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This is the final installment of a four part series [links below], suggesting/urging that different conversations about our energy future start taking place. The background for this series is stated in that first post*, and I’ll remind those readers that it is inspired by an article from the Wall Street Journal in December on production of and policies dealing with fossil fuels—specifically the shale/tight oil supplies here in America. [Any quotes are those of the author and are taken from that WSJ piece unless otherwise noted. I’ve updated/corrected the link.]

* In brief: I single this out strictly because it was so representative of a viewpoint which, from the progressive side of the divide, makes little sense and is a curious contribution to educating the public. Truthfully, nothing from that article cannot be found in any number of others on the same subject. That so many of the typical assessments from those denying we have fossil fuel supply problems appear in this piece, coupled with the commentary offered by readers, makes it a terrific source to help “the other side” appreciate our concerns. I just hope it matters … soon.

In my last post, I also began a discussion of a report authored by Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute which the WSJ article relied on for some of the observations shared about our energy future. [Any quotes from Mr. Mills will be cited as “Mills:” ]

No doubt the WSJ’s enthusiasm for prospects of energy independence were buttressed by Mr. Mills’ recitation of facts about the estimated resources found in Alberta, Canada, the shale regions on the western portion of the U.S., and “the technically easy-to-access oil” in Alaska/the Arctic. He certainly picked the high side of various estimates, but for these purposes, I won’t dispute the numbers; whatever the actual total, they are significant.

The problem from the perspective of those of us concerned about adequate supplies of energy is that Mills’ report, like his peers, offers almost no information whatsoever about the production aspect of these finds. Touting just the impressive totals leaves the less-than-fully informed public with the belief that but for the federal government stepping on the toes of the good-hearted fossil fuel industry, we would be awash in vast supplies almost forever. Another great story. Facts intrude.

Mills: The tantalizing possibility of North America by 2030 becoming the largest supplier of fuel to the world would require about an 80 percent increase in aggregate hydrocarbon production over two decades. From a resource perspective, this does not present a challenge, as earlier illustrated. From an engineering perspective, it is unlikely to be a stretch.

Common sense will tell you that extraction of fossil fuels in Alaska and/or the Arctic would not meet anyone’s rational understanding of “technically easy-to-access.” Seriously? The shale regions of the Green River Formation Mr. Mills cited (“an estimated 2000-3000 billion barrels of oil”) sounds fantastic. Were it not for the fact that attempts to produce anything from that region have been unsuccessful for close to a century (the kind that has a hundred years in it), and that it’s not actually oil at all, but a precursor called kerogen requiring genuinely vast amounts of energy to  convert it into an acceptable substitute—which I’ll remind you has not yet happened—then we could all share in the delight. Seems we’re well past “unlikely to be a stretch.” Don’t recall seeing any of that information in the report….

Also worth noting that “resources” are quite different from reserves, so until a resource becomes a reserve as technically defined in the common parlance of the industry (“underground resources that can be produced profitably at today’s prices from known fields using existing technology” – Kurt Cobb), it’s just a big number designed primarily to impress those with access to relatively little information … the public, for instance.

The WSJ article notes that a Canadian official recently cited estimates that the Alberta province may contain “an incredible 175 billion barrels of recoverable oil in its oil sands.” Not a single word followed to discuss what’s involved in production; costs; what’s left behind; the contentious environmental disputes; when this “incredible” estimate might materialize (think decades), or the fact that if all 175 billion barrels were produced, at current demand that’s less than a six year supply. This post offers other factors about tar sands production.

The Mills report followed a similar strategy. Accompanying recitation of the “vast” and “abundant” totals are exactly no facts about the costs, effort, refining issues, rapid depletion rates,* environmental consequences, lifestyle impact on residents, chemical residues left behind/spilled, incredible amounts of water and natural gas being diverted from the regions discussed, and the inferior quality of these shale/tight oil resources—among other considerations.* [See this, for example.]

Believe it or not, all those issues actually matter a great deal—perhaps not to oil industry officials focused on the bottom line, but there are others who matter, too. The public, for one….

Exploration of these unconventional resources (tight oil is probably better deemed a conventional resource) are currently possible not just because of technology. The “fracking” touted in the Mills report as a stunning display of ingenuity has actually been around for more than half a century, (although the specific technology now in use has been employed for about fifteen years). Were it not for persistently high prices to begin with (wanna take a guess as to who pays?), the industry could not afford to use existing technology and expand capabilities in order to produce in these regions.

This is all good news?

Just wondering: if public and commercial commitments and investments into research and production of alternate forms of energy were conducted at anywhere near the scale dominated by the fossil fuel industries with their finite supplies, might there be lots of “billions” and “trillions” tossed around, with “staggering potential” for X, Y, and Z, along with some very heady conclusions about how many jobs will be created and all the tax revenue that will flow—not to mention an environmental improvement or two?

Might the public have a different perspective on what our future holds if they were provided all of this information, rather than cherry-picked Happy Talk which benefits … not the public? What’s the point?

~ My Photo: Pt. Reyes, CA – 09.15.04

NOTE: Today’s & tomorrow’s blizzard will likely affect my plans to return home to MA from current location in FL, so posts already written and scheduled for early next week may be delayed

Links to the series
: [updated to correct one of the links below]

http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/01/18/the-liberals-dilemma-energy-abundance-1/

http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/01/25/he-liberals-dilemma-energy-abundance-2/

 

http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/01/the-liberals-dilemma-energy-abundance-3/

 

 

 

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This is a continuation of a series (here and here), suggesting/urging that different conversations about our energy future start taking place. The background for this series is stated in that first post *, and I’ll remind those readers that it is inspired by an article from the Wall Street Journal in December on production of and policies dealing with fossil fuels—specifically the shale/tight oil supplies here in America. [Any quotes are those of the author and are taken from that WSJ piece unless otherwise noted.]

[I’ve corrected links above – 03.26.13]

* In brief: I single this out strictly because it was so representative of a viewpoint which, from the progressive side of the divide, makes little sense and is a curious contribution to educating the public. Truthfully, nothing from that article cannot be found in any number of others on the same subject. That so many of the typical assessments from those denying we have fossil fuel supply problems appear in this piece, coupled with the commentary offered by readers, makes it a terrific source to help “the other side” appreciate our concerns. I just hope it matters … soon.

So let’s continue with the next comments in the article; my own directed “replies” follow in bold double brackets [[  ]] – (Note: link in the quote not in original):

In a recent paper titled ‘Unleashing the North American Energy Colossus,’ Mark Mills, a resident scholar at the Manhattan Institute, describes the continent as ‘awash in hydrocarbon resources . . . more than four times greater than all the resources extant in the Middle East….
‘A complete reversal of thinking is needed to orient North America around hydrocarbon abundance—and exports.’

The report is certainly an upbeat assessment; lots of “billions” and “trillions” are tossed around, with “staggering potential” for X, Y, and Z, along with some very heady conclusions about how many jobs will be created and all the tax revenue that will flow for “renewal of infrastructure and investment in scientific research.” That of course sounds great to progressives.

Given that Mr. Mills goes on to cite some “excellent” analyses “of the new hydrocarbon realities” by Citi and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, the report no doubt tempered enthusiasm on the progressive side of the divide. (Not to say the progressives don’t have their own “team” of analysts, of course. We just need to keep in mind that there are at least two sides to this story of vast abundance.) Hard as it is to imagine, the conclusion reached by this august group is that the reason our wonderful oil surplus is not being fully developed is … government! Who would have guessed?

The assessments are made all the more difficult to accept when the author of the report cites Rush Limbaugh among a trio of “observers” who have “noticed and praised” the recent production increases which have made the U.S. the world’s “fastest producer of oil and natural gas.” Rush Limbaugh? And since when is “noticed and praised” the new gold standard of energy development and supply? “[F]astest” is relevant because…?

This Manhattan Institute report points out the rather dramatic projected increases in world energy demand [just about 50%] in the next decade and a half. This is all the incentive needed to go all-out in production of our “staggering quantities” of North American “hydrocarbons” according to Mr. Mills. He is apparently more concerned about how much will be needed and who will reap the rewards of satisfying that demand. Mr. Mills is at best dismissive of alternative sources of energy (which are admittedly not a serious competitor at this point, although none of the reasons are mentioned).

From the perspective in which I and others offer observations, the increased demand is actually a “staggering” problem, and trying to meet that demand by the single-minded pursuit of all the hydrocarbons we can extract compounds that dilemma exponentially.

Referencing a book he co-authored, Mr. Mills’ report states that “energy resources are primarily a function of technology, not of geology. Technology unleashes resources, resource wealth creates capital, and capital is reinvested in new technology that, in turn, unleashes resources.” A great story, bubbling with enthusiasm and optimism.

If weren’t for facts, I’d be all for the concept myself!

In the next post of this series, I’ll continue with this two-track look at the WSJ article and the Mills report. I might even find some other considerations which didn’t make the final edit in either.

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 09.04.10

 

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This is a continuation of a series I began here, suggesting/urging that different conversations about our energy future start taking place. The background for this series is stated in that first post *, and I’ll remind those readers that it is inspired by an article from the Wall Street Journal in December on production of and policies dealing with fossil fuels—specifically the shale/tight oil supplies here in America. [Any quotes are those of the author and are taken from that WSJ piece unless otherwise noted. I’ve updated that link.]

* In brief: I single this out strictly because it was so representative of a viewpoint which, from the progressive side of the divide, makes little sense and is a curious contribution to educating the public. Truthfully, nothing from that article cannot be found in any number of others on the same subject. That so many of the typical assessments from those denying we have fossil fuel supply problems appear in this piece, coupled with the commentary offered by readers, makes it a terrific source to help “the other side” appreciate our concerns. I just hope it matters … soon.

The author began this WSJ piece with her own take on the President’s export policy. It was obvious she didn’t think much of it, but that’s a subject for a different day. We’ll begin with the relevant portions on energy policy and supply. (NOTE: my own replies/comments follow the author’s, in bold double brackets [[  ]]):

The obvious export opportunity on the horizon for the U.S. is hydrocarbons—oil, gas and coal. But the economic benefits of American competitiveness in energy haven’t been obvious to this administration.

[[ Why is this “obvious”? Might there be an issue or two worth contemplating first? Hard to imagine, but is it possible that there might be some considerations to an undertaking of such scope and complexity other than automatically catering to the oil industry’s agenda? ]]

Since becoming president, Mr. Obama has treated hydrocarbon production like an infectious disease to be eradicated.

[[ Really? That is a great red meat sound bite; snarky as hell, but … that’s it? Any specifics? How about a “for instance?” Anything? The facts contained here and here suggest otherwise. ]]

His administration had to commission a study to learn, as announced last week, that allowing American companies to export liquefied natural gas would be beneficial to the U.S. economy.

[[ This is a bad idea? “… had to commission a study.” Is this a suggestion it’s never been done before? Or is it a snide jab at the Administration for not knowing all of the considerations, facts, scenarios, and outcomes in the first place? That’s a hell of a standard insisted upon!
[[ It took me less than sixty seconds on the internet to discover, for example, that the Bush Administration conducted a study on snowmobiling in national parks. I’ll take a wild guess and assume that was not the only study commissioned during President Bush’s eight years in office. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that commissioning studies before implementing policies affecting tens of millions of people and/or spending tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars is fairly routine—and not just in government.
[[ But this study by the Administration was singled out with not so much as a word of context or explanation. All that seemed missing was the “Duh” at the end of that quoted sentence. Just fire off a snarky jab and the work is done! The CEO of Dow Chemical found the report flawed, and objected to the recommendations. Imagine that: someone of such stature in industrial society objecting! ]]

Just for the hell of it, there was also this:

A former high-ranking Mobile Oil executive has joined more than 100 scientific and medical professionals in urging the Obama administration not to approve several proposed liquefied natural gas exporting facilitates that would expand the domestic demand for natural gas produced by the controversial, high-volume gas drilling technique known as ‘fracking.’
The development of the massive natural gas export facilities would require a ‘rapid increase’ in fracking operations, which have been linked to water, air and soil pollution as well as health problems in communities near the drilling rigs, according to a petition filed with the White House last week by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE).
The scientists and medical professionals warn against creating international demand for gas produced by the already rapidly expanding fracking industry, without first conducting widespread environmental and health impact studies to ensure the American public is safe.
‘The question here is very simple. Why would the United States dramatically increase the use of an energy extraction method without first ensuring that the trade-off is not the health of Americans in exchange for the energy demands of foreign nations?’ said Seth B. Shonkoff, PSE director and environmental researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. [1]

[[ So now the new White House policy (Dems only, of course) should be: No considerations at all—economic, political, practical, legal—no matter how complex the international undertaking. Just wing it is our new Wall Street Journal-approved MO and slogan!
[[ Not that this is important or anything, but the study/process found to be so objectionable was commissioned to assess the impact on domestic energy markets—and on consumers, if that matters—in the areas of consumption, production, and prices, resulting from increased natural gas exports. Those objectives were detailed under more than a dozen specified scenarios.
[[ Curious that this information didn’t find its way into the article. If those facts had been presented, the not-so-subtle insult to the Administration wouldn’t have been nearly as “effective.” Good to be fact-free! This helps readers understand the issues … how?
[[ I’m not a big-shot energy executive, but I’m confident that if I were, long before I committed my company to who knows how many tens/hundreds of millions of dollars investing in new opportunities, I’m thinking I might like to know if it’s worth it in … you know, reality. ]]

Still, the Department of Energy says it can’t make ‘final determinations’ on export applications until it hears from those who object. So much for property rights.

[[ What does that mean? Whose property rights? Corporate only? Great buzzword! Feeds paranoid fears about government takeovers, etc. … all very nice, especially if one can just toss it out with absolutely no accompanying context. Easier to parrot that objection, of course. Who cares what it means, if anything, as long as it presses the Right buttons, right? So no discussion at all of what the objections or concerns might be, including those by property owners not beholden to shareholders or the bottom line? Just lash out on shaky ideological principle, facts and integrity be damned, right? If it demonizes President Obama even a bit more, mission accomplished!
[[ We have this annoying democracy/public policy thing, where people/organizations who may be impacted economically or otherwise actually get a chance to express those concerns to the people they elect, rather than immediately genuflecting in the direction of the great corporate gods. A pain in the ass, of course, but whatta ya gonna do? ]]

Worth noting two of the conclusions from the study in question [my bold/italic]:

… benefits that come from export expansion more than outweigh the losses from reduced capital and wage income to US consumers, and hence LNG  exports have net economic benefits in spite of higher domestic natural gas prices. [2]

[O]verall, both total labor compensation and income from investment are projected to decline, and income to owners of natural gas resources will increase….
Some in the manufacturing sector fear that directing large quantities of domestic natural gas out of the U.S. market will drive up domestic supply costs, negatively affecting manufacturing and jobs creation during the fragile economic recovery. [3]

Sounds good anyhow, Right?

More on the way….

~ My Photo: Myrtle Beach, SC – 09.28.12

Sources:

[1] http://truth-out.org/news/item/13413-former-oil-executive-doctors-and-scientists-urge-obama-to-halt-fracking-exports; Former Oil Executive, Doctors and Scientists Urge Obama to Wait on Fracking Exports Plan by Mike Ludwig – 12.19.12
[2] http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=7f0dad0c-c3ea-4bbc-8031-7d67dde52ec4; Update: US LNG exports — US DOE releases LNG export study supporting increased LNG exports by Latham & Watkins, LLP; Kenneth M. Simon, Michael J. Gergen, Michael J. Yoshii, Joseph A, Bevash, and Hiroki Kobayashi – 12.10.12
[3] http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2012/12/doe-commissioned-study-endorses-lng-exports-says-u-s-economy-will-benefit; DOE – Commissioned Study Endorses LNG Exports, Says U.S. Economy Will Benefit by Nancy Nguyen – 12.10.12 (Posted on December 7, 2012 by William H. Holmes on the Stoel Rives Renewable+Law blog.)

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Last year, I posted a six-part series* here on Peak Oil Matters, discussing the liberal/progressive take on some of the more common and “curious” perspectives offered by some on the subjects of peak oil and U.S. energy policy in general. It was also a lament.

As I suggested back then:

Peak Oil (and climate change) are—to those of us who do accept the evidence and expert assessments—serious, fact-based realities which will soon enough impose some rather unpleasant, widespread, and irrevocable changes on how we live and work … all of us, even those on the Right who presently find almost nothing about either topic to be worth contemplating at all. That poses a dilemma….
When ‘dialogue’ about a contentious topic features facts on one side [coupled with] a genuine desire to find solutions, and fear-based irrelevancies and/or half-truths and/or misrepresentations on the other side, how can anyone expect meaningful exchanges and acceptable solutions? What’s the benefit in not having solutions to urgent challenges because ideologies must be protected first…?

I’ll say again: I’m willing to wager that almost all Peak Oil proponents would be delighted to be proven wrong so that we don’t have to endure the inevitable magnitude of changes our beliefs suggest. As I have also expressed repeatedly, I’m not the poster child for Peak Oil. I take absolutely no delight at all that the comfortable lifestyle my family enjoys (7 bedroom second home by the ocean on Massachusetts’ North Shore, two luxury vehicles, lots of travel, lots of electronic toys) will be severely disrupted in the years to come. I like optimistic assessments! But there are other facts which must be taken into account, and there’s no reason why Peak Oil [and climate change] should be exempt from that fundamental concept.

I’d like to know that we’re all working together to find reasonable adaptations and develop sensible plans so all of us—and our children—can enjoy some semblance of prosperity and well-being in the days to come.

But what worries me and peers urging more awareness of Peak Oil is the fact that the problems will be of such scope, impact, and complexity that we feel an urgent need for planning to begin  now—by all of us, both Left and Right. We’re not seeing enough honest, intelligent, rational analysis from those whose contributions will be every bit as important and meaningful as our own. The ideology sponsoring practical and effective adaptations and solutions won’t matter to us if they work. We just don’t think it’s all that unreasonable to expect that the contributions are grounded in the realities of what we face. Optimism has a place, but it cannot be all that one side brings to the table.

To us, completely ignoring the great body of factual evidence about our fossil fuel supplies (and this warming planet, although I’ll leave that discussion to others) is like denying that oceans have water in them! How do you have a dialogue with someone unwilling to accept any facts on a subject?

What has prompted the newest additions to that series was an article in the Wall Street Journal last month (“The North American Gusher” – link updated), on production of and policies dealing with fossil fuels—specifically the shale/tight oil supplies here in America. I found the article to be another in a long list of writings cheerleading oil industry efforts while bypassing a healthy measure of information/facts which paint a very different story. The next three posts in this series will examine the Journal article at greater length.

I single this out strictly because it was so representative of a viewpoint which, from the progressive side of the divide, makes little sense and is a curious contribution to educating the public. Truthfully, nothing from that article cannot be found in any number of others on the same subject. That so many of the typical assessments from those denying we have fossil fuel supply problems appear in this piece—in a prominent national publication—coupled with the commentary offered by readers, makes it a terrific source to help “the other side” appreciate our concerns. I just hope it matters … soon.

The article’s exuberant assessments of an energy-independent future (which I have also discussed in other posts, as have others) is thus a perfect example of the cherry-picking utilized to embellish the story well beyond what the full scope of facts suggest—as seen from the progressive viewpoint. Accordingly, the article and comments served as an “ideal” display of the very reasons why (and how) our hyper-partisan political climate makes it almost impossible to engage in meaningful dialogue to address serious problems. That’s a problem for everyone.

I approach this series with the recognition that it may be a fool’s pursuit. Neither camp seems much interested in hearing about the perspective from the “other side”, having long been convinced that the opposition [evil incarnate] has taken leave of its senses and reality itself. But until we shed more light on not only our point of view but on how we react to and interpret observations and viewpoints from those with whom we disagree—giving them the opportunity to teach us—stalemate ensues. We’ve had more than enough of that, thank you very much. It’s becoming increasingly risky to rely on that “strategy” and/or accept it as status quo, given the challenges ahead.

We need to learn how to listen to others with different viewpoints, and we all need to consider that the mere possibility of diminishing energy supplies merit much more serious and honorable conversations than we’ve demonstrated to date. Solving them together is the only way problems of such scope can be solved. Different conversations with different ground rules might be worth considering.

Not addressing them at all really should not be an option.

~ My (wife’s) Photo: Long Beach, Rockport, MA – 09.29.07

* links:
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/12/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-1/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/19/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-2/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/26/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-3/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/03/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-4/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/10/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/17/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-6/

 

 

 

 

The magnificence of the shale oil “revolution” generated by the International Energy Agency’s wildly optimistic forecasts for future oil production in its 2012 World Energy Outlook has found favor with a large contingent in the media and elsewhere. No great surprise, of course. Good news is good news, even if it’s not exactly all it’s cracked up to be, as I discussed in two of my posts from last week [here and here].

This is typical of the exuberant commentary:

By extending the supply-side, shale oil also changes the peak oil equation and arguably militates against alternative energy: is shale oil production already balancing declining production from established ‘peak oil’ fields? [1]

Uh … no, actually, it isn’t and it won’t. But since the facts about shale production put a damper on all that enthusiasm, it’s best not to discuss those annoying details. [A strategy that’s also no great surprise.]

A recent two-part series in Barrons online [here and here] by Thomas G. Donlan—which also sung the praises of this amazing feat of technological prowess—got my attention for different, and disturbing, reasons.

Accepting without question the similarly over-the-top enthusiasm for shale’s prospects by an official of the American Petroleum Institute (no issues about objectivity there!), the author of those two pieces pivoted to a broad swipe against all those who oppose the balls-to-the-walls plunge into shale production, stating that “some” opponents “disparage the American lifestyle, especially its freedom of mobility in cars,” (say what?) while “Others fear the costs of new technologies — whether the costs be financial, social, or environmental.”

Imagine that! “Some” people have a lot of nerve, don’t they? Social costs? Environmental concerns? We’ve got pillaging to do and profits to make, people! We’re not sticking around after we’ve fracked-up your communities, so excuse us if we don’t give a rat’s ass about social or environmental costs. As for financial costs … we pass that on to you, so what’s the big deal?

Mr. Donlan also found fault with the federal government’s unwillingness to issue permits for exploration “off the California coast, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the west coast of Florida.” In what may or may not have been a Freudian slip, he complained that those actions “choked off exploitation.”

One common definition of the term “exploitation” is: “Utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes.” My own handy-dandy Macbook offered this: “The action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.” Granted, that’s my spin, but it’s not all that far from the truth, given that his objections stemmed from his assessment that the federal government’s refusal was “to please shore-side homeowners and businesses.” Imagine giving those freeloaders preference over The Oil Industry! Shocking!

Back in September, a revealing AlterNet.org article by Evelyn Nieves entitled “The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation,” offered a dose of reality about the lives of “some” of those people:

No one imagined tanker trucks barreling up and down Main Street, back-to-back like freight trains, seven days and nights a week. No one predicted construction zones that grind traffic to a halt as far as the eye can see, the deafening clatter of semis, the dust kicked up by 10,000 vehicles pulverizing the two-lane road every day or the smell and taste of diesel. No one anticipated the accidents, two or more a week on Main Street and all over the rutted reservation roads, costing lives and shattering families.
In fact, Fort Berthold, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, or Three Affiliated Tribes, did not reckon on a lot when North Dakota invited the energy industry to Drill Baby Drill. No one knew that energy companies in search of housing for their workers would buy private property and evict some of the reservation’s poorest residents from their homes. No one planned on police and fire calls multiplying. No one guessed that on a reservation of nearly one million acres, all the deer would disappear.

Just a guess, but I’m wondering Mr. Donlan might have been thinking about those Fort Berthold residents in Ms. Nieves’ article when he wrote this criticism of Elmira, New York’s apparent unwillingness to bow down to the fracking gods, no questions asked:

Elmira has plenty of company and support in the legions of foot-draggers who oppose fracking. In addition to an invasion of roughnecks and roustabouts, antifrackers fear earthquakes, cancer, water pollution, land-clearing, road-building, wear and tear on existing roads from heavy trucks, and local poor people being driven to homelessness because well-paid drillers would bid up rents. In short, antifrackers seem to fear profits and prosperity.

Elmira officials and residents are expressing concerns about “earthquakes, cancer, water pollution, land-clearing, road-building, wear and tear on existing roads from heavy trucks, and local poor people being driven to homelessness because well-paid drillers would bid up rents,” and we’re supposed to accept this as little more than “in short” irrational behavior because profits are to be made?

Seriously? Good to have priorities straight, Right?

Who’s making those profits? Whose prosperity, what kind of “prosperity” after the frackers are long gone, and at what cost to those left behind? Facts still suck.

Perhaps some of those profits might be plowed back into teaching some people about having a bit of humanity and perspective….But then, that would mean passing up a possible chance of more “profits and prosperity” somewhere. Can’t have that, no matter what the price, Right?

* My Photo: sunset near Half Moon Bay, CA – 09.15.04

Sources:

[1] http://www.theage.com.au/business/worlds-oil-industry-wont-be-the-same-in-the-wake-of-shale-20121207-2b0wp.html; World’s oil industry won’t be the same in the wake of shale by Malcolm Maiden – 12.08.12

[NOTE: This is the sixth and final installment of a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate   – Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In the first five installments of this mini-series [ links * at the end of this post ], I’ve examined what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective viewed to be a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University [ link to PDF download in Sources [1] below]. I’m doing so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions. [Quotes below are from the above-linked article by Jeffrey Folks unless noted otherwise.]

So where are we? I’ve done what we’re inclined to do when people don’t accept a position/viewpoint offered: I’ve supplied lots of reasons why the “other side” is wrong about Peak Oil. As I stated at the conclusion of the last post, this is not a philosophical discussion, as some political issues are more apt to be addressed.

That he has not yet been able to do so must pain the president greatly. He must also be irked that high gas prices — the same high prices he has worked so hard to create over the past three and a half years — now pose an obstacle to his re-election.

What’s the point in saying things like this when we’re trying to deal with real-world problems? How do we get beyond the “you are crazier than I am” model of public discourse if facts cannot be rationally debated in the first instance? (Does this gentleman and his many peers who have suggested much the same seriously think that any President of the United States would deliberately pursue a policy so completely at odds with the interests of practically every citizen in the country so that he or she can … uh … uh … why would someone do this?) How does this help any of us?

Idiotic viewpoints are not the substance of sound decision-making, so what is the point?

Our prescription, counterintuitively, is a more unabashedly cultural style of democratic policymaking. Those interested in helping citizens to converge in support of empirically sound policies—on guns, on the environment, on crime control, on national security—should focus less on facts and more on social meaning. It’s only when they perceive that a policy bears a social meaning congenial to their cultural values that citizens become receptive to sound empirical evidence about what consequences that policy will have. It’s therefore essential to devise policies that can bear acceptable social     meanings to citizens of diverse cultural persuasions simultaneously. Because culture is cognitive prior to facts in the policy disputes, culture must be politically prior to facts too. [1]

But when legitimate problems confront all of us, how do we abide by the decorums suggested if nonsense is the starting point for one side of the debate? I hope there is a limit to the usefulness of this kind of strategy … sure wish we were there already.

What’s the vision and expectation for the future? The effects of Peak Oil (and climate change) don’t lend themselves to being bent into shapes conducive to conservative or liberal ideology. There is no one obvious solution which smacks almost entirely of liberalism (and vice versa) which one “side” can legitimately promote. Too many aspects of our everyday lifestyles—both personal and industrial—will require a broad range of adaptations and transitions well beyond ideological constraints.

There is undoubtedly some comfort in thinking that one’s ideology will ride to the rescue, thus  avoiding all the unpleasant psychological contortions relinquishing such beliefs would necessitate if change is necessary. We get that, too.

I’ll say again: I’m willing to wager that almost all Peak Oil proponents would be delighted to be proven wrong so that we don’t have to endure the inevitable magnitude of changes our beliefs suggest. But what worries us is the fact that the problems will be of such scope and and impact and complexity that we feel strongly that planning must take place now—by all of us, both Left and Right—and we’re not seeing enough honest, intelligent, rational analysis from those whose contributions will be every bit as important and meaningful. The ideology sponsoring practical and effective adaptations and solutions won’t matter to us if they work. We just don’t think it’s all that unreasonable to expect that the contributions are grounded in the realities of what we face.

Whether it is ‘peak oil,’ ‘carbon emissions,’ ‘can’t drill our way out,’ or ‘no quick fix,’ every argument has the same goal: to force Americans off fossil fuels and onto expensive, government-regulated green alternatives.

That certainly sounds ominous, and it coincides nicely with the Right’s “liberal control over our lives” meme, but at what point can we expect a legitimate examination of the facts about what we face and realize that there is no one solution that fits all? Like it or not, green alternatives are going to be necessary. Given how far behind they are to already-established, depleting-by-the-day energy sources, some government involvement and oversight is simply going to be part of the mix. If you truly believe that 300 million-plus people and or tens of millions of business each trying to figure out on their own how to deal with diminished fuel supply is the way to go, then best wishes!

Paranoid nonsense about “government control” and “boots on the neck” and assorted other conspiracy-laden premises simply have no place in the dialogue. Thinking that the absence of government is part of the solution is unrealistic—plain and simple. We appreciate the “values” such perspectives support, but it is way, way past time for us to all move beyond the psychological fixes. Reality beckons, and absent meaningful involvement, planning, and contributions from anyone and everyone with valuable expertise, we’re all going to be neck-deep in avoidable troubles. We’ll have enough that aren’t avoidable as is. Let’s not make things worse.

Wouldn’t all of us prefer having a say ahead of time, comforted by the realization that we all took part in making meaningful contributions?

Who wants to sacrifice anything about current lifestyles as Option Number One? Bad, last-minute, overwhelming surprises are not my preference, and I’m having a difficult time thinking that they are anyone else’s, either. Blind Faith is still a better rock band than strategy, and it’s certainly not the one I want guiding me and my wife and our children and my family and my fiends into a future where the inevitable outcomes of using finite resources finally come to roost. I don’t think I’m at all unusual in stating that I want a good future for myself and family in good communities with happy, successful, and prosperous citizens living freely. That’s not going to happen as long as too many of us prefer occupying their time with fear-induced paranoid concerns that do nothing but promote more of the same by their adherents and more ridicule from those who cannot accept that perspective. It just does not help!

So do we stand our ideological grounds until there’s no question at all what reality has in store, or do we start doing what good businesspeople and well-intentioned families and communities do: plan ahead? We want good solutions and plans for how best to transition away from a fossil fuel-dependent way of life because that is what facts tell us is necessary. Control doesn’t factor in to what we seek, as convenient a fiction as that might be to the Right and as easy as it is to find “facts” to support the fears. “On your own” may appeal to some, but it will prove to be of very limited utility … dump it now.

We all need to be better than that. “Business as usual, every man for himself” have served in many cases great purposes, but changes are looming. The definition and routes available for continued prosperity are going to change. We’re drawing down just about all of the remaining easy-to-get-at stuff which produced such breathtaking successes and advances. Now we’re in a global world of infinitely greater complexity with billions more people wanting what we have, and there just won’t be enough of that remaining easy stuff to go around for everyone to either maintain or attain the standards of the good life we’ve grown accustomed to.

That’s not ideology. It’s math.

When Obama tells us there’s no quick fix, he is not suggesting that we should get started on a fossil fuel fix.  He’s saying that since there is no quick fix with fossil fuels, we’re better off dumping them and moving on to renewables.

That’s actually not what the President is saying at all. Having used finite resources for nearly two centuries in an ever-increasing complex, technologically-sophisticated world, how does one not think about Plan B given the facts about current crude oil supply and production, and the facts about what producing the gazillion barrels of unconventional reserves buried underground or beneath ocean floors entails? No business owner, coach, of leader in any endeavor or profession ignores facts and relies instead on hopes and suppositions. Not the winning formula….

But if the fossil fuel fix is not all that quick, the green energy fix is glacial.  In fact, it is no fix at all, because no matter how many windmills and solar farms we subsidize with taxpayer money, it will not be enough to fuel even one tenth of our energy needs….
When Obama proclaims there is no quick fix, he implies [says you!] that we must give up on increased domestic production of fossil fuels and turn to alternatives.  But those misnamed ‘alternatives’ are not really alternatives at all.  Wind and solar now account for less than 2% of America’s energy needs.

Absolutely true! But using up more of what’s not as available anymore as the sole option will only work for a while longer, and if we have done absolutely nothing to plan an alternate route to get is to the destination all of us hope for, what happens then?

I see that as perhaps the single greatest failing of right-wing philosophy in the face of Peak Oil:  Yes, we’ll need all of the marvels of “human ingenuity” and great technological inventions. But without recognizing and accepting the simple truth that we’re drawing down a finite and depleting resource which necessitates almost unimaginable adaptations and transitions to Plan B, the limits of human ingenuity and technological prowess will inevitably be reached if we keep tweaking the finite resource. Just how does the market on its own develop guidelines about what needs to be done, how, when, in what priority, where, and assorted other considerations?

There is no intellectually honest way to believe that the world can continue its near-total reliance on fossil fuels for much more than another decade — a paltry window of opportunity. We also know that we cannot wait until they go into decline before reaching for renewables and efficiency, simply because the scale of the challenge is so vast, and the alternatives are starting from such a low level that they will need decades of investment before they are ready to assume the load. The data is clear, and the mathematics are really quite straightforward. [2]

So now what?

* links to the prior installments:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/12/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-1/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/19/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-2/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/26/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-3/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/03/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-4/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/10/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-5/

Sources:

[1] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=746508; [ link to PDF download]. Cultural Cognition and Public Policy by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University – Law School; Harvard Law School and Donald Barman – George Washington University – Law School; Cultural Cognition Project – Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 24, pp 147 – 169, Public Law Working Paper No. 87 – 2006 [quote from p. 169]
[2] http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/our-energy-future-golden-age-or-stone-age/143; Our energy future: Golden Age or Stone Age? by Chris Nelder – 10.26.11

Individuals can be expected to give dispositive empirical information the weight that it is due in a rational decision-making calculus only if they recognize sound information when they see it.
The phenomenon of cultural cognition suggests they won’t. The same psychological and social processes that induce individuals to form factual beliefs consistent with their cultural orientation will also prevent them from perceiving contrary empirical data to be credible. Cognitive-dissonance avoidance will steel individuals to resist empirical data that either threatens practices they revere or bolsters ones they despise, particularly when accepting such data would force them to disagree with individuals they respect….
This picture is borne out by additional well-established psychological and social mechanisms. One constraint on the disposition of individuals to accept empirical evidence that contradicts their culturally conditioned beliefs is the phenomenon of biased assimilation. [citations] This phenomenon refers to the tendency of individuals to condition their acceptance of new information as reliable based on its conformity to their prior beliefs. This disposition to reject empirical data that contradict one’s prior belief … is likely to be especially pronounced when that belief is strongly connected to an individual’s cultural identity, for then the forces of cognitive dissonance avoidance that explain biased assimilation are likely to be most strongly aroused. [with citations]. [1]

[NOTE: This is the fifth in a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate
– Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In the first four installments of this mini-series [* links at the end of this post], I’ve examined what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective viewed to be a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University (link to PDF download in Sources [1] below). I’m doing so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions.

There’s not much doubt that Barack Obama’s election prompted extreme reactions across the entire spectrum of political beliefs. Many rejoiced, while many others were threatened by his Presidency for a variety of reasons … some much less honorable than others. Some were even worse—he is, if you hadn’t heard, our first black President … and no need to explain how horrible that is … he’s so … so, different—and his name is strange, besides! (21st Century, correct? Just checking….) That the animosity and fear carries over into areas with decidedly oppressive consequences absent rational, fact-based and ideology-free conversations is more than a bit troubling.

Let’s jump right in with more commentary from Mr. Folks: “Peak oil may be 200 years away; carbon emissions have not raised the sea levels by 12m, devastated our croplands, or engendered monster storms.”

Yet. (Just because the full scope of consequences haven’t knocked on everyone’s door by now is far different than acknowledging enough signs are already in place! Denial is a strategy … it just happens to be a particularly ineffective and very bad one!)

If by “200 years away” he means approximately 2005, he’s absolutely correct. I wasn’t aware that climatologists had issued a specific date for sea level rise or cropland “devastation”, and I apparently missed them both … damn! So that’s it? No more worries about climate change because those specific events haven’t materialized all at once by winter’s end, 2012? (Climate scientists actually inform us these conditions will develop over the decades to come—kinda like a leaky roof getting leakier day by day until it stops leaking entirely … because it collapses.)

We had a near-hurricane here in New England last summer (not to mention tornadoes), a god-awful winter in 2010-2011, and here in the Boston area all of about eight inches of snow this entire winter just concluded—on the order of about one-tenth the amount we had the prior, brutal winter. (And did I mention the Halloween weekend snowstorm this past autumn which dumped 32 inches of snow in the Berkshire Mountains community in western Massachusetts where my parents’ own some land?) Seems to me that one or two of those nefarious liberal conspiratorial climate scientists mentioned something about different weather patterns just like those as prime evidence of the gradual changes resulting from our ever-warming planet. Imagine that! But hey, if my leaky roof hasn’t collapsed by now, then I’m good to go! Who cares about the future, Right?

If those who dispute Peak Oil were willing to deal with facts—not the “could possibly might if only” suppositions they routinely engage in [the Peak Oil Denial Category in the Sidebar has a few dozen posts which address this in great detail], or the hosannahs given to the vast, more-than-a-trillion barrels of oil right here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. (while carefully neglecting to mention facts about production which kinda make more than a trillion barrels of oil a lot closer to less than dozen or two billion more likely to be produced … and over the course of a few decades to come)—it would be a lot easier for us to fashion effective solutions, or at least develop reasonable plans for adaptation. This is a different conversation if we Peak Oil proponents are arguing that space aliens are draining Earth’s oil fields in the dark of night. But since we’re instead relying on ideology-free facts, the approach has to be a sensible one.

What’s the purpose in avoiding/denying the facts? It’s the same question I’ve asked before: How does this help?

Keeping peers uninformed—or entirely ignorant of not just the facts but an understanding about consequences—isn’t exactly a noble, integrity-laden pursuit. So why keep doing it? What’s the reason? Who benefits? (Hint: very, very few of us … very few.) If you shade, hide, misrepresent, or flat-out lie about the facts, then any outcome or support is all but useless. So why keep doing it? Does “long-term” mean anything? Planning?

Is this the typical CEO strategy? One may proclaim an interest and commitment in dominating the garden and lawn supply market, but if the location of the “market” is in Antarctica, and you neglect to pass along that location factoid to your investors, well then … the support will wind up ringing a bit hollow, and investment rewards a bit on the slim side….Do you count on your health care provider to completely misrepresent your medical condition, hoping she’ll prescribe just-as-completely irrelevant treatments? How much success would NFL coaches have had in the past decade if they crafted game plans against Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on the premise that “This guy can’t pass and he’s not all that good, so our focus is all about punt coverage.”

So why keep misrepresenting or ignoring the facts and realities about Peak Oil? Just because civilization won’t collapse by Thursday is not a sound reason to avoid considering the implications or facts about declining oil production and supply issues, or to begin planning for the lengthy and inordinately complex, decades-long transition away from fossil fuels. No doubt denial means you don’t have to invest any time, effort, or money on the problem now. So there’s that. And that’s pretty much the entire benefit … today. (How long does one typically ignore a raging toothache, or recurring chest pains, or blinding headaches, before deciding a visit to the dentist/physician might be a good idea? Is saving money, time, or effort for a few more months a good strategy?) We’re not handling Peak Oil much differently than that right now … with consequences a bit more dramatic society-wide.

This is not a philosophical issue! We’re not arguing the “morality” of Peak Oil v. alternative energy. We have fact-based issues at hand which will result in enduring, fact-based problems of unimaginable complexity and scope, and we need fact-based solutions from any and all “experts” in any and all fields of endeavor because fossil fuels touch almost every aspect of our lives. Finite resources are … finite! Are we really better off waiting until we’re scraping the last little pools here and there before realizing we should probably be doing something else?

“The proper course is to withdraw all subsidies and allow market forces to decide where to allocate capital” proclaims Mr. Folks and those adamantly opposed to anything other than “drill, baby, drill”. Who benefits, and at whose expense? There’s no question that free-market principles and its benefits have an important role to play in crafting energy supply strategies in the years to come. But lamenting the relatively ineffective characteristics of fledgling alternatives currently decades behind fossil fuels in testing and implementation is a bit narrow-minded. Are we better off waiting until we truly have no other option? Just how quickly are these free-market proponents anticipating we can develop, test, market, and implement replacement energy sources once finite fossil fuels have done what finite things do: cease to be?

It would be wonderful if magnanimous corporations concerned primarily with mankind’s welfare might collectively decide all on their own that they are going to devote their expertise and resources to a broad-based energy strategy duly recognizing the challenges ahead in light of the facts at hand, and so we could then relax, comforted by their generosity of spirit.

The cynic in me suggests that that might not happen….Blind Faith … a great rock band. A strategy? Not so good.

More likely, scores of the largest corporations are going to do what corporations do: devote their resources and capabilities to what they do best so as to maximize their profits. Millions more smaller businesses will do the same. All fine and well, except that with problems on a scale beyond the capabilities of most to fully appreciate, the fundamental capitalist approach is not the long-term strategy to implement with finite resources so broadly utilized and depended upon … assuming the well-being of everyone beyond next week is a concern. If your interests are a bit more narrowly focused (investment portfolio, bonus potential, profitability), then that path is the one to follow. “You’re on your own” is not just a bad economic policy….

I’ll ask again: Who benefits, and at whose expense?

One more installment coming up.

* links to the prior installments:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/12/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-1/

http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/19/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-2/

http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/04/26/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-3/

http://peakoilmatters.com/2012/05/03/peak-oil-denial-the-liberal%E2%80%99s-dilemma-pt-4/

Sources:

[1] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=746508; [link to PDF download]. Cultural Cognition and Public Policy by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University – Law School; Harvard Law School and Donald Barman – George Washington University – Law School; Cultural Cognition Project – Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 24, pp 147 – 169, Public Law Working Paper No. 87 – 2006 [quote from pp. 163-164]

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. After forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments and rational explanations. Beliefs come first; explanations for beliefs follow….I call this process, wherein our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it, belief-dependent realism. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends on the beliefs we hold at any given time….
Once we form beliefs and make commitments to them, we maintain and reinforce them through a number of powerful cognitive biases that distort our percepts to fit belief concepts. Among them are:
Anchoring Bias. Relying too heavily on one reference anchor or piece of information when making decisions.
Authority Bias. Valuing the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about.
Belief Bias. Evaluating the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion.
Confirmation Bias. Seeking and finding confirming evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignoring or reinterpreting disconfirming evidence. [1]

[NOTE: This is the fourth in a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate
– Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all of us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In the first three installments of this mini-series (here, here, and here), I began an examination of what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective viewed to be a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University [link to PDF download]. I’m doing so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions.

I ended the most recent post of this series with a listing of the points Mr. Folks made in the above-referenced article. I “replied” to one of his many criticisms of President Obama—specifically the failure of his policies and actions to lower gas prices—by providing a lengthy list of recent articles demonstrating rather convincingly (or so I like to think) that no President has the ability or power to lower gas prices (not even a socialist-Marxist-not-born-here-America-hating liberal like Obama … and have you noticed he’s not Caucasian?).

Gas prices are set on the world market for all the reasons explained by those with far more knowledge of such things than me. And since all those reasons have little or nothing to do with adopting a balls-to-the-walls “drill baby, drill” strategy, complaining that Obama’s ineptitude is only raising gas prices is … nonsense! Red meat for some; not much nutritional content.

Why continue to make an arguments which facts quickly debunk? How does this help?

As an aside, a bit more than a year ago I offered this:

During the Bush Administration, the United States’ Energy Information Agency issued a report (updated and confirmed in its 2009 follow-up: ‘Impact of Limitations on Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the Federal Outer Continental Shelf’) in which its analysis of the difference between full offshore drilling (‘Reference Case’) and restricted drilling (‘OCS limited case’) concluded there would be no impact on gasoline prices in 2020, and a whopping ‘three cent’ (that’s not a typo) per gallon decline by 2030.
GOP officials who continue to tout drilling never get around to mentioning that little factoid. Of course, they also never bother to mention any other facts about drilling off-shore or in the Arctic such as the extreme exploration conditions which must be accounted and paid for, the length of time that will pass before full production (such as it may be) will be reached (i.e., several decades), and an assortment of other bothersome little details which would only contradict the ‘benefits’ their sound bites imply. It goes without saying that there is no mention of the current political turmoil in the Middle East and parts of Africa … annoying considerations which most market analyst experts believe to be primarily responsible for recent price spikes. What good are experts if a good political sound bite is available instead?

When “dialogue” about a contentious topic features facts on one side and a genuine desire to find solutions, and fear-based irrelevancies and/or half-truths and/or misrepresentations on the other side, how can anyone expect meaningful exchanges and acceptable solutions? What’s the benefit in not having solutions to urgent challenges because ideologies must be protected first? There’s not all that much of an advantage in postponing shooting oneself in the foot.

Another argument posed by Mr. Folks: “For over 40 years the left has brought out one argument after another against fossil fuels.”

None of us are “against” fossil fuels. What we are concerned with are the facts about declining rates of production in the highest quality conventional crude supplies which have powered our society for decades. We’re simply not finding much of it any more (while what’s left depletes by the day); what we are finding is more costly to extract and refine; takes longer to bring to market; with inferior substitutes in lesser produceable quantities failing to make up for that decline … among other problems.

So what we recognize as likely consequences affecting ALL of us calls for us to find ways to deal with the impact and find ways to adapt before the problems strike full force. So until and unless the Magic Technology Fairy finds an acceptable substitute at acceptable costs, in wildly abundant quantities, easily accessible, while providing the same energy bang for the buck, we’re going to have to rely on developing alternative sources of energy—recognizing that they are indeed no match for what fossil fuels have provided us. And by the way, we also recognize that billions of people around the world and their governments are also planning to use the conventional crude oil supplies still being produced. With their growing populations and increasing domestic demand, oil-producing nations won’t be exporting quite as much in years to come … while the magical shale oil and tar sands continue to fail to meet demand.

Worse than the decline of oil production is the decline of net oil exports. Net oil exporters, awash in the cash from their oil sales, are growing up and industrializing, which causes them to consume more of their own production and cuts into their exports. At the same time, rapidly growing economies like China and India are consuming an ever-larger share of the available net exports. As analysts Jeffrey Brown and Samuel Foucher have shown, available net exports have fallen at an average rate of about 1 mbpd per year from 2005 to 2010, from about 40 mbpd in 2005 to about 35 mbpd in 2010 (BP and EIA data, total petroleum liquids). On current trends, China and India would consume all of the available exports in about 20 years, while the U.S. is slowly squeezed out of the global market. [2]

Basic math; facts; reality—call it what you will—this is what we have to deal with. We are suggesting that what we perceive to be laughably ignorant paranoia-derived fears about socialist takeover from a Muslim-Marxist-alien-President should be left to the Fantasy Cable Network. Keeping the uninformed agitated and fearful is an at best questionable exercise, given the challenges Peak Oil is going to impose on all of us long before we’ve properly prepared.

(Perhaps if we could design energy-based solutions benefitting only liberals and progressives we could stop being concerned….)

“If only he could gain control over oil and gas drilling — regulatory control that still rests mainly with state governments — he would soon have his boot on the neck of America’s energy companies — extorting billions from them to further his political ambitions.” – Jeffrey Folks.

Seriously? Might there instead be some benefit to understanding the reasoning behind the “Liberal” approach to energy “policy” instead of relying on increasingly lame, pointless fears about mind-control and government takeovers and wild-ass conspiracies which at least 99.8% of us wouldn’t know how to contemplate if our lives depended on it?

I’m honestly saddened by that perspective. When reading statements that the President (and all liberals, I assume) are presumably plotting to “gain control” so that we can put a “boot on the neck” to help the President “further his political ambitions”, it is very difficult to look at those pronouncements as anything other than the rantings of a tinfoil-hat-wearing, paranoid loon. I’m betting that’s not especially constructive on my part if I’m trying to engage an author/speaker in mutually beneficial, problem-solving dialogue. I’m equally at a loss to understand how that perspective serves practical long term needs for one who thinks/fears such outlandish motives. At what point does that stop being the best option going forward?

We remain optimistic that upon reflection (ideology-free), of the facts at hand and recognition of at least the possibility Peak Oil advocates may be on to something, conservatives will have something of great value to offer all of us. But if contributions are going to remain at the fear-based level, coupled with an unwillingness to accept facts (and thus fail to offer the expertise and experience we’re counting on from you), what happens to all of us?

Of course it’s threatening to think that our lifestyles, systems of governing, and capitalist processes themselves may all face drastic changes in the not-too-distant future because of the facts and reality of Peak Oil and climate change! As I’ve stated repeatedly, I’m betting that almost every single Peak Oil proponent want nothing more than to be wrong! I’m certainly not the poster-child for Peak Oil advocacy and lifestyles. I have a very nice, capitalist, well-to-do existence: 7 bedroom summer home by the ocean, luxury vehicles for my wife and I, and assorted other technological goodies in quantities too embarrassing to detail. To hell with all of you, I don’t want MY life to change!

I just don’t see much value in ascribing super-secret, nefarious conspiratorial aims to someone ever-so-gently (too cautiously, perhaps?) trying to get Americans to recognize we ought to consider preparing for change before we have no choice … and no plans in place.

Two generations came to think of declining oil prices as normal, which accounts for the current sense of entitlement, the outrage at rising prices, and the search for villains: politicians, oil-producing countries, and oil companies are all targets of scorn in public-opinion surveys.
A substantial failure of education about non-renewable natural resources lies in the background of current public sentiment. And now, having underinvested in energy efficiency and security when the costs of doing so were lower, America is poorly positioned to face the prospect of rising real prices. Energy policy has been ‘pro-cyclical’ – the opposite of saving for a rainy day. Given the upward pressure on prices implied by rising emerging-market demand and the global economy’s rapid increase in size, that day has arrived….
Rather than anticipating and preparing for change, the United States has waited for change to be forced upon it….
Obama is correctly attempting to explain that effective energy policy, by its very nature, requires long-term goals and steady progress toward achieving them.
One frequently hears the assertion that democracies’ electoral cycles are poorly suited to implementing long-term, forward-looking policies. The countervailing force is leadership that explains the benefits and costs of different options, and unites people around common goals and sensible approaches. The Obama administration’s effort to put long-term growth and security above political advantage thus deserves admiration and respect.
Declining dependence on external sources, properly pursued, is an important development. But it is not a substitute for higher energy efficiency, which is essential to making the switch to a new and resilient path for economic growth and employment. A side benefit would be to unlock a huge international agenda for energy, the environment, and sustainability, where American leadership is required.
This effort requires persistence and a long official attention span, which in turn presupposes bipartisan support. Is that possible in America today? [3]

Good question.

More on the way next week.

Sources:

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-believing-brain; The Believing Brain: Why Science Is the Only Way Out of Belief-Dependent Realism by Michael Sheerer – 07.05.11

[2] http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/when-should-we-pursue-energy-transition/159; When should we pursue energy transition? by Chris Nelder – 11.02.11

[3] http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-energy-deficit; The Energy Deficit by Michael Spence (Nobel laureate in economics) – 03.20.12

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.
This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right. [1]

[NOTE: This is the third in a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate  – Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, I began an examination of what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective saw as a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University [link to PDF download]. I’m doing so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions.

Studies of everyday reasoning show that we usually use reason to search for evidence to support our initial judgment, which was made in milliseconds. [2]

Our task, then, is to organize society so that reason and intuition interact in healthy ways. [Jonathan] Haidt’s research suggests several broad guidelines. First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. Third, we need to break up our ideological segregation. [3]

Problems solved!

And now, back to reality….I’ve argued in any number of posts that how we approach, plan for, and then finally adapt to the changes Peak Oil and a warming planet are going to impose requires not just better efforts from our so-called political and business leaders. As full as our plates may be, meaningful adaptation to a very different future requires understanding, effort, cooperation, and contribution on our parts as well.

So far, most of our leaders have done an admirable job of ignoring and pandering instead. “Gotta cover my political ass” is the unfortunate, long-lamented but yet-to-be-changed legislative approach for most. No one seems willing or able to get past that and have honest, full-disclosure conversations with the electorate (all of them, not just constituents on the same side of their ideological fence), to thus explain why change is on its way and why (and how) we need to plan for it now. It’s a daunting challenge to be sure, but it’s the only way. (I’m not suggesting that President Obama isn’t attempting to do so. He is. It’s just not enough, and that’s not solely his “fault.”)

It’s well past time for us to ask: What’s the incentive and benefit in keeping people uninformed? Expecting delivery of honest (albeit unpleasant) truths shouldn’t be just an ideal….How is not doing so of any benefit past the next election?

And so again we circle back to more of the perspectives commonly adopted and expressed by those who deny Peak Oil, artfully shared by the above-referenced Mr. Folks. (There’s a lot to discuss. I’ll examine and discuss these points in the final installments.)

That’s been more than enough time to fix the problem, but he’s done nothing but make it worse. If the president had promoted domestic production of fossil fuels as he should have done, we wouldn’t need a quick fix.  We would have had a fix already in place, and it would now be working.

Meanwhile, on his four-stop ‘energy tour,’ Obama continued pushing the failed policies that have resulted in soaring gas prices.  At every stop — even at Cushing, Oklahoma, the heart of oil country — he insisted that drilling for oil is not enough.  It will take “all of the above,” he stated, including greater subsidies for solar outfits like Solyndra and higher taxes on oil companies.  How is that going to bring down gas prices?
At the same time, Obama’s surrogates are attacking Wall Street speculators and ‘greedy oil companies’ for driving up prices.  Those same speculators drove down prices during the Bush administration — why are prices soaring only now, if not as a result of Obama’s policies?  And those so-called greedy oil companies have had to fight Obama for permission to drill anywhere.

For over 40 years the left has brought out one argument after another against fossil fuels.

Whether it is ‘peak oil,’ ‘carbon emissions,’ ‘can’t drill our way out,’ or ‘no quick fix,’ every argument has the same goal: to force Americans off fossil fuels and onto expensive, government-regulated green alternatives.

When Obama tells us there’s no quick fix, he is not suggesting that we should get started on a fossil fuel fix.  He’s saying that since there is no quick fix with fossil fuels, we’re better off dumping them and moving on to renewables. But if the fossil fuel fix is not all that quick, the green energy fix is glacial.  In fact, it is no fix at all, because no matter how many windmills and solar farms we subsidize with taxpayer money, it will not be enough to fuel even one tenth of our energy needs.

The proper course is to withdraw all subsidies and allow market forces to decide where to allocate capital.
Yet Obama refuses to consider this obvious solution, despite the fact that in the real economy and at the state level, where federal regulation has not yet intruded, it is already working.  The oil and gas boom in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states is spurring growth, producing cheap energy, and why can’t you recognize the facts about its limitations and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

If only he could gain control over oil and gas drilling — regulatory control that still rests mainly with state governments — he would soon have his boot on the neck of America’s energy companies — extorting billions from them to further his political ambitions.

If Obama is re-elected, the effort to bring the energy sector under national regulation will only be intensified.  A large part of that effort will be punishing new taxes and environmental regulation at the national level.  None of this will result in lower gas prices.  In fact, it will continue the push toward European price levels, currently at $10 a gallon.
Despite what the president tells us, there actually is a ‘fix’ for high gas prices.  It is to get government out of the way and allow America’s world-class energy companies to compete in the production of cheap and reliable energy.

Sigh….

For starters, the ongoing whining (I know, I know—not helpful, but I am duly acknowledged that this is not a practice limited only to the Right bashing a President on the Left) that President Obama’s policies are either raising gas prices or not lowering them has been thoroughly discredited by a long list of experts from across the political spectrum *, yet the “argument” persists. To what end?

The question I posed above as it relates to our political and business leaders is no less applicable to these “messengers:” What’s the incentive and benefit in keeping people uninformed?

How do we get past that? Can we? We don’t have much of a choice.

More on the way….

* A random search of articles I’ve reviewed in just the last 6 – 8 weeks produced the following list. It’s a nice cross-section of fact-based debunking of the gas price whining mentioned above. The optimist in me says this should be sufficient to put that argument to bed, but it won’t. (A few weeks ago, I also posted a discussion about the President’s “responsibility” for keeping gas prices high.)

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/cpt/2012/03/06/our-view-on-the-price-of-oil/
OUR VIEW ON THE PRICE OF OIL
by Glen Bottoms
03.26.12

http://www.salon.com/2012/02/23/obamas_most_dangerous_foe_high_gas_prices/
Obama’s most dangerous foe: High gas prices
by Andrew Leonard
02.23.12

http://energypolicyinfo.com/2012/02/get-real-on-gas-prices/
Get Real on Gas Prices
02.27.12

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/breaking-views/drilling-alone-wont-bring-cheap-us-oil/article2350463/
Drilling alone won’t bring cheap U.S. oil
by Christopher Swann
02.26.12

http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/blog/2012/02/27/presidents-and-the-price-of-oil/
Presidents and the Price of Oil
by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson
02.27.12

http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/03/02/436254/empty-promises-experts-say-keystone-xl-wont-do-anything-for-gas-prices/
Empty Promises: Experts Say Keystone XL Won’t Do Anything For Gas Prices
by Stephen Lacey
03.02.12

http://www.truth-out.org/gas-us-elections/1330365861
Gas in the US Elections
by Dean Baker
02.27.12

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/playing-politics-with-us-gasoline-prices/2012/02/27/gIQAIRKieR_story.html
Driving the politics out of gas prices
by Charles Lane
02.27.12

http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/presidential-oil-lies/2088
Presidential Oil Lies: Politicians Lie, the Market Doesn’t
by Nick Hodge
02.28.12

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/02/drilling_gas_prices.html
More Drilling Won’t Lower Gas Prices
by Michael Conathan
02.29.12

http://theenergycollective.com/node/77794
Who’s To Blame For Current Gas Prices? (Newt Gingrich — Gas Price Fairy)
by Robert Rapier
02.28.12

http://mediamatters.org/research/201203060003
Energy Experts Debunk Right-Wing Defense Of Oil Subsidies
03.06.12,

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-story-behind-us-gas-price-pain
The Story Behind US Gas Price Pain

by Tyler Durden
03.08.12

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/03/14/the-truth-about-obama-oil-and-the-gasoline-blame-game-part-i/
The Truth About Obama, Oil And The Gasoline Blame Game-Part I
by Rick Ungar
03.14.12

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/03/17/the-truth-about-obama-oil-and-the-gasoline-blame-game-part-two/
The Truth About Obama, Oil And The Gasoline Blame Game-Part Two
by Rick Ungar

03.17.12

http://c4ss.org/content/9933
Big Oil, Big Government, and Big Hypocrisy
by Kevin Carson
03.18.12

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2109474,00.html
Viewpoint: Gas Prices and the Big GOP Lie
by Bryan Walsh
03.20.12

http://grist.org/media/media-produces-laments-public-ignorance-on-gas-prices/
Media produces, laments public ignorance on gas prices
by David Roberts
03.21.12

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_DRILL_NOW_FACT_CHECK?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
FACT CHECK: More US drilling didn’t drop gas price
By SETH BORENSTEIN and JACK GILLUM
03.21.12

http://www.alternet.org/news/154724/why_the_right%27s_zombie_lie_about_gas_prices_is_wrong_but_they%27ll_never_let_it_die
Why the Right’s Zombie Lie About Gas Prices Is Wrong But They’ll Never Let it Die
by Joshua Holland
03.27.12

Sources:

[1] http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/; How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains by Joe Keohane – 07.11.10
[2] http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt07/haidt07_index.html; MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION by Jonathan Haidt – 09.22.07
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?pagewanted=1; Why Won’t They Listen? [book review of] ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt – March 23, 2012 by William Saletan

The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. [1]

[NOTE: This is the second in a subset of my ongoing series entitled Looking Left and Right (which began here; see Category sidebar for all links). This is about Peak Oil, but addresses the considerations and potential solutions from a different perspective than purely fact-based and/or he-said—she-said ones which too often dominate public discourse. With the caveat that I have NO professional expertise/training in psychology or its related fields, I’ll look at emotional and psychological “tricks” and traits we all use—Left, Right, and in-between—to bolster our beliefs and opinions as we do battle with our “opponents” in the increasingly polarized political forums which too-often dominate our culture.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate
– Francis Bacon [courtesy of David McRaney]

As I observed in that first post of this Looking Left and Right series:

We all act much the same way, ideologies notwithstanding. Human nature, I suppose. The more important questions: might we benefit from a bit of introspection before doing more of the same?…We obviously wouldn’t be making use of these psychological tricks of the trade if they didn’t provide us with benefits and gratifications. So is that it? Shrug our shoulders, admit that we are all guilty from time to time and then … nothing?
Might we consider the possibility of being ‘better’ than that? If we choose to solve what might appear at first blush to be overwhelming and even insoluble problems, we need more. We need more from our systems, more from our leaders, and more from ourselves.
There is a great deal at stake for all us, and we might all be better served understanding not just what we do in asserting and defending our beliefs, policies, and opinions, but why. Appreciating that might make a world of difference … literally!]

In Part 1 of this “mini-series”, I proposed an examination of what my semi-snarky, decidedly liberal perspective saw as a perfect summation of stereotypical right-wing nonsense regarding fossil fuel production and gas pricing, relying on the concept of cultural cognition as described by Dan M. Kahan, Yale University and Donald Barman – George Washington University [link to PDF download]. I do so in the hope that this might afford Peak Oil proponents—and those who doubt—a window into how the discussion has been approached to date, and more importantly, how to get past the stumbling block of ideology (my own and the “others”). We’ll need all the intelligence, expertise, and assistance we can get to find some practical adaptations and solutions.

(Of necessity, there must at a minimum be some recognition on the part of those who dispute Peak Oil that at least some facts bear consideration before outright dismissal. I hope that bar is low enough….)

So let’s dive in.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper….
Contradictory evidence strengthens the position of the believer. It is seen as part of the conspiracy, and missing evidence is dismissed as part of the coverup….
What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs….
The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies. [2]

Certainly makes sense! As a general proposition, aren’t we all most comfortable in familiar surroundings and circumstances? How many of us have been guilty at one time or another (or many more) of staying in a job we hate, or a relationship clearly having no future, simply because the known is “easier” to deal with than the unknown, regardless of potential improvement?

Isn’t it perfectly reasonable to assume that everyone acts in ways to support and validate their thoughts and beliefs and opinions? Who likes change or wants to be proven wrong all the time (or even occasionally)?

And so risks objectively undertaken and/or controversial positions adopted tend not to be such an issue when we’re lodged in the familiar or among peers who share our opinions and beliefs. Common sense, right?

There’s now a staggering amount of research on the psychological and even the physiological traits of people who opt for conservative ideologies. And on average, you see people who are more wedded to certainty, and to having fixed beliefs. You also see people who are more sensitive to fear and threat — in a way that can be measured in their bodily responses to certain types of stimuli. [3]

In and of itself, this is neither a “bad” or “wrong” approach. It’s just how one views the world, and it’s also understandable that most of our life experiences are shaped by and from a particular vantage point most comfortable to each of us.

So, conservatives tend to be ‘individualists’– meaning, essentially, that they prize a system in which government leaves you alone — and ‘hierarchs,’ meaning, they are supportive of various types of inequality.
The individualist is threatened by global warming, deeply threatened, because it means that markets have failed and governments — including global governments — have to step in to fix the problem. And some individualists are so threatened by this reality that they even spin out conspiracy theories, arguing that all the world’s scientists are in a cabal with, like, the UN, to make up phony science so they can crash economies. [4]

Which at long last brings me to Mr. Folks, and our dilemma.

The left’s goal is to shift control of a vital sector of the economy, and one that plays a crucial part in the lives of all Americans, into the hands of government.  Along with ObamaCare and financial regulation, it is the third leg of Obama’s socialist takeover of the economy.

We Peak Oil advocates want to find ways to adapt and solve the problems Peak Oil will create. Whatever works best in fashioning acceptable and hopefully profitable/beneficial solutions amid the great complexity and inter-connectedness of 21st century living is our concern and objective. We’re willing to tweak what must be tweaked because we accept and understand that Business-As-Usual simply will not be possible in the long term. We would rather that perspective be adopted and understood sooner rather than later.

So when we read statements like the one just quoted, our first reaction (other than snickering at the bug-eyed conspiracy nonsense), is despair. At first glance there seems little hope of bridging the divide between what we accept as fact and the “other side’s” promotion of irrelevancies, delusions, misrepresentations, and failures to understand and accept … reality! And no doubt we are doing so colored by our perceptions and biases and beliefs.

Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment. [5]

What to do? We’re driven to get past this and solve the problems before they become unsolvable, but how to make that happen when our perceptions convince us that those who deny Peak Oil are delusional at best?

Climate change and Peak Oil are going to impose some major-league changes for all of us. Those whose psychological make-up is more discomfited by change will go to great lengths to fashion justifications for denying or ignoring potential consequences. This is all the more pronounced given that solutions will almost certainly require more involvement by government, more community-wide planning, and concessions by free-marketers—all of which are anathema to conservatives.

But the bigger issue is not how to continue supporting one’s belief system in the face of potential change. The more important question is: do we create more harm for ourselves and others by failing to question or think about what we’re confronted with? Do we give in to the emotional responses which first set us on the paths of ideological make-up, or can we find room for reasoning before arriving at final conclusions? Given what we face, is that “automatic” and unquestioned response wise? Is the ideology more important than our longer term well-being?

Politics isn’t just about ­manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them. [6]

In the next installment of this series, we’ll examine more of Mr. Folks’ commonly-held positions to see what we can learn from the conservative’s perspective, and what those who share his viewpoint might learn from ours.

Sources:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?pagewanted=1; Why Won’t They Listen? [book review of]The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt – March 23, 2012 review by William Saletan
[2] http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/; The Backfire Effect by David McRaney – 06.10.11
[3] http://www.alternet.org/environment/154709/the_strange_conservative_brain:_3_reasons_republicans_refuse_to_accept_reality_about_global_warming; The Strange Conservative Brain: 3 Reasons Republicans Refuse to Accept Reality About Global Warming by Chris Mooney – 03.26.12
[4] Chris Mooney
[5], [6] William Saletan