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Peak Oil Matters

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


Archive for October, 2012





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Leonard Pitts, Jr.

The point here — this cannot be overemphasized — is not ideology. Rather, it is about the fact that we cannot effectively debate ideology if we do not have a body of facts in common.
Under such circumstances, political discourse must devolve into incoherence. We cannot discuss what color to paint the room if we cannot agree on what constitutes red or green — or the room. We literally have no shared language with which to even have the discussion.
This is the legacy of the War on Reality. Some of us live under a new ethos, fueled and abetted by Fox, the Internet and talk radio, which holds that facts are optional and reality, multiple choice — and that anyone who questions this is part of the conspiracy against you. The results have not been pretty. When, in the history of American political discourse, have conservatives — some, not all — seemed more paranoid, put-upon and ready to believe themselves the victims of outlandish plots?

Is there (will there ever be?) a point in time when those who continue to deny and/or delude themselves—and others dependent on their public platforms for information—come to a painful realization that these “strategies” have at some not-too-distant moment created almost insurmountable challenges for all of us?

It’s a free country, and we’re all entitled to our opinions and ideologies. But (paraphrasing Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan), we are not entitled to rely on our own selected, convenient facts as we contend with problems and issues affecting our communities and our nation. If a thirty-year track record proving that tax cuts for the wealthy is not the answer is nonetheless one’s choice, then understand the consequences. Every choice and decision and belief leads to an outcome. Pretending otherwise may work today, but tomorrow is still going to arrive. What then?

This puzzling approach to reality is not limited to the liberal vs. conservative battleground of American politics.

We may want desperately to believe that a bit more ingenuity and technological savvy are all that we need to ensure ourselves a future of unlimited energy abundance and never-ending growth and technological progress. Who wouldn’t want that option?

But facts, evidence, and reality all make it quite obvious that the supply of crude oil which powered us all to an era of awe-inspiring prosperity and advancement is now on the decline. That same combination of truths also tells us that the substitutes (tar sands, tight oil) are simply not up to the task of just stepping in as adequate replacements in such a way that life/business goes on as usual. Every day we heed the voices of those whose self-interest trumps the public good is a day lost to meeting the challenges with a bit less pain and sacrifice.

Shouldn’t we demonstrate our highly-touted and well-deserved “exceptionalism” by dealing with unpleasant and inconvenient truths today so that we give ourselves and our children the best chance for better tomorrows?

[NOTE: I am planning my usual Thursday post, but Hurricane Sandy may have other ideas, so if power is out, I’ll post as soon as I can]

* My Photo:  Moonlight at Good Harbor Beach, MA 09.25.07






An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Chris Nelder.

Declining availability and increasing competition for the remaining fossil fuels will make it progressively more difficult to manufacture, transport, and install renewables and efficiency improvements. Within 25 years, the world could lose 25 percent or more of its oil supply, and nearly all of its available net exports. Any interruptions in oil supply will have immediate and far-reaching effects on our globalized world of resource production and manufacturing, and cause systemic dependencies to break down.

So what’s the benefit of insisting on a balls-to-the-wall strategy of drill, baby, drill—producing just a bit more of an increasingly inadequate and more expensive resource—while relegating any and every other reasonable alternative to waiting in the hallway, funding themselves from whatever scraps are left after the Big Money actors have fed at the trough?

Can we expect these “leaders”—so full of themselves now with their great wealth and power—to own up and assume responsibility for their mind-numbingly selfish, short-term, screw you strategies today? What can we expect from them in the years to come to help out everyone else not so blessed? How are we going to explain this narrow-minded, shortsighted denial nonsense to our children?

At what other time in this nation’s history have so many relied so thoroughly for so much important guidance on what can charitably be described (at best, and I’m being very charitable) as a pile of half-truths? It’s become the standard MO for one group of politicians and media sycophants—facts be damned—but should we really be rewarding anyone for “success” gained dishonorably? If you lie, mislead, or cheat to win anything, is that such a good thing now?

Is that the new message to our children, our athletes, our students, our significant others, our businesses? Seriously? Consequence-free living would be great, I suppose, but that’s not happening here.

Who will we turn to for answers and options when there is that much less of the very resource we will need to transition away from that ever-declining and ever-more-expensive resource? What will we do? What will we be able to do? The admission that “we really should have been working on this for years” won’t be much of a consolation.

I’m sensing a potential problem or two. Are you? When would be a good time to start having intelligent conversations about the facts and reality?

* My Photo: Sunset at Good Harbor Beach, 09.23.12





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Chris Nelder.

Over the 150-year-long history of industrialization, we have built a complex civilization that has literally remade the face of the planet. To do so, we have burned the condensed energy of hundreds of millions of years of ancient sunlight: over one trillion barrels of oil, over half a trillion tons of coal, and over 80 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. All of it was essentially free for the taking, plus production costs. We will never have such a bonanza again.
This has engendered a recency bias that’s hard to discount. We assume that the next 50 years will be like the last 50 in terms of energy availability, when the data clearly show that it will not. We assume that if oil runs short, we’ll find a substitute, not comprehending that the substitutes have much poorer quality, far lower production rates, and lower energy content. We assume that societal surpluses, like health care, or one person per car, or a complex society sporting ten times the retail space per capita of Europe, are normal. They are not. They are artifacts of an age when energy was insanely cheap.

Peak Oil remains a fairly straight-forward, common sense concept almost anyone can appreciate and understand with just a few moments of reflection. It’s not a great leap from that realization to recognizing the likely consequences of reliance on a depleting, finite resource and/or its costlier, inferior, more-difficult-to-extract-produce-and-deliver substitutes.

No one—not the most ardent denier nor the most passionate supporter of Peak Oil—wants to deal with this reality! There is at first, second, and third glance almost nothing pleasant about the prospects of our waking every day to a world where we have less of the most important resource we’ve ever needed to create just about everything we use, own, or rely on … and then less of it the next day and every day thereafter.

What will we do—deniers, supporters, and those in between who cannot devote the time to understand the broad range of issues and instead rely upon one camp or the other? How are we supposed to adapt when the full weight of Peak Oil’s reality rests on all of us, and only then are we coming to realize how badly the masses have been mislead, and what few options we’ll have much too late?

* My Photo: At Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester MA 10.14.12







An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Glen Bottoms.

Oil has us literally over the barrel. If this situation is to change, we will all need to recognize that our present course is not sustainable. All of our institutions are geared to an era that was designed for a different set of circumstances that mainly relied on cheap domestic oil. That day is over. We need to realize it and embrace a future that recognizes that fact. That future must include public transportation, especially rail. Delay simply pushes future prosperity and enhanced mobility that much further from our grasp.

Does it really serve our purposes to keep shoving this issue into the background, or rely on the mindless and self-serving, very short-term “drill, baby, drill” strategy which will do little more long-term than to make needed transitions that much more difficult, expensive, and burdensome?

What good will all our new roads and highways do for us when we are all laboring under the reality of fewer quantities of, more expensive, less available, and inferior quality fossil fuels—with so many more seeking their share than is now the case?

To those who continue to mislead and deny: What exactly will be the plan for transportation when there is no longer even the most delusional rationale left to deny the truth about declining oil production and availability? What’s their time frame and budget for a massive move to public transportation and the need to develop other non-road, non-automobile-based forms of transit?

At what point do we start considering how the reality of a finite resource plays out? Since when is the creation of more problems for more people over a longer period of time and at greater cost the wisest course of action?

* My Photo: el Conquistador, San Juan, PR – Feb 2006





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Thomas Homer-Dixon.

[C]oncerned analysts usually point to two basic facts. First, each year, the world’s mature conventional fields produce about four million barrels a day less oil than the previous year, a gap that has to be filled just to keep global output constant. In only five years, that gap grows to 20 million barrels a day of production – equivalent to twice Saudi Arabia’s output, which is mammoth. Second, the world’s cheap and easy-to-get oil is disappearing fast. So, on average, each additional barrel requires more work, more complex technology, more environmental risk to get and refine than the last.
These two facts mean that humankind will have to invest staggering resources – many trillions of dollars – to find and produce new oil if global output is to grow steadily for decades into the future. The International Energy Agency in Paris and other analysts have been warning for years that current investment isn’t nearly enough to ensure such a supply. The result is likely to be a critical supply crunch, perhaps within this decade, which could cripple global economic growth.

Sometimes, facts aren’t all that complicated….

The “complex” part of understanding not just the concept of the peak in rates of oil production, but of much greater significance—the impact on all of us—comes when those few with a vested interest in keeping citizens confused about those facts (or just simply misleading them) do just that, at our expense. Why?

Sometimes, the simplest answer to the solving of long-term energy (or social, or religious, or economic) issues comes from asking the simplest question:

Who benefits now and later, and who doesn’t?

* My Photo: Florida Everglades, Feb. 2005





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Nick Hodge.

For me, the scenario is plain and simple…
If there were ample amounts of crude oil and peak production wasn’t an issue, we wouldn’t be spending billions upon billions to find and try to extract the harder and harder to get stuff, some of which isn’t even oil, but an oil substitute made from bitumen or kerogen.
If there were ample amounts of crude oil, we wouldn’t need the tar sands.
If there were ample amounts of crude oil, we wouldn’t be fighting Russia for Arctic mineral rights.
If there were ample amounts of crude oil, Brazil wouldn’t be drilling holes in mountains of salt miles below the ocean’s surface.
But there aren’t.

So the consequences seem fairly self-evident, don’t you think?:

* we are spending more money to explore and produce over a longer period of time inferior qualities of substitutes in harder-to-reach places (we because oil exploration isn’t free, the industry isn’t Santa Claus, and we are the ones who in the end pay the price)
* and for what it’s worth: Canada’s environment and its citizens are suffering untold harm by the ravages of tar sand production [Google: “photos alberta tar sands” and check out the images)

So now what?

* My Photo: California Pacific Coast Highway – Sept 2004

I’m passing along some useful/informative Peak Oil-related articles of note [and some political ones, too, which in one way or another will have considerable bearing on what we do and don’t do as Peak Oil makes its presence felt], all of which crossed my desk during the prior month … in case you missed them!



Robert Reich
Labor Day and the Election of 2012: It’s Inequality, Stupid


Bill Moyers and Bernard A. Weisberger
Money in Politics: Where Is the Outrage?


Mike Konczal
Romney Will Solve The Crisis With The Exact Same GOP Plan Of 2008, 2006, 2004….


Bill Moyers
How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted


Chris Nelder
Obama vs. Romney: Who has the best energy plan?


Jeremiah Goulka
Confessions Of A Former Republican


Lisa Margonelli
Romney’s Energy Plan: Back to a Fossil Fuel Future


Chris Hedges
Growth Is the Problem


Josh Mogerman
Jaw-dropping Shell Filings Undercut Tar Sands Industry Rhetoric


David Korten
Growth or Equality: Two Competing Visions for America’s Future


Kurt Cobb
Has OPEC misled us above the size of its oil reserves? Does it matter?


Neal Peirce
A Billion New Consumers: Is the World Ready?


Kurt Cobb
Tar sands, oil shale, and heavy oil: Why the conventional wisdom about unconventional oil is likely to be wrong


Jonathan Alter
To Be Presidential, Romney Must First Be Truthful


Gary Rivlin and Barbara Ehrenreich
The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation


Nathan Vanderklippe
A reality check for the promise of the oil sands


Kurt Cobb
Global oil exports in decline since 2006: What will importing nations do?


Jeff Rubin
How High Oil Prices Will Permanently Cap Economic Growth


Kurt Cobb
Energy transition: We need to do it fast and we’re way behind


Conor Friedersdorf
Until Republicans Fix This Problem, They Can’t Fix Any Problems





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Jesse Parent:

Thus, there is an inherent cut-off point approaching – and it is very different from the shocks, jolts, and other experiences that formed our current national paradigm of energy and gas prices.
That is the point that I feel needs to be stressed, and it’s lack of emphasis, in my opinion, is the substantial failure of our energy education. Until this realization is made commonplace, the hardships we will endure (are enduring) won’t make sense, and the obstacles in the way of a logistically sustainable future will not have proper context. The world as we know it was built via cheap, easily transportable, and highly dependable fuel, and that fuel is essentially non-renewable in supply. At present, there is no substitute for fossil fuels in this way, as per the actual capacity to supply us with the energy we need to live in the society we do.

The process of acquiring levels of energy education sufficient enough for most of us to grasp what we face on the downside of oil production rates is a dual responsibility.

Citizens have access to more than enough objective information, explained in basic terms, so that they can make their own informed decisions about the realities of our energy supplies (and the long-term implications) without expending a lot of time or effort. That’s one part.

The other is much more challenging: asking those with vested economic or political interests to stop telling the public only part of the story which contains only part of the truths and part of the key issues and part of the likely consequences.

Easier said than done of course, but the more we educate ourselves and grab just a bit of the common sense we pride ourselves on, the better our chances of appreciating the challenges in the too-soon future we’ll be facing. Armed with that knowledge, it will then be much easier for us to insist upon—and obtain—the truths we’ll need to plan and adapt.

Who is being helped by withholding the truth? Who suffers?

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester MA 10.19.08





An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Sara Robinson.

The bottom line in Homer-Dixon’s theory* is this: Everything that Americans understand as “wealth” under the current paradigm comes from oil. It’s the foundation of our entire economy, and the ground our superpower status stands on. Our cities are built on the assumption of cheap, plentiful oil. Our consuming patterns are made possible by a fleet of oil-burning trucks, ships, and planes that bring us goods made in oil-driven factories. Our warmaking machine, which is largely tasked with protecting our oil interests around the world, is the single largest consumer of energy on the planet. Even our food is created with vast oil-based inputs of fertilizer and pesticides; and we enjoy a year-round variety of foods (bananas! chocolate! coffee!) that is unprecedented in human history because oil makes cheap transport and refrigeration possible….
We are so deeply invested in oil, in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for us to envision a world beyond it. We stand to lose so much that it’s hard to fathom it all….
The decline of oil as the energy reality of the world has deep implications for every aspect of American life in the coming century. It’s a phase shift at the deepest level.
* Thomas Homer-Dixon, a Canadian economist who wrote The Upside of Down. Homer-Dixon marshals evidence that all great empires rise and fall by controlling the dominant energy supply of their age.

Is it too much to ask or expect that industry and political leaders start telling the truth to the American public … the kind of truth that relies on facts and evidence and reality instead of a lot of “could possibly” and “might happen if” or “has the potential to?”

Is it wrong to start preparing Americans for the years-long transitions needed in practically every facet of our ways of living?

There’s no doubt that keeping the masses uninformed is an effective and useful strategy. Peak Oil production is certainly not the only issue of significance where disingenuous arguments and half-truths provide great “benefits”—at least for a few individuals and companies.

Unfortunately, Americans and America itself aren’t the beneficiaries of these clever strategies. Perhaps it’s time our leaders give that some thought instead of making certain that the 1% continues to be well-served?

Good to have dreams….

* My Photo: Eastern Point, Gloucester MA 08.04.11