which has its own set of environmental, cost, effort, and resource usage issues, also conveniently overlooked—is not exactly encouraging.)

Speaking of U.S. shale production, Bowden points out the following:

“… the Bakken shale field is now the country’s fastest-growing major oil field. Production has reached about 350,000bpd, from 100,000bpd a decade ago. In a recent report, consultancy firm PFC Energy projected production would climb to 450,000bpd by 2013. ‘The technology producing these resources has absolutely made the difference,’ Mr Marvin E Odum, President of Shell Oil, said. ‘It’s the same with the Arctic, with the shale oil, all over the world. Technology is the key.’”

Give or take a bit, the United States uses somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 billion barrels of oil per year … billion with a “b”. I’m definitely not a math whiz, but my trusty calculator tells me that 450,000 barrels per day times 365 days equals an impressive-sounding (approximate) 165 million barrels per year. I’m pretty certain that 165 million is a whole lot less than 7 billion. Rounding up to the approximate 20 million barrels of oil this nation uses each day, that means we’ll soon be producing enough to get us through sometime next week! Fantastic!

Another forty or so examples like that and we’re all set (and to hell with the rest of the world and their needs or demands).

This author also made it a point of using the same vague, subject-to-multiple-interpretations stock language others employ is discussing the magic of potential future technology, including this:

“A recent forecast produced by Shell suggests that Arctic production from North America, Europe, and western Russia – much of which will be deep offshore – could make up a quarter of global production within 20 years, provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met.” [My emphasis]

“… provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met”? Seriously? That’s what we’re supposed to derive great—or any—comfort from? And within 20 years? Wow! That’s not asking for too much, is it? A few pesky “technical, political and environmental challenges” met and we’re good to go!

And there’s this:

“Advances in directional drilling allow well operators to steer and carve through hard shale to expose more and hard-to-reach rock, and it also makes possible drilling under cities or into environmentally-sensitive areas….
“Faced with falling reserves and barred from acquiring fresh production in areas such as the Middle East, [nice to just skip past this – my comment] international oil majors began to search for new large deposits in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico….Exploration and drilling below 10,000ft of water and through miles of hard rock, thick salt and tightly-packed sands required the development of supercomputers and three-dimensional imaging techniques as well as equipment that could withstand the heat and pressures common at such depths, not to mention submarine robots to make repairs.”

Others have also pointed out these types of impressive displays of innovation and truly astounding technology. But why is this a good thing? That anyone has to go to these lengths and expenses and risks to find oil shouldn’t require any advanced technical degrees to understand that we’ve got some problems!

It would be nice if even some of the energy and effort expended in trying to prop up the dismal truths of oil production could instead be directed to conveying a more accurate and complete picture of what we face now and will have no choice but to deal with in the years to come. That might be a bit more helpful.

There’s always hope….