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

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Archive for March, 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.]

~~~

“Yet, this remains what liberals and progressive aspire to that differentiates us: we are oriented toward hopes, aspirations, ideals, and the gratification of nurturance needs. We are about generating new alternatives, thinking our way beyond old assumptions and boundaries. Of course we have no choice to deal with the world we are born into, and to deal realistically with the problems around us. But we need not be limited and defined by them, instead of being guided by our visions and dreams of what can be, even as we are informed by our thirst for knowledge of what is.” [1]

I agree with this proposition wholeheartedly, yet I’d like to believe that there are just as many conservatives who adopt a similar creed as their own.

It’s fair to say that there is a more obvious commitment on the part of many in the conservative wing to prefer a return to more “traditional” ways of living, producing, and governing (assuming there still is such a thing). It’s not necessarily a criticism of the Right that much of what informs their actions is a desire to maintain what is and has been (most notably in the area of culture and “values”) rather than to readily embrace change. Leaders who do nothing more constructive than foment needless fear of change in all its variations (largely as a distraction in order to promote their own narrow-minded and self-serving agenda) contribute little in the way of meaningful value, yet their voices too often are the loudest among us. I can only continue to hope that integrity in public discourse has not been stifled permanently.

One can also only hope that at some point (sooner, preferably) enough may come to wonder why leaders in government and industry and media have decided that sponsoring irrational fears is in any way beneficial or meaningful. A next logical question is to inquire as to what their agenda might actually be in doing so….Fear as an end in itself seems … bizarre! Promoting fear rather than engaging in honest dialogue—in doing so shedding light on the half-truths that serve as foundations for those efforts and thereby effectively eliminating the reasons for those invalid fears—will hopefully be seen soon enough for what it is: a useless, abusive, and destructive strategy whose sole purpose is to provide great benefits to too few at the great expense of too many.

So be it….” ought not be a guiding principle for our elected leaders.

The challenge that must be recognized by those initially resistant to change, and even more resistant to the great changes our continuing economic woes burden us with is that the impacts of Peak Oil and climate change will only produce more change. Whether we like or desire it will be entirely irrelevant. The determined, destructive efforts of some to turn science and facts into loose opinion will meet their match, causing us—and those promoting misinformation—great harm … unless we find a collective courage and wisdom to accept the reality of what great progress may cost us.

We’ve achieved many great things, and our work is not done. It’s important to understand, however, that what we will accomplish and innovate in the years to come will arise with and from different resources and under different economic conditions. The monumental transitions which will take place will better serve us all if we take part now in understanding the challenges we face, the options and alternatives available to us, and appreciate what today’s decisions mean for us all in the days to come. We’re not powerless nor are we dependent solely upon others to make those choices for us.

We can attempt to be ahead of those changes by understanding and then planning as best we can, or we can instead take our chances that the changes and adaptations may not be all that bad after all. That’s a dicey approach in dealing with our—and our children’s—futures.

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

Is it still within us to be better? I have no doubts!

Do we think we will be better? Can we fashion a better future than the one we now just mostly fear? Have we indeed been beaten down once too often in one too many ways? If I believed that I would not be writing all of this.

“I’m optimistic because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound. My optimism is also based on the conviction that serious, vibrant societies don’t sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff.” [2]

I stand firmly in the camp that says “despite our too-often-and-in-too-many-ways dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs, we remain the greatest assemblage of decent, well-meaning, industrious, creative, and character-driven people on this planet.” I think it’s time we demonstrate that once again.

This imposes demands and obligations on each of us, however. The combination of economic, energy, climate, cultural, and political challenges standing before us necessitate involvement by many more of us. Leaving it all to “leaders” has not been a winning strategy for too many years as it is, and the increasingly polarized and in some cases borderline insane legislative perspectives make it all the more imperative that we who stand outside the Capitol Hill arena find our voices once again.

It’s not a big commitment on our parts. There’s no suggestion here that each of us must now devote hours every day to understanding the intricacies of public policy and their economic ramifications, but just watching from the sidelines (if we bother doing even that) is no longer enough. Certainly leaving the debates to those at the far edges of ideology cannot continue.

We need to understand that it is up to us as citizens to direct the political and economic agenda. We’re the ones who suffer the consequences of poor decision-making and inept, misguided, narrow-minded leadership, just as we reap the rewards of sound fact-gathering and rational, intelligent, forward-thinking planning and visionary leadership. We need to express the better characteristics each of us possesses and become more knowledgeable so that our political and industrial and cultural leaders are better at what they do, and why. They will only be more effective if we insist upon it, and that will only happen if we are involved and aware of what is happening, and then speak up rather than allowing groups with narrower and more short-sighted interests to make all the noise. It’s okay to ask questions….

Ezra Klein recently noted (here):

“In ‘Stealth Democracy,’ political scientists John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse amass a lot of public-opinion data showing two things: First, as Jon Bernstein says …, most people do not pay much attention to American politics, and they do not want to pay much attention to American politics. But that preference leads to another preference: In order for most Americans to tune out of politics and not get ripped off due to their inattention, politicians need to be acting in an honorable, ‘non-self-interested’ way.”

We can no longer afford that tactic. As difficult and burdensome as our own lives may likely be nowadays, we owe it first to ourselves, our children, and our communities to be better informed; to ask questions and demand truthful answers. Ceding all control for our well-being to those who demonstrate time and again that they are not up to the task should no longer be a preferred alternative while we busy ourselves with the (overwhelming) demands of our individual lives.

We all have skin in the games being played, and the sooner we demonstrate the courage and wisdom we do indeed possess, the sooner we can offer both meaningful contributions and relevant instructions to the leaders with whom we’ve entrusted that well-being. Hoping that they are acting in our best interests is a sure recipe for disaster, given what little wisdom, integrity, and vision too many are routinely demonstrating.

We all want essentially the same things: security in our financial affairs and assurances that our private and work lives will continue relatively untouched by outside factors; the comfort and knowledge that we can trust leaders to engage honorably in their responsibilities on our behalf; and at least reasonable opportunities to better ourselves and the future we’ll bequeath to our children. We carry with us great fear, anxiety, and uncertainty in these times precisely because so much of those basic desires are routinely threatened.

Is global warming a “hoax” and nothing more? Should we concern ourselves at all with the current and future conditions of fossil fuel production that provides for us all? Are we better off in the long run cutting even more public expenditures that now afford some minimal assistance to our fellow citizens in need, better educational opportunities for our children, opportunities to innovate and invent better lives for all of us, and maintain, repair, and improve the infrastructure that serves as the foundation of all that we achieve? Or are we better off ensuring that instead, that small group of the wealthiest among us preserve their wealth at the expense of the many?

It may seem to be nothing more than a philosophical/ideological exercise, but the answers to those questions go to the very heart of the decision-making that will determine our future. Those decisions affect all of us, if not today or tomorrow, soon enough.

We can decide that what we’re facing will tear us down, or we can take a stand and act on what I believe is still the prevailing truth: we are better still, and we have left untapped many of our greatest attributes while wasting energy and effort fighting senseless battles about nonsense. Whatever odd purposes discussions about our President’s status as an alien socialist Kenyan Muslim were intended to serve, for example, ought to have run their course by now. Not that it ever had a place, but fueling that kind of nonsense has no place at the table now. We have grown-up problems to deal with.

Fear has served whatever purpose it was intended to provide. Let’s find our better angels now.

The conversations we have in public (and personal ones as well) must now take a different direction. For all the lamenting about whether we have or have not lost our “exceptionalism” (another silly, distracting political game that needs to find its way to the trash heap), the truth is that we still possess the greatest collection of resources and innovation and ambition and talent on Earth. It’s time we devote our energies and efforts to leading with those attributes and set aside the ignorance and nonsense that has taken center stage for too long.

We are so much better than that. Let’s show ‘em all just how much better we can be.

“Educating yourself ahead of the problem gives you the best chance of effectively coping, rather than being swept along with the current.” [3]

To be continued….

Sources:

[1] http://www.openleft.com/diary/20702/the-political-psychology-of-sanity-and-fear; The political psychology of sanity and fear by Paul Rosenberg – Nov 1, 2010
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/opinion/12brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion; National Greatness Agenda by David Brooks – November 12, 2010
[3] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-13/interview-bob-hirsch-his-team%E2%80%99s-new-book%E2%80%94%E2%80%9C-impending-world-energy-mess%E2%80%9D; Interview with Bob Hirsch on his team’s new book—“The Impending World Energy Mess” by Steve Andrews – September 13, 2010 [Original article: http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2010/09/interview-with-bob-hirsch-on-his-team-new-book-the-impending-world-energy-mess/]

[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.]

~~~

(This is a continuation of last week’s post discussing a recent essay by Joel Kotkin urging more domestic fossil fuel production. The last quote of his cited in that post is repeated here:)

“Shale oil deposits in the northern Great Plains, Texas, California and Colorado could yield more oil annually by 2015 than the Gulf of Mexico. Within 10 years, these finds have the potential to reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half.”

“Gail The Actuary” recently posted a very informative piece, and actually addressed this very point, (a follow-up to her discussion in that post of claims—echoed by Kotkin—that the oil shale fields in the U.S. could produce as many as 2 million additional barrels of oil per day by 2015).  She offered several observations which seem to counter those could yields and have potentials:

“I am suspicious that quite a bit of the 2 million barrels a day of additional production by 2015 that is being forecast is not really oil. Instead, I expect it will be natural gas liquids. This currently represents about half of the ‘miscellaneous’ layer [in a chart found in her post]. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) include propane, butane, and other gasses (sic)….
“An increase in NGLs would be of lesser benefit than oil, because it is not directly substitutable for oil, and is a cheaper product. Initially, it would mostly make home heating for those using propane cheaper, but then tend to drive NGL developers out of the market. Unless NGLs can cheaply be converted to higher priced oil products (and refinery capacity can be added quickly to accomplish this), it would seem like a drop in prices would quickly put an end to the NGL ramp-up….
“US oil imports have declined about 25% in the five years since 2005. In the next ten years, I would expect oil imports to continue to decline, regardless of what we do, because the amount of oil on the world market will continue to drop, and oil importers will tend more and more to be in recession. It is not clear how much US oil imports will drop, but a 50% drop in the next 10 years would not seem all that unlikely, regardless of what we what we produce, because of oil exporting countries will tend to consume more, and more countries will shift from being exporters to importers. We are currently importing 9.4 million barrels a day, so a reduction by half by 2020 would be a reduction of 4.7 million barrels a day.” [1]

It’s all fine and well to talk about the “potential” for this or that increase in production. But if it is not placed in the real-world context of increasing demand, depleting oil fields, harder-to-find-and-produce newer resources (meaning more energy being used to produce lesser amounts of inferior quality supplies), and the often-overlooked factor that many oil-exporting nations are now keeping for their own use more of their production totals, then the “potentials” lose much of their luster. Just keeping up with depletion rates still represents a net loss in production if demand is increasing and imports are being curtailed for any or all of the reasons just cited.

And let’s also remember that all of these “new,” more expensive, energy-intensive and time-consuming efforts are taking place because there’s no place else to go. Because these enhanced efforts are more costly, energy prices have to remain high for producers to justify the time, expense, investments (financial, manpower, asset-acquisition), and efforts needed to extract these often inferior oil resources. There is a point when it is no longer economically feasible to invest in production given those limitations and challenges. Higher energy prices are generally not looked upon favorably by consumers. Producers need consumers before they make their investments. Consumers cutting back = less justification for investments, and it’s easy to figure out what happens then.

Gail also comments on the claims that there could be a two-million barrel per day increase in production from the oil shale deposits (something she states “would be a tall order”) by offering some well-reasoned considerations:

“There are several reasons why the hoped for increase might not be realized, however. These include:
“Inadequate infrastructure. One question is whether inadequate infrastructure will prove to be a roadblock to meeting ambitious production goals in five to 10 years….
“Inadequate price. What tends to happen when there isn’t adequate transportation for the oil is the selling price of the oil tends to be depressed, relative to other types….
“It is easy for operators to assume that the price differential will get better, and also that the prices of other types of oil will continue to rise. But all of these things are by no means certain. High oil prices tend to send the economy into recession, so world prices may not rise as much as hoped–they may oscillate instead, rising, then putting the economy into recession and falling again. Also the differential of North Dakota types of crude to Brent may stay low for an extended period, if infrastructure issues cannot be worked out.
“Optimism before drilling. There are many unknowns before drilling including how quickly oil production from individual wells will decline, how long wells will prove to be economic, what proportion of wells will have high production, and the level of oil and gas prices in the future. It is natural for those who are trying to get others to invest in these ventures to base their assumptions on an optimistic view of the future. If experience with shale gas in Texas is any clue, once realities start setting in, the level of drilling may decline, and overall production, after an initial run-up, may decline. If this happens, it will be very difficult to meet the ambitious goals presented….
“If overall production is to be increases by 2 million barrels a day by 2015, it will be necessary to overcome these declines, as well as add 2 million barrels a day of new production. What happens is that each year, more and more oil fields and oil wells within oil fields become non-economic. These are closed. Also, what is extracted is an oil-water mix, and the proportion of oil tends to fall over time. This means that if a given volume of oil-water mix is processed from a well, each year the well will yield less oil and more water.”

Not quite a guarantee, is it?

Mr. Kotkin then turns to natural gas, with all the by-now usual qualifiers and non-specific “statements” which one assumes should be taken as fact (bold/italic mine).

Even more promising, from the environmental standpoint, are huge natural gas finds. Discoveries in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania could satisfy 100 years of use at current demand levels….
“Natural gas is already muscling out coal as the primary source for new power plants. It can also be converted into transportation fuel, particularly for buses, trucks and taxis.”

What if demand doesn’t stay the same? (Probably a damn good bet that it won’t). Then what? How does transportation fuel conversion take place? How long does it take? How expensive is the process? How efficient? How easy is it to do? How much more gas would be consumed by those converted vehicles, and thus how much less would be available for all other consumption?

And while he’s correct in stating that domestic energy production creates the “potential” (that word again) for “hundreds of thousands of jobs”, wouldn’t a national effort to devote our research efforts, skills, manpower, and resources into alternative sources of energy (which will surely outlast declining supplies of fossil fuels) offer the “potential” for just as many jobs, if not many more—given how much of our infrastructure and industrial/transportation foundation will have to change to accommodate new energy sources?

Reasonable questions all, I’d like to think, but no answers at all in Mr. Kotkin’s article.

There’s also the inconvenient reality that the U.S. is a natural gas importer. We do not produce enough of it to satisfy our needs as is. We turn to Canada as our primary benefactor, but as its demands for natural gas increase (it’s also used in significant quantities just to assist in the production of that country’s tar sands), the less natural gas there is to satisfy Canadian—and American—demand. At some point, the math is not going to work.

Facts….

Gail the Actuary conveniently offered a wealth of information in another recent post that sheds a bit more light on those magical “huge natural gas finds” Mr. Kotkin finds so appealing. (The title of the post: “Don’t count on natural gas to solve US energy problems” offers a clue or two.)

“[N]atural gas is only about one-fourth of US fossil fuel use, so it would be very difficult to ramp it up enough to meet all of these needs.
“One issue is whether a rise in shale gas will mostly offset other reductions in natural gas supply. In Annual Energy Outlook 2011, EIA forecasts that shale gas production will increase from 23% of US natural gas production in 2010 to 46% of US natural gas production by 2035, but that these increases will mostly offset decreases elsewhere. Even with this huge increase in shale gas production, the EIA only sees US natural gas production increasing by an average of 0.8% per year between 2011 and 2035, and US natural gas consumption increasing by an average of 0.6% per year per year to 2035–not enough to make a very big dent in our overall energy needs.”

Thud.

Shale gas production, which is being touted as a door-opener for increasing natural gas production, has its own set of risks and problems. Water pollution from the fracking process employed to produce the resource, earthquakes (no joke; see this), apparently rapid decline in production levels, and the fact that shale gas is not profitable at current low prices are just a few of the negatives. Not much incentive for producers there….

Gail touched on the shale gas issues in her post, suggesting for one thing that increasing the percentage of shale gas in the overall total of gas production “will mostly offset decreases elsewhere.” And natural gas’s lower prices will have less appeal as prices rise—surely an inevitability as demand and production costs increase. Then what?

As for Mr. Kotkin’s “100 years” claim, Gail offers more of those damned facts in rebuttal (citing, as she did with all of her other facts, charts and other sources of official information and statistics. Don’t you just hate that? See this article, also.)

“US current consumption is about 24 trillion cubic feet a year. If we divide the ‘U. S. Future Supply’ of 2,074.1 TCF by 24, we get 86 years, which is the source of the statement that 100 years of natural gas supply is available. But it is not at all clear how much of this is economically extractable with technology that we have now, or will be able to develop in the future. If we exclude speculative resources, we are down to 61 years, assuming no growth in natural gas consumption. If natural gas use rises, we would exhaust those resources much sooner.
‘If we exclude both Speculative Resources’ and ‘Possible Resources,’ then the number of years at current consumption falls to 29 (but much shorter, if production ramps up sharply). The shale gas portion of this is about a third of the total, or approximately 10 years, at current consumption levels.”

Thud, again.

Mr. Kotkin does acknowledge the legitimacy of environmental concerns arising from oil and gas production as they compare to the risks now quite evident to all in the wake of the disasters in Japan:

“But compared with the existential threat of nuclear radiation, even potential oil spills and damage to water supplies from fracking shale might be regarded as tolerable risks for which we have considerable experience and technology managing with enhanced regulation.”

Permit me to introduce you to the right-wing of our federal government and the big money interests which largely dictates its agenda. “Enhanced regulation?” Seriously? From this narrow-minded, shortsighted group of legislators beholden to corporate America? This same group of “leaders” who by all indications have little regard for what their own (non-wealthy) constituents are calling on them to do? I’m not sure that relying on them for “enhanced regulation” is likely going to meet with much success, although there is no question that is absolutely necessary.

“The record shows that without effective government oversight, the offshore oil and gas industry will not adequately reduce the risk of accidents, nor prepare effectively to respond in emergencies.” [2]

Credit where credit is due however. Mr. Kotkin does add:

“Republicans, too, need to give up their ‘bests’— including the notion that no policy is always the best, usually a convenient cover for the narrow interests of large energy corporations. Allowing private corporations to unilaterally determine our energy policy makes little sense. After all, most of our key competitors — China, Brazil and India — approach energy not as an ideological hobby horse but as a national priority.”

He concludes with these observations:

“The time has come for both political parties to give up their ‘best’ energy options for the good. A green economy that produces millions of new jobs is a laudable goal. But the renewable sector cannot develop rapidly without massive expenditures of scarce public dollars. To fully develop these technologies, we need lots of money and time….
“It’s time to demand that our deluded, and self-interested, political class develops an energy policy based not ideology but on how to best guarantee prosperity for future generations of Americans.”

Drilling for more oil, or pursuing questionable practices to release shale and natural gas are fraught with their own set of risks and consequences. In truth, there are no energy policies that won’t require significant compromise, sacrifice, and expense. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages, together with the benefits and rewards is no easy, quick, or guaranteed strategy. If we wait until everyone is on board we’ll be having this same conversation 500 years from now.

But to insist that our energy policy must be to keep devoting “scarce public dollars” (and scare private ones, too) to resources on a steady path of decline, guaranteeing only more difficulties and hardships down the road, is an energy policy to nowhere. There’s no doubt that we have enough fossil fuel resources to last a good number of years (given oil depletion and increasing demand, the math makes the exact date irrelevant, and I’m not a seer). But they are resources harder to come by, more costly, and well on their way to soon being insufficient to meet the many legitimate demands and needs of an over-populated world. What’s the advantage in spending “money and time” on endeavors that will lead to a gigantic energy dead-end? How much more trouble should we be looking to create for ourselves?

Our priority—our focus—must turn away from fossil fuels now, while we still have enough available to help ease us into the process of transitioning away from those very resources. That is a task of unimaginable complexity and effort. Waiting for a better day is not a choice. That day has passed. Let’s not let too many more slide by in foolish pursuits.

Sources:

[1] http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/02/14/is-shale-oil-the-answer-to-peak-oil/; Is “shale oil” the answer to “peak oil”? by Gail Tverberg – February 14, 2011
[2] http://www.infrastructureusa.org/deep-water-the-gulf-oil-disaster-and-the-future-of-offshore-drilling/; DEEP WATER: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling – January 10, 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 on several occasions (most recently here) commented on the determined efforts of some to either blindly ignore facts about climate and energy challenges, or present pseudo-arguments which upon even the briefest of examinations prove to be not much more than at-best disingenuous and misleading. To what end, however, I have not yet figured out.

Joel Kotkin recently posted on The New Geography website arguing that the United States must work to expand production of its “ample” (?!) oil and gas supplies. (The website is not exactly a bastion of broad-minded liberal thinking, although Mr. Kotkin is one of the contributors who generally offers reasoned arguments advocating his positions, rather than uttering nonsensical conservative/libertarian sound bites which sadly tend to get more air play—and I say this even though I almost always disagree with his and New Geography’s perspectives.) Although Mr. Kotkin is probably correct that the recent Japanese catastrophe may have ended (whether justified or misguided) any support for nuclear power power here for the foreseeable future, his reasons for urging greater fossil fuel production are governed by the same misguided and factually-deficient motivations that lesser advocates likewise propose.

If you are one who defines “long-range planning” as extending not much beyond a few weeks from now, then pursuing more fossil fuel development as our primary energy policy is a great choice.

As with almost every choice we face regarding the energy resources we’ll depend on in years to come, there are sound arguments for and against most policies under consideration. At some point, however, we will have to make some tough decisions. Delaying the inevitable can no longer be an executive strategy, however. The time to begin making difficult decisions (sure to antagonize, dismay, or confound a sizeable percentage of citizens and experts alike no matter which policies are eventually pursued) needs to begin a couple of years ago.

Richard Heinberg said it best (no great surprise):

“Either we direct public investment toward developing expensive, low-grade fossil fuels (such as tar sands, oil shale, and shale gas) in a vain effort to maintain growth in our fossil-fuel dependent economy, or we direct investment toward building the renewable energy infrastructure of the future.” [1]

I can’t disagree with the premise Kotkin raised that at least some progressives overestimate how quickly and successfully renewable fuels might supplant fossil fuels. But an implied criticism that they will be “highly dependent” on subsidies ignores the fact that the entire Republican contingent in the House recently voted unanimously to continue subsidies for the oil companies. (And I’m not clear why he states that the wind power industry’s receipt of “subsidies many times higher per megawatt hour than fossil fuels” is really the appropriate benchmark in determining that assistance. The renewable/alternative industries have a lot of catching up to do, and it’s delusional to pretend their contributions to our energy future won’t play important roles.)

Worth noting:

“… the big five oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — made $893 billion in profits (my emphasis) from 2001 to 2010.” [2]

Given what is at stake in terms of our economic future and increasing energy needs worldwide—on a planet with diminishing fossil fuel resources, coupled with the complexity of and the nearly-inconceivable efforts required to transition us away from fossil fuel dependency in favor of as-yet-undetermined combinations of “other” fuel resources—subsidies are almost mandatory for renewables/alternatives. What may not be so necessary in an economy with limited financial resources to spread around are subsidies for industries managing a tidy few hundred billion in profits.

“In the face of sustained high oil prices it was not an issue—for large companies—of needing the subsidies to entice us into looking for and producing more oil,” [Former Shell CEO] John Hofmeister told National Journal Daily…“The fear of low oil prices drives some companies to say that subsidies should be sustained,” Hofmeister said. “And my point of view is that with high oil prices such subsidies are not necessary.” [2]

Continuing on that same theme, Kotkin criticizes wind power’s relatively feeble contribution to supplying the nation with electricity. He then offers up a right-wing talking point which cheapens his position unnecessarily as he snarks about wind turbines “wiping out whole flocks of birds.” As someone who generally releases insects back into the outdoors when I find them in my home, rather than just stomping on them, I’m certainly concerned that countless numbers of birds have reportedly been injured or killed by the fan blades. Just wish some of that same “concern” would have been evidenced by Kotkin’s conservative/libertarian peers when so much wildlife was killed during the charming Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year. Relying on the birds-being-killed argument as a foundation for dismissive treatment of a renewable is not the type of visionary thinking we can afford at this point. There are others on the Right for whom that nonsense is better suited.

His legitimate concern that solar panel production has been largely taken over by China would have been a fairer statement had he mentioned how little federal support solar production (and all other renewables, for that matter) has been accorded in comparison to the fossil fuel sector. Perhaps a more concerted effort by leaders of both parties might have ensured a more favorable economic environment for that industry to take flight here in the U.S.

Although the comment was directed to Haley Barbour and others flying oil company flags—while they (of course) go on blaming President Obama for high prices at the pump and criticizing his energy policies in general—Joseph Romm’s observation applies just as well here:

“There is a notable theme here — aside from crass political point scoring, these attacks are calibrated to protect oil as a primary energy source at the expense of cheaper green alternatives, while pushing for even more oil drilling here in the United States. These opportunistic attacks come as the oil industry prepares to pump unprecedented sums of money into the political process. Since the midterm elections, the oil industry has ‘been very aggressive right out of the gate because of the huge opportunity with the election of their allies,’ as Daniel J. Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, told the Houston Chronicle yesterday. Oil and gas companies spent $146.3 million on lobbying last year, and that number is poised to rise as the presidential election approaches. For example, the American Petroleum Institute will start donating money to political campaigns this year.” [4]

(To be fair, Kotkin also mentioned that many conservatives are beholden to the nuclear industry for similar reasons.)

His essay then lapses into the dismal, imprecise-but-sure-to impress buzzword strategy I’ve been criticizing repeatedly (bold/italic mine).

“The pragmatic way out of this emerging energy mess means focusing on our increasingly abundant supplies of oil and gas.”

“‘Peak oil’ enthusiasts may not have noticed, but recent discoveries and improvements in technology have greatly expanded the scope of U.S. energy resources. New finds are occurring around the world, but some of the biggest are in the United States.”

“Shale oil deposits in the northern Great Plains, Texas, California and Colorado could yield more oil annually by 2015 than the Gulf of Mexico. Within 10 years, these finds have the potential to reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half.”

U.S. production peaked forty years ago and we now produce only about half of what we did at the peak! Exactly how impressive are “increasingly abundant supplies” (“some of the biggest” no less!) when measured against that fact? Where is any mention of ongoing depletion rates which mitigate against oil production increases and resources? Conveniently omitting any explanation about what’s involved in the production of oil shale (cost, effort, energy resources used, actual as well as projected production levels, pollution and other environmental degradation concerns, etc.) skews the reality about those “some-of-the-biggest/abundant supplies” just a bit, as does the failure to mention the technological challenges (and hence expense, cost, time) in offshore or Arctic drilling….

“Here we go again. Every time gasoline prices spike, no matter the reason, Republican leaders and talk radio’s libertarian elite reach for the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) latest talking points and crank up the “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric….
“The GOP’s real energy crisis is one of focus. Republican leaders are focusing their energy on keeping America overly dependent on a resource that is far more plentiful outside our own borders. They largely dismiss the strategy of reducing demand and seem content to have us suck our own limited oil reserves dry as quickly as possible. It is a phony solution that they think will play well politically.
“Peddling geologic ignorance may score some points with voters who don’t know any better, but it won’t bring the promised relief at the pump.” [5]

And as for Kotkin’s “could yield more oil annually by 2015 than the Gulf of Mexico” meme:

“Deep-water” begins at 500 metres. In total there are around 70 oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico that are at least this deep. The total production from these wells is 800,000 barrels of oil per day (b/d). BP’s flagship the Thunder Horse platform contributes about 250,000 b/d. They will maintain this maximum production for about 5 years and it will then begin to decline.
“Mars-Ursa is the largest oilfield in the GOM. Production began in 1996, gave maximum production of 270,000 barrels per day from 2001 to 2004, and now production has dropped to 150 000 barrels a day. In a few years it will be finished. New oilfields in deep-water or in the Arctic will experience the same brief history. Those 800,000 b/d that today are produced in the Gulf of Mexico make up approximately 1 % of global production. The reality is that it would be fairly easy to do without all of this production.”

In a world that uses some 85 million or barrels of oil per day, we probably don’t need to spend much time on a resource that provides less than 1% of the total. So touting a replacement that could/might/possibly double that amount still isn’t worth a lot of space on a page … at least if you are also considering depletion rates on existing fields vs. increasing world-wide demand. The math gets ugly, and that tiny percentage becomes even less impressive.

One more point to mull over for now:

“In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster—a crisis that was unanticipated, on a scale for which companies had not prepared to respond—changes in safety and environmental practices, safety training, drilling technology, containment and clean-up technology, preparedness, corporate culture, and management behavior will be required if deepwater energy operations are to be pursued in the Gulf—or elsewhere. Maintaining the public trust and earning the privilege of drilling on the outer continental shelf requires no less.” [7]

“Oil reserves have been declining for a decade, and it is an article of faith among petroleum geologists that the easy oil — easier to find, less complicated to drill — has all been extracted and that the explorers are now into the hard oil. When the Deepwater Horizon rig, drilling an exploratory well deep into rock through a mile of water and three miles into the ocean floor off the Louisiana coast, struck a highly pressurized pocket of oil and gas, causing an explosion, it was in some ways a consequence of this iterative, competitive game, each generation of discoveries pushing further into the unknown.
“A few years ago, the industry norm was to drill at depths of 15,000 or 20,000 feet. Now the frontier is 35,000 feet, where engineers find higher temperatures and pressures. ‘The scarcity of new reserves has been driving companies into plays that have previously been seen as extremely high risk and high cost,’ said Brian Maxted, the chief executive officer of Kosmos Energy, a deepwater-exploration company in Dallas. ‘The trend recently has been in going toward ever-deeper waters and ever-more challenging environments.’” [8]

Not cheap. Not easy. Not quick. Not good. (Damned facts!)

I’ll have more to say about Mr. Kotkin’s oil shale observations (and other comments in his article) next week.

Sources:

[1] http://old.globalpublicmedia.com/memo_to_the_president_elect; Museletter [200]: Memo to the President-elect on Energy Realism and the Green New Deal; December 2008
[2] http://theenergycollective.com/josephromm/53216/drill-baby-drill-fails-oil-prices-soar-spite-sharp-increase-us-production-under-oba?utm_source=tec_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter; Oil prices soar in spite of sharp increase in U.S. production under Obama by Joseph Romm – March 9, 2011
[3] http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2011/02/11/oil-subsidies-ceo/; Ex-Big Oil CEO: Subsidies For Oil Companies ‘Are Not Necessary’ by Pat Garofolo – February 11, 2011
[4] Romm – see [2] above
[5] http://www.frumforum.com/the-gops-oil-drilling-pipe-dream; The GOP’s Oil Drilling Pipe Dream by David Jenkins – March 15, 2011
[6] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-15/%E2%80%9C-oil-arctic-not-worth-risks%E2%80%9D; The oil of the Arctic is not worth the risks by Kjell Aleklett, President of ASPO International – March 15, 2011 (Original article: http://aleklett.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/%e2%80%9cthe-oil-of-the-arctic-is-not-worth-the-risks%e2%80%9d/)
[7] http://www.infrastructureusa.org/deep-water-the-gulf-oil-disaster-and-the-future-of-offshore-drilling/; DEEP WATER: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling – January 10, 2011
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/magazine/16Drilling-t.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=all; The Will to Drill By BENJAMIN WALLACE-WELLS – January 16, 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.]

~~~

Before I dive into a series of posts discussing general objectives as the next step in this ongoing “New Direction” series (and other issues of note), I thought it might make sense to give us all just a few simple reminders about where we stand with Peak Oil. About a year ago, I posted the first of several pieces discussing some basic facts in support of my position that we’re now in the early stages of irreversible declining oil production. It’s a good starting point, if I do say so myself.

More recently, Sharon Astyk posted a genuinely terrific article (which I blogged about at the time) which offered a refreshing take on the peak-oil-is-here-no-it’s-not debate. If you haven’t read it, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so in conjunction with this. It is really good and stands up just as well as it did when she wrote it several months ago.

“A major reason for the rising prices and flatlining production is that for ‘the currently producing fields of crude oil, the production will decline,’ [International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih} Birol said.
“Today’s active oil fields produce about 70 million barrels per day, but by 2035, he said, ‘they will produce less than 20 million barrels per day of oil.’
“Just to keep crude oil production flat would require much more production from new oil fields—including those discovered but not yet developed, and others still to be discovered.” [1]

This quote follows release of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2010, in which the Agency admitted for the first that Peak Oil is in fact here, and has been since 2006. Oops! That report also predicts that almost half of the oil we’ll need by 2030 will have to come from oil fields not yet developed or found! Hello!

And as Jeff Rubin noted in his own review of that IEA report,

“According to the report, by 2035 three quarters of currently operating oil fields won’t be producing anymore. In fact, current fields are only expected to account for less than one fifth of that year’s production.
“That leaves over 80 per cent of the IEA’s 2035 production projection coming from new oil fields, ones that either haven’t yet been developed or haven’t even been discovered. And the contribution from that undiscovered category alone is still far greater than the one from currently producing fields. That’s a tall order for new field discovery.
“Undeveloped or undiscovered oil fields, growth in tar sands production and increased reliance on natural gas liquids account for all the expected growth in world oil production over the next two and a half decades. Curiously absent from this list is any contribution from conventional oil production–you know, the type you can afford to burn in your car, the type the global economy can afford to use to power transoceanic trade?”

None of this is good news, and the contortions one has to perform so as to convince others that there are no oil supply issues on the horizon would seem to be at best pointless. Reliance on unconventional resources such as oil shale, the Canadian tar sands, deep-water wells (anyone remember that little oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year?), and other reserves carries its own set of risks and challenges.

None of those alternatives are guaranteed to even replace what’s being lost each year just from normal depletion in existing fields, much less provide more; they are more expensive to locate and produce; the efforts needed to extract and then refine them are significantly greater than traditional oil production; it’s taking longer to bring the final product to market because of the inherent challenges in extracting those unconventional reserves (see this and this, for example); the net energy from those efforts (simplified: what’s left from the energy expended to extract vs. the energy potential gained) is much less; it’s costing so much more to obtain the same quantity and quality of energy efficiency as conventional oil, and there’s that little problem of environmental damage….That’s just for starters.

Let’s not forget that the world-wide recession of recent years has sharply curtailed investment in oil exploration—conventional or otherwise. Oil exploration and production is not a two week start-up to final production undertaking. Delaying needed investments by several years sets the entire industry back by at least that much … and while all of that is happening, demand continues to increase for a supply that simply is not expanding any longer. No matter how one does the math, the results are not good.

It’s become a common refrain that “the days of cheap oil are now behind us.” That does not bode well for countries hoping to regain their economic footing while their citizens clamor for more energy to meet their increasing demands for all kinds of products and services they’ve watched U.S. citizens enjoy for decades. Who wants to tell those several billion people “No”?

It’s also worth noting that recent turmoil in the Middle East has made it quite clear that we are in many respects largely dependent on suppliers who are less than stable or reliable. [Michael Klare recently offered a very informative piece on this topic.] The political calculations and consequences of continuing instability (and hostility to America) are not insignificant. A related consideration which gets too little attention is that oil-exporting nations also have their own citizens’ demands to provide for. Those exporters are not immune to the desires of their own people to improve their living conditions and prospects for prosperity. Who wants to tell those nations “We insist you supply the United States with what we need before you satisfy the requirements or demands of your own people?” Good luck with that!

As the domestic needs of exporting nations increase, the simple math result is that they will this have less oil to export. (A nice summary of the key points is here.) That’s not terribly shocking or difficult to appreciate, but what it means to nations like ours (as it relates to the by-now familiar statistic is that we consume approximately one-fourth of oil supplied each year) is that we’ll be getting less. Our demand for increases matched against less being supplied to us does not lead to good outcomes.

Finally, before this concise summary turns into an epic novel, I’ll direct you to one final article which provides readers with a generous amount of information about oil production and existing oil reserves. Jim Puplava, the author, provides a concise perspective on some key, fundamental aspects about the oil fields we continue to rely on after decades of production. As I touched on in my own above-referenced post, and as Mr. Puplava highlights, we are relying on fewer and fewer giant oil fields whose replacements simply cannot match the quantity and quality of those ever-depleting giants.

It is not a formula that gives optimists much to hang their hats on.

Sources:

[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2010/11/101109-peak-oil-iea-world-energy-outlook/; Has The World Already Passed Peak Oil? by Mason Inman – November 9, 2010

[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.]

~~~

I recently had the good fortune to visit my daughter at the university she attends in New Orleans. Scheduled many months ago, the trip was designed to coincide with the spectacular Mardi Gras festival which serves as a grand and delightful marker for a city too often associated instead with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Although the weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked during the four days of my trip (tornado warnings on the night of Mardi Gras dampened at least my enthusiasm to wander around the French Quarter), I nonetheless caught my fair share of beads during one of the amazing parades that wind their way down St. Charles Avenue, while taking in many other sights and sounds of the celebrations.

It’s an incredible event, wildly entertaining and just plain wilder than one can imagine. Reports indicated that it drew upwards of a million revelers to this unique city—the most since Katrina struck in 2005.

Being as involved with the subject of Peak Oil as I am these days, I soon enough found myself wondering what happens to this spectacle once we are fully engulfed by the effects of ever-declining oil production.

Last summer, I took an initial look at air travel. Among others, I posed the following question: “What decisions are the various transportation industries—freight and aviation in particular—going to be faced with when the worldwide supply of oil cannot ever match demand again? Who decides which of those two will have priority? It’s unlikely that only one industry will have all of its demand met, so that means both industries will suffer reductions in what is available to them. Then what?”

What does happen a few short years down the road when we have nowhere near the same amounts of fossil fuels at our disposal (and/or at prices even remotely affordable) to travel to New Orleans, and when those who design and operate the hundreds of floats and tractors and emergency vehicles that are part and parcel of the Mardi Gras festivities are now at the mercy of fuel prices that have doubled? Tripled? Quadrupled? Hundreds of gas-sucking vehicles crawling along a 5 or 7 mile parade route run up a serious gas/diesel tab in today’s economy.

Then what indeed? A reasonable several hundred dollar round trip air fare from Boston to New Orleans during this celebration is likely going to be a lot more expensive in years to come, and most likely prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of visitors. Granted, many thousands may still find ways to get there, but you can be certain that if air fares have spiked through the roof in a few years, gas prices for our automobiles won’t be far behind. Are citizens who live even just a few hundred miles away going to want to pay $6.00, $8.00, $11.00 for a gallon of gas to go to a festival? Is something like Mardi Gras going to be any kind of priority for most?

Given the dazzling levels of shortsightedness on display by those who balk at investing in mass transit and/or high-speed rail, what options might be available in a half-dozen or so years from now (not that mass transit will be in place in so short a period of time)? Anyone thinking that we’ll just rev’ up design, production, and construction in a week or two is even more delusional than imaginable. Those are investments (among others) which must begin now.

A determined segment of leaders are hell-bent on cutting funding for alternative energy research and transportation—among many other categories vital to our future well-being—and are doing so contrary to what most polls state that Americans want. What’s going on? If they succeed in their efforts, what then? Can we all just rely on whatever magical technology these officials seem to believe will come flying to the rescue in years ahead? Are there some special alternatives that are going to be envisioned, designed, produced, and implemented successfully, commercially, and nationally overnight? Is that the plan for those so determined to cut spending so as to preserve tax benefits for the oil companies and multi-millionaires among us? Is that what we’re about?

The Mardi Gras pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the New Orleans economy. Not too difficult to imagine that city more so than most, and its industry leaders, count on that revenue more than just a little. What’s the ripple effect to New Orleans and its businesses when hundreds of millions of dollars are not-so-suddenly reduced by half, or more, simply because most attendees can no longer (or choose to no longer) afford the travel and lodging costs? What city services will be placed on the chopping block? How many more will suffer?

What of the restaurants and hotels that likewise depend on Mardi Gras? It was almost impossible to find lodging in the few months leading up to Mardi Gras unless you were willing to pay some seriously jacked-up prices and travel a long way into New Orleans each day. Many, many fewer patrons represent a tremendous hit to the bottom lines of those in the lodging and food service industries.

Many if not most of those retailers depend on tractor-trailers to deliver or transport supplies. Can you say diesel fuel price hikes? It’s hard to imagine that either the transportation industry or the lodging and restaurant industries are each going to absorb on their own the increased fuel prices (another domino effect which comes into play when supply no longer satisfies demand). As freight delivery charges increase and are passed on to end-users such as hotels and restaurants, and food costs themselves increase because the fossil fuels needed to provide fertilizers and a host of other “ingredients” of food production have likewise climbed into new territory (while the quantity of the fossil fuels themselves are on the decline), the unpleasant outcome is fairly obvious.

What happens to the taxi drivers who escort all these new patrons who descend on their city? (Based on my conversations with several of them however, the drivers have decidedly mixed feelings about Mardi Gras, given the logistical nightmares they must deal with every time a parade route or street-cleaning crew cuts off their travel options.)

I usually rent a car when I travel to New Orleans to visit my daughter. She cautioned me against doing so during Mardi Gras. Heeding her advice, I made do with buses, the partially-available street car lines, or a good pair of sneakers to get me around during my stay. I had the choice of taking a cab or the airport shuttle to get me to/from the city. I opted for the latter. The 55-minute or so trip from pick-up on campus to a half-dozen or so hotel stops en route to the airport when I left was by contrast a two and a half hour “adventure” when I first arrived.

Getting dropped off at my daughter’s school was the last of 8 stops the shuttle made in New Orleans after we left the airport. It seemed that almost every street was closed off that Saturday afternoon either by police barricades, an actual parade, or the random hoards of street cleaning crews which materialized seemingly out of thin air on multiple occasions as we wound our way through the city proper. At one point, although we were only four cars from a Canal Street intersection, those crews held up the shuttle van through four consecutive light cycles! That is a lot of wasted fuel….No doubt the very reasonable $40.00 or so round trip shuttle fare is going to also be a lot more expensive in years to come—assuming they (and the taxi drivers) have access to the fuel they need as and when needed. No guarantees….

Hundreds if not thousands of merchants, from street vendors on up to retail stores in and around the French Quarter, also no doubt depend on Mardi Gras revenue to bolster their bottom line. Whatever merchandise they offer is also most likely trucked in from somewhere else. Those suppliers won’t be immune to increased fuel prices and/or limitations on availability, and that means at least one entity somewhere along the supply chain is going to wind up paying, and then passing the costs along.

And the employees of the countless industries who depend on events like the Mardi Gras for a substantial portion of their annual income (keeping in mind that Peak Oil is not limited to impacting just the Mardi Gras festival while other lesser events and conventions escape unscathed)? When all of these increased prices are absorbed and then passed on to the ultimate end-users, more than a substantial percentage of those businesses are not going to be able to endure the increases or supply restrictions or lack of buyers because consumers no longer want to pay the higher prices. And that then means that more than a fair amount of employees and business owners are going to find themselves looking for work elsewhere. A lot of dominoes tumble when people are out of work … no need to elaborate.

“Just do something to lower fuel prices and none of this will be a problem” is a wonderful strategy and solution … if you don’t mind living in some alternate reality. Here on earth, however, these declining oil production consequences all inevitable, logical, and unavoidable—despite heavy doses of political grandstanding.

We can either duck for cover, or start appreciating the tasks at hand and get busy adding our voices and offering productive input into the almost-inconceivably complex planning and implementing Peak Oil will mandate—regardless of political ideology.

It is, as mentioned repeatedly, time to get busy.

More to come….

[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.]

~~~

“We’re blindly focused on searching for answers within our old paradigm of energy and it’s a vision that really needs to shift.” [1]

Several weeks ago, I began a multi-part series entitled Clueless Is Not A Strategy (first post here) whose primary purpose was to argue that in the face of growing oil production challenges, we need to start having serious, adult conversations about what we’ll all soon be facing (yes, even those who deny the reality of Peak Oil). Remaining ignorant of the facts about oil production, oil supply, and increasing demand; or relying on ignorant or at best disingenuous arguments which urge us not to worry and be happy about our energy resources (if only we can stop our nefarious President with his socialist policies from implementing evil, job-killing regulations … have I covered most of the Buzz-Words of the Day?), is, I proposed, not our best approach.

In a preview of an upcoming two-part series here on our political leadership’s approach to Peak Oil, it would appear, (unfortunately), that some of our fearless “leaders” haven’t gotten the strategy memo—or they are still working from the wrong one. Clueless reigns supreme in some corners of Congress—yet another display of the remarkable ability of some to completely ignore facts and simultaneously plan as far ahead as early next week.

“Where is the president’s plan for rising gas prices?” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

“Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

“My message today simply is the higher gas prices are simply a product of this administration’s goal [to enact a cap-and-trade plan to curb emissions of greenhouse gases].” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) *

“Since this administration has taken over, they have done everything to block energy development in this country,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)

Seriously? Must be part of the Socialist-Alien-Kenyan-Muslim-Not Exceptional-Completely-Ruin-The Country-Just-For-The-Hell-Of-It strategy Obama obviously began pursuing nefariously with his nefarious parents since shortly after his birth on a still-undetermined planet somewhere in our solar system.

Imagine that: an opposition party assailing the President because he (with his magical superpowers over all of commerce and industry) simply has not ordered prices to drop. If only he would stop pursuing regulations that raise gas prices just for the hell of it. What is Obama waiting for? (And while I have his attention, still waiting on lowering college tuition costs for our two daughters….)

Just how clueless are they, and how much of their nonsense will we permit to guide policy in the weeks ahead? They still don’t get it….We have leaders (including Democrats) still making the same pointless pronouncements about “weaning ourselves off of/ending our foreign oil dependency” while they now consider opening up our Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gas prices are high … and still doing absolutely nothing about the underlying causes. (And sorry, Ms. Palin and your loyal followers, “drill, baby, drill” is still as dumb and useless a policy as it was two years ago. See this for more information.)

To his credit, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, said that the petroleum reserve should be left untouched absent a severe disruption in supply or other emergency. Hard to believe I know, but higher prices at the pump should not qualify as an “emergency.” (Jim DiPeso recently offered a terrific summary of the reasons against opening up the Reserve.)

As I noted in another post some 16 months ago (echoing the realities explained by others much more knowledgeable than me): “For all the talk of the ‘massive’ amounts of oil offshore and in Alaska and the ‘obvious’ need for us to just ‘drill, baby, drill’, we’re several decades away from full production in those regions, and the amounts anticipated will wind up meeting far less than even 5% of our needs. None of it will come cheaply. Drilling in the Arctic is a wee bit more challenging than punching a hole in the ground in Texas, and one does not require an engineering degree to understand that. The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd never gets around to spelling any of that out for us. Magical thinking is nice, as is a denial of pesky truths, but on the planet we occupy, it’s a fairly useless exercise.”

“Oil is produced and consumed in particular places, but there’s a single worldwide price of oil that’s determined by global supply and global demand. It’s not possible for one country to unilaterally alter the price its own citizens pay at the pump by altering the quantity of oil it produces. A new well in the United States has exactly the same impact on global prices as a new well in Norway or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia and thus the exactly the same impact on the price American consumers pay.
“And yet turn it into a political story and suddenly all this knowledge drops away.” [3]

Gas prices are higher, and that’s not going to change much in the weeks and months and years to come absent recessions—and it’s best if we not actually plan on falling into another one of those. It may tick off a significant segment of the population and those leaders who seem to think that we are just entitled to lower gas prices because we’re … you know … special, but here’s the message: Grow up and get used to it! We’re better than that, and we need to demonstrate it now. Our future well-being demands no less than recognition of facts and reality. Ideology is nice and serves its own purposes, but it ought to have a much more limited role going forward.

We have a problem with oil production now—not just here in the United States—and it is not going to get better. Demand is increasing, and the amount of oil now being produced will not keep up with that increasing demand. Unfortunately for those who don’t like hearing that kind of news, we Americans do not live in protective bubble. Billions of other people in less-developed nations are eagerly and diligently working to elevate the quality of their lives, and they all need energy to make that happen … the same energy sources we use. More demand for shrinking supply = less for everyone, even we exceptional Americans. Higher prices are part of the ride. Reality.

It is not rocket science. It is not another in a long line of delusional nefarious, Muslim-supporting, job-killing, regulation-creating, socialist conspiracies, despite the best efforts of some self-serving, narrow-minded politicians and media personnel looking to score points with a select group of citizens who also don’t seem to get it. They’re better than that, too.

Higher prices are one noteworthy consequence of a finite resource that can no longer be extracted in amounts, in time, in the right conditions, at optimum quality, and at prices sufficient to meet ever-increasing demand. Facts. Yes, Middle East turmoil has something to do with those price hikes right now—perhaps most of it. But above and beyond this particular geopolitical constraint, we’re now entering a stage on the historical time line of fossil fuel production where supply will not meet demand. Period. It is just that simple. That basic economic problem carries with it a host of consequences and outcomes.

“As demand grows in the next decade, we will not have the oil production capacity we will need to meet demand. Supply will then have to ration demand, and prices will skyrocket – with the likely outcome of bringing the world’s economy to its knees.” – John B. Hess, chairman and chief executive of the Hess Corporation [4]

Republican House Speaker John Boehner offered his energy insights:

“‘As gas prices go up, so does the cost of everyday life,’ [he] told reporters as he unveiled a campaign dubbed the ‘America Energy Initiative’ to increase supplies and roll back regulations.
“‘It costs more to drive to work, to buy groceries, or just to get the kids to school. And at a time when our economy already isn’t creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people we need to lead us out of our economic crisis: Small businesses,’ he said.”

Coming from leadership whose insane and shortsighted budget-cutting proposals are derided by not just Democratic economists but also independents, Wall Street analysts, and John McCain’s own Presidential campaign economic advisor (among others, here) as doing nothing but costing hundreds of thousands of more jobs while pushing us closer to another recession, the Speaker’s concerns about creating jobs rings a tad hollow (although nice job on getting another buzz-phrase: small business, into the comments!). But should we be surprised? It’s all about the sound bites and not the unpleasant truths….We deserve better.

Not to be outdone, Senator McConnell was recently quoted as saying that we will all be dependent on fossil fuels for “decades to come.” If I were to tell you that your ears will bleed for decades to come, is that the beginning and end of my conversation with you? Might there be at least one moment when you pondered a couple of things in response? “Is this a good thing? Why is that? Would it make sense to change the behaviors or factors causing my ears to bleed?” Just wondering….

Another unpleasant and sure-to-tick-off some truth is that we—you and me—share blame as well.

“The success, to date, of fossil fuels being able to meet energy demand any time required has led to a feeling of society wide unrealistic entitlement. This translates into a belief that whatever we want we can always have whenever we want it. This of course is leading to problems as it patently can no longer be maintained.” [5]

We will need to be better and wiser than that. We are, so let’s prove it.

There’s no disputing that higher gas prices put a strain on most budgets, both personal and business. That in turn sets all kinds of financial dominoes into motion, with few of them leading to pleasant results. But unless and until we can individually and collectively wrap our minds around the fact that this is just the beginning stages of an entirely new way of living, transporting, producing, and consuming, we’ll continue to look for the same band-aid solutions that will only defer more pain until a bit later on, making the problems all the more difficult to contend with. That’s not much of a strategy. At some point, we need to find our courage and our wisdom so that we make new choices, have new plans and policies, and deal with a future that will be unlike the past in more ways than any of us probably realize.

And an aspect of courage easily overlooked or simply ignored is that regardless of one’s political philosophy, when leadership pursues policies clearly at odds with our long-term interests—even though the policy is entirely consistent with the ideology—something has to give. Since when is shooting ourselves in the foot a noble principle? We all pay a price when we meekly accept an absence of integrity and honesty in political discourse or policy-making itself.

This is not doom-and-gloom for next week or next month, but the process of stagnating if not outright declining oil production has begun. It will unfold over a considerable period of time, and in that regard we’ll have at least some opportunities to “adjust.” But that cannot be our salvation nor can it be the guiding principle for what we need to do as individuals, in our communities, and through our government.

“No plans = unnecessary chaos.” – Chris Martenson

We have both the opportunity and the capabilities to create a recognizable future for ourselves. Failing to take advantage leaves us at the mercy of a fossil fuel tidal wave that will in time change the landscape beyond anything we can envision now. I’d like to believe none of us thinks that that is our best strategy.

More to come….

* See the terrific Steve Benen discussion of the bizarre “reasoning” behind this comment.

Sources:

[1] http://peakoil.com/consumption/the-energy-prophet/; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at http://www.petroleum-economist.com/default.asp?page=14&PubID=46&ISS=25702&SID=727276
[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110310/pl_afp/mideastunrestuseconomypoliticsoil; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/03/oil-a-commodity-traded-on-a-global-marketplace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+matthewyglesias+%28Matthew+Yglesias%29; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/a-dark-warning-on-global-oil-demand/#more-94428; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

[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.]

~~~

[Greetings from lovely New Orleans. As mentioned in my last post, this will be my only entry for the week.]

So where do we go from here? The recent “mini-series” of posts on the subject of Peak Oil and how the issue is being either ignored by most or is expected—like most of our other pressing national concerns—to be readily solved in some non-arduous manner now opens the door for suggested (rational) dialogue as to what steps need to be taken by and from our government, media, corporate leaders and on down to you and me. It is this theme that I will now develop over an extended period and perhaps dozens of posts in the weeks ahead.

The dilemma … the challenges, in just preparing to face the effects of declining oil production matched against increasing demand:

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

“What do you promise people who have been told they can have anything they want, who are repeatedly congratulated for living in the best of all possible circumstances? How do you tell them ‘the good times,’ as we have known them, are not coming back? Americans need a new vision that helps them deal with reality, a promising story of the future that helps them let go of the past.” [2]

“However you want to define the American dream, there is not much of it that’s left anymore….
“America will never get its act together until we recognize how much trouble we’re really in, and how much effort and shared sacrifice is needed to stop the decline. Only then will we be able to begin resuscitating the dream.” [3]

Crisis, or opportunity? I remain an optimist, and try not to get too bogged down in the doom-and-gloom prospects that surround Peak Oil. I’ll continue to believe we will come to an understanding of what faces us and then develop the strategies needed until or unless someone proves me wrong.

Which leads us to this: Someone needs to lay out some kind of an agenda for consideration so that there’s at least a framework for intelligent and meaningful contributions. The impact and consequences of Peak Oil are subjects that have still not quite fully registered with the great majority of citizens and politicians, but the facts are readily available.

What’s needed first, as I have argued in prior posts, is a nominal commitment on the part of the electorate to learn the general facts and considerations about the current and developing state of (declining) oil production. There is enough legitimate, independent information about depletion, the difficulties of today’s efforts in oil exploration, the number of producing fields and their current status, statistics galore about the static nature of oil production in recent years, and increasing demand—among other relevant considerations—for citizens to make an informed assessment that we’re not in a good place in terms of fossil fuel resources beyond a few short decades.

For instance, do 40 years’ worth of statistics showing almost consistent decline in U.S. oil production make more sense and fit better into an understanding of our looming energy challenges than pseudo-assertions like this proposition from a regular denier of peak oil (whose presumed effect and intent in making the statement seem rather uninspiring at best)?:

“Many analysts [citing exactly one finance professional – my comment] are expecting a lot of new oil supplies from multiple locations around the globe.
“Clever technologists [citing exactly one example – my comment] are finding ways to make every barrel of oil go that much further. This is true in many ways….” [4]

Why am I not finding much comfort in that? I suppose it’s possible to be even more vague, although I’m not sure how (see this post for more)!

The information gathered should make it clear even to a non-expert that a few hundred billion barrels of reserves locked away underground doesn’t mean all that much, especially when one realizes almost immediately that extracting those remaining reserves are now so much more difficult and costly an undertaking. A few decades worth of remaining oil reserves is not a solution, and affords us no opportunity to just sit on our hands and tuck this issue away for another decade or two.

Making their own assessments based on the veracity and logic of the information presented will then prove more meaningful and offer more of an impetus to become involved. There’s a lot to be said and much to be gained in contributing to both defining the near-infinite variety of challenges we’ll face and implementing the many strategies needed to create a future no longer dependent on fossil fuels. Nothing easy, simple, or inexpensive about that process, however….

So how do we do this? How do we impress upon the information-distributors (business and political leaders, as well as the media) to start acting with some intelligence and integrity? The dizzying array of misstatements, disingenuous half-truths, omissions, misrepresentations, and outright lies leave most of completely baffled as to what really is the truth. As with almost every other aspect of the peak in oil production subject, simple and quick are unavailable.

I’ll do my part via the other series I’m now running to give others a sense of how many ways declining oil production will affect us all (the first one is here), but so too must those of us who prefer dealing with reality make some effort to get the word out. It could be as simple as mentioning this topic in casual discussion, sending along relevant articles or blog posts to friends and colleagues, or to local newspapers and media outlets, or writing letters to the editor, or engaging in dialogue on the internet in the form of comments to blog posts or similar pursuits. The more citizens we encourage to begin the process of engaging in meaningful dialogue about the facts (no particular expertise required), the better our chances of reaching the ears of those whom we’ve entrusted to act on our behalf.

The key is that the conversation must begin … how is of limited importance right now except insofar as it must be truthful. No one is helped by half-truths, misrepresentation, or worse. As information is shared, understanding and awareness will take on lives of their own, as is usually the case with matters that affect large segments of the population. Surging prices at the gas pumps provide a needed opening, as does the current turmoil in the Middle East. It can thus only be more difficult to keep hiding facts.

Leaders will respond to pressure on this subject just as they do to others, and we’ll be making a huge mistake in judgment if we wait for them to pick up the banner of declining oil production. Not much good news there….

Armed with more information, however, we can begin the slow but necessary process of accepting and then dealing with the changes Peak Oil is going to impose on all of us. We have to start sometime and somewhere—now and here seems as good a place as any.

The proposals and observations I’ll be advancing are by no means exhaustive, and I have no doubt that there are many legitimate (and certainly many nonsensical) challenges to what I’ll offer. Others much more knowledgeable than I should feel free to chime in. But the dialogue and planning has to begin somewhere, and someone has to be the first to attempt to corral the scores of issues and ideas, and so here we are.

This is the reality: we’re NOT running out of oil, and we won’t for several more decades. But that is not the point and never is when discussing peak oil. Peak oil is about the rate of production, the quality of oil, the ease of access, refinement, availability, and affordability. Each of these production elements are now more challenging to meet, and is now happening when worldwide demand is ratcheting up. Finding fewer and smaller fields that consistently fail to keep up with depletion rates, producing less oil, often inferior in quality, more slowly, at greater expense, with much more effort required to satisfy increasing demand (just for starters) is not a recipe for success, profitability, and availability. And it’s not going to get any better. The steady march down the back slope of oil production is soon upon us, and very little that we produce, use, or depend on will remain unaffected by that truth.

Time to get busy.

To be continued….

Sources:

[1] http://countercurrents.org/cardoni230110.htm; Dealing With Peak Oil By Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz – January 23, 2010
[2] http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090525/greider?rel=hp_picks; The Future of the American Dream By William Greider – May 6, 2009 [Excerpted from Mr. Greider’s book, Come Home, America.]
[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/20/opinion/20herbert.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1290258063-Iir1a5KQqz38a/ueTYMJBA; Hiding From Reality By BOB HERBERT – November 20, 2010
[4] http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Is-Peak-Oil-Slipping-Backwards-to-the-Year-2060-and-Beyond.html; Is Peak Oil Slipping Backwards to the Year 2060 and Beyond? by Al Fin – February 2, 2011

[NOTE: This is the fourth and final 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.]

~~~

I’ll admit that my last few posts have been decidedly more political than has been the norm. I think it’s been fairly obvious on which side of the divide my ideology and political sensibilities reside, but in view of the work I’ve been doing with the concept of Peak Oil, I firmly believe that the challenges we’ll be faced with necessitate a much more active involvement by government. Consistent with that viewpoint is my equally firm belief that the budget cuts being envisioned by the GOP are without doubt the worst approach to our long term hopes and prospects—recognizing that added spending and deficit increases are not exactly a fiscal panacea in their own right. Easy decisions would have been made months ago.

This series on A New Direction is designed to explain the evolution of thought and my contribution to the dialogue and the planning I’ve been consistently urging. It was necessary to articulate at least some of the foundational assessments I’m relying upon to explore this New Direction.

As I’ve stated in other posts, we must begin having serious adult conversations that deal with facts. Turning science and geology and related evidence-based fields of study into ideologies is absurd! Oil is a finite resource. We’ve been using a lot of it for a lot of decades. Our own national production levels peaked forty years ago, and the U.S. is by no means unique in that regard. Oil shale and tar sand productions will never replace the quality of crude oil we’ve been using for more than a hundred years. Oil production is becoming more challenging by the day: more expensive, more time-consuming, more difficult to locate and produce, and usually results in lesser quality finds and more rapidly-declining fields.

Those are some of the primary relevant facts. Not philosophy, not a guess, not a hope. Those are the realities that Planet Earth is dealing with in 2011 and for the remainder of fossil fuel’s lifespan. To pretend or wish or hope otherwise is a fool’s pursuit.

The hard truth is that we must—individually and as a nation—accept that we cannot go back to “the good old days.” Despite the inclination of some to assess that observation negatively, it is not defeatist nor does it represent a condemnation of America and/or American ingenuity and that magic word of the day: America’s exceptionalism. This is instead an acceptance of the reality that change happens and that great change is soon in the offing for all of us.

It may not only be entirely un-dramatic at first, changes resulting from declining oil production may be barely noticeable for an extended period of time aside from the rather steady uptick of prices at your local gas station. Adapting to change and leading others into a future no longer able to rely on fossil fuels is of ultimately greater benefit than resistance to change or an insistence on the shortsighted strategy of putting things off until “later.” It is simply absurd to think that encouraging greater problems in the future, requiring far more extensive and expensive adaptations with far fewer resources at the ready—all in the face of increasing demand for what does remain—is actually a strategy to be considered.

As I have alluded to quite often, a major challenge I and peers face in trying to persuade … well, everyone … that the problem of Peak Oil is already upon us, that the decades-long transitions needed cannot be postponed any longer, and that only a truly national effort regardless of ideology is our only legitimate recourse, is that right now this effort is all the more difficult because (like global warming in most instances) Peak Oil is not really impacting each and every one us in a visible, obvious or tangible manner all the time. Those few cents’ increases now and then at the local gas station are at least so far not really such a big problem. We’re like the proverbial frogs in the simmering pot of hot water: the relentless march to that point of no return is a slow and barely perceptible one. By the time the water in the Peak Oil pot boils, we’re “cooked”….

We would do well to do all that we can to find and implement a different approach. The challenge is (painfully) obvious:

“‘There’s a reality out there people don’t want to recognize,’ concludes [Robert Kaufmann, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University]. ‘Clearly technology has improved. Oil prices are higher. We deregulated the industry. We’ve done almost everything. There are a few areas offshore that are closed off. It’s not going to make a difference. “‘The sooner people realize that and stop dreaming about energy independence or one huge undiscovered field that’s going to solve all our problems, the better off we’ll be.’” [1]

“There are a lot of things that we could do in terms of rebuilding our cities and our transportation system, and so forth. The problem is that that all takes time, and by the way, it takes liquid transportation fuel to build things and move things around. It’s going to take a tremendous effort and a tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of time to cut back on the suburbs and to move people closer in or to reconfigure the suburbs into business centers and then connect by, say, electric transportation of some sort. All of those things are possible. I would not have any doubts that longer term, that’s what will happen in the United States and elsewhere in the world. But those things take time, take money, and simply cannot be done overnight.” [2]

Adding emphasis to those observations is a recent, terrific piece by Fabius Maximus (here), whose pointed observations need to be understood—more accurately, accepted—as the truths with which we must contend:

“Optimists about energy give glowing forecasts of new technologies, often with wildly underestimated estimates of when these can generate substantial fractions of our energy. In the real world technologies take decades to evolve from the laboratory to commercialization. And then building new energy sources on a large scale takes decades.”

Wishful thinking that the alternative technologies now considered as our best hopes (wind, solar, oil shale, etc) will in fact be scaled up to the same levels and quality and quantity and availability as are current fossil fuels just in the nick of time aren’t even in the same ballpark as wishful thinking. We are woefully underinvested—financially, technologically, and philosophically. The GOP’s aims to reduce investments in research to even lower levels borders on the insane in light of these factors.

Fabius Maximus’s post offered a very sobering take on the evolution of idea to full-scale production and usage by referencing the ubiquitous microwave oven. This now so-common-we-don’t-even-think-about-it appliance began its commercial life in 1947 as a 750 pound behemoth about the size of a refrigerator, and took nearly four more decades before finding its way into even 25% of U.S. households. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how long it’s going to take before fully commercially viable alternative energy sources find their way into hundreds of millions of automobiles and trucks and machinery and infrastructure support? I’m also thinking we’re looking at more than a few thousand dollars worth of investment, and probably more than a handful of hours and workers … ya think?

“What we really need is a new system that will work for the long-term. But such a system is so far away from us now, it is hard to even think about how it would work, and how we would get from our current system to the new system….

“We clearly will eventually need a new plan, but we haven’t even given a thought to what it might be. It is relatively easy to come up with a proposed component of the plan, but even this may not work out in practice.” [3]

The scope of our needed individual, community, regional, state, and federal economic, industrial, and political contributions are so vast as to appear entirely inconceivable. We can’t get our leaders to agree that the sky is blue, and we’re asking—demanding, actually—that they set aside grievances and ideologies and constituencies and put together a comprehensive vision for re-structuring just about every facet of our industrial and personal lifestyles to accommodate the changes declining oil production will impose. What brave soul wants to jump into that pool head-first?

The truth is that we don’t have much of a choice now, and even less of an option later on. Compounding the efforts, costs, time, difficulties, varieties, and planning by waiting for some undefined future date is every bit as narrow-minded, shortsighted, and purely insane as curtailing the investment needed now to begin the entire process of transitioning everything away from fossil fuel dependency.

There is no comfort in recognizing that we’re not “running out” of oil for many more decades. (We’re not.)

There is no oil faucet turned on and locked to “full” for these next few decades. The flow is going to continue its inexorable slow down while the number of glasses fighting to be filled increases exponentially. There is no way to make the math work (unless of course you subscribe to the nutty legislative efforts of two congressmen mentioned in the above-referenced first post of this Clueless Is Not A Strategy mini-series, and even their ludicrous flights into delusional problem-solving might not be enough.)

“Clearly, then a considered and gradual transition is likely to be less costly, but this does not avoid the problem that we might be eating into the world’s endowment of fossil fuels at a rate that could ultimately prevent the smooth transition to a sustainable way of producing and using energy. The fact that the entire global system relies on plentiful and cheap energy for food production and almost every other form of economic activity, coupled with the fact that global GDP growth requires exponential growth in energy consumption means that we have a moral and pressing need to resolve this situation, both for our own benefit, but also that for future generations.” [4]

Tick-tock.

[A NOTE to my readers: I’m traveling from this Saturday through most of next week, and expect that I will post just once during that time. I should be back to the usual two per week posting schedule beginning on March 14th]

Sources:

[1] http://www.peterdizikes.com/articles/2008/08/myths_of_oil.php; ALASKA HAS MORE OIL THAN THE MIDDLE EAST? By Peter Dizikes [Salon.com] – Aug. 18, 2008

[2] http://globalpublicmedia.com/transcripts/2459; Robert Hirsch on peak oil mitigation (transcript) – Transcribed by Miranda Huey. NOTE: this link, via The Energy Bulletin, may no longer be valid.

[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 – December 29, 2010

[4] http://www.ifandp.com/article/009633.html; Is time running out? by Dr Samuel Fenwick – February 14, 2011