[NOTE: This is the latest installment in an ongoing PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find the discussion of these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

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“‘By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.’” [Source: PeakOil.net]
“While there are two ‘coulds’ in that statement, the mere possibility that such an imminent arrival and massive shortfall could be true should give every prudent adult a few second thoughts about what the future may hold. If surplus production capacity disappears in just a couple of years, there’s an entire world of planning that should really take place beforehand at the international, national, community and personal levels.” [1]

That statement needs little embellishment or explanation. It goes to the very heart of my reasoning for developing this lengthy series, and coming from someone like Chris Martenson, who has earned legitimate credibility, I can only hope that the underlying message will soon resonate with many more officials and citizens.

Several weeks ago, in the course of gathering my notes and writing rough drafts of this and my last post, I came across yet another well-reasoned and pointed discussion from Lindsay Curren at Transition Voice (here). In expressing her own concerns about the lack of leadership on the subject of Peak Oil, she offered this:

“In spite of the difficulties President Obama faces in navigating this minefield, he does have one trump card that can turn his prospects around. He just doesn’t know it yet….
“Like other presidents, Obama has reminded the American people that oil is a finite resource, that it’s running out and can’t be replaced. He’s talked about how conservation and a shift to a broad portfolio of renewables and mass transit can, at the very least, shift the direction while also creating jobs. In essence, he’s hinted at America 2.0, the lower-energy version.
“What he hasn’t done is come out boldly and say the words ‘peak oil,’ explaining to the American people that this is the end of the era of cheap energy for good.”

Chris Martenson adds this, from the same article cited above:

“The impact of peak oil on markets, lifestyles, and even national solvency deserves our very highest attention – but, it turns out, some important players seem to be paying no attention at all.”

What Chris suspected, and as was confirmed in a presentation (by Rick Munroe) cited in his article, is that while our military (among other nations’) is definitely concerned about Peak Oil and its impact on the operations and responsibilities it’s currently charged with and will likely face in years to come, nothing is being done at the national political level. (Munroe himself, in another article, offered this: “This author has yet to encounter a study conducted by a military analyst which dismisses peak oil as an implausible, alarmist issue.”) There are no governmental departments and no bureaucrats who’ve been assigned the task of figuring out anything about what we should do.

Acknowledging as have others that electoral politics hampers our officials from dealing with long-range planning and problems, Martenson added:

“So I came away from the ASPO conference pondering two completely polar trends that combined to create a lasting discomfort. On the one hand we have more and more private and military organizations coming to the conclusion that peak oil is imminent and will change everything, possibly disruptively. On the other hand there appear to be no plans within the civilian government to deal with a liquid fuels emergency.”

Uh-oh! We’re already years behind in establishing anything approximating even a minimal understanding of the variety of challenges and impacts that will arise from declining oil production. That energy resource so thoroughly permeates just about everything we own, use, or do that it is a nearly incomprehensible task to imagine how much will have to change when we’re faced with less oil for everything. So not planning or even discussing it will help us … how? And Republican budget proposals to cut even more funding for research and innovation so that the Koch brothers et al pay even less in taxes helps us … how?

A few months ago, I wrote this, and my assessment has not changed:

“Plans are in order—lots of plans. This is no quick-fix modern day dilemma, and it is most definitely not a challenge that we can rely on the “market” to solve on its own. What remains just as doubtful is the ability of our national government to lead the way, and that’s a problem. I’m not sure right now that Congress could easily, quickly, or even by majority vote declare December 25 as Christmas Day. Certainly they couldn’t do so if President Obama offered that up. This is not encouraging, and it’s even less so when we have a more-than-insignificant number of “leaders” who cannot seem to accept anything that even remotely resembles scientific fact.
“We’re going to need a national government with national leaders who can … you know, lead; people who actually understand what is at stake, have some kind of vision for what we need to do now and going forward, are willing to articulate that to the citizenry, can explain what we all have to contribute, and are willing to make the tough choices devoid of ideology. Declining oil production has absolutely nothing to do with conservative or liberal philosophies of governance.
“We’ve got an entire industrial and commercial infrastructure that is going to have to be modified, re-built, or in many cases created anew to allow us to move forward with something other than oil to power it. There’s no pretending otherwise, and waiting is simply not an option any more—not that it has been.”

If we can’t count on our leadership to so much as give voice to the problem’s name, then planning and implementing is rendered all the more difficult. My effort—to offer some semblance of comprehensive proposals and a vision for how we might address this, as inconsequential as the attempt might be—will at least be a start. But Lindsay Curren is absolutely correct: the President has to start telling us the truth about this. It is beyond inconceivable to think that he, or any of his recent predecessors, knows absolutely nothing about Peak Oil! This is not a tiny little problem that just crossed someone’s radar screen for the first time yesterday afternoon.

The truth will also include clarifying a bit of disingenuous fact-telling called out by Gregor Macdonald in a piece he wrote at the beginning of the year:

“One of the methods EIA Washington and IEA Paris have increasingly relied on in recent years to obscure the very serious and now very real problem of oil depletion is to include biofuels and natural gas liquids in the accounting of global oil production. The technique that both agencies use to conduct this obfuscation is a familiar one, in which the key information is aggregated (buried) into a much larger barrage of data and presentations….
“In order to rebut this Secrecy by Complexity it’s the obligation of responsible energy analysts to explain the falsehood of adding biofuels and natural gas liquids to measures of oil production. The reason is simple: natural gas liquids are not oil, and they contain only 65% of the BTU of oil. Worse, biofuels are barely an energy source themselves and are the product of a conversion process of other energy inputs. Accordingly, the world is not producing 84, or 85, or 86 million barrels of oil per day. Nor will the depletion of oil be solved by the production of biofuels in the future.
“When the EIA in Washington falsely composes such forecasts, aggregating future natural gas liquids and ethanol into a supply picture for ‘oil’ as they do each year in The Annual Energy Outlook, this disables the public’s ability to accurately understand the true outlook for global oil supply.”

We’re already burdened enough by the deniers and certain groups of elected officials for whom disclosing facts and engaging in truth-telling are onerous exercises to be avoided as often as possible. We don’t need this Administration to add to the confusion.

Expanding on a quote I recently offered from Ezra Klein, his observation seems especially apropos in this context:

“In order for most Americans to tune out of politics and not get ripped off due to their inattention, politicians need to be acting in an honorable, ‘non-self-interested’ way.
“This is why things like partisanship, evidence of corruption, the public understanding of earmarks and so forth are so damaging. They’re signs that the process in Washington is broken. As Hibbing and Theiss-Morse note, most Americans don’t have terribly strong views on policy and figure people of good faith could fairly easily come to agreement on the nation’s major problems. When that’s not happening, people get scared. They’re not paying attention, and they’ve certainly not hired high- powered lobbyists to butter up members of Congress with attention and campaign contributions. But they know others have. So they worry — rightly — that their disinterest leaves them holding the bag for the favors that powerful interests are getting. And the worse the process looks from afar, the more they figure they’re right to be worried.” [2]

It’s not necessary to belabor the point that no one wants any more problems to contend with. Certainly problems that go to the very core of what enables all of us to lead the lives we do, produce the goods and services we offer, transport ourselves in the variety of ways we do, and enjoy the benefits of our ingenuity and industry are major challenges no one has the stomach to deal with voluntarily. But deal with it we must. The problems and restrictions—which a declining oil supply is going to impose on us (no matter how fiercely we choose to deny or ignore it)—call on each of us to wade in and play a role in coming to terms with Peak Oil.

As I’ve urged in recent posts, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and find a place where we can participate and contribute to the massive undertakings needed to adapt to a future with different sources of energy. But we cannot do it alone, and our efforts may prove to be nothing but futile if we aren’t getting direction and the truth from our leaders. We can then all find a place in the big middle to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

“When we begin to tell the truth we can tell better stories than anyone who has to tell lies. It is a story about heroism, and responding to dreadful odds, about courage and self-sacrifice for the betterment of the future – all the things that everyone actually gives a damn about that are never asked of them. It is so easy to say that other people are fools when those people have never heard anything but lies and they have never been asked to be more than consumers. Time to ask. Time to tell the truth.” [3]

Amen to that.

More to come….

[NOTE: Owing to out-of-town commitments, this will be my only post of the week.]

Sources:

[1] http://seekingalpha.com/article/230013-future-chaos-there-is-no-plan-b-for-oil; Future Chaos: There Is No ‘Plan B’ For Oil by Chris Martenson – October 14, 2010 [citing a statement in the 2010 Joint Operating Environment report, which provides information designed to assist U.S. military officials in planning future exercise and endeavors.]
[2] http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/americans_dont_like_politics_-.html; Americans don’t like politics — and that matters by Ezra Klein – February 25, 2011
[3] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-03/election-over-now-what-do-we-do-all-fear; The election is over – Now what do we do with all the fear? by Sharon Astyk – November 3, 2010