The Behavioral Aspects of Peak Oil: Basic Contingencies

This is a guest post by Lyle Grant, a Professor at Athabasca University's Centre for Psychology and co-author of Principles of Behavior Analysis. Since discovering the issue of peak oil his work has largely concerned the psychology of sustainable living.

In behavioral terms, peak oil is an aversive consequence. The Hirsch report's crash program is an avoidance response that will prevent the worst of the aversive consequence from occurring. Meeting the challenge of peak oil is therefore a problem of engaging in successful avoidance responding.

Peak oil is an especially difficult problem due to (a) the nonrecurring nature of peak oil, (b) the delay of the aversive consequence, (c) the variability in the predicted date of peak oil, (d) the predicted aversiveness of peak oil, and (e) the nature of avoidance responding.

Peak Oil as a Nonrecurring Consequence

The once-in-history aspect of worldwide peak oil makes it necessary to discriminate the avoidance contingency in advance of the aversive consequence's occurrence and to do so without any previous learning trials. Addressing peak oil successfully prior to the peak itself can therefore be considered as an instance of one-trial discriminated avoidance responding. In one trial, it is necessary to discriminate (a) that peak oil will occur, (b) a plausible time frame in which peak oil will occur, (c) that peaking will be a serious problem, (d) that a crash program is capable of avoiding or lessening the problem, and (e) the time interval required for the crash program to have a mitigating effect before peaking occurs. This is a difficult assignment because each of the five elements of the discrimination is contested in contemporary discussions in varying degrees, and because the program itself is a major effort that appears to require both cultural reinvention and substantial spending.

A major behavioral problem with peak oil is simply that nobody has had any practice in coping with such a unique event. One of the major contributions of successful applications of behavior analysis is to structure learning experiences so people are given lots of practice and feedback in acquiring and maintaining skills (e.g., Grant & Evans, 1994; Martin & Pear, 2003). With a once-in-history event like peak oil, no one has had prior opportunities to learn to behave successfully toward such an event.

The Delay Parameter

Peak oil is also a problem of delayed aversive consequences: The fact that delayed consequences are less effective than immediate ones is a generic problem in efforts to improve the future (Skinner, 1973). The effects of programs to mitigate peak oil will be realized only after a delay required to implement the programs. Delayed events, even very harmful ones, lack concreteness and currency that compels people to pay attention to them, making it difficult even to bring them into the public arena for discussion. Both those who predict peak oil and advocates of a crash program to avoid a harmful peak-oil future will therefore always tend to be judged as incorrect because the aversive future events they predict are nowhere to be seen. Kunstler (2006, ¶ 1) referred to a form of this problem when he indicated his critics have taken him to task because "I have so far failed to correctly predict the end of the world".

The Variability-of-the-Delay Parameter

As discussed earlier, the length of the delay before the peak is reached is poorly predicted. While some experts specify we are already past the peak point of production, others maintain the peak will not occur for many decades. This lack of consensus also lessens the degree to which information about peak oil functions as an effective motivating operation to induce behavior, like a crash program, that avoids a peak-oil crisis.

The Aversiveness-Intensity Parameter

The events that will occur in a post-oil future are to some degree ambiguous, even though there is a broad consensus that peak oil is a harmful event. Some predict anarchy and a breakdown of rule of law (Kunstler, 2005), whereas others entertain notions of a future in which people drive their cars using solar energy, ethanol or hydrogen (e.g., Rifkin, 2002). This lack of consensus concerning the severity of the effects of peak oil lessens the extent to which information about peak oil functions as a conditioned motivating operation (Michael, 2004).

The Nature of Avoidance Contingencies

As discussed earlier, the crash program called for in the Hirsch report is a type of discriminated avoidance response that prevents or postpones an aversive consequence. Avoidance responses do nothing more than maintain the status quo, whereas the failure to emit the avoidance responses enables the aversive consequence. If the crash program were successful, there would be no disastrous consequences. In contrast, failure to make the avoidance response, to carry out the crash program, enables the disaster. Even with practice, avoidance responding is difficult to acquire, partly because nothing immediately happens after the response (Catania, 1998).

Many avoidance responses are initially acquired as escape responses (Grant & Evans, 1994; Martin & Pear, 2003). For example, Geller (1992) pointed out that water conservation is often acquired as behavior that escapes the problems of a shortage, whereas recycling is acquired as a response that escapes excess solid waste. In escape responding, the learner receives practice in removing the aversive stimulus, which appears to facilitate learning how to prevent it as well. However, the nonrecurring nature of peak oil means there is no opportunity to learn to use a crash program to escape the effects of peak oil as a training method to teach subsequent peak-oil avoidance.

Additional Challenges in Addressing Peak Oil

In addition to these basic contingency-related issues in solving the peak-oil crisis are the following challenges: (a) the resistance to change of established patterns of energy use, (b) the history of false signals of oil depletion, (c) the history of technological advancement, and (d) the aversiveness of delivering peak-oil messages.

Resistance to Change

The use of highly concentrated energy sources such as oil and natural gas has made daily life more reinforcing in many respects and has established routine and stereotypic behaviors that are highly resistant to change (Nevin, 2005). This resistance to change regarding motor vehicle use, for example, occurs even despite lethal and other harmful consequences (Alvord, 2000; Kay, 1997). One quantitative measure of resistance to change is seen in empirical studies of the relative inelasticity of demand for gasoline: Price increases have relatively little impact on short-term gasoline demand (Dahl & Sterner, 1991; Espey, 1998) and there is some evidence demand inelasticity has increased over the past several decades (Hughes, Knittel, & Sperling, 2006).

The resistance to change of fossil-fuel use poses a problem for the transition to a peak-oil future because it rigidly frames discussions of what alternatives are acceptable. Existing energy-use practices are accepted as a constant, with everything else subject to change. Proposals like gasoline taxes are seen as politically impossible even among those sympathetic to the problem of energy overconsumption (Quinn, 2006).

Prior False Signals of Oil Depletion

Yergin (2005) points out the current apprehension that oil supplies will begin to decline has been preceded by five previous periods of similar concern, all of which turned out to be misplaced.

Those individuals who have previously raised concerns about oil depletion were essentially providing false, or at least premature, signals for oil depletion. Those who doubt the imminence of peak oil use this history of false signals as a reason for suggesting that the current indications of peak oil are equally false. From a behavioral perspective, a key effect of presenting a false discriminative stimulus signaling the lack or scarcity of a reinforcer would be to strip the signal of any discriminative control, through extinction, over whatever responding (e.g., conservation, planning for scarcity) would be otherwise occasioned by the discriminative stimulus and any future similar signals.

The effects of the history of false signals of future disasters should also be understood in a wider context of inaccurate, or at least premature, predictions of other types of doom. For example, Thomas Malthus (1798/1985) incorrectly predicted the human population would grow too large to feed itself by the mid-19th century. Ehrlich's (1968) more recent predictions of a disaster due to overpopulation have also not been realized. As a result of incorrect predictions of this sort (or correct predictions that have yet to be realized) predictions in general have lost their discriminative and motivational properties. This poses a special difficulty for a problem like peak oil, which the Hirsch report indicates will necessarily occur.

Aversive Features of Peak-Oil Messages: Bearers of Bad News

A problem in spreading information about peak oil is the reluctance of political leaders to bring the problem of peak oil to public attention.

Raising the prospect of a less affluent future due to the lack of energy supplies is difficult for politicians and other opinion leaders. Analyses of campaign rhetoric indicate that candidates who deliver upbeat messages promising a bright future are generally more successful than those who raise concerns about the challenges of a difficult future (Zullow, Oettingen, Peterson, & Seligman, 1988). Politicians who deliver information about aversive events in the future run the risk of establishing themselves as conditioned aversive stimuli by means of classical conditioning, whereas those who deliver promises of a bountiful future establish themselves as conditioned stimuli for positive emotional responses. Conditioning processes that occur in political contexts may work in a manner similar to classical conditioning in advertising (e.g., Shimp, Stuart, & Engle, 1991; Stuart, Shimp, & Engle, 1987).

History of Technological Advancement

Another impediment to motivating people to conserve energy and engage in other activities to prepare for a peak-oil crisis is the advancement in technology throughout human history, especially during the industrial age. Yergin (2005), for example, maintains there is a general historical tendency in history to underestimate the role of technology in oil discoveries. A specific difficulty however is that oil discoveries have been declining since the mid-1960's, despite striking improvements in oil discovery technologies.

The problem is people have come to expect technology to provide them with relatively inexpensive energy sources (Cavallo, 2004). These expectations are due to a long history of reinforcement in the form of advances in energy and other technologies. With respect to energy-conservation behaviors, technological advances that have provided inexpensive oil supplies have functioned like a source of (practically) response-independent reinforcement (i.e., getting something for doing little or nothing), weakening incentives to conserve.

Risk Management Contingencies

Hirsch et al. (2005) recognized the lack of a clearly predictable fixed date for peak oil and therefore characterized the problem as one of risk management. A risk management approach acknowledges that either the proponents of an early peak (e.g., within 0-20 years) or those of a late peak (e.g., more than 20 years) may be correct and offers a course of action that produces an optimal combination of the least aversive and the most reinforcing consequences.

Hirsch et al. asked two questions:
1. What are the risks of initiating the crash program prematurely in advance of the peak?
2. What are the risks of initiating the crash program too late in advance of (or after) the peak?

Hirsch and his colleagues maintained the two risks are asymmetric, that with a premature crash program “there might be an unproductive use of resources” (p. 88) whereas a late crash program would result in “a decade or more of devastating economic impacts” (p. 88). Many energy conservation programs would not carry much risk in the case of a late peak and would have important benefits. The Hirsch report identified improvements in vehicle fuel economy as a part of the mitigation program. However, if such improvements were required by the government even 30 to 50 years or longer before peaking, these improvements would likely not be a severe drain on resources and would have direct benefits on reducing CO2 emissions, global warming and various forms of environmental pollution (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2005). Simmons (2006) has advocated increased use of telecommuting, a transition from long-distance trucking to rail and barge transport, and eating locally-grown food, each of which would also have desirable environmental benefits even if they were timed too early in advance of peak oil.

Unfortunately, at this time the problem of peak oil is not conceptualized in terms of risk management. Instead, discussions of the issue are typically framed in terms of who is “right” and “wrong” regarding the imminence of peak oil. This mode of conceptualizing the issue, along with the problem of resistance to change, has led to placing an implicit high-stakes bet on the behavioral alternative that carries the maximum risk, which is our current course of inaction on peak oil.

Note: This piece is a summary of a longer article available here (opens pdf file).


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Dr. Grant, thank you for your guest post, it really helps clarify the problems with getting out the message of peak oil.

My sense is that we would do best to emphasise that peak oil means prices are going to climb rapidly and permanently. Arguing about whether there is a trillion barrels of oil left or 4 trillion barrels of "tar sands" and "oil shale" which can be made into liquid hydrocarbons with cornucopians neglects the real issue-we can't afford it economically or environmentally. This threatens our economy, our health and the national security of western countries.

In addition to the behavioral contingencies, there are cognitive barriers to the acceptance of an unpleasant idea such as peak oil. In 1957, Leon Festinger first wrote of cognitive dissonance. When a person holds two opposing ideas (unlimited growth=spending good for economy) vs (finite resources, problem imminent), individuals tend to resolve the conflict toward the proposition in which they are most invested.

That glazed look many TOD writers talk about when they try to educate others about peak oil is likely to be cognitive dissonance, which is most easily resolved by maintaining the beliefs upon which many have based their lives.

If you can't beat them, classify them, as a blogger friend of mine said after some particularly frustrating debaters...

This isn't particularly profound. This habit of explaining away other's reactions we've seen a lot of times: communists explaining people as products of the bourgeouis system, feminists explaining opponents as either oppressive (if they are men) or brainwashed (if they are women), even intelligence psychologists decrying their opponents as dimwits... all in scientific-sounding, empty jargon.

Behaviorism may be good for designing cockpits, but tell me one time it has been of any use whatsoever in examining larger society in any meaningful fashion?


Ok, I admit, maybe advertising is not "whatsoever [useful] in examining larger society in any meaningful fashion" in your definition. But it sure is useful for the successful advertisers.

But how much behaviorism is there in there? I'm asking because I don't know. I've seen some useful behavioral papers about evaluation of early computer user interfaces, and I've heard (and can easily believe) that it was also successfully applied in human interface design in planes, cars, machines etc.

However, the behaviorist programme that humans can and should be understood solely in terms of input-output relationships - I've seen critics refer to as pseudoscience, and I understand the young Noam Chomsky first became famous for a devastating critique of it. Apparently the critique was fair, because it managed to convince a lot of psychologists to abandon it.

Philosophically, it may be a consistent position to see humans as some sort of reward-maximising machines, but my impression was that it was rejected as a framework for psychology. So about this attempt to apply it to peak oil, a wide social phenomenon, I'm sceptical (but I'm an engineer, not a psychologist).

[...]that humans can and should be understood solely in terms of input-output relationships ... to see humans as some sort of reward-maximising machines ... I'm sceptical you should well be.

An individual human is a very complex "machine" - it does in no way function linearly. It is chaotic and responds often very "illogically", meaning non-linearly. That is why it is hard to found behaviorism as a "science". It - like politics, like sociology, like education, like psychology itself, and like advertising(!) and war-propaganda - is an Art. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

But like any "-ology", it helps to talk about it, for some things work "better" (more often) than others.

We can also ology about the reasons why it didn't work, like Dr. Grant is doing.

p.s. Am neither an engineer nor a psychologist (rather a trained historian):
But I love models, which are in themselves imperfect ways of predicting outcomes for complex systems.

Cheers, Dom

Actually, I think not.

Bernaise (Freud's nephew & advertising god) simply took the techniques of war propaganda and applied it to products.


Well, thank you for proving my point.

Obviously it wasn't used for the "good", but it was used.

Thank you Professor Grant, that seems to sum things up rather nicely. Do you have any suggestions in response to these problems?

I've mentioned, at odd times, the thought that there is much stick and too little carrot when promulgating the problems of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Global Warming. Would you mind putting oar to water here as well?

This is Lyle Grant. I appreciate CrystalRadio's call for suggestions. My basic approach in the article was simply to endorse the Hirsch report's call for a substantial program to mitigate the effects of peak oil as well as to get behind the specific conservation and other initiatives Matt Simmons has advocated.

Apart from this I also called for increased work in my field, which is called applied behavior analysis, in changing energy-use behaviors. My colleague Scott Geller at Virginia Tech has been a leader in this field. I cited a paper in which Lehman and Geller lament that most of the work was done in the aftermath of the energy shortages of the 1970's and 1980's. This literature of energy conservation should nonetheless be useful in a future of diminished energy.

One seemingly small but important thing we can all do is to send messages of support to those who are leading efforts to publicize peak oil, including those who maintain The Oil Drum. This use of positive reinforcement, a key concept in my field, can be surprisingly effective. In this connection, thanks to those of you who have sent supportive comments today.

Bkinetic wrote: This literature of energy conservation should nonetheless be useful in a future of diminished energy.

Why do you think the future would be one of diminished energy?

Depends what time-frame you're talking over. Certainly over the next 40-50 years, there will be less energy available, at least at a per-capita level. Unless you know something we don't...


Has Nucbuddy actually read many of the articles about PEAK OIL to understand that PEAK OIL means a severe energy shortage and crises is beginning ??

I clicked on Nucbuddy and it shows he has a shorter member period then me.

In my last article that I wrote,
I explain that instead of creating energy devices like wind generators and solar panels in the numbers needed, we are just wasting our energy resources.


Excellent article, it's refreshing to see a discussion of, well, how to frame the discussion!

In response to the call for suggestions, I've been mulling over an idea or two. If the problem is defined as "how do we change peoples behavior" then I believe one of the most effective arguments would be to frame it in economic terms.

I am not a behavioral psychologist, but in layman's terms it easy to see that people have a few core motivators, i.e. providing necessities for themselves and their families, cultural identity, religious faith, etc.

In fulfilling those motivations each individuals world view informs many, if not most of their day to day decisions, and in today's modern societies the primary context for most peoples world view is their economic status.

The primacy of the consumer oriented growth economy has been virtually unchallenged by any society for centuries. Not even to any great degree by communism or socialism. It is this unquestioned assumption that perpetual growth and unrestrained consumption is an absolute good that I think must be challenged in the most fundamental and creative way possible.

The article makes an excellent case that people do not want to be told bad news, nor do they want to hear that they must sacrifice a high standard of living today for the benefit of unseen future generations. And yet somehow people must be persuaded to change their lifestyles if we are to avoid the worst of the negative consequences of resource depletion and ecological overshoot.

The answer then, I believe, lies in reframing the economic paradigm and, by extension, reframing peoples world view. Day to day economic decisions by people all over the world must be changed from "how much abundance can I enjoy today" to "how well have I preserved my abundance for perpetuity".

If peoples primary motivators, and their resulting rewards in life, are intimately tied to how well they take care of their piece of the world then I believe we will see a truly sustainable society arise spontaneously from the day to day decisions of everyone on the planet.

The unquestioned assumption that the perpetual growth machine that is our consumer oriented economy is an absolute good must be directly challenged and somehow transformed into one where the absolute good is instead a caretaker economy.

Taking care of our planets productivity.
Taking care of our resources.
Taking care of our environment.
Taking care of our prosperity, as well as the prosperity of our children, and their children, and their children.

With much worry about the future weighing heavily on many peoples minds I think this is a message that will resonate. We're already seeing seeds of it being planted with the talk of "stewardship" in some religious circles.

However, what I feel is more important, this idea has a fundamentally positive basis on which people can build. It presents people not with the negative question of "what must you sacrifice today for the good of tomorrow?", but instead with the positive inspiration of "you know what your job is, now how well can you do it?".


Jerry raises a very interesting set of points, not least of which is the way worldview acts as a default setting, if you will, for how people interpret novel information and experience. The growth culture is predicated not only on the objective fact of increasing energy consumption/capita, but also on the subjective experience of progress in virtually all realms of life. As GE used to say (do they still?), "Progress is our most important product." Worldview is a stabilizing force in cultural reproduction, and the intertia involved here will be hard to change..that is until, as several point out, now-privileged people are brought face to face with energy costs due to oil and natural gas depletion.

When the ramifications of peak oil actually begin to take a bite I fear that those feeling the bite first will be the biggest. Automobile manufacture and sales, automobile insurance, UPS, FedEx, airlines and so on will be able to get the ear of the politicians and be able to wrangle subsidies out of the politicians. Everyone (well, almost anyway) is denying the possibility of peak oil and I suspect that the onset of peak oil will not be much different. I can hear now any and every flyblown politician claiming that they have the answer and just vote me in and I'll get those SUV's rolling again.

So, with charlatans encouraging folks to believe what they want to believe - that things will continue on as they have for the last 70 years I can imagine congressfolks succumbing to the extended begging bowl held out by those saying just give me enough to tide me over this rough spot and I'll be able to keep folks employed, the wall-mart turnstiles turning and you in office.

I think that will be, as Michael Jackson says, "bad, bad, bad, really bad" .Because once these folks loot the treasury that's it. Them greenbacks will not be replaced. Money that could be spent on initiatives to address transitioning to a new ( actually, old) way of life will not be available.
We should be alert to this possibility and lay the groundwork to head it off now.

Cheers Mr Lyle Grant - this was really enlightening, I think I have to read it one more time ...

Hmm, two key questions:

1) What probability would you ascribe to peak oil within 5 years?

2) What impact would you expect on western civilisation if peak oil were encountered without prior preparation?

If you ask those two questions of someone used to the management of risk you would generally get figures of 3-50% and billions in just national GDP impact. Put in those terms most people can recognise the need for action, particularly when that action has consequent benefits in cost, resilience and ecology terms.

However, the next step is the real problem. What can be done? All too often the answer is whole scale revision of the makeup of civilisation and even the idea of a reversion to a agrarian model. Its at THIS point that people give up and wipe the whole thing from their minds.

Acceptance of peak oil is not determined by the facts of finite oil, or even on the 'behavioural aspects' but on the inability for suitable acceptable solutions to be presented together with the problem.

The remark by Kunstler about the breakdown of the rule of law will be taken as to refer to the citizenry. I'd take it to refer to the elected and non elected or spuriously elected leadership as well, and perhaps as the first casualty. This also means international law. I'll refrain from giving recent examples.

George Monbiot's 'cats in a sack' reference is already being realized to an extent. The idea that the citzenry is prone to violence and unlawful behavior and must be restrained by a morally superior ruling elite is one of those myths that just doesn't wash for me.

Just show me how the 'Great War' was a result of any motivation by any citizen. And why was a European war being fought in the Middle East? What was Lawrence of Arabia doing in Arabia? Now let's see, the Archduke Ferdinand... and then France and Germany and ... nevermind, we have to be ever vigilant for a breakdown of law amongst the masses.

World War 1 is still being fought. They just told us it was over and we believed them.

World War 1 is still being fought. They just told us it was over and we believed them.

Brilliant quote. This ties in with Melville's theme that people are born good, and later become corrupted by society. Or to paraphrase (with apologies to Lord Acton): "Societies corrupt, and totalitarian societies corrupt absolutely."


let the good times roll
New study suggets US consumers less responsive to gas price increases:

ummm wouldn't that mean that the demand curve for gasoline is already inelastic and no one is 'learning' from it.

One of the basic tenants of economics is that short term demand is inelastic with long term demand being more elastic. It seems the USA/Canada has not learned from previous oil shocks unlike other industrialized nations.

Thanks for the excellent post.

Evolutionary psychology and game theory are also relevant to psychological and social responses to peak oil. Peaking oil will result in an energy "negative sum game" -- a shrinking overall pie. Unfortunately, there isn't much research on means to enable cooperation during negative sum game situations.

I presented a talk on this topic two years ago. A very brief summary, and my PowerPoint slides can be found here:

During negative sum games, frequently the stronger loser tries to destroy the weaker losers to grab as much as possible of the diminishing pie. Thus I expect social and economic inequality to increase post-Peak, because those with power will fight hard to preserve their relative superiority.

As usual, most of the costs of social change will be borne by the poor and powerless members of a society.

The burdens most people will accept is rooted in their perception of fairness. As the implementation of energy efficiency measures and renewable sources lags in compensating for fossil fuel depletion the Western world will enter a prolonged crisis comparable to WW 11. The common folk will accept a decline in their standard of living if they percieve that Bill Gates and those like them are limited in their energy use as much as the gal who cleans the toilets at Microsoft. That means rationing and much higher taxes on the rich just like in WW 11. Only rationing will avoid unequitable burdens on the poor as well as guarantee that essential services will be maintained. Unfortunately such a program will not be presented by any politician until well into the crisis.

Good, thomas, mentioning rationing in the context of fairness. Fairness is marketable while hard times are just that, hard times, and who wants to think (buy) of those.

rationing is inequitable, an ideallist would prefer for price to signal everything. If the economy goes down hill, then specialized goods will become much more expensive, and suck money out of the rich who still want them. Same with all non-nessesities.

The price of luxuries will rise, and the rich will be forced to bear this cost at their own accord. Same with the middle class however these are luxuries we are talking about, not nessesities.

Price and the intersection of supply and demand are enough to make everything fair. If not, the rich will probably die under pitchfork and scythe as their useless luxuries are destroyed(what use will a poor person with no electricity have for a tv?).

"Price and the intersection of supply and demand are enough to make everything fair."

Yes, this is exactly what the idealists are continuing to tell us. Resting purely on market forces will ultimately favor the rich. Fairness is not some gravitational level that money falls to like water settling into pools. People who have it will find ways to control it and keep it.. if the culture doesn't insist on helping all members get by as part of its social compact, as part of its basic survival mechanisms, money will not just jump in like some automatic appliance and do it for us.

Bob Fiske

I will posit that in the case of rationing we will have hoarding and black market goods. These will represent true market prices. The government mandated rations will always run out and shortages will develop. This has been proven time and time again. I simply am against rationing.

So what if one man can eat better than 1000 others? He is most definetly paying for it. If he steps beyond the bounds of acceptability he will pay for it with his life. (see french revolutions)

The market does not only care for the rich, it really cares for NOONE and only supply|demand|price|quantity. It cares for the quality of those goods, the number of buyers and sellers, the elasticity of their puchasing decisions.

The market truely is fair, it is an impartial monster. The government (IMHO it has failed in a number of natural monopolies in many cases and does not have the willpower to restrike a balance in the market) should ideally only serve to reduce transaction costs (look up Coase?Coates nobel prize winning theory) because some costs are unknowable.

In the cases of tradgedy of the commons the government should assign costs regarding the tradgedy unfolding. There has actually been a lot of work in the areas of environmental economics on this.

As for people born into money, a simple constitutional amendment which halves all death inheritences (ie a 50% tax upon the estate of a dead man) and uses those funds explicitly for the repealing of unconstitutional laws, for corporate law investigations, and as well as enforcement of governmental standards would go a long way to keeping everyone honest.


“The government mandated rations will always run out and shortages will develop.”

That is why rations are used, because the shortages had already developed, and the substance was running out, whether temperarily or permanently.

I have an example. Suppose a government puts rationing on gasoline, so that everyone has a small share. Many people living in the country or having an acre of bush could use their small ration of gas for their power saw to cut several trees for their winter heating. Many others could use their ration in their small power tiller, to prepare their garden. Since most of these people would have very little spare money, they just could not afford to buy the fuel, competing with the richer people who litterally have money to burn, and the rich will pay what they have to, to power their luxury energy wasters, just like they have no interest in giving up their HUMMERS and speed boats now.


the thing is. game theory does not work on people, it was a flawed concept born out of the cold war. People are not rational beings and never will be.
please watch the three part documentary 'the trap: what happened to our dreams of freedom' for a good example as to why game theory fails.
to put it simply there are only two kinds of people who act like what game theory assumes ALL people act like. psychopaths, and economists.


I just want to point out that several countries have gone through peak oil like situations. Many countries have undergone reduced energy levels. These include Cuba, the USA during WWII, North Korea, and Cambodia.

Many of the communist countries got into big trouble when the USSR collapsed and withdrew patronage funds. Cuba is an example of a country that came out with the least damage because of (1) their leadership was better and (2) they eventually found a new energy patron in Chavez. During the crisis, they embraced bicycle transport and created huge buses that would carry bicycles and people. Agriculture reverted to animal and human worked systems. What we would call "Victory gardens" sprouted over the country. Meat became unavailable and the country went de facto vegetarian. Castro himself lost a lot of weight. The country looked hungry. That said, they didn't collapse like other countries would have. The long American embargo may have provided them the experience of working with what they have. However, the crisis was not really resolved until Chavez started supplying the country with oil.

Our own country had a similar experience during WWII. Fuel and transportation were curtailed, alternatives like bicycles and mass transit (especially trolleys) were encourage, food was grown locally and standard of living was voluntarily lowered. Of course, after the war we went back to our old habits: cars, cars, cars and scrap every surviving trolley system. In many ways, this might be a model for a democratic society to emulate during an energy powerdown.

Parts of the Soviet Union like Georgia went through Peak Oil like conditions. While the mountainous country has lots of hydroelectric, most of the fuel oil is imported. The Economy became so bad that the rail system (which can be run on hydroelectric) was shut down. I saw a photo story on the web of the abandonned parts of the system. I have lost the link. It's a very depressing thought that the economy would get so bad that one of the most efficient/ high speed transportation systems would get shut down. Only recently has the country began to get the railroad working again.

The other two examples I can think of are North Korea (Oh God!) and Cambodia (OH GOD NO!).

North Korea has control freak leaders that were so ossified in there social structure that they could not really adapt. North Korea was heavily industrialized. When their economy collapsed, the factories were just shut down and the machinery was sold to China. From what I've heard, China is keeping them on life supports simply to stave off a complete collapse.

Cambodia had leaders that were ruthless survivalists at best and diabolical mass murders at worst. (Note, I am not supporting their actions in any way.) When the country finally collapsed in 1975, all machine based transportation shut down and food shipments stopped. In fact, the Khmer Rouge's justification for clearing out Phnom Penh was that the city of 2,000,000 had only enough food for 1 week, they couldn't sustain the city, there was no way to transport food into the city and that there was more food in the countryside. Somewhere between 1.7 and 3 million people died when the society collapsed and the enraged/insane peasantry took control.

My overall point is that several countries have endured a loss of petroleum based transportation. Some countries like Cuba and the USA managed to make it through with a lowered standard of living and the careful mobilization of the people. Others like North Korea have had significant losses in the standard of living and starvation. And then there is Cambodia.

After what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, I think that we may be real trouble (North Korea as a model) if this country undergoes a quick loss of petrolem. A slower loss may result in rationing with a WWII type of experience (Cuba Model).


Hi Sontag C,
Many countries have gone through wartime deprivation of oil. Switzerland had a virtual embargo in WWII, and all the countries occupied by the Axis had virtually all oil commandeered by the occupiers. England imported all its oil from the US and had extremely harsh rationing, while in the US citizens had a coupon rationing system even in the oil producing and refining regions.
There have been huge increases in consumption in the last 65 years in the west-our agriculture has consolidated where thre are few actual families in the farming and ranching business, its mostly agribusiness which is very fossil fuel dependent
I think New Orleans after Katrina is a bad model for a collapse. At least I hope and pray we can get rid of the Neocons who just saw the disaster as another opportunity to loot America and stir up hatred and paranoia. The response of the American people to the hurricanes that summer was overwhelmingly generous and good. In my home town of Galveston we took in about 30,000 people for a while, and Houston took in about 100,000. Many are still with us. Other cities did the same all over the USA.
Meanwhile, the MSM used propaganda to try to disparage the refugees. They called the people in NOLA snipers when they tried to signal with guns, called people getting food and water from abandoned houses and stores looters, and generally stirred up racism and fear. Thats the real heartbreaking story of Katrina.
The people of the world are generally noble in their behaviour, and with good leadership rise to overcome most problems, but the current leadership is greedy and corrupt. And the Demicans are nearly as bad as the Republicrats. They represent one group of people-themselves. The media give only the point of view of their corporate sponsors.

All right, rant over!

Oilmanbob wrote: In my home town of Galveston we took in about 30,000 people for a while, and Houston took in about 100,000. Many are still with us. [...] Meanwhile, the MSM used propaganda to try to disparage the refugees.

1,290,000 hits.

Good post Charles.
One point that has not been covered is that we now have 2-3 generations of people in the most prosperous western countries who have never known any form of hardship (comparatively speaking)

These generations have always enjoyed cheap and abundant food, clothing and shelter. Having to endure massive price hikes and shortages of any kind is completely foreign. Countries like wartime USA, Cuba, North Korea and Cambodia did not have the modern luxuries that people now have and their populations had endured some levels of hardship at one time or another in their lives.

When peak oil slowly begins to creep into our modern lives, it will initially produce a huge amount of whining, complaining and gnashing of teeth. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

NK would collapse on its own in less than 1 year without outside support from China.

Its people eat bark and grass because there is so little food. There is no electricity anywhere except for KJI's palace.

Castro lost weight. The North Korean leaders kept the gasoline for their own cars. That's a huge difference.

Another way to think about it - is energy a public health issue or a military issue? Consider the implications to fairness and legitimacy. Penicillin before paint.

cfm in Gray, ME

Is energy a public health issue or a military issue?

I think we are going to find that energy is an everything issue. I've decided not to address the energy as a military issue in this post. And let's start talking about public health in our current america by first talking about other countries.

When I visited friends in Germany in January of 2001, I got to tour Brussels. It was cold, but people were walking and riding bicycles and eating outdoors at cafes in the semi-enclosed arcades. (We need more arcades and less malls.) I didn't see many fat people in Brussels. While I wasn't looking, I didn't see any morbidly obese people. Not like here. But the Belgians are more active, walk more and eat better.

Returning to American Health, Kunstler pointed out that if Americans had to suddenly get out of their cars and walk or ride bicycles, obese American ( 68% are overweight, about 27 % are obese) would blow out their knees and start dropping like flies after a cold snap from heart failure and strokes. Heck, I am the higher end of my recommended weight and I get sometimes get winded when I ride the 3 miles to work on my bicycle. I am getting better and on the upside, I've lost about 10 pounds this summer and saved close to $100 in fuel. What I have learned is the more I drive, the fatter I get. The more I bicycle, the thinner and more in shape I get.

Now, I want to note the synergistic effect of another lifestyle choice: the triumph of Southern Fried Food in our daily diet. When you combine our energy rich slothful lifestyle choices that have reduced our activity levels with the now popular gluttonous Sharecropper diet of fried high calories, high salt, low vitamins, you get an obese nation. There was a study of African American Sharecropper diet in the 1950's. The researchers found that farm workers were eating up to 6000 calories a day of which 2000 were from lard. These workers were not obese because they were WORKING 8, 10, 12, 14 hours a day in the hot Southern sun in a field. They were burning those calories and sweating out the salt. With the mechanization of farming and the deindustrialization of America, we as a people, are no longer burning thousands of calories a day working.

Another energy side note. Add air conditioning and we are no longer sweating out the salt.

Now, let's look to the future. What happens if food availablity and transportation decline? I think a lot of people are going to be in real trouble. To repeat Kunstler, many are going to be too fat to cope quickly. And then what happens when incomes fall and depressed people reach for fatty, salty, oily and cheap comfort food. Healthy food like vegetables are EXPENSIVE and most of it is grown in the Central Valley. Look at the comparative prices for a nice salad versus a burger. And Yes you can grow lettuce in Maine .. in June July and August. Wheat and meat are "cheap". There are going to be some real health problems if we run into energy problems because the healthy food are going to be even more expensive, seasonal, and are probably not going to be available to the people who will need them the most.

And let's combine it with our side note. What happens when air conditioning becomes too expensive for poor, obese people? The mortality rates go up up up during a heat wave!

So yes, energy is a health issue. Cheap energy has allowed us to indulge in two deadly sins: Sloth and Gluttony. During a crisis, those "indulgent" folks are going to be in real trouble.


I belong to an organization called Life Extension Foundation, founded by a couple of fellows with the intention to "save the world". As they see it, humans are designed to make decisions short-term in scope simply because they don't live very long. So they figured that if even just an elite can afford to fairly certainly have a healthy lifespan of 200 years or more, that elite will be much more interested in the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Where I'm going with this: it appears that the decision-making time frame has accordioned. Even people in their 50's are going to experience years of bad outcomes if humanity doesn't act quickly on the Hirsch report recommendations. I'll suggest that we needn't frame PO & GW debate on the consequences to some abstract, future generation, but simply appeal to decision makers' quality-of-life self-interest.

IMHO, this comes down to persuading the elite who fund CERA and other deniers that it is no longer in their personal self-interest to stall ramping-up PO responses.


Errol in Miami

How the population responds in times of stress seems to be mostly determined by the type of leadership.

During the blitz the English adapted quite well because they were led by a charismatic leader (Churchill) who appealed to their need to sacrifice for the greater good.

Since the end of WWII Americans have never had such a leader. Instead we have had a succession of people who promised guns and butter. The only (slight) exception being Carter and his sweater. He didn't get re-elected.

GWB has now taken the idea of selfish entitlement to an extreme. His response to 9/11 was to tell people to go out shopping. His response to Katrina was to blunt the efforts of the people to help out by thwarting spontaneous initiatives. His response to two simultaneous wars has been to run up the deficit and short change social programs.

Who will be able to recast the present mindset when it is time to take bold steps like cutting down on fuel usage and scaling back consumption? There aren't any Dems leading the way either. Even Al Gore talks about "smart" growth not restraint.

How the population responds in times of stress seems to be mostly determined by the type of leadership.

Maybe in the very long term. In the short term the response is dictated by demographics.

Contrast the attitudes when entire cities were wiped out by tornadoes in the Midwest this year with NOLA.

musashi, thats racist/regionalist BS. Tornados take a swath through part of a city, seldom as much as 1/4th of a mile wide. New Orleans had at least 1/4th of the city under poisionous toxic water for weeks and most of its population was forced to evacuate. Its still lacking 1/2 the population who were forced out of town.

No, it isn't. Sometimes people don't like to hear the pragmatic view.

Compare Mississippi to NOLA if you want. It's real simple, scientists will try to think themselves out of situations, working people will try to work themselves out, and the welfare establishment is going to riot and steal themselves out.
There were billions of FEMA money stolen and spent on prime necessities like lap dances and Gucci handbags. There is plenty of blame to go around for everyone.

Mississippi got, in the original appropriation, 5x as much per victim as Louisiana (now down to 2:1). The got all their trailers first, FEMA is MUCH more co-operative with them, etc.

Their governor is former head of the Republican National Committee and they have two senior R senators, one named Trent Lott.

My home was looted. A digital camera, LCD & computer, a pile of change were all left untouched. Canned food, cooked food in the frig, a bottle of distilled water for my car, wine (tastes better :-), umbrella and flashlight were taken. Absolutely minimal damage to the door. One bar owner thought he had not been looted (the break was so clean). His soft drinks, soda water and beer was gone, but most of the hard liquor was left. (Beer is life saving, hard liquor can kill when severely dehydrated).

Numerous discussions I have had found a general rule among looters; take a double share for yourself (heh you scored it !) and share the rest. 5 days in heat and humidity waiting for "our" President's photo-op would have been fatal in our heat & humidity without water & food.

One Lutheran minister set up his church compound as a fort, with 80 people at the end. Everyone gave up their keys to scavenge any food & water available at their homes (his son was recently discharged Marine with tours in Iraq & Afghanistan). Then they started to systematically loot homes for food & water (drain hot water tanks).

The crowds on the interstates held up small children, begging the gov't officals, news media, etc. to take them back with them. None ever did.

So much more to say,


Looks like your fridge helped out some hungry people then?

It's not looting when the item was going to go bad anyways(well beer would have stayed, but it's a good substitute for potable water).

People found a use for something you couldn't have ever used. boo-hoo

I was VERY happy to see my home looted (just wish they had been a bit neater, but under the circumstances...)

They had my blessings :-)

As noted, they took nothing that was not useful to survival (including the umbrella & flashlight).

And, yes, I was doubly pleased that the cooked meat in the frig was not there to be cleaned out when I returned.

I was able to salvage my frig, but I enjoyed the "Refrigerator Art" on the curb. My favorite was a rotten frig, wrapped in duct tape, marked "COD 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC".


Well, Alan, we are going to see the situation very differently.

You live there, your social network is there, you experienced the events first hand, and you have a vested interest in rebuilding because obviously you love the place.
Hey, more power to you.

I used to spend some time in Breau Bridge and New Iberia and always had a good time, as far as the event in NOLA I only spent a week or so there and all I saw was what I saw, and all I know is what the people I talked to told me. We originally went there in a small convoy to pull two of our friends that lost their house out, and ended up doing what we could for others with what we had, but all in all to me it was more of a tactical situation.

To you it's personal. I can understand that.

80% of Orleans Parish was flooded, with storm damage and fires in the other 20% (I missed flooding by 1+ inch, but across the street burned to the ground).

Over 1,100 people died immediately and post storm deaths are well over 1,000 (suicide rate tripled with half the population, uncontrolled diabetes waiting for the feds, etc, killed more).

The greatest man made disaster in the US during the 20th Century.


The water wasnt poisonous, please don't repeat that falsehood. It wasn't great water, but neither was it a toxic soup.

Wasn't poisonous ?

I can STILL SEE the line on the buildings TODAY !!

Think every oil product in tens of thousands of cars and hundreds of near empty gasoline stations plus household chemicals for 4/5 of a city plus 1.100 dead human bodies plus dead dogs, cats, rats, etc. plus food plus ...

The smell upon my return was somewhat abated, but still indescribable.


smells!= toxic

water lines happen on the shoreline too.

i'll try to find the report about how MSM pumped up the toxic angle for shocks.

smells!= toxic

Human olfactory senses were specifically evolved to sense what not to eat or drink. So smell bad = toxic !

We are particularly sensitive to dead body/ies in water and we had 1,100+ humans plus many animals.

Modern chemistry has created a wide variety of hazards that our senses are not evolved to detect and add a different set of toxic hazards. Since there was no outlet and we are/were a dense city, the collection of household and automotive chemicals was concentrated. As one example of hundreds, Battery acid (full of lead) takes some time to filter out through the gas relief hole (if it does explode when shorted) but the osmotic pressure from the hypertonic saline solution it is immersed in will draw out the lead saturated sulfuric acid.

water lines happen on the shoreline too

Pure and utter and complete BS ! Any salty residue will wash away in the first rain storm. These stains are lighter now after 22 months, but still there. They were not uniform throughout the city. As they age, Broadmoor watermarks look different somehow from New Orleans East, etc.

Bottom line, the water in New Orleans WAS TOXIC and a number of people were hospitalized (and some no doubt died waiting for Bush to get around to sending relief on dry open roads#)
The level of toxicity did increase over time (bodies rot, gasoline and motor oil take hours to fully filter out of cars, etc.)


# Once the winds died down, the HOV lane from the Convention Center, over the Crescent City Connection bridge, to the elevated West Bank Expressway was open. Highway 90 feeds into the West Bank Expressway as does the Huey Long Bridge back across the bridge into Metairie. There is an elevated dog-leg to the FEMA designated pick-up place for the largely Republican areas that opened up Tuesday with Port-a-lets (which did overflow) and ice (which did run out) for the huddled Republicans that got 1 foot of rainwater in their homes because their pump operators ran away (ours stayed till they had to swim out and a couple died in the toxic water).

How do you think the camera crews drove in with their satellite trucks and support crews ?

Only after all the Republicans had been evacuated was relief sent into Orleans Parish over open dry roads. The overhead shot of the military trucks driving through water was purely PR. They could (and later did) run straight into the Convention Center on perfectly dry roads. A friend stayed with his elderly mother till driving out Tuesday before dawn and told me that me it was dry from the Convention Center till Mississippi.

All who tried to walk out were chased back by gunfire.

Cut off those nice white Midwesterners from food and water for 5 days in 95 degree heat and 90% humidity, and chase back any that try to walk out with gunfire, and the results may not be so civilized.


By Lyle Grant:

"Price increases have relatively little impact on short-term gasoline demand (Dahl & Sterner, 1991; Espey, 1998) and there is some evidence demand inelasticity has increased over the past several decades (Hughes, Knittel, & Sperling, 2006)."

OPEC recently predicted that some destruction of oil demand is expected to occur if the price of oil will reach $75/barrel.

Some fuel switching was possible in certain areas as compressed natural gas was now used by millions of drivers in Argentina and Brazil.

During the second oil crisis of 1979, ,

there was a tremendous move to switch to smaller cars and lower worldwide consumption of oil. Between 1979-1989 worldwide consumption was less than at the peak in 1979. This was evidence of the elastic demand for oil at that time.

I remember 1979. I had to wait in a gas line that stretched around the block. If my license plate ended in an odd number I was only allowed to buy gas on odd numbered days. The interstate speed limit was lowered to 55 MPH to lower wind resistance on vehicles and to conserve gas. At one point thermostats in all Federal and commercial buildings were supposed to be turned to 68 degrees maximum in the winter to conserve energy.

First an individual oil field peaked in production, then a nation peaked in oil production ... then the world will peak in oil + liquids production. Energy switching will occur.

Lyle, you said

"I had to wait in a gas line that stretched around the block. If my license plate ended in an odd number I was only allowed to buy gas on odd numbered days."

These lines in the 1970s had little to do with the decisions of the oil suppliers and everything to do with the price controls Nixon put on crude and refined products. I watched as petroleum derivatives were exported to countries where there were no controls, leaving a shortage and lines here. The lines disappeared when Reagan removed the remaining controls on crude. Prices went up and rationing by price replaced the rationing by lines and alternate days.
Let us fervently pray that no one is stupid enough to reimpose price controls.

Prof. Grant, thanks for a very interesting and well-written article. The full use of references mainly from written, "non peak oil" sources is very welcome and makes it much easier to use some of the concepts and information in trying to educate (allegedly!) intelligent people on aspects of peak oil.

I haven't finished the article yet, but I'm going to immediately disagree with the author on his first point, that being peak oil is a non-reaccuring event and has not been duplicated.
Tell that to the cubans who, after the collapse of the soviet union, had their oil supplies withdrawn and, in effect, passed their own oil peak.
I'm surprised that a leading story on this site bypasses this. I mean, they made a movie about it.

Yeah, I enjoyed the article, but what bothers me is that there seem to be several countries whose populations are not in denial (to use the layman's terminology; apologize for simplifying) and are actively planning for Peak Oil. Are the populations of these countries immune to the psychological effects you cite in this paper, or is there some other explanation?

cuba gets its oil from venezuala now

Now, yes, but they completely rearranged their lives to revolve around agriculture production. The average Cuban lost 20 lbs as they switched from industrialized agriculture to sustainable and urban agriculture. They still do this to this day. So even if they are getting some oil, they've already made changes that put them light years ahead of us.

Professor Grant,

May I ask why you are interested in framing the debate? What purpose do you think it will achieve to frame the debate one way and not another?

Thank you in advance.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Preparation vs. Reaction

...discriminated avoidance response that prevents or postpones an aversive consequence.

The professor is still focused of prevention (and why not so far in the USA). This may soon be a post mortum discussion as Peak Exports (if not Peak Oil per se) is very rapidly approaching.

My focus is switching from "Preparation" to "Reaction". The well known reaction of drowning people is to grasp at floating straws, anything that provides hope, regardless of it's rational feasibility. See corn based ethanol and hydrogen fuel cells for recent "floating straws".

I want some of those "straws grasped at in desperation" to be viable partial solutions (silver BBs) that society can stabilize around. My strategy is to preposition my meme here at TOD, speaking at the ASPO-USA conference in Houston, eMails to "policy wonks" and anything else I cna think of.

I am trying to pre-position my memes before TSHTF. Hopefully, some will turn towards these solutions.

The psychology of bailing out a sinking boat is quite different from checking the seams in dry dock in early Spring.

I can see that the seams look uncomfortably wet.

Best Hopes for Quick and Positive Reactions,


img src=

Ghawar production may be dieing, and I have been reading negative reports all over the internet about difficulty in replacing declining production, or companies being denied access to prospect on better ground, yet I wonder if anyone has projected when peak production from the Athabasca Field will occur and how many millions of barrels per day it will be? The proven reserves so far are above 170 billion barrels and they have merely scratched the surface.

Has anyone drawn a field production curve for the Orinoco Field in advance? A recent drilling survey of one block in the Orinoco found 30 billion barrels of heavy oil. It is not as if they want to leave it all in the ground either. It only cost a quarter BOE of energy a couple of years ago to get the stuff out of the ground using steam flood and there are technological advances that have been pushing the recovery rates to higher levels.

There was a time when French peasants thought that hunger might destroy them. The rich did not know there was a famine, they were eating cake. Winnebago sales were up this past quarter although profits were down on increasing material costs.

Hi Alan you left off the last doohickey, Good picture, I think I will print a copy of it.

...and we just tore out all that hard work, eh?

I wonder if anyone has projected when peak production from the Athabasca Field will occur and how many millions of barrels per day it will be ?

When ?

When natural gas supplies delivered to Northern Alberta peaks.

Since overall AB NG is just past peak, the MacKenzie pipeline is stalled, North Slope AK is long away.

It will be "interesting" to see how much NG goes to tar sands and how much to heat homes, operate industry, make fertlizer, refine oil and keep the lights on.

How Many million of barrels/day ?

Max out between 3 and 5 million b/day. Water limits upper bound to 5 million b/day. 3 million b/day is in process with identified NG sources.


Hmm I'm not sure I like this argument. Implicit is the assumption that by somehow making some changes large or small we can maintain something close to our current status quo i.e. 25% of the worlds energy going to 5% of the population. With nuclear and coal and other sources we probably can keep our overall energy expenditure near todays. With some faith in technology its easy to envision fusion and advanced breeder reactors allow energy use to grow again.

But is this important if you look at the bigger picture where peak oil is simply one problem that the world is facing amongst many my conclusion is the status quo is unsustainable even with transitions in how we use energy. The overall lifestyle of consumption is the problem and its solving this harder problem which will eventually hopefully lead us to a healthier happier life.

I don't know if I care to try to help todays Americans avert a crisis even if I could since the sooner we solve the real problems we face the better. Not that I have a magic bullet but sometimes pain is needed I think its time for some tough love so to speak. This argument is assuming your trying to sway coddled Americans I think its fruitless far better to wait till we are no longer coddled to do some soul searching. Its the same way you deal with a headstrong teenager and most Americans behave like headstrong teenagers.

I think we should make the truth as we know it along with our opinions and interpretations available but outside of trying to ensure people are informed but I really don't care if they decide to change thats not important to me. Its time for people to pay attention, learn and draw their own conclusions instead of depending on someone else to lead them this is the first step we need to make before we can have a better future.

If you look at the photo I misposted (and Crystal Radio posted correctly), I am not sure that "coddled Americans" is the first impression.

Best Hopes,


BTW, that photo is the best 1910s streetcar construction phot I have found. It is of Canadians though, in Toronto.

And Toronto, alone among North American cities, has maintained a decent % of their streetcar liens (perhaps 1/3rd of max).

New Orleans went from 222 miles & 666 streetcars to 7 miles & 35 streetcars and back up to 14 miles & 66 streetcars with plans for more.

Hi memmel,

If you allow me to say, more inclusively, N. Americans rather than just Americans and more selectively, their leaders rather than the people, then I would not be adverse to seeing a whole bunch of pain there.

From those who much has been given much is expected. Other than a handful of exceptions those who have led have not lived up to this maxim. The great masses who have not had talent or fine education or great wealth are relatively blameless for our common predicament but will suffer greater than these leaders who refuse to lead but prefer to exploit.

If we are going to get anywhere we will have to share both pain and gain. If all Allan's rail ideas meant was the status quo I think it would be pointless but I don't think that is his intention and I think that will not be the result. Rail is a form of common transportation unlike the automobile ... that is until some great 'leader' decides we need first, second and third class passengers. :>)

Yes, for sure, a well informed public, rather than a misled and manipulated one.

I did not mean to come off so harsh but you get the point it seems.

We need a enlightened populace willing to do some critical thinking.

Memmel wrote: With nuclear and coal and other sources we probably can keep our overall energy expenditure near todays.

...Or multiply it by 3.2 million.



Seriously though the issue is not energy. Although coal has some serious global warming issues that cannot be ignored.
Its two things one trying to actually continue to live the way we live with ever increasing energy needs or live a different
I hope we choose a different way.

Risk Management

"Unfortunately, at this time the problem of peak oil is not conceptualized in terms of risk management. "

There are many psychological problems with using the techniques of risk management. Having experienced the reaction of business managers to an evaluation of the probabilities of various outcomes I'm not optimistic that this would convince people any better than what we're doing now.
A typical reaction occurred after I'd presented a detailed assessment of some plant expansion alternatives with their probabilities and risks. The managers reacted negatively and asked for a single assessment they could use for a decision. Several said that they'd seen stuff like this in Business School, but didn't like it. They all wanted single predictions.
If this is the reaction of experienced business people with MBAs from top schools, including courses in risk and Bayesian decision making, what can we expect from J. Q. Public whose idea of risk and odds comes from the track or Las Vegas?

If this is the reaction of experienced business people with MBAs from top schools, including courses in risk and Bayesian decision making, what can we expect from J. Q. Public whose idea of risk and odds comes from the track or Las Vegas?

If they actually participate significantly in gambling at the track and Vegas, they'd have a much better notion.

Maybe we'll get those World Series of Poker guys to explain it to the masses.

Loved it, very succinct.

I would like to suggest that every point that Dr. Grant made about peak oil could be applied to the global warming issue.

I suspect Dr. Grant so clearly outlined the difficulty of peak oil as a political topic that most readers were rather depressed.

While each of his points deserves a detailed discussion of the appropriate strategy for persuasive counter argument, I agree with several comments suggesting pocket book issues need to be addressed first. If normal people are going to buy into an “avoidance response” to the “aversive consequence” of peak oil and global warming, they must believe that at least the medium term economic pain will be modest.

Both consequences can be avoided with modest pain by enacting a revenue neutral carbon tax and then returning every dime to the taxpayers as a rebate on their social security taxes; kind of like a tax refund for all workers. Look, if you want to spend your rebate on gas and home heating, you come out even. But markets work, and increasing the price of gas will decrease gas consumption, as many will find they would rather buy a fuel-efficient car and do something else with their rebate money.

Shouldn’t it be possible to persuade even normal people that a plan which does not require them to modify their behavior at all, but still solves these problems, would be sensible.

Why do we need to convince people? All people need to know is the truth which the mainstream is slowly leaking out at a glacial pace. Most people will believe anything the mainstream tells them. Trying to convince them on your own is useless, people will think you're a kook or the subject matter is too complicated for them to understand. All that has to happen is the mainstream needs to accept peak oil as truth and everything else will be easy from there on out.

Most people are in denial, because if you start to think of the consequences, you feel like you are in a horror movie going in slow motion.

I am only one.
I cannot do everything.
But still I can do something

Exactly. A programme was broadcast on Irish TV regarding PEAK OIL, recently. It was refreshing to see that it was not a format for dismissal of the crisis, rather a clarion call to the wider public. Still could have gone into greater depth but its a sign that this is becoming more main stream. Great website TODers.

My psychiatrist friend sent me the following after I linked her to this article:

Dig it!
That was a brilliantly written piece, very well outlined and nicely delineated portions of the problem. Post a comment on my behalf of that ilk

She does have, IMO, the toughest job in New Orleans. She is doing her residency here.

Best Hopes for Good People doing Good Things,


That was a brilliantly written piece--not.

"If you've got to use language like that about a thing, it's 90-proof bull and I ain't buying any!" (Big Daddy)

[see below]

Living amidst a group of "deniers", I can see that some of these arguments are true.

On the other hand, I can also see that many of the non-converted just don't see it / get it (see Nate's posts).

And some just don't agree. The biggest response I get, from people who should know better, is: even if the idea is understood, peak oil will be a non-event - with an aftertaste of "the markets will take care of it."

Now let me tell you my story:

Coming from an oil family, it was clear that production falls off over time - but there will always be oil in the ground, and more to be found.. In the late 70s we heard that oil would last 40 years, which was obviously garbage.

This was the first immunization.

We discussed replacing fossil fuels ad naseum at school. The discussion on this site, for instance, is a reproduction (except for the technical infos exchanged here!) of the ones we had in 1985: oil, nuclear, renewable, corporations, government, security, war, etc..

The second immunization.

The third was the fall of oil prices in the 1980s. Oil glut. I "knew" that it would take 30 years for oil prices to stabilize (ok, it only took 20!), so I did not go into oil.

In the late '90s, I came upon Colin Campbell's book about Peak Oil. The ad about it that I saw proclaimed that we were about to see political upheaval and wars in the Mid East.

This interested me NOT IN THE LEAST!

Now, I'm a models type of guy, coming upon Hubbert's "predictions" right after Iraq II. I was curious why oil prices weren't falling back to pre war levels, seeing a technical "buy" signal on the markets - and had gone looking for the reasons.

Suddenly, Peak Oil "fit".

For those others in my environment (at least in the US), PO doesn't "fit". For them it will certainly be a non-event, no matter what difficulties this situation brings.

All of the above arguments about "denial" might be right. But if PO is going to be taken seriously on a mass scale, then it has to be sold.. It has to become SEXY.. It has to "fit". Otherwise it's just another one of our 1000 problems or "issues" like hunger in Africa.

And, as another thought, Germany is very very very "strained resource" sensitive, just like it is very climate change sensitive. PO doesn't need to be sold here.

Cheers, Dom


My grandfather pumped oil with an engine-house,
my father pumped oil with a 20 lb. electric motor,
can't I just pump it online?

I have to say this, and it's not going to be fun, so I'll be brief.

I can agree with what's being said in the article (after I passed many of the sentences several times through my inner parsing machine).

But it seems to me that this article is merely re-stating the obvious in scientific-sounding jargon.

-- Peak oil and its effect can't be predicted precisely
-- By the time the effects are felt, it's too late to do anything to prepare
-- People don't prepare for things they can't see

"But Mike," you may object, "it sounds obvious to YOU because you have spent four years reading thousands of pages about peak oil."

True. But then, exactly WHO is this sentence written for:

From a behavioral perspective, a key effect of presenting a false discriminative stimulus signaling the lack or scarcity of a reinforcer would be to strip the signal of any discriminative control, through extinction, over whatever responding (e.g., conservation, planning for scarcity) would be otherwise occasioned by the discriminative stimulus and any future similar signals.

(Um... the citizens didn't respond the third time the boy cried wolf?)

I'm sorry to be the stick-in-the-mud.

All of you need to reckon with the following (IF your intent is to "get word out" to the public): They don't care about the science.

As I said up thread, I believe that we are in the transition phase between preparation and reaction. Far too soon, discussions about why we will not/did not prepare will be retrospective.

IMHO, we need to be laying the groundwork for analyzing, preparing for and guiding the coming reaction phase.

A second article on that point would be even more useful !

Best Hopes for an Early, Positive and Useful Reaction,


I wanted to make a point which I don't think is made on this thread. In the scenario of imminent or past peak oil (ie 05/05) it is clear we will be dragged kicking and screaming into a low carbon age (albeit possibly under the guise of mitigation of global warming). BUT here is the point that I wanted to make:

Lets say the politicians decide to come clean and get the message across to everyone then implement a painful crash program that drastically alters our lifestyle but at least keeps a semblance of coherent civilised society; there will still be PLENTY of disbelievers who will remain adamant and that there was never a problem and our ways were changed in vain. And who could prove them wrong?

As far as our credibility on this community goes we are in a lose lose situatuion. Whoever 'saves' society will never be credited for having done so!


Credit ? Who cares about ego stroking.

I am trying to create a meme, a concept that will transform and mutate (perhaps for the better) as it is repeated again and again and passed on. Soon my name will be disassociated from that meme.

Others are working in other venues on comparable memes. Tracing the lineage of specific useful policy actions (such as Ontario's recent breakthrough in Urban Transit) to specific original thinkers is impossible since such actions are often synthesized from several lines of thought, and memes rarely have a pedigree.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness


Notice my 'Saved' in inverted commas because to many it will not seem at all that society has been saved. All they will notice is that they have had to sacrifice much, and for what? They never believed in all that peak oil or global warming tripe anyway!

Give me back my goddam hummer!!!!!!

Ego stroking? The only thing getting stroked will be a double barrel (If anyone can get cartridges!) :-)


Given the choice, (and I'm not saying there is one), I think it would be much better if the PO community would 'save' society and not get any credit for it than for society to 'tank' and the PO community gets to say 'I told you so' - because there won't even be any PO community then. It would be the tree falling in the woods with nobody to hear it.
Take the Y2K run up. Should nobody have said or done anything about it just because it wasn't a catastrophe? First of all, it could have been a catastrophe, and secondly, it probably would have been if nothing was said or done.