Oil Drum Staff on Film

During the Sixth annual ASPO conference in Cork, Ireland in 2007, Nate Hagens and I were interviewed for the event's DVD. The 5 disc DVD box set (available here) contains all the conference material and a number of interviews including ours.

Below the fold you can watch our interviews. As ever your insightful comments on the content are welcomed but we are also interested in your thoughts on video as a communication medium and what future video could have on The Oil Drum. Also see the video Luís de Sousa made last month: Olduvai 2008 movie.

Nate Hagens

Nate answers questions on people's acceptance of peak oil, its seriousness, EROEI, the credibility of biofuels and the role of the market.

Chris Vernon

Chris answers questions on the impact of peak oil for poorer countries, the affect on UK, the contribution of biofuels and the relationship between peak oil and climate change.

Chris -thanks for putting this together. I'd not actually seen this yet, but I do remember that interview at the end of the conference being in between large pints of cold Guinness. I am curious how the video folks were able to superimpose Michael Moore's image with my voice...;-)

I think it would be a great format (if we had more resources, namely time) to have our authors give a 1 minute video summary of the posts at the top, for people to get the main gist - if they are interested and have more time then can read the entire article.

A cultural observation - why are Brits (in general, but yourself included), so consistently articulate??

It's not that Brits are articulate, it's just that Americans aren't :p

I think video is a good medium, if you keep it pretty short and snappy; if people want more info they can read. It's also a good medium for certain kinds of impact, like The Story of Stuff did so well.

But really, you need some really good-looking people telling the story. I mean, just compare your vids to the peak oil explanation by this woman.

I think Chris is wrong about peak oil mitigating climate change. If we burn even half our proven oil, natural gas and coal reserves, we pass the threshold that gives us 450ppm CO2, commonly considered the point beyond which we're in the shit.

I suppose I should write an article on it... I talk about a related topic in asking if my personal goal of changing our personal emissions to a tonne each, if this will avoid any climate change at all. I say probably not.

Currently we emit a total of about 49Gt CO2e annually, about 58% is from burning fossil fuels, and 8% is from fertiliser - ultimately natural gas. So 67%, two-thirds is from fossil fuels directly. That's quite a bit.

But note also that 17.3% or 8.5Gt CO2e comes from deforestation, and in some parts of the world if fossil fuels become short, there's going to be a lot more deforestation. You've got to cook with something, after all. So absent fossil fuels, we can expect that 8.5Gt CO2e to grow considerably. But let's be optimistic and assume that for every tree cut down, another is planted and cared for over a century or so, and that climate change doesn't affect the forests badly overall, and it all balances out nicely from tomorrow until 2100.

Apart from the forests, what will happen when the oil runs short? Well, if the market's allowed to decide, people will use more natural gas and coal. The Australian government for many years has offered subsidies to convert petrol-driven cars to LNG; expect this sort of thing to happen across the West as oil becomes more expensive.

So we can't look at just the oil, we have to consider coal and natural gas, too.

Already since 2000 we've put about 315Gt CO2e into the atmosphere, and as I noted, we're putting another 49Gt CO2e annually. Ultimately how much stuff can we burn and put out there? Well, let's take the optimistic but not insane reserves estimates you find here and there. Then let's combine them with the CO2e emissions of each; for the sake of argument we'll assume perfect combustion (5-10% of all methane just leaks out of mines and pipelines).

Oil, 1,317Gbbl @ 450kg CO2e/bbl = 593Gt CO2e
Coal, 998Gt @ 2,350kg CO2e/t = 2,854Gt CO2e
Natural gas, 6,074 trillion cu ft @ 52.2kg CO2e/1,000 cu ft 316Gt CO2e
So the total of burning all fossil fuels is 3,763Gt CO2e

If we just burn the oil, the 315Gt existing emissions this century plus the 593Gt gives us 908Gt CO2e.

Of course if we burn all the oil then people will burn all the natural gas and coal, too. So we hit the 3,763Gt.

The IPCC told us in 2004 that

on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilise at 450 ppm carbon dioxide, could require that cumulative emissions over the 21st century be reduced from an average of approximately 670 [630 to 710] GtC (2460 [2310 to 2600] GtCO2) to approximately 490 [375 to 600] GtC (1800 [1370 to 2200] GtCO2). Similarly, to stabilise at 1000 ppm this feedback could require that cumulative emissions be reduced from a model average of approximately 1415 [1340 to 1490] GtC (5190 [4910 to 5460] GtCO2)

In other words, if we can keep 21st century total emissions to 1,800Gt CO2e, we'll be in the shit but won't have a total catastrophe; if we head up to 5,190Gt CO2e then we're really in trouble, past that forget about it.

Once we've burned all the oil and natural gas, we actually only have to burn 20% of the coal to pass that 1,800Gt threshold. Burning it all takes us to 4,078Gt. That's not far off the threshold that takes us eventually to 1,000ppm. Remember that 8.5Gt of deforestation we've got annually? That'd be 782Gt if taken to 2100, and if Chris is right about the Third World losing its electricity - well, Senegalese are going to burn their forests for cooking and light. That takes us well into 1,000ppm territory.

Okay, you say, peak oil is all about that we won't be able to get it all out. Of course, that doesn't apply to "proven" reserves over 92 years, those are all coming out, it's more for these "unproven", ie stupidly expensive reserves.

But let's be optimistic - over the next 92 years, we mine just half of it. We still get 1,881Gt, plus the existing 315Gt makes it 2,196Gt CO2e. That's past the threshold.

Assuming a free market, peak oil will not in any way mitigate climate change. To avoid catastrophic climate change, we have to stop using fossil fuels long before we're forced to by circumstance.

You can play with the numbers a bit, assume declining carbon sinks and so on, but it doesn't really change the overall picture: we have to choose to stop using fossil fuels before we're forced to, if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Thanks for letting us know about these videos! I'll watch them and then start disseminating them to the masses.

As for

I think Chris is wrong about peak oil mitigating climate change.

, peak oil solves global climate change by default. As oil, gas, and coal become cost prohibitive to drill, mine, transport, etc., voila... no more burning of fossil fuels.

I think Chris is wrong about peak oil mitigating climate change.

I didn't say that at all. In fact I specifically said in the video (06:10):

"I don't suggest peak oil mitigates the climate change problem."

Here in the Netherlands we(ASPO Nl) just published a report on the issue.
Unfortunately the report is in Dutch, we are still looking for some funding to have it translated in English.
For those who want to (try) to read it (PDF!) http://www.peakoil.nl/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/minder_olie_meer_co2_pe...

Our main conclusion was that as peakoil also means a shift to tarsands, heavy oil, CTL, GTL, the net effect of declining fossil fuel production on co2 emissions will be near zero. It could even mean more co2 in the air.
This result is of course strongly influenced by how peak oil will shape climate policy. If peak oil means forgetting about reducing co2 emissions and a strong push for coal and unconventionals, we will almost certainly see more co2. On the other hand, the IPCC scenario's are based on assumptions on fossil fuel productions most people in the industry will see as unrealistic.

The report also deals with the effects of climate change on the fossil fuel industry. For instance the rising change on supply disruption by extreme weather events as floods and hurricanes, the effect of thawing permafrost on oil infrastructure and of course the prospects of oil,- and gasproduction in the arctic.

From 5:10 or so onwards this is discussed by you.

Chris begins by saying that

"I think the current understanding of climate change, the analysis that the IPCC have done with their scenarios, doesn't take into full account the latest thinking on oil reserves and on peak oil."

To be clear, the IPCC does not produce any scenarios at all, but simply reviews and summarises conclusions from scenarios that others have done. Whether among those 177 scenarios are any which consider peak oil (or other fossil fuels) is unclear. However the IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers doesn't mention the issue at all. Their mitigation chapter, where we might expect to find mention of it, doesn't breathe a word - but then, they're speaking of deliberate mitigation strategies.

The assumption of the 177 scenarios reviewed by the IPCC appears to be that we have more than enough stuff to burn, at least to put us in the situation of having 140% more emissions (the number in the most-emitting scenarios) by 2050. This would be 118Gt CO2e annually by then, if risen to linearly between then and now this would be an average of 84Gt CO2e over those 42 years. Can we emit that much? Certainly. About 17Gt comes from things nothing to do with fossil fuels - deforestation, rice-farming, CFCs, and so on. If they neither decline nor increase - and in a scenario where we're burning all our fossil fuels, we can't really expect those other contributions to decrease - then we get fossil fuels need only supply 67Gt CO2e annually. As I note above, this is quite doable for humanity.

So if the scenarios reviewed by the IPCC in its 2007 report ignore peak fossil fuel effects (to know for certain would require a fuller reading of their bibliography than I've done), I think that's fair for them to do so, because the amount we have to burn is far in excess of what's needed to pass key thresholds in the reviewed scenarios, 1,800Gt by 2100, etc.

Chris later says that the "IPCC scenarios" are not based on calculations of fossil fuels reserves. Calculating climate change based on fossil fuel reserves is like a man drinking himself to death in a bar calculating whether he'll die by looking at how much booze is still on the bar shelf; there's plenty, forget about it.

Chris goes on,

So when we look at peak oil, I think we can see that there'll be less CO2 in the atmosphere... you could say peak oil is good for climate change. There is a problem in that the IPCC scenarios are probably conservative in the effects of CO2... you could say the IPCC overestimate the amount of the CO2, but then underestimate the effect. So I don't suggest that peak oil mitigates the climate change problem.

Whether peak oil is good news for climate change or not, to answer that question you need to look at two scenarios: a scenario where peak oil did exist, and a scenario where peak oil didn't exist. If peak oil didn't exist, we're left with the IEA thinking from 2004, which showed oil supply increasing from 84-85 a day, up to 121, 120 million barrels a day in 2030. So that's where we'd be if there was no peak oil.

If you do have a peak oil, as ASPO and others are suggesting, then by 2030, that oil supply could be done to 60 million barrels a day. Now, there are alternatives, there are coal-to-liquids, heavy tar sands, there are biofuels, there are gas-to-liquids, but even when you make an analysis of all these and you add them up, you don't get up to 120 million barrels a day.

So the two scenarios, the peak oil scenario and the no peak oil scenario, whichever way you run the numbers, in 2030 an arbitrary date in the future, there's probably less carbon going into the atmosphere than in the peak oil scenario.

While there's that individual comment that peak oil doesn't mitigate climate change, the following comments contradict that.

If Chris doesn't mean to say that, then some editing needs to be done.

And of course I don't agree that peak oil necessarily gives us less carbon in the atmosphere. It's easy to imagine that in the next decade countries will do largescale conversions to using more coal and natural gas. We could easily have a sort of reverse-ecotechnia, where because of oil price and scarcity governments of the West promote mass transit - powered by electricity from coal and gas-fired plants. Combined with rising demand for electricity across the world, especially in developing countries, we could easily get as much or more carbon in the air with a peak oil scenario as without.

As I noted, in areas where oil is almost entirely unavailable due to peak, we're likely to get increased deforestation, already contributing quite a bit of carbon.

My thinking on this subject is influenced by the work of Hansen and Kharecha, especially this paper:
Implications of "peak oil" for atmospheric CO2 and climate

If conventional oil production peaks within the next few decades, it may have a large effect on future atmospheric CO2 and climate change, depending upon subsequent energy choices. Assuming that proven oil and gas reserves do not greatly exceed estimates of the Energy Information Administration, and recent trends are toward lower estimates, we show that it is feasible to keep atmospheric CO2 from exceeding about 450 ppm by 2100, provided that emissions from coal and unconventional fossil fuels are constrained.

About the IPCC scenarios Hansen said this last year:

Despite the obvious relevance of “peak oil” to future climate change, it has received little attention in projections of future climate change. For instance, in the CO2 emissions scenarios outlined in the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2000), socioeconomic and technological changes are employed as determinants of future energy use, without explicitly addressing the consequences of peak production of fossil fuels.

The key point I was trying to get across in that part of the video is that fossil fuel reserves, especially in light of peak oil, are not influencing climate change thinking as much as they should. I am categorically not saying peak oil means we don't have to worry about climate change or anything crazy like that.

The section you highlighted covers my opinion that in carbon terms the alternatives won't be able to make up the shortfall that peak oil creates compared to a BAU, no-peak-oil-in-sight world. I think the Dutch paper backs up that by saying:

Our main conclusion was that as peakoil also means a shift to tarsands, heavy oil, CTL, GTL, the net effect of declining fossil fuel production on co2 emissions will be near zero.

So, all the alternatives do is hold CO2 emissions flat. Without peak oil, oil supply would continue to grow and emissions would be higher. From that point of view, peak oil is good news for climate change.

Hansen nowadays reckons that 350ppm is the threshold for catastrophic climate change. We've already passed that.

So Hansen of all people should be arguing that the total amount of fossil fuels burned won't be that important.

From the abstract to the linked paper,

Assuming that proven oil and gas reserves do not greatly exceed estimates of the Energy Information Administration, and recent trends are toward lower estimates, we show that it is feasible to keep atmospheric CO2 from exceeding about 450 ppm by 2100, provided that emissions from coal and unconventional fossil fuels are constrained.

In a situation where we burn as much oil as we possibly can, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that coal and unconventionals will be "constrained". You can't expect that people will go flat out with one lot but take it easy with the other.

The paper doesn't consider that with scarce fossil fuels we're likely to see greater deforestation. Of course, deforestation is largely a Third World problem, and Western scientists tend to focus on Western problems...

I honestly don't think peak oil makes a difference. We're just very keen to burn stuff to run our societies, Western or Third World. It's not scarce enough for scarcity to have much impact.

I've taken a second look at your video, and a full look at the Hansen paper.

First up, if you want to say that peak oil doesn't mitigate climate change, you need to say that more clearly in the video. You say it, then contradict it, then hedge, and so on; but the overall impression is, "peak oil will give us lower carbon emissions", which to the average viewer will mean, "so actually it's good news for climate change". So you need to redo that section if you don't actually want to say that peak oil will mitigate climate change. Clarity.

Second, in reference to Hansen, you say,

The key point I was trying to get across in that part of the video is that fossil fuel reserves, especially in light of peak oil, are not influencing climate change thinking as much as they should.

But in that paper Hansen doesn't say that low reserves influence climate change. In fact, what he says is,

We illustrate five CO2 emissions scenarios for the period 1750–2150. The first case, Business-As-Usual (BAU), assumes continuation of the ~2% annual growth of fossil fuel CO2 emissions that has occurred in recent decades [...] This 2% annual
growth is assumed to continue for each of the three conventional fuels until ~half of each total reservoir (historic + remaining) has been exploited, after which emissions are assumed to decline 2% annually. [p3]
Peak CO2 in the BAU scenario is ~580 ppm in 2100 [...]. This is more than double the pre-industrial CO2 amount of ~280 ppm and already far past the 450 ppm threshold under consideration. Likely nonlinearities in the carbon cycle with such large CO2 amounts would
make the real-world peak CO2 even greater, as would any contribution from unconventional fossil fuels.[p6]

So in fact Hansen is telling us that peak oil, natural gas and coal won't prevent catastrophic climate change, expected if we pass 450ppm.

What he says rather is as in the final sentence of the Abstract,

We argue that a rising price on carbon emissions is needed to discourage conversion of the vast fossil resources into usable reserves, and to keep CO2 beneath the 450 ppm ceiling.

That is, peak fossil fuels will not prevent catastrophic climate change, for that we need a carbon tax.

So this would be why peak fossil fuels receive little attention in the climate change discussions; they're not relevant. If we rely on the declining of fossil fuel supplies, we get to 580ppm or more CO2.

That's what Hansen's paper says. There exist more than enough fossil fuels reserves to ensure we pass 1,000ppm CO2, even without considering deforestation, declining carbon sinks, non-fossil fuel greenhouse gas production, and so on.

The bar may run out of booze, but I'll have drunk myself into unconsciousness long before that. That's why it's been ignored.

well in Chris' defense, this film crew flagged us down after the conference and asked us a bunch of questions on the spot, then edited our responses. I thought they did a good job, but its not like these were rehearsed, practiced or the questions known in advance....Chris' more articulated views on the intersection of peak oil and climate change come out in his writing and work at TOD - but this video does serve as a small example of how easily spoken word can depart from science when on the spot...

Ah okay, you should have told us that from the beginning!

So now you get a compliment - if that's how you lot speak when off the cuff, that's fucking brilliant. I assumed it was prepared and more-or-less scripted. It certainly doesn't look like you got ambushed as you describe.

My advice to you is go for the scripted speeches if you're going to spread the videos around. When dealing with something which is in the public mind either a controversial issue or an unknown one, you want to make sure you're saying exactly what you want to say.

thanks for those numbers.

There's a factor you didn't include: clathrates. As the arctic heats up, the tundra is going to expirate vast amounts of methane. I am uncertain as to how much temperature rise will kick the clathrates into meltdown, but I can't imagine it is very terribly much - 5 degrees perhaps? combine that with the problem that the Arctic is heating faster than other areas, and it all points at a significant clathrate release, which would exacerbate if not dwarf the CO2 problem.

But I am not sure how much of a temp. increase it will take to unleash the clathrates, and I am uncertain as to when (if everything continues as business as usual) that temp will be reached.

best regards,


That sort of thing, along with the carbon sink capacity of the oceans and how they interact with warming, etc - that's all very new science, and unclear.

That, combined with varying emissions scenarios (eg, 1,000Gt in 20 years then 10Gt per year for 80 years is a different scenario to 1,800Gt over 100 years) is why the IPCC quote gives those quite large ranges for so many Gt of carbon giving us so much effect.

Hey, good job Nate & Chris! And I like the dark background... you could insert images over their shoulders (naked women, 700 slaves, oil fires, etc).

Really a nice presentation for what it is, and it hints at just how effective really scripted pieces could be. If you want to move the masses, video tweaks their knobs like text never will.

Two directions for this would be short 'viral' videos with a jarring or compelling 'hook' of some kind, and more conventional targeted productions. These are easily done these days; in fact so easily that most doing it fail to invest the time to make the pacing, wording, and emotional arc perfect.

Then there's the question of whether or not to create a celebrity or two for it; there are pros and cons to that.

Perhaps there could be a "TOD: Short Attention Span" section for summary videos.

Just do it!

Hi greenish,

re: "If you want to move the masses, video tweaks their knobs like text never will."

The thing I wonder about - tweaks them to do what, exactly?

In a world of images, does one more have the meaning it does to, say, TOD posters/readers who are familiar with Chris's and Nate's work?

Chris and Nate;
Well done! I think it's great to see faces, hear voices in conjunction with TOD. I would like to see a TOD page with a prominent link at the top of the Main Page that works like a video FAQ, maybe a dozen short-topics with basic PO premises presented like these. There should be a Thumbnail frame with an appropriate face or Image, and a Short HEADER Title to draw people quickly to an issue they want to hear about.

"Are the GAS STATIONS just Robbing Us, or is it the Oil Co's?"

"Why do people Oppose Ethanol?"

"What about those TAR SANDS and SHALE OIL?"

etc, etc,... and then avoid having a superabundance of links, but maybe a single pointer to "More on TAR SANDS", including a few articles and a few TOD Discussions that 'got into it', relevant charts.. But initially, to make a quick-grab page for some slightly elaborated Bullet-points.

I linked to the 'Robert Newman's History of Oil' (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8957268309327954402) during Luis's video thread, last week, as an example of one I found very watchable, but it's a big bellyful timewise for the web. He's a talented comedian, of course, who've we got?.. but maybe he'd be interested, too.

Finally, even those 8 to 15 minutes were too long for the kind of Hook pieces I'm thinking of.. I'd say 2minutes tops, then maybe you can opt to watch more or read from further links.

I think that web-video IS a great information tool, but it's more like a 'Speed-chess' medium than a place for a lot of extensive detail and nuance. Get in with a good hook-line, make your point with a couple good examples, and get out. The rest can be done in the follow-ups.

It's power with impressionism is just as important, but I'll leave it for another time.

Bob Fiske


The problem is that on mass people cannot agree on anyting. We are indeed in the shit!
Read the oil drum, you get the impression most contributers are fairly bright people, yet there are opposing views all the time (me included). an example is the "cat and dog" argument renewables vs nuclear ( this is not restricted to the Oil Drum). I have just read an article in the IET journal 1ssue 4, 8-21 March 2008 "Feed Back" section page 24. The article was posted by Dr. Will Powell and is "Pleading" for a hydrogen economy.
I don't know if Euan Mearns will read this post, but if (you) do and can get hold of a copy of the magazine you will get my point. Like (you) Euan (my impression from reading his comments) I am not convinced the physics of a hydrogen economy make sense, yet on paper this guy has credentials that many would envy. If members of the public (including us), or a politician for that matter, were to read the opinions of these highly qualified people, one could be forgiven for not really understanding what the problem is and how to solve it. (sorry for all the brackets).

very well said from both of you, keep up the important work