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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Peak Oil Rant

A bunch of scientists gathered Tuesday in San Francisco to discuss world oil supplies. They ranged from Princeton Professor Emeritus Kenneth Deffeyes (whose book I just finished reading), who predicts that world peak oil will occur around Thanksgiving of next year, to political scientist and energy consultant Michael Lynch, who wants to pretend that there isn't a problem:
"This is not science," said Michael Lynch, a political scientist and energy consultant. "This is forecasting."

Lynch agrees there are problems with relying so heavily on oil, and he sees more price volatility ahead. But he argues that many smaller deposits will be found and they will add up to "a lot of oil" over time. He also faults the running-dry-soon predictions as being based not on geology, but on politics and economics: Oil production in various countries has flattened or fell at certain times for reasons having nothing to do with how much they could produce, Lynch says.

Further, Lynch contends, it is not possible to predict the discovery of new oil fields or the true size of existing in-ground reserves. He likens current oil forecasts to stock market prediction. Charts fit history well, he says, "but they're not predictive."
I find the arguments from Deffeyes and other people who know oil to be much more compelling. World oil discoveries peaked many years ago, even though the techniques available now for prospecting are much more advanced than in the path. More places are being searched, and searched harder, than ever before, with fewer results. Discoveries seem to have clearly peaked forever, and are well into the long slide into insignificance. While that slide will have a bump or two in it, Deffeyes and the others make it pretty clear that it's impossible that there's enough oil out there to be found to turn the slide around much or for long. And production decline will inevitably follow discovery decline--quite possibly more rapidly as higher prices cause the last remaining fields to be tapped quickly. Lynch is one of a huge team of fairy-tale tellers paid to keep the U.S. economy chugging along in blissful ignorance for as long as possible. They are trying to steal a few extra years before the unavoidable collapse, at the cost of making the collapse that much more disastrous.

George H. W. Bush spoke at an energy conference in Rio in 1992, and said "The American way of life is non-negotiable." (I've seen this quote also attributed to Cheney and Junior, but Poppy apparently said it first.) This would seem to be the guiding principle behind U.S. foreign policy--we won't negotiate our wasteful and destructive way of life, we'll just fight to maintain it for as long as possible.

PS: In trying to find the origin of that quote, I came across this recent Kathy Kelly article, which included this passage:
I recently read reflections from a reporter embedded with Marines who invaded Baghdad, who referred to many of those Marines as a group of people who were “socially maladjusted — an international liability.” That charge should be held up for consideration to every adult in the United States, not simply to those who have been sent to Iraq in an unprovoked war against innocent people.

If we’ve adjusted to possessing an arsenal of weapons that could destroy the planet, if we’ve adjusted to a lifestyle that pillages the Earth’s resources while we spend trillions of dollars on weapons that aren’t necessary to defend the United States, if we’ve acquiesced to a foreign policy based on the doctrine of “preventive war,” then we are ourselves a maladjusted, international liability.
I'm sure most of the world sees us that way.