| Various "Peak Oil" points of view |
how you see the problem depends upon your POV
What you see (or think you see) depends upon where you sit. By that I mean people have a bias and look at a problem such as "Peak Oil" thru a prism that illuminates only one small aspect of the overall problem. The ancient story of the "Blind Men and the Elephant" is an appropriate "Peak Oil" parable that illustrates that people tend to see only a tiny portion of whole picture then extrapolate dogma solutions based on a limited understanding.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall,
The second feeling of the tusk, cried: "Ho! what have we here,
The third approached the animal, and, happening to take,
The fourth reached out his eager hand, and felt about the knee:
The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said; "E'en the blindest man
The sixth no sooner had begun, about the beast to grope,
And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long,
So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
A fable that was told in India many years ago is a good warning about how various points of view can lead to some serious misinterpretations.
Because "Peak Oil" is not yet a mainstream concern (NOTE my cynical benchmark for being mainstream is Oprah and various "A and B list Hollywood celebrities" will be championing the cause, and pop stars will donate time to perform benefit concerts), and since I've pondering the topic for years, thought I'd share my own observations (using broad brush strokes) about how various groups frame this daunting topic.
Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
Energy in physics is defined as the ability to do work; and energy is the foundation on which modern civilization is built. To begin to appreciate the concept of energy and point out how little we actually pay to consume natural resources which allow an unimaginable amount of work to be done, just imagine how many people it would take, or how long it would take to push one person sitting in the drivers seat of a Hummer from say downtown San Diego to downtown Los Angeles. What most consumers never ponder is it takes all kind of natural resources to make and ship consumer goods, not to mention building roads, shopping malls and homes. Wal Mart with its tagline "Always Low Prices" struck a sort of spiritual cord with consumers who sought solace by buying inexpensive foreign made products. Hidden from view or rather not accounted for in the price we pay for inexpensive foreign made consumer products at the checkout counter is a true price tag attached to the work done by natural resources such as crude.
Taking it a step further now lets consider the environmental costs of disposal, which are never included in the cost of a product at the checkout counter. To get an idea of how important it is to consider the cost of disposal, lets take the Hummer out again, but this time allow the person to stop at a drive thur and pick up an order of their favorite food. In this thought experiment, only consumption is allow within the limited confines of the Hummer; in other words the person isn't allow to leave or throw any trash out the window, such as the paper bag in which fast food was contained. This is because once a fast food order is paid for at the checkout window, we see from the menu that the cost does not explicitly state that it include the environmental costs of disposal (people just assume it does). Now lets make this thought experiment really perverse by imagining this going on for a month or so. See where this is going, at the end of the month the individual stuck in the Hummer will literally be knee deep in shit! Kinda twisted I know, but hopefully ya get the point how important it is to include the cost of disposal.
Like lab mice in a perverse experiment, consumers have been conditioned using mass media advertising to use "Subprime Thinking" in economic decision-making; in other words seek instant gratification and ignore thinking about long term consequences! For example in the subprime loan fiasco which was the latest economic bubble to bust, people IMHO made imprudent economic decisions based greed and fear. In other words people wanted $$$ right away for instant gratification, and feared if they didn't jump on the subprime loan band wagon, they would miss out on the party. I'm not a trained economist or physiologist but think it would not be too hard to write a convincing PhD thesis which shows that greed and fear could explain why consumers were caught up in the dot com bubble of the late 1990's as well as the Dutch tulip mania which happened back in the 1630's.
IMHO consumers are like blind men when dealing with "Peak Oil," because as long as individual consumers are comfortable they do not understand or seem to care that a consumer based economy is unsustainable.
Economics is the study of how people choose to use resources. The seminal work in economics is Scottish economist Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (published in 1776). Writing during the earliest phases of the industrial revolution and the start of the American revolution, Smith's thesis was: the less government interferes with business the more prosperous the nation will be. For two hundred years Smith's simple premise that every human being is motivated by self-interest, and "Division of Labour" have been the foundation on which the modern consumer economy was built.
The problem with looking at "Peak Oil" using traditional economics is that it does not take into account the idea of a limit. At the time Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nation, natural resources seemed limitless and mankind had very little effect on the global environment.
This is a video response to The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See (part 2 of 8).
People might not like to think about it, but human beings on the planet earth are akin to a bacteria sample in a petri dish; essentially both are closed systems with finite resources. FYI the Hubbert Curve is based on the classic logistic curve which was discovered by Verhulst in 1845 in connection with population studies.
The current capitalist system that is practiced in the United States and else where in the developed world makes one big assumption: the economy will always grow! In a pre "Peak Oil" world in order to finance growth in a capitalist economic system, banks it seems with tacit approval from the government literally make money out of thin air using an accounting concept called a "fractional reserve" system. To see how a "fractional reserve" system creates money, we first must understand that modern accounting uses double entry book keeping where liabilities and assets are kept exactly equal. A bank's liabilities are its deposits. Its assets are its loans (including bonds which are loans to government) and its cash reserves.
A 1969 court case that took place in Minnesota "First National Bank of Montgomery vs. Daly" shed light on how a "fractional reserve" system works. Daly argued that the bank could not foreclose on his house as the bank did not give him money to finance his home. Associate Justice Bill Drexler, present and keeping order in the case, was pretty much uninterested in the case until the bank's president L.V. Morgan, made a startling admission on the stand. Morgan admitted that the bank created money "out of thin air" and that it was a standard banking practice.
The way fractional-reserve banking works is that the bank essentially borrows from its depositors to offer loans to people who apply for them. If you bank in an institution which uses the fractional-reserve system, this means that you are indirectly funding the loans and investments made by the bank; so if you bank at the same institution which administers your mortgage, you could say that you loaned yourself some of the money! The advantage to fractional-reserve banking is that it allows banks to generate income on the funds deposited. Every time your bank borrows from you to make a loan to another bank customer, it gets to charge interest on the loan, pocketing the interest. If you have money in an account which generates interest, you get a cut of the interest charged on loans, but the bank still pockets a significant portion of it. The disadvantage of fractional-reserve banking is that it puts banks in an awkward position when it comes to liquidity; in other words when people loose faith in a particular bank and decide to withdraw all their money. The simple formula used to calculate the maximum amount of money that can be lent out is:
Thus far we in the west have greatly benefitted from using a "fractional reserve" system because it allowed the economy to grow exponentially in great part because of the ease of creating money which allows people to buy natural resources such as crude. In math a one-way function is sometimes called a trap-door function. Like falling through a trap-door, a one-way function is a process that is easy to do, but very difficult or even impossible to undo. Thus far the capitalist economy has thrived because like a trap door function, a "fractional reserve" system was easy to implement; the big question is what will happen to civilization when the economy is forced to contract because of declining natural resources. In all the capitalist economics models I have seen it is dogma that growth will occur; in other words there is no capitalist economic model that predicts what will happen when a forced negative economy happens which is something akin to the math concept of negative numbers.
In traditional economics there is a dogmatic belief that when a product become scarce there will be market players who will start to produce the product that is in demand or find some kind of substitute. In the case of "Peak Oil" there will be some kind of substitution for light sweet crude oil, but the alternatives will not be as cheap (tar sands from Canada can be processed into gasoline, but the refining process requires lots of water and natural gas to first separate the oil from the sand). Likewise synthetic substitutes for crude, will never be as inexpensive as extracting naturally occurring crude.
In a post "Peak Oil" world people are going to have to accept some kind of accurate price mechanism that reflects the true value of the work done by natural resources in order to ration a dwindling resource. Up till this point in time, consumers and industrial producers have not taken into account the actual economic benefit costs of natural resources.
IMHO economist are like blind men when dealing with "Peak Oil," because traditional economics has a dogmatic belief the market will produce more oil or find substitutions for crude oil. What economist lack an appreciation for is: the unique physical, chemical and geological properties of crude; and in general don't integrate the concept of a "limit" which is a key idea in math and physics, in economic theory.
Just as theologians are to evangelicals, ecologists are to environmentalist. I am not trying to be pejorative, but the truth is environmentalism like the evangelical movement both seek to influence the political process by lobbying, activism and education in order to protect an aspect human rights. The only major difference is environmentalist consider natural resources and thus far evangelicals do not. The foot soldiers in both causes are very passionate, but often lack a technical understanding of the subject and never seem to reconcile the diametrically opposed schools of thought. In the evangelical movement this extreme is seen when an abortion opponent justifies killing someone who performs abortion. In the environmental movement an example of an environmental hypocrite might be Al Gore, who owns a home which consumers 20 times more electricity than the average American home.
The start of the modern environmental movement began in the 1960's with the Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. It was around this time English atmospheric scientist James Lovelock proposed the "Gaia hypothesis" which proposes that our planet functions as a single organism that maintains conditions necessary for its survival. Just as there are different religious theologies, there exists a spectrum of environmental ideologies.
Global warming activists narrowly focus their attention on the devastating consequences of the biosphere and its effects on humans because they have been conditioned by the popular media and have a faith of sorts in the "Gaia hypothesis." To many environmentalist "Peak Oil" is a trivial concern, or many are not even aware of the issue. Of those environmentalists who are aware of the "Peak Oil" issue, very few recognize the linkage between "Global Warming" and "Peak Oil." Simply stated the common thread between "Global Warming" and "Peak Oil" is the consumption of ancient fossil fuels. Looking at various data over the years IMHO both the phenomena are real, but in the short term "Peak Oil" will have a greater effect on mankind because of economic and thus social dislocations. In the long run global warming will cause the sea level to rise, but it will also dramatically change the climate by drastically altering air currents in the atmospheres. Altering the air currents will change traditional storm tracks, so some areas like the Western US, will not get as much rain and thus experience severe droughts.
IMHO environmentalist are like blind men when dealing with "Peak Oil," because they don't understand the magnitude of the "Peak Oil" problem; nor do they have and appreciation how important economics (or rather the bottom line) and instant gratification plays the major decision role in how consumers and industry view natural resources.
Evangelicals are a social and political force to be reckoned with in the United States, BUT one of the most difficult things to establish about evangelicals is just how many of them are there, since some believers might or might not agree with a pollsters definition. Exact numbers are hard to pin down, BUT a common trait among various subgroups of evangelicals is a selective literal reading of the bible. For example many evangelicals who are socially conservative adhere to a "Young Earth Creationism" (YEC) doctrine which literal interprets the Genesis creation account as factual; in other words Heaven, Earth, and life on Earth were created by a direct act of God dating between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Then there are some evangelicals who have a gut feeling that homosexual abortionists are the devils own, but ignore teachings in the bible such as caring for the poor (which is what I get out of reading "The Sermon on the Mount"). Many evangelicals who protest at abortion clinics and gay pride parades also seem to forget the advise of Jesus to "Love your enemies" Matt. 5:44. This inconsistent or selective religious rhetoric even applies to President Bush who ignored the advise in Matt. 5:39 which states "turn the other cheek" when it came to dealing with Bin Laden who BTW is another example of a religious fanatic that justifies violence in the name of defending god and a religion.
Don't know about you, but with all the violence over the years in the name of god, it sure seems inconsistent to claim that FILL IN THE BLANK religion is peaceful. Ignoring that logical inconsistency, outspoken hypocrites of faith amuse me, especially when they try and reconcile their dogmatic beliefs based on selective literal readings of the bible with scientific evidence. Here I am referring to the debate of creation vs evolution which has played out in US court rooms over the years. The first major legal battle was the "Scopes Trial" in 1925 and later the "Intelligent Design Trial" in which Judge John Jones (appointed by President Bush and nominated by Republican Senator Rick Santorum) issued a 139-page verdict supporting the teaching of evolution and characterizing intelligent design as a religious idea with no place in the science classroom.
The difference between evangelicals, or for that matter religious fundamentalists of any faith, who take comfort in a literal reading of the a religious text (i.e. if its in the bible, it must be true therefore end of discussion), and the scientific method is the latter involves some kind of reality check with data.
If evangelicals reject evolution, then IMHO "Peak Oil" is another phenomena that they would find unpalatable. Since many evangelicals interpret the bible as being a factual measure of time and scientific evidence states oil is millions of years old then "Peak Oil" can't be real because the age of oil directly contradicts dogmatic beliefs that the earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. In addition the concept of "Peak Oil" is inconsistent in some evangelical segments because there is the belief that mankind was given dominion over the earth by god.
Believe it or not some evangelicals interpret this passage as being: since god gave mankind the planet, people can do whatever they damn well please and god will fix things.
Just as some evangelicals are trying to discredit the scientific theory of evolution and replace it with a theory that conforms to their world view, some evangelicals are trying to advance an alternative interpretation called the "Abiotic theory of the origin of oil." In many ways the abiotic theory of oil parallels the creationism line of thought in that things just appear; whereas the biogenic formation of petroleum parallels evolution. FYI the scientific consensus is oil is the product of compression and heating of ancient organic materials (i.e. kerogen) over geological time.
If the abiotic theory were true this would mean that the earth is constantly producing an endless supply of oil which would be good for the oil industry because "reserve replacement" is what is needed to keep the business on going. Pragmatic questions I have about the abiotic theory include what are the proven reserves (basically how much of the stuff is there), what is the flow-rate (this is akin to asking how big a tap is there to get the stuff out of the ground), and what is cost per barrel of abiotic oil (basically I'd want to know is the stuff price competitive with conventional oil). So far there is no commercial production of abiotic oil from Russia (where the theory abiotic oil originated) or anywhere else in the literature I have read. Given record high global oil demand and record high oil prices, if abiotic oil does exist then why isn't it on the market?
Personally I find the concept of abiotic oil as being ludicrous because the real world geological data does not support that unorthodox theology; likewise I dismiss various prosperity gospel interpretations because in the bible there are several explicit examples of Jesus being anti-bling (in other words non materialistic). The prime example of Jesus being anti-bling is the only story in the bible that shows him getting physical, and that is when he confronts the money changers in the temple. Another anti-bling example that comes to mind is when he enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-38, John 12:12-15) on a humble ass.
Does God Want You To Be Rich? Personally I have an issue with the "Prosperity gospel" interpretation, because there are many passages in the bible that warn against conspicuous consumption.
IMHO people of deep and abiding faith are like blind men when dealing with "Peak Oil," because these individuals have little or no appreciation for the scientific method or are fluent in mathematics (which is the language of science).
Disclaimer: thought I'd quote various passages from the bible because it seems to be the preferred method of evangelicals to support a position. If I misquoted parts of the bible or used unfamiliar logic in this critique; blame almighty Google (for the former) and my parochial school education which left me with a somewhat perverse sense of humor (for the latter).
"Poly" is the Greek prefix meaning "many" and "ticks" referring to some kind of blood sucking creature, is an ironic metaphor for the field in which politicians play...
The problem with politicians is too often they have no understanding of science or economics and lack a sense of history. Then these uninformed politicians try and regulate the system with idiotic laws, and what results is disaster. One measure that shows many politicians utter lack of understanding of science and economics with respect to "Peak Oil" is when the The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation (324-84 vote) on May 20, 2008 allowing the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices.
Not all politicians are worthless dumbshits, it just seems like 99.9% of them are clueless and lack any leadership skills when it comes to energy issues. The notable exception is President Jimmy Carter who told Americans in a nationally televised address: "The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them." The day after the speech President Carter was attacked by many in the general public, political pundits and politicians both Republicans and Democrats alike. For speaking the truth Carter was not re-elected; which basically was a case of the American public shooting the messenger. The reason the United States and the world did not face a continued energy crisis into the 1980's as President Carter had spoken about, can be explained by geo-politics and a serendipitous fact that there were known reserves in the right place at the right time.
While Carter's legacy as a president is perhaps less than stellar, his 1977 address to the nation on energy illustrates he had an amazing understanding of the oil issue. Just imagine what might have been if the American public took up the long term challenge and shown global leadership on developing and deploying technology related to energy efficiency and alternative energy.
To show why the United States dodged the bullet in the 1980's we'll need to start with a brief history lesson. Prior to World War II, the United States was an energy superpower, and as a matter of fact it was the USA that started the age of oil. As luck would have it the USA was blessed at having the right combination of raw natural resources, an open and somewhat transparent political system, an economic system more or less based on free market principals with defined legal guidelines, many educational institutions who openly embraced the scientific method and a culture of risk taking. By merging these ingredients The United States become the world's first nation that was worthy of the title "Global Superpower" that had at its foundation a vibrant manufacturing sector, flexible financial system, and could rely on the industrial military complex for protection. On the other side of the world, the USSR by the law of averages also had enormous energy reserves and used its energy wealth to become a military superpower after World War II. The major difference is the USSR had a command economy with poor management skills so it did not develop a manufacturing sector or an economy befitting a true superpower.
Since oil is a finite natural resource, it was inevitable that the United States would reach "Peak Oil" which history has show to be around 1972 in the lower 48 states. The reason the United States got a reprieve from energy declines in the 1980's is it was able to import oil from new oil fields: the north slope in alaska, the north sea and most importantly Saudi Arabia which had the largest known oil reserves but prior to the 1980's was not that big a producer.
Fade away and cut to another scene: ever heard of Afghanistan? Well that little piece of land has been at the center of a political tug of war even before the time of Ghengis Khan. Back in 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to prop up a puppet government. The fly in the ointment is the Soviets didn't fully appreciate Afghanistan has a strong tribal or Muslim traditions. The religious fervor of the Mujahideen is akin to Evangelicals in the USA; only more so!
Few people realize this but prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Peace Corps had a presence in country to try and seed that part of the world with western ideals. Just thought I'd mention that fact because with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 gun ho political leaders, forget or never realize in the first place that to control an area requires a carrot and a stick. IMHO president Bush and the Muslim religious extremist are basically two sides of the same coin, because they are hypocrites of faith who pervert their religion to rationalize using sticks and never seem to consider using carrots.
Getting back to the topic of how the United States dodged the oil depletion bullet in the 1980's; after the invasion direct military involvement by the USA on behalf of Afghanistan against the Soviets might have lead to a battle using nuclear weapons, so the war by proxy was fought on many different fronts. On the military front it is well known that the CIA funded the Mujahideen. But what is not so well documented is how the CIA who most likely had very active operations in Saudi Arabia, encouraged its rulers to really open up the taps. The logic is if Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil then this would solve two problems the United States faced: a shortage of oil at home and a way to damage the economy of the USSR. During the 1970's oil exports were the major driver of Soviet economy and it used its energy wealth to become a military superpower. By encouraging Saudi Arabia to open up its taps and flood the market with oil, the CIA was able to fight a war against the Soviets in effect using other people's money and boost the standard of living for consumers in the United States. The reasons Saudi Arabia would be receptive to pumping lots of oil is because it was a way to support the Mujahideen (which beget the Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden) and a way they could economically cripple the Soviets.
Three decades after President Carter's speech, Carter's words sound more like a prophesy than a shrill speech of a desperate politician looking for an issue to champion. As for President Bush, IMHO he has for the most part shown he no brains when it comes to energy or geopolitics. During the era of Bush Administration, political leadership in the energy arena is being championed at the national level by Representative Roscoe Bartlett and Rep. Tom Udall, who established the Congressional "Peak Oil" Caucus.
The One Percent Doctrine, refers to an operating principle Vice President Dick Cheney articulated shortly after 9/11 regarding terrorism, "if there was even a 1 percent chance... the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." Looking at the known data on oil production, I have to wonder why the Bush administration does not take more active action to suppress the demand side of the equation after President Bush said; "We have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."
"Peak Oil" in many ways is like the "War on drugs" in that politicians from the United States think the problem is one that could be fought on the outside; basically politicians seem to concentrate on the supply side and ignore the demand side. For example, in the war on drugs many US politicians are inclined to give military aid to try and stop the flow of drug into the country but seem oblivious that the reason there is so much drug production is because there is so much demand. Unlike drugs which can be produced with various raw resourced (such as labor and water), fossil fuels are a one time deal in that once a fuel is burned in some kind of engine, that it!
IMHO politicians are like blind men when dealing with "Peak Oil," because too often they are too busy kissing ass of special interest groups who fund their political champagnes, or sadly politicians from both major political parties are trying to find someone or something to blame for a problem, instead of actually fulfilling a leadership role. Just like evangelicals these figure heads have little or no appreciation for the scientific method or are fluent in mathematics (which is the language of science).
The Hirsch Report
The Hirsch report, the commonly referred to name for the report Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management, was created by request for the US Department of Energy and published in February 2005. It examined the likelihood of the occurrence of peak oil, the necessary mitigating actions, and the likely impacts based on the timeliness of those actions. The Lead Author, Robert Hirsch, published a brief summary of the report in October 2005 for the Atlantic Council.
Having the ability to see the whole picture can be a bitch, BUT when leaders have the ability to see the whole picture, they have taken the first step toward finding a solution or adaption!
Just thought I'd mention once leaders understand the issue, the next step is to get the masses involved to work together (which is not a trivial problem) to fix things. The biggest problem the human beings have with confronting very complex issues such as "Global Warming" and "Peak Oil" is that its not possible to associate blame to an individual or organization; because if an an individual or organization were the root cause of the problem it would be easier to portray them as pure evil! For example during WW II the US public had the face of Hitler or Tojo they could focus their anger against. In more modern times Osama bin Laden has been the face of terrorism. The simple fact of the matter is human beings are very emotional and can be motivated to action by associating a face to blame; this tried and true method of naming an individual or group works no matter if one is the President of the USA trying to fight a war, or on a smaller scale right wing media pundants blaming the liberal target of the week.
Because "Peak Oil" and "Global Warming" cannot be blamed on a person or an organization, something akin to a widespread spiritual awakening will be needed to begin the concerted fight against the detrimental effects of "Peak Oil" and "Global Warming." The spiritual fight against "Peak Oil" and "Global Warming" IMHO will be based on people awakening to the fact that life is simultaneously fragile yet robust; then deeply pondering the high social and high economic costs of not being good custodians of the environment.
Many in the religious community cite Pascal's Wager as a philosophy to live by. Basically Pascal said: even though the existence of God cannot be determined through logic and reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists, because so living has potentially everything to gain, and certainly nothing to lose. IMHO it would be prudent for mankind to hedge their bets and apply something akin to Pascal's philosophy to how we all live. In other words we should treat "Peak Oil" and "Global Warming" as problems that really do exist and we should consider spending some resources NOW to mitigate the effects (which is akin to buying a form of insurance) because the social and economic costs of ignoring the problem will only grow exponentially larger as time marches on!
Have your own point of view on the "Peak Oil" issue? If so use the graffiti wall to share your thoughts on the subject.