A Conversation on <i>TLE</i>

Jeff over at Sustainablog has just finished The Long Emergency and is looking for people to think about it with him. If you've read it, go show Jeff some love. I'm thinking of giving up on the farce that is my trying to work this afternoon to go home and finish Chapter 7.

Kunstler has an apocalyptic vision of the future, which many of you think is a non-starter for getting others engaged. Still, we all seem to think that changes in how we live are nevertheless in order. If not Peak Oil, how do we get Joe America (not to mention Corporate America) to latch on to even moderately sustainable practices?

Go to the postings for today

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Winning the hearts and minds of the larger public not only requires framing the topic in a digestible format, it will also have to deal with the agenda of holders of power. The local paper has picked up on China seeking to purchase Unocal and has decided to editorialize that their "bid to acquire California based Unocal poses serious questions of national security."

Some of the talking oints contained in the editorial include:

"The boom in China's manufacturing, in turn, has generated hundreds of billions that the government has invested in U.S. debt securities. According to Princeton economist Paul Krugman, the Chinese purchased $200 billion in U.S. securities last year and could end up this year buying $300 billion.

So not only is China a key player in financing U.S. debt, it now wants to acquire a major U.S. oil company. This should be an issue of concern. China has been adding manufacturing jobs at U.S. expense, and now it wants a share of U.S. oil production as well."

Now, what would prompt the classification of Unocal as "a major"? If I've done my math right, total output for Unocal accounts for 0.8% of total daily domestic consumption. Unocal holdings also only account for ~ 2/10 of 1% of global reserves. Back at the editorial we get:

"In a letter to Unocal, the Chinese company - calling it a friendly all-cash takeover attempt - pledged to continue selling all U.S.-produced oil and gas back to U.S. customers. That's a nice sentiment. But if the point of this purchase is to increase China's oil sources, it seems only a matter of time before pressures would build to divert U.S. supplies to China's domestic use."

If you can consider Unocal's North American division oversees as the domestic component, it accounts for only 1/3 of what Unocal has in operation. The other 2/3 is found in such countries as Thailand, Indonesia, Bangledesh and the Congo.

So on one hand, you have a highly distorted perspective on just how much of a threat to domestic supply is presented in the deal. On the other, you have the creation of a scapegoat in China over the trade imbalance and job loss issues. I politley pointed out to the editors that, globalisation, as expressed by the wholesale dismantling of the domestic production infrastructure in favor of foreign based slave labor with little or no environmental restrictions, created the market into which China gladly filled the vacuum. The result of our complacency is the current situation of windfall profits for monied interests, constricting job opportunities and declining real wages for the majority, and a lack of choice in the matter of country of origin for consumables.

Given that our conterparts in the Media have either such a blindness to what they are being used for, or an outright mean spirited desire to sway events a certain way (or some combination of both), will any packaging of the nature of our relation to energy be effective in precipitating the right change at the right time? I'd like to hope so, but sometimes wonder......

-da fool

Don't start with the apocalyptic vision. Start with the rise in oil prices, and explain the why behind the rise. Any reasonably intelligent person can understand the rise in prices and the basics of the geology that explains it, and can make the short leap to why the market is unlikely to deliver lower prices. After they believe that Peak Oil is a reality, then you start talking about consequences.

My first exposure to Hubbert's Peak was the National Geographic article of last year. It did not really address the consequences, and I completely (at the time) failed to connect the dots. I did, however, understand that Peak Oil is a geological fact of life, and that kept me from dismissing the Peak Oil theorists (of the doomsday variety) as a bunch of nuts. Once you accept the fact of the reality of Peak Oil at the gut level, then it is merely a matter of asking the right questions to understand how precarious our situation is now.

I think peak oil is a great place to start. I have seen a huge shift in the number of skeptical media references to long term oil supply and energy experts who have come around. For the last thirty years their have been two polar view points on the future of oil, sometimes called cornicopians and multhusians. Only five years ago the vast majority of energy "experts" were cornicopians. I think the balance has shifted. That is big.

My point is that there is a continuum of issues from very solid to speculation. Peak oil is getting pretty solid. There are a great number of facts and studies to back it up. But if I say the transition to a future with less oil could be smooth or when someone else says agriculture and society as we know it will collapse, we are both engaging in speculation.

I think that people will buy into the pretty solid end of the equation, then make their own conclusion (speculation) about what it all means. My second sentence above is important. People are changing their minds about oil. Efforts, such as this website, to educate people about oil are working.

If the questions is how do I get people to agree with a given article of speculation, it is a much harder question and one I am less interested in. I would say try documenting arguments with facts and debate with people who disagree. How about a point-counterpoint section of The Oil Drum?

And by the way, I'm not so sure the transition will be smooth. I think their is a range of options that could occur depending on a bunch of facts we don't fully understand and how we react to depletion of oil resources.

something along the lines of publicagenda.org (look in the issue guides, bottom left, then click and issue, then click discussion guides, second entry in the left column)?

I use these in my undergrad courses. verrrrrrry helpful...

One more point:

How about a post on "What convinced me"

Roy Smith said National Geographic. Earlier I pointed to a PFC Consulting study (www.csis.org/energy/040908_presentation.pdf). Others may say Matt Simmons, The Oil Drum, or rising prices.

I would be interested to know what is influential (I bet no one says a guy standing at the corner with a sign saying "The end (of oil) is near").



Ultimately, the thing that will proabably do the most to change peoples' minds on whether Peak Oil will cause bad things to happen is the first instance of something bad happen that most people can directly relate to a shortage of oil. Until then, the majority are going to believe that "everything will work out" because it is too uncomfortable to believe otherwise.

The bright spot is that if the Peak Oil perspective (such as presented here) is broadly known about, people will at least have a better understanding of what is happening, even if they haven't made any preparations to prepare. One of the biggest potential causes of a rough transition will be people trying too hard to hold onto things that have no future in a less oily future (such as suburbia).

By all means, continue to get the word out about Peak Oil (I know I try to). But don't expect anybody to believe you until the consequences begin to set in. Its like that quote: "A new discovery goes through three stages: 1st, it is mocked; 2nd, it is viciously attacked; 3rd, it is seen as self-evident". Unfortunately for all of us, we are still at stage 1.

National Geographic didn't convince me, in that it did not convince me that Peak Oil is a disaster waiting to happen - as a matter of fact, it gave me hope (as a good environmentalist) that soon we would be burning less oil and thus reducing climate change risks. (I think a disconcerting proportion of the environmental community is still stuck in that mode of thought, btw). That was from a failure of thinking through all the consequences.

What National Geographic did do was prepare the soil. The actual seed was Matt Savinar's Life After the Oil Crash. Since I already understood and believed the basic idea (from National Geographic) I didn't have to waste time questioning the basic point.

Can we get Public Agenda to add Peak Oil to their issues?

hmmm...that's a good question. I will look into it. My bet is that they have no idea...and that they get these kinds of "you need to spend time on this issue because it's important" all the time.

I bumped into the term "peak oil" about a year ago while listening to a Pacifica radio program (I think). I think Richard Heinberg was discussing his book "Power Down." I was both intrigued and a little hesitant. I typically avoid the conspiracy corners of the internet (even the lefty ones) and was pretty worried that Peak Oil might be of that variety. I still remember that I felt as though I was diving into the deep dark waters of cyberspace when I typed "Peak Oil" into google. (I was relived to see that no neonazi sites came up at the top of the list ;-)

Anyway, I quickly found some of the technical postings of Simmons and Campbell, ASPO and ODAC. I am an empiricist, hard core, and I was impressed with how much real data was being used to make the case for peak oil. Also, I could go to USGS and EIA and see their numbers for myself. Peak Oil was definitely not a case of, "Trust me because I am an Eggspurt (AKA passionate advocate)."

BTW, this is also why while I am conviced of the reality of peak oil (and of its immediacy) I am NOT conviced of this doomsday scenario or that. No evidence, just a lot of futurist speculation. It's just hard to know what to wear for a party that's never been thrown before (at least at this scale)...

Tedman -

I think I am basically in agreement with your POV re: doomsday scenarios. I am not convinced of any particular doomsday scenario because, although we know that aspects of our industrial civilization will decline, it is impossible to say what aspects will decline, and in what order, and whether the decline will be orderly (powerdown) or chaotic.

On the other hand, I definitely can't buy into the, "Yes, Peak Oil will happen but (the markets/alternative energy/government intervention/the goodness of human nature/insert favorite savior here) will enable us to live our lives into the future without any major adjustments. I am pretty firmly convinced that 1) major changes are in store; 2) they will be painful to at least some, if not most of the populace; and 3) nobody has any clear idea of what those changes will be. We can all speculate though, and as the Boy Scouts say, "Be Prepared".

BTW, much of the preparation, both in terms of equipment and knowledge, that I think we should be doing is very similar to general disaster preparedness, which people ought to do even if they think everything else on this blog is for the birds.

A trusted friend of mine said he had been having nightmares for the last couple of years. When I asked why, he said I didn't want to know.

I said yes I did, so he gave me Heinberg's "The Party's Over."

I understood Peak Oil right away because I'm a journalist and have a background in a lot of this kind of stuff. So I wasn't exactly shocked.

I do tend to think the implications will be pretty serious in the United States. We do not have the kind of culture that's in any way prepared for something like oil depletion.

Kunstler's definitely right about that part.