Mason Inman recently posted an excellent 2012 interview he conducted with James Schlesinger, our nation’s first Secretary of Energy, who passed away shortly before that posting. This is the second part [first here] of my observations on what Mr. Schlesinger had to say about peak oil and related energy-supply considerations. [Quotes here are from that interview.]

This one isn’t exactly a revelation, in and of itself:

Politicians will say things that they think will comfort the public. There are many people who believe, truly believe, that that’s the case. You can read papers in the press all the time, in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, denigrating remarks about peak oil and peak oilists. And it’s not because they are in this politicians [sic], soothing the public. They’re soothing themselves, because they believe that free markets always work.

If it weren’t for the fact that free markets do not always work, that would be completely true. Certainly there’s much to be said for relying on that comforting belief, but automatically imposing that as a conclusion to end further discussion has its drawbacks on those occasions when free markets aren’t working (or can’t work well enough to solve a problem at hand).

It’s also convenient to ignore the consequences of free market efforts when they don’t lend themselves to instant price-supply-demand considerations. Climate change, for instance. And yes, peak oil for another. Neither challenge lend themselves to instant cost-benefit calculations. The problems associated with each unfold slowly, mixing together far too many components and related effects to be reduced to on-the-spot determinations consistent with free market ideals.

Hoping that they do, or deciding they do without bothering to consider (or realize) they don’t does cut down on time spent planning for what happens in those cases. So there is that benefit. But in all honesty, that’s not exactly a benefit … at least other than for a very few. If that’s the objective, then the problems are solved! A few billion others may take issue with such conclusions, however.

[G]eology has got to be remembered. We are not dealing simply with prices going up and supply increases, because supply doesn’t increase when prices go up [when the world is near the peak of production].

Whatever the free market ideals say about supply increases after prices rise clearly does not apply to peak oil considerations. Insisting that they do, period, full stop, is a tactic to bring discussions to a halt. But as far as the benefits and contributions to solving problems? That’s different.

So now what? Reality won’t go away just because free market proponents insist it will … somehow … some way … perhaps. We all need to be better about these pressing issues. Their appearance in full bloom today is not the mandatory requirement before more meaningful conversations, planning, preparation, and adaptation all take place. The problems are here already. It’s now just a matter of degree.

Mason Inman: It seems to me that in the past couple of years, the U.S. has gone beyond complacency and has developed a powerful denial about peak oil. Do you think that is true? I’m thinking of the widespread attitude that fracking has solved the country’s energy problems.
James Schlesinger: Yeah. It’s in part a rhetorical denial. It’s partly [that] the industry feels that way. You read in the papers all the time about how America is going to become an exporter of oil and gas. Well, it’s true [laughs]. We can become an exporter of gas—but we’re not going to become an exporter of oil. It’s just as simple as that….
I think, going back to Hubbert, that a lot of the captious remarks or criticisms of Hubbert with regard to his supposedly being wrong about peak oil—which you hear not infrequently—are based upon a misinterpretation, sometimes deliberate, of what he was saying. Which was, I am dealing with conventional oil fields, and how they are going to have a natural cycle, reach a peak, and diminish. He was not talking about oil sands, he was not talking about Venezuela and heavy oil. He was not talking about drilling down 10,000 feet below the ocean surface. He was talking about what he was talking about. And for people to criticize him for not anticipating this or that, is, I think, intellectually offensive.

That’s certainly an available tactic. But helpful? Not so much.

Perhaps some honesty and fuller disclosures might be worth contemplating?

For more info on Mason Inman and his upcoming book, see this.

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 08.23.09


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