Ignore Peak Oil

This is a position paper on the list of position papers. It outlines a personal and maybe controversial position. The author proposes it as a feature essay and has invited collaborative writing on the subject.

Ignore Peak Oil by Craig Hubley 2005-03-15

Many people who claim to be part of a biocentric or biosphere-preserving movement, notably the Green Movement, also express a concern about the Peak Oil event: the day on which the number of new fossil fuel reserves found permanently outstrips the current demand.

While this definitely means a drastic leap in oil prices, and accordingly anticipating such an event may help to convince fence-sitters to support sustainable development in general and energy demand reduction in particular, I consider the argument to be self-defeating:
  • the Green minority cannot influence prices by very much
  • any arguments or facts that turn out to be wrong or just pessimistically interpreted will be used against those who advanced them
  • it encourages belief that supply side concerns and the discovery, extraction, transport and refining of oil, along with the inevitable military security problems that are associated with oil wells, oil pipelines, ports and so on, drive the economy, and set value of money.

Perhaps worst of all, it distracts Greens from real problems. Given the other factors driving oil use, total reserves is simply not on the map at all as a constraint. The limit on human oil consumption is not the mostly-fictional "reserves" number (which changes based on
extraction technology, accounting fraud and propaganda needs), it is:
  • the infrastructural capital base that consumes the oil, e.g. engines and furnaces that cannot be easily equipped to use less or to use some other fuel; dieselectric engines for instance use less fuel than conventional engines, much less if properly tuned and used, so if the infrastructural base turns over in say 10 years to be mostly of this type, the oil needs stretch out and there might well be a gasoline glut by 2007, as Booz Allen here has predicted - this would discredit Peak Oil boosters
  • the climate change implied by the burning of the oil ALREADY KNOWN TO EXIST, e.g. the shifting of the Gulf Stream a few degrees further South, or the flooding of most of Bangaladesh, with the consequent political and social chaos, terrorist recruiting, loss of will or power of states to root out these groups (especially those targetting high-energy-using countries like the US, UK, and Canada), and a few crude low-yield atomic bombs rendering US, UK, and Canadian cities uninhabitable. That would stop our climate changing activities in a hurry. And this will be long before "the oil runs out."

So, if you're looking for a strong argument to stop burning oil, use the argument that "military security of the developed nations cannot stand if there is substantial disruption to the environmental security of developing nations." Talk about bombs in ports of otherwise peaceful places that are filling the atmosphere up with greenhouse gas.

Given the climate change and infrastructure factors, the kind of extrapolations that the oil industry engages in to calculate "reserves" are worthless. They make up these numbers to please themselves, manipulate prices, etc. By no means can they be relied on to make ANY "green" argument.

If you can prove to me that Bangaladesh, a Muslim country, or France, a nuclear power, will not find a way to take some economy-collapsing revenge on the countries that destroyed it, *AND* prove to me that oil consumption cannot be reduced below a certain minimum point based on technology limits or scientific disproof of alternatives like coal/gas digestion or cold fusion, *ONLY THEN* will I begin to care about "Peak Oil" at all...

And then I will argue that it is wrong to keep thinking of "the problem" as a "lack of supply" of any commodity.

It's what we do with the supply, that really matters.



For the sake of discussion,

  • Classic dodge: do you believe these arguments, or don't you? Since you don't commit I suggest you might well realize they are inarguable/wrong. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

I am going to advance the position that peak oil concerns not only enhance the cause of global warming activists, but actually champion it.

What the two have in common is an inevitable need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, either through reduction in energy use or through identification and implementation of alternative energy sources (which to prefer as culturally or environmentally superior is yet another argument). I believe in the validity of both approaches. And I believe the approaches can be presented together in harmony and advantageously. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • This is what YOU think "the two have in common". The fallacy here is that you seem to think that identifying a problem means that other people will necessarily respect you so much for identifying it that they will also listen to your solution. This is not how the real world works. In the real world, once you advance an argument, it is used not just to bolster your own position but others you disagree with. Any defence lawyer can explain the principle to you: if you are going to argue self-defence in a murder case you cannot ALSO argue temporary insanity, if you try you will destroy the case for self-defence. A team of defence lawyers (in this case, for the whole atmosphere) have no choice but to restrict their arguments to those that don't enable their opponents, and of course they must not ever use FALSE arguments. "Peak Oil" is both false, and distracting. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

I am basing the following argument on the idea that the "angle" that proves most effective will be the angle that best combines concreteness and urgency. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • This seems like pure economism: the belief that human-created economic constructs are real, concrete and create urgency, more so than the actual bodily surroundings that we as living animals actually live in. What is "concrete" is not marks on paper called "oil reserves" nor even a good estimate of global oil supply where? extracted how? at what energy cost? What is "urgent" is not an economic construction based on "supply and demand" of a variable that is created wholly by commodity market abstractions. You simply are not using these terms with their real meaning. To we animals, what is concrete and urgent is destruction of our habitat, period. Running around from place to place within that habitat getting a bit more expensive or harder or requiring us to convert coal to oil is just not a problem by comparison.- Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

  • Also, you are arguing "angle" as if you were marketing to a specific group of people that you hope to convince, not as if you were actually trying to identify the actual problem. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

In those two areas the peak oil argument excels. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • Only to people already brainwashed, i.e. North Americans and the English-speaking world. And you people ARE the problem, what would you know about the solution? - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

Global climate change is relatively vague in both time-line and ramifications, even though many intelligent prognostications are unquestionably dire. We can make some guess that *might* be pretty good, but we cannot say definitely when or what. We cannot say to what degree our climates will change due to human-enhanced/invoked global warming, nor to what degree our planet's feedback mechanisms will mitigate negative effects, nor how soon we must abandon fossil fuels, nor whether it is already too late for a change-over in energy sources to do any good, nor when we might expect to feel the results of global warming. We don't know whether cutbacks would be adequate, nor whether complete and immediate cessation would help. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

Europe *might* be flooded in twenty years, as presented in a Pentagon study scenario, but we don't know. Sir David King very well *might* be right that by the next turn of century the only inhabitable place for human on earth will be Antarctica, but that is hardly a concept that can be grasped by the general public, and it would be difficult to prove with certainty, in view of the earth's many complex climatological feedback mechanisms.- Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

People who look at signs of global warming from around the world may justifiably *feel* that catastrophic loss from global climate change is likely to grip us long before we run out of oil. They find reason in the history of behavior of companies in industries that depend on our willingness to accept addiction to fossil fuels to mistrust those companies, and to suspect that peak oil claims are a hoax perpetrated to raise prices and profits. These feelings might well hold truth. But the specifics are difficult things to prove.- Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • Proof becomes irrelevant, trust and feelings very relevant, at the moment the bullets begin to fly: I predict both assassination and kidnapping of corporate and industry figures, probably by people directly affected by oil extraction and climate disasters. That will make much clearer what I already have stated above: the economic abstractions that tell you that ecosystem devastation is no problem, but that oil supply is, will be proven irrelevant by events. Some of those events will be violent. You cannot avoid the violence by engaging people with supply talk. That is not relevant and will only be abused. Imagine talking about the uranium or plutonium supply to try to get people aware of the issues with radioactive waste. It just would not work, you'd be talking to the wrong people on day one. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

In addition, peak oil arguments lack the dimension of caring about the environment. People concerned with global climate change may argue on behalf of ecosystems affecting diverse cultures and other species, as well as from ethnocentric or species-centric positions. Peak oil concerns are certainly limited to humanity, and more so to the large faction of humanity heavily invested and/or dependent on intensive use of highly mobile energy. Peak oil tends to have more appeal for people concerned with economic factors and global climate change perhaps appeals more to people with environmental sensibilities, but I my personal sense is that a Venn diagram of the two camps would show a dominant overlap.- Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • "Peak oil tends to have more appeal for people concerned with economic factors" BECAUSE THEY CAN USE IT TO ARGUE THEIR CASE TO DRILL MORE OIL:
  • And they can also use it to argue AGAINST any additional tax or cost being levied on oil "which is already getting more expensive to extract":
  • And they can also use it to argue that difficult political measures should not be taken because they are irrelevant "given that oil supply is so limited":
  • You have given so much ammunition to the enemy with your foolish arguments that surely they will start to fund you soon. This makes you a whore. We'll see if you continue to be one after you realize who is actually exploiting your arguments. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

Nevertheless, peak oil has the advantages of concreteness and predictability. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • False. It can be no more "concrete" than the continuation of oil discovery, extraction, refining, transport and burning, and all of these are vulnerable. Didn't you notice the Gulf of Mexico oil rigs destroyed by hurricanes? And they were the first things rebuilt! That shows you the mentality of your friends the oilcos and the usefulness of your Peak Oil argument: the weapons that do the damage are the very first things restored, while New Orleans still lacks 911 service. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

To within a shadow of a doubt, we know that common use of fossil fuels shall end this century, and that it is more likely to end in the first half of this century. We can reasonably predict that worldwide economies and infrastructures will be burdened by dearth of fossil fuels within the next two decades; arguably, that is already taking place. See http://askquestions.org/details.php?id=65, for example.- Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • You "know" no such thing. For one thing coal can be converted to oil, then there are the Oil Sands and methane hydrate (neither of which should be disturbed given the extreme dangers that these ready supplies will lead to slowing of changeover to non-combustion fuels). If there were no climate change effects, continued use of these sources would last centuries, especially as combustive infrastructure improves. The point is to make sure that it is NOT improved beyond a certain point, and that won't happen if you keep arguing falsely that "oil will run out". It can't run out soon: look at the coal and Oil Sands supplies. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

And the infrastructures that depend on oil are concretely known (a relevant pun if you want it, but unintended). We know many or most of the ways in which existing infrastructure will fail us in the event of long-term energy shortages. We also know many of the ways we might reconfigure our infrastructure to prevent catastrophes due to long-term energy shortages, although there is yet little political or social will to make such radical changes. While the crisis is unlikely to come all at once, it is possible that modern civilization will drift, quite painfully, back to pre-industrial standards of living over a period of several decades. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • You are so confused that this is almost impossible to answer to. There is no "us" nor "we" to be either object nor subject of your non-argument: the adaptations are quite specific to different climate/agriculture/industry situations, and tend to require creativity to prevent catastrophe. Some rural areas have been forced to adapt by real events, e.g. Bangaladesh where water supplies carry cholera and cause diarrhea due to deeper incursions of salt water inland. Urban areas might have common paths or potentials - see the 6C declaration - but they are already adapting to a degree. Your claim to knowledge of "many or most of the ways in which existing infrastructure will fail us" fails itself to consider that it will simply be destroyed by those most disadvantaged by the climate crisis. It is not hard to sink an oil tanker if sufficiently determined, nor blow up an oil shipping port. Soon, many will be so determined. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

If we chose to be forward-thinking, modernized nations might prevent large-scale suffering through massive infrastructural changes in the near future, while energy needed to make those changes relatively comfortable is still relatively plentiful. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • "If we chose to be forward-thinking, modernized" then the massive infrastructural changes could be undertaken based on sheer energy efficiency alone. This is justifiable based on price, but is not directly driven by "oil supply", and any attempt to use those numbers to chart the timing will end up with a hopelessly optimistic timeline. You will be "90% there" in your adaptation when the levee breaches, as New Orleans was. If you use the wrong numbers, you get the wrong estimates. And the numbers (oil reserves) are controlled by the enemy (oilcos, who want to keep drilling) so they will ensure you are moving as slow as possible. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

We could very likely determine reasonable estimates of the (massive) fuel-cost needed to reconfigure our infrastructures in such a way as to reduce dependence on plentiful, mobile energy. We might even determine *whether* there is enough energy remaining to transition to various reconfiguration scenarios and whether interim energy use cut-backs would be needed. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • Nonsense. You again assume global cooperation and some God's Eye View capable of defining "we", "enough", etc. I assume no more than current global cooperation in any of my arguments: In any energy situation the relevant variables are local and will remain local. COMMUNITIES can make these decisions but there is no global strategy that can possibly be imposed nor even standardized for this adaptation. You totally fail to understand how energy and living things interact: life is itself an anti-entropic energy conservation effort. It is inherently creative, and inherently local. I repeat: THERE IS NO WE: THE CLIMATE SITUATION BISECTS US INTO WINNERS AND LOSERS, AND THEN WE FIGHT TO THE DEATH with no further means to agree. PEAK OIL IS A WAY WINNERS CAN LIE TO LOSERS THAT THEY SHOULD BE UNCONCERNED OR THAT THE WINNERS WILL NOT HURT THEM for much longer. This big lie will fall apart soon enough: the losers will be angry. Accordingly it is the means to agree on how to help the losers at the direct cost of the winners that "we must" discuss. No other "we must" is relevant under economism - your ideology not mine. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

(Some may argue that essential changes in infrastructure will be unnecessary, in view of alternative energy sources and storage mechanisms, but I do not see those sources as adequate substitutes in terms of energy quantities, and I suspect negative results yet to be experienced from large-scale implementation of any of the known alternatives. But that is that other argument to which I alluded above.)- Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • You clearly know nothing about coal to oil conversion, which the Germans used in WWII and which can be done much more cheaply today. Nor do you seem to realize the extent of the Oil Sands. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

So, in summary, "peak oil" considerations indicate a pressing need for a change in our energy sources or dependence to degrees of concreteness and urgency that global climate change science and arguments have yet to manifest. Peak oil science and arguments indicate that radical change is definitely needed and needed within the next few decades. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • Just because the truth is being ignored is no excuse to start lying out of desperation. It won't work, and it will alienate those who know the truth, who'll give up on the system of deliberation and debate. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

There may be some who wind up feeling that the "converging catastrophes" of peak oil and global climate change due to human-invoked or human-enhanced global warming will somehow hold each other off so that we can slip safely through the middle. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • This exact argument was made subtly by a University of Calgary professor on Quirks and Quarks, a CBC radio science program, on 2005-12-03. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

This phenomenon may be played up — the two arguments played against each other — by those seeking to divide or undermine arguments to move immediately away from dependence on fossil fuels. However, I seriously doubt that many hold this view; and I believe that any who do can be convinced off of it by the easily presented likelihood that the two catastrophes will overlap dramatically, rather than leave a space to "slip through."

  • They do not have to HOLD this view to ARGUE it. Like any lawyer, they see it's useful and they use it. You cannot assume sincerity on the part of people benefitting directly at the expense of others in the current regime. Go read Karl Marx about that. It is indeed catastrophic if ever more fossil fuel energy is wasted searching for more fossil fuel, as Joseph Tainter argues is happening and which is certainly implied by the Hubbert peak. But there is also noise about biological sources of oil. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

P.S. I feel that name-calling diatribes are typically not useful contributions, no matter how many faux footnotes are at their bottoms. I believe it is most productive to avoid shooting at potential allies, with terms such as "sociopath" or "booster," for example. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • Your feelings about personal invective are commonly held. They are not relevant, certainly not in politics. A "booster" is easy enough to determine by what arguments and positions they take, it's not really "shouting". And such people may or may not be potential allies. And the term:sociopath has a number of technical definitions although it is no longer used by psychiatrists - it applies to corporate or industry actors as much as the term:psychopath does, and its much nicer. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03

Anywy, that's my 2¢. - Louis Nuyens III, 2005-12-02)

  • You are wrong. But you have a chance to stop being wrong. Now we see if you are stupid: using your own intelligence to prevent learning, advancing false arguments that benefit no one but enemies of your bodily interests, and ultimately being extincted by your own friends. - Craig Hubley, 2005-12-03