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Peak Oil Matters

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


Tag: policy









At the risk of starting a cat fight where truth may too quickly become a casualty, why don’t we more forcefully challenge those who deny peak oil (and global warming) and who do so for reasons that generally ignore reality in favor of narrowly-defined interests? Those motivations continue reading…










An observation worth noting … and pondering, courtesy of Kate Sheppard: continue reading…









An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Gregor Macdonald+: continue reading…

coffins beach 030








An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Louis W. Allstadt * :

It will take masses of people demanding action from politicians to offset the huge amount of money that the industry is  continue reading…






This is the fifth in a series of posts [* links below] examining the latest entry straight from the playbook on peak oil denial—that seemingly never-ending attempt to ignore facts, mis-/under-inform readers, or create ever-rising levels of non-credible optimism.

[NOTE: Any quotes in this series are taken from the above-referenced Manhattan Institute paper unless otherwise noted. Links to sources/citations/footnotes within those quotes are located in the original report.]

This post focuses on general considerations about oil exploration and policy.

~ ~ ~

While admittedly impressive—and a genuine testament to ingenuity and technological progress—I’m hard-pressed to understand why devoting nearly 2000 words of this report to the minutiae of drilling enhancements should be extended/interpreted to suggest it’s another nail in peak oil’s coffin. A terrific recitation offered by Mr. Bryce, but … so what? Inventing more powerful vacuum cleaners to suck the last few pennies from the innards of everyone’s sofas is still about sucking those last few pennies here, there, and everywhere.

Perhaps a different strategy and focus would be worth considering? No one doubts there are great minds available to consider other options.

I can’t imagine anyone writing about or involved in energy would doubt the marvels of progress in the industry  as Mr. Bryce meticulously explained, (no matter which side of a debate they might be on). It is extraordinary! But we could just as easily discuss advances over the past century or so in medicine, manufacturing, computers … the list is a long one.

Progress does not mandate abandoning all other approaches. It’s essential that all other options be explored and embraced as needed—assuming progress for the greater good is the objective.

Given a hundred years’ lead time and countless billions in profits available for research and testing, I’d wager the renewables industry might conjure up an impressive innovation or two….Given what’s at stake, that actually might be worth testing out!

[E]very year, the U.S. oil and gas sector is spending more than $120 billion drilling new wells. Given that level of spending, the industry has huge incentives to improve its processes, hardware, training, and personnel.

Of course it does! Who doubts that? Doesn’t that apply to every business? But the obvious question is unchanged: Why go to such lengths and incredible expense, unless…?

Although ongoing innovation in the drilling industry is obvious, the ‘clean’ energy sector is the one that gets most of the attention from politicians, political appointees, and environmental groups.

Which politicians and appointees? All of them? Probably not too many Republicans in that group; but if we mention that, then the complaint loses some steam.

“Environmental groups” are focusing on clean energy? Really? Shocking! What’s that? The oil industry is focusing on oil and gas? Are you kidding? Politicians and appointees are giving those corporations most of their attention? Stop the presses!

Supporters’ instincts are to support who and what they believe in. Shocking! Still, it’s good every now and then to take stock and assess objectives balanced against means. Now and then, different paths are the only way to get “there.” Ideology at all costs would be a cute bumper sticker, but the “at all costs” factor carries a big downside.

All of these astounding investment numbers and complaints also obscure another point the author and his peers seem determined to skirt: the emphasis on renewables is an attempt to actually consider the facts below and above ground regarding our future supplies of finite energy resources and reserves.

Doesn’t every organization expect its leaders to make some prudent policy determinations and strategic decisions about the future by assessing what’s available to meet objectives? Shouldn’t even a minimal recognition that change and adaptation is the norm factor into planning? Given the evidence, how can these other factors be rationally ignored or trivialized any longer? I’ve said it before and say it again: Blind Faith is still and always a better rock band than business strategy.

Single-minded zeal is a hallmark of success, but so isn’t wisdom—and an ability/willingness to adapt as needed. (If not, that’s going to surprise the hell out of a lot of coaches and business leaders in every industry….)

Where’s the wisdom in continuing to shovel piles of money at the wealthiest corporations in this planet’s history so they can continue to be the wealthiest corporations for at least some years longer—consequences to the rest of us be damned? Finite still means finite; harder-to-come-by and more expensive, less efficient energy resources are still harder-to-come-by, more expensive, and less efficient; and oh by the way: more people around the globe are seeking to advance their societies just as we have.

How’s that math supposed to work out if we aren’t exploring all options and recognizing that some paths will inevitably lead us away from where we want to be?

Facts still suck! Perhaps one day (soon) these advocates of the Magic of Technology might devote some of their considerable and impressive talents to providing more information and resources to help our and their children with better and healthier environments—even if that removes a zero or two from the bottom line.

It’s a thought….

~ My Photo: Florida Keys – 02.22.05

* links to prior posts in this series:

long beach 04








The Great Debate revolves around the U.S. oil and gas industry’s new claim that we are entering a ‘new golden age of fossil fuels’ and those who counter that this will come at an increasing cost to the environment and the health of the people on this planet….

In simple terms, the warnings of ‘Peak Oil’ have been replaced by promises of abundance if petrochemical companies get digging and using new and more expensive techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground.

All of a sudden, H.K. Hubbert’s prediction and threat of Peak Oil – for America and the world – has been dumped as miners turn to tar sands and fracking to satiate our growing appetite for fossil fuels, not just in North America but in many places around the world….

The issue of fossil fuels versus a more sustainable future is an issue too big for company bosses and pliant politicians to decide.

There is a need for The Great Debate, an ongoing discussion about an issue that has the potential to bring so much change and affect us all. It should be one in which all parties are adequately informed about the issue. It should be one in which all factors are taken into account, not just profit, prices and economic growth. It should be one in which all sectors of the public have a chance to have their say. It should be one in which people from around the world get a chance to speak.

Who should join the debate? Not just the usual suspects. All stakeholders should have a place at the table. Scientists, experts, innovators, environmentalists, community leaders, anybody who feels they have something useful to contribute.

And what is the crux of the debate?

Are we looking at a ‘new golden era of fossil fuels’? Or should we be rushing to transition to cleaner energy?

An issue this important needs serious debate. An issue this important should not be left to a handful of people with the wrong motives at heart.

Right now, those pursuing the new golden age for fossil fuels are running with the ball. It is the appropriate moment to shout – ‘Time out.’ We need to rethink the rules. [1]

… we need to do more than come up with new technology to solve the problems we now face. We also need to rethink and remake our entire infrastructure, our economics, and even our culture. This isn’t just a project for a crack team of scientists. This one is going to need the help of every one of us. [2]

And some past comments from me, echoing a primary theme and purpose:

If we’re not starting to think long term about what we’ll be doing and how we’ll be doing it, the rest of our lives, our children’s lives, and our grandchildren’s as well will be a succession of mini-crises that are never solved, with an election turnover every two years that guarantees all the wrong kinds of change (stagnation is more likely). It’s hard to see how that is going to keep working well for us. Is that the best we can now hope for? Are we willing to endure that anxiety and pain rather than face the uncertainty of structuring great change? [3]

We’ve achieved many great things, and our work is not done. It’s important to understand, however, that what we will accomplish and innovate in the years to come will arise with and from different resources and under different economic conditions. The monumental transitions which will take place will better serve us all if we take part now in understanding the challenges we face, the options and alternatives available to us, and appreciate what today’s decisions mean for us all in the days to come. We’re not powerless nor are we dependent solely upon others to make those choices for us. [4]

We can attempt to be ahead of those changes by understanding and then planning as best we can, or we can instead take our chances that the changes and adaptations may not be all that bad after all. That’s a dicey approach in dealing with our—and our children’s—futures. [5]

What will our future be? What’s the Plan? The choice remains ours.

* My Photo: Long Beach sunrise, Rockport MA – 08.06.10


[1]; [re-post from Transition Voice at:; Starting the Great Debate by the Earth Tribe Team – 07.14.12
[2] Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century; Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder; Wiley Publisher, 2008 – p. 188
[3]; Peak Oil & A New Direction (Pt 3) – 01.24.11
[4]; Peak Oil & A New Direction (Pt 7) – 03.31.11
[5] Ibid.

[NOTE: This series spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here, addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]


“Clearly, we are entering into a prolonged period of profound change, an era of “unintended consequences.” The changes that are coming our way will profoundly alter not only how we live, but even how we conceive of ourselves, how we think about the world, and how we see the future. And not only will we have to learn to cope with severe disruption to our conception of ourselves and the world, but we will also need to forge a new vision of the world that we can live by. Where will that vision come from?” [1]

Well, at the risk of excessive and perhaps even off-the-chart arrogance, I’m thinking that someone has to start the broader discussion, so why not me, now? Before we can provide answers and solutions, we must first understand what is at stake and at least begin the dialogue. Since someone has to take the first step, I’m volunteering.

To that end, I thought it might make sense to provide a template for where I envision going with this discussion about Peak Oil and our future. I won’t pretend that every answer is the solution, but we have to begin somewhere….

“[I]n the tradition of Albert Einstein amongst others … it frequently is not the answer but the question that poses the deepest insight.” [2]

So here are my table-setters:

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

What do you want for yourself, now and in the days to come?

What kind of life are you looking forward to living, whether you are a recent graduate about to enter the workforce, an established professional, or are now in your later years?

What kind of community do you want to live in?

What kind of environment do you truly believe is most conducive to a life of opportunity and hoped-for prosperity?

Will you choose to fear change, or welcome it as an opportunity for you to play a greater part in using it for your own benefit as well as for others—in whatever manner offers the most meaning for you?

Do you want to feel as though you have a voice in what your life can and will be, or is being entirely at the mercy of others a better way to live?

Do you still harbor at least a bit of hope for better days to come?

What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

What answers will we provide for them in years to come when they are mired in the difficulties and challenges brought about by an ever- declining supply of fossil fuels and are wondering why we were so short-sighted and narrow-minded when we had so many opportunities to do more?


I hope to provide some answers or at least some ideas for consideration, opening the door to the dialogue we must engage in soon. Others are more than welcome to join in. The lengthy, complex, and at times contentious discussions must begin.

The problems will not solve themselves. The scope and breadth of the impact which declining oil production will have on all of us necessitates that as many of us as possible become involved in whatever manner we feel most comfortable. We each have a voice and a contribution to offer. There is little doubt that achieving some semblance of national consensus on where we go, how we get there, and what we each and all must do is highly idealistic and in the moment, seemingly impossible to achieve and attain, but it is where we must eventually be.

Educating ourselves is step one, as I’ve previously noted (here).

“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”
— attributed to Eldridge Cleaver, among others

“The standard response is that people are busy, and I get that. But as Isaac Chotiner persuasively argued a while back, ‘[W]hen you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world….Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.’” [3]

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, but the perpetual human predicament is that the answer soon poses its own problems.” (Sydney J. Harris)

It’s easy to see that both variations of the theme apply. There are no clear-cut solutions to challenges of this magnitude that will not create a not-always-beneficial domino effect across the industrial and political landscapes. But ignoring it all is no solution at all. Corny as it may be, we are the change, but spouting the slogan and doing nothing about it avails us little.

More importantly, we must move beyond just an awareness of key facts and considerations on these crucial topics and take it all one step further by understanding the philosophy behind the issues and proposals. Just as essential, we must then understand the (sound-bite free) consequences—the real ones … the ones based on facts, the ones that will affect you and your significant other and your children and your family and neighbors and community. As this series evolves, I’ll soon discuss ideas about exactly how we can become more involved and develop the skills we need to participate.

We can either choose to make our contribution—whatever it may be (no rules about that)—or we instead accept that others are going to make decisions for us—decisions they may or may not be qualified to make; decisions which they may or may not make with our best interests at heart. There’s a lot of that going around these days….

But as I have noted, that part of the process will only carry us so far if our leaders don’t meet us on that path by being honest with us, and there are too many indications that that is not the case. To that end, I then discussed in a 4-part series (first one here) the importance of sound, ethical, honest leadership … a likelihood which seems to recede from possibility a bit more each day.

The recent near-shutdown of our government highlights the intense and acrimonious partisanship which sadly dominates our public and political discourse. Can anyone confess to being happy with this? Are we—should we—be content to let the loudest (and too often, the most narrow-minded partisans) speak for us and thus dictate public policy which impacts the great majority of us far more than it does the Warren Buffetts and the Bill Gates and the Koch brothers of this world? Have we indeed become completely powerless in the face of the moneyed interests which too often and in too many ways dictate how “our” elected officials act? Is nonsense like Senator Jon Kyl’s recent, intentional lying about Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion practice so as to bolster (?!) his position what we must now meekly accept? Have “leaders” become that arrogant and uncaring about us? Is there any integrity left?

Isn’t there still a place for your viewpoint? Do you still want that opportunity?

Let’s give leaders our best so that their efforts merit the highest levels of respect and cooperation. While we’re at it, let’s be clearer about which values really matter the most. Can we be more inclusive than we now demonstrate? The more of us working together for the same purposes, sharing the same objectives and values, with same ends and purposes and aspirations to guide our efforts, the better off we’ll all be! Smaller groups sharing more limited and narrow-minded perspectives and values are creating only more strife. Given the challenges we’ll soon be facing, that’s not our highest and best strategy. (The more intent one is on preserving one’s perspective and viewpoint against all contrary opinions, no matter how valid they may be, the more likely that conflict is the only outcome. Is that really the best strategy?)

Are we so unwilling and insecure and frightened by what we are now dealing with that we simply cannot bring ourselves to admit that others may have better ideas and more knowledge and truth and facts? Are we instead willing to risk perpetual discord no matter what harm that causes us and others? Are we willing to decline the needed efforts and expertise of others because their personal lifestyle choices or nationalities or private religious beliefs or reasoned but contradictory political philosophies may not mesh neatly with our own? Seriously? At what point do we come to realize that narrow-minded ignorance is not the best face for us to put forth on the world stage?

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

We need a better vision to guide us. And for those looking for reasons why a smaller role for government is what’s called for, I’ll save you the time and tell you this is not the place to be. As the main theme of this series expands in the months to come, I’ll discuss in greater detail why the libertarian/conservative-inspired vision of small government is completely inappropriate a strategy to pursue in light of the challenges we face. (How a bigger role for a better government with honest leadership takes shape will determine whether this ideology is valuable and a necessary pursuit.) Let’s begin with all that needs to be done, and then decide what role the various players will be required to fulfill.

Once I resume this series*, I’ll be discussing a variety of issues pertinent to the Peak Oil challenges we’ll soon be facing. The basic premise as I move forward from that point will be a simple one: local/regional efforts, production, and governance will become critically important—both necessitating and providing opportunities for greater involvement on our parts—but federal guidelines, contribution, and vision must provide the framework for those efforts.

The policies and guidelines supporting those objectives will require a focus on such policies and principles as smart growth, more transportation options, and more research and implementation of alternative energy strategies—while educating ourselves and others of the great changes that will and must take place across all levels of industry, production, commerce, and lifestyles. To that end, there will be a great deal of discussion on greater citizen involvement, energy and industrial policies, the political/partisan elements which too often hinder and harm much more than they assist, and a more detailed role for local governments.

I hope you’ll find the offerings and discussions meaningful, if not provocative and helpful as a starting point for what we all need to do.

We’re so much better than what we’re demonstrating. We need to show it, because we are going to need to be better in the years to come.

“The point is that the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology.” [4]

Crisis, or opportunity?

* I expect the next post in this series will be published on May 26. Meanwhile, enjoy the intervening posts, as part of my accompanying series about the impact of Peak Oil. I’ll continue to offer similar posts every now and then in the months to come. (I’m taking this detour because I will be away most of next week—along with my wife and others—attending and celebrating my lovely daughter’s college graduation in New Orleans.)


[1]; The evolution of Transition in the U.S. Published by Transition Times on Fri, 11/26/2010 [Original article: by Michael Brownlee]
[2]; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011
[3]; PONDERING THE ‘HOW DUMB ARE WE?’ QUESTION by Steve Benen – March 21, 2011 [original quote, here:]
[4]; Why Bill Gates is wrong by Grist – 02/17/2010