I began last week’s post with a variation of these questions:
How do optimistic projections from ExxonMobil’s “The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040” report—which I highlighted in that post—square themselves in the face of the oil production challenges suggested by the news excerpts which were also included in that piece? How long do those opposed to climate change and peak oil implications dance away from the unpleasant truths?
What is the benefit beyond avoiding painful discussions today? At what point do those contrarian viewpoints give way to a recognition that there is more than enough evidence already in play to make those challenges both very real and quite formidable now?
How does postponing not just acknowledgment but any and all efforts to come to mutual understandings and a commitment to work cooperatively in addressing these matters make it any easier or better for anyone?
At what point does the single-minded pursuit of any and all efforts to oppose, deny, or obstruct the efforts of one’s political opponents give way to a recognition that repeatedly shooting oneself in the foot has limited benefits? A question I’ve raised numerous times in the past is just as relevant today: if you have to mislead, misinform, distract, omit, or even lie outright to support your opposing viewpoints or policy proposals, how valid are they to begin with?
What’s the point? What happens if you “succeed”?
Today’s reality about fossil fuels—oil in particular—and production thereof is no different than it was several months ago and no different than it will be in the days ahead: it is still a finite resource. Production of conventional crude oil, responsible for most of our technological marvels and economic progress over the course of a century-plus, peaked a decade ago. There’s a laundry list of concerns about the continuing viability of sustained production of and from unconventional substitutes: higher costs; less energy-content “bang for the buck,” and accessibility chief among them.
Consider some of the ExxonMobil conclusions and projections which I pointed out in last week’s post:
* From 2014 to 2040, we see global demand for energy rising by 25 percent. This increase is equivalent to the total energy used in North America and Latin America today. [p 6]
* By 2040, the world’s population will have reached 9 billion – up from about 7.2 billion today – and global GDP will have more than doubled. This growth will create more need for affordable, reliable energy – energy for homes, transportation, business and industry [p 11]
* Global energy demand for transportation is projected to increase by about 30 percent from 2014 to 2040
* we expect most of the growth through 2040 to come from technology-driven supplies including tight oil, NGLs, oil sands and deepwater production. These supplies are projected to represent 40 percent of global liquid production by 2040, up from 25 percent in 2014.
* Delivering global energy supply is a tremendous technological challenge and one that requires investment on a grand scale. Of the approximately $750 billion a year of upstream oil and gas investment the IEA estimates will be required, almost 85 percent will be needed to simply keep production at current levels. [p 61]
Oil is still a finite resource, despite the report’s confident predictions about future progress. Consider carefully that last quoted sentence above: 85% of industry efforts are expected to be required just to keep running in place! How infinite a supply do they expect a finite resource to be in order to satisfy those heady projections? Isn’t anyone on that “side” of the debate asking themselves such obvious questions?
If current production cutbacks, bankruptcies, layoffs, and declining investments persist, how does the industry provide more of what will be needed for more people, for more reasons, in more locations, with less effort and fewer means of meeting demand—and with an energy resource substitute nowhere near as affordable, available, and easily or efficiently produced as its magnificent predecessor? Certainly we can expect more technological advances, but at what cost to all of us?
Just one condition must be met. The managements of leading energy companies must face economic reality and abandon their wasteful obsession with finding new oil. The 75 biggest oil companies are still investing more than $650 billion annually to find and extract fossil fuels in ever more challenging environments. This has been one of the greatest misallocations of capital in history – economically feasible only because of artificial monopoly prices.
Not a message any of us are delighted to consider. As I’ve stated before, I don’t want to curtail my very pleasant lifestyle any more than the most ardent fossil fuel industry cheerleader! I certainly want nothing but more for each of my children. There’s nothing especially pleasant about having to prepare for a future offering less opportunity and less progress because we failed to account for the math equation of drawing down a finite resource to sustain more demand for more products, services, and needs by more people.
When should we start having that conversation: when we can collectively address it with options still available to begin the astoundingly complex transition to other sources of energy and the lifestyles they’ll support, or when we have no choice at all and no options to assist us?
Is it worth preserving ideology and the unity of our political team at all costs?
NOTE: This series will run on Fridays through June 17
~ My Photo: Rockport, MA – 09.11.10
We face a choice going forward. There’s a kind of false dichotomy, a false choice that we’re being presented between policies on the left or policies on the right. It’s not left or right, it’s forward or backward. It’s a choice between investing in the future, leaving a better future for the next generation just like parents and grandparents did for us, or ignoring these hard choices and sentencing the next generation to a lower standard of living, to fewer opportunities, and a future that we could do better by. Michael Brownlee
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Peak Oil Matters offers observations and insights about the realities of declining fossil fuel production, and its impact on our future well-being