The Ups and Downs of Giving a Peak Oil Presentation

Since returning to Melbourne two years ago after working in the North Sea oil and gas industry, I've given a peak oil presentation to varied audiences on average once a month. They have all been positive experiences (some more so than others) and at least help me feel that I am doing something constructive. Generally though, I've had audiences who have invited me to come and speak about this topic, so I've usually had a polite if not completely convinced audience.

TOD reader Ralph started first time with a tougher audience:

Recently a client of mine (in Adelaide) asked me if I would like to give a talk to the local Rotary Club on a subject of my choice. Now there are lots of fascinating, amusing and uplifting subjects I could have chosen, but instead, inspired by some of the great TOD publicists, and having been a resource Cassandra for 35 years since reading Paul Ehrlich, I decided to throw away my chances of winning friends and being the life of the party- and talked about Peak Oil.

This was my first talk on the subject so I used a prepared script. They only gave me 20 minutes talk time plus 10 minutes question time to cover this huge subject. So I decided to start with the current rising price of petrol etc to establish a personal link , then moved onto the underlying cause from there. ( A purist would probably have gone to the geology fundamentals first). Unfortunately, this left no time to talk about positive solutions.

I think if I had my time again, I would make it shorter and simpler and try to shoot down the objections in question time rather than pre-empt them in the body of the text.

Only 3 questions could be coaxed from an audience of 30. One was "If I drill for oil in my backyard will I find any?" I wasn't sure whether this lack of response indicated that everyone was stunned, or indifferent, defended by rationalizations, or just thought that I was a crazy millenialist who should be politely ignored. The president indicated to the audience that he disagreed with my conclusions based around a vague "they will come up with something" argument.

I always expected Rotary to be a difficult nut to crack as they are more likely to be relaxed and comfortable with the joys and accumulated treasures of the post-war oil bonanza than most. So I intend to improve my speech and take another tilt at the windmill if the opportunity arises.

I welcome feedback, suggestions and criticisms from the TOD audience.

I think the whole issue of how best to strategically present the PO story for maximum persuasive impact is worth discussing on TOD- though the fundamental rules of public speaking - "Know your audience" and "KISS" should still determine the shape of any presentation.

Ralph (Adelaide)

You can download and read Ralph's presentation and provide comments below.

Also available are Gail Tverberg's presentation and overview--which has a whole packet of materials, and a set of slides that I used recently - there are very few words but most TOD readers will be able to see the story that goes with each slide.

You can also watch ASPO's Stuart McCarthy recent presentation to Engineers Australia in Brisbane earlier in May
(choose the presentation title from the May list):
Peak Oil: The broader sustainability and engineering implications in South East Queensland.

Over to you now.. Whether you've been in the audience or running the show, what makes a good peak oil presentation?

Great thread idea! Kudos!

When I encounter a young, working adult stranger [I'm 53], I need only seconds before moving along: Thus, I prefer the full-frontal, 2X4 approach.

Basically, I tell them, "that their generation is going to have to kill my generation if they don't get going on wholesale Peak Everything mitigation. The future belongs to the young, always has, always will."---> Then, when they start breathing again, I give them a card listing, TOD, EB, LATOC, Thermo/Gene Collision, and Olduvai. I tell them this info is totally free, but they need to put down their videogames, start studying, then making changes.

I am gone before the shock wears off! ;)

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

The "shaw and awe" approach?

Having given a dozen or so similar talks to undergraduates as well as Lions, Rotary, etc., over the past two years, I agree - give it to them full force, but be sure to allow time for questions so they don't go away feeling yelled at and/or completely depressed. I find references to WWII helpful with somewhat older audiences. TOD has been a terrific resource - information and insights as well as great graphics. I find Khebab's quarterly update graphs, showing the mean prediction among various models, to be especially helpful.

Hello LoveOregon,

LOL! Yep, I use various approaches to jumpstart this conversation when out in public, but the idea is to make them think that this card may save their lives, as youngsters think they are immortal.

I wouldn't use this method in a formal presentation unless you had a quick exit door behind the podium.

Khebab - where are the last quarterly updates? - we haven't had one for six months :(

I also find your updates particularly helpful.

I recently had the privelege of sitting in an audience wherer Professor Peter Newman gave a presentation on building resilient cities. Within that was a mini presentation of Peak Oil with many familiar TOD slides and graphs. While I could follow it all, I got the impression that it went over the heads of most of the audience and they didn't really understand it. My suspicion was confirmed later in the day when one group came up with the idea of building an international air freight terminal just outside our regional Victorian city! (They were the real estate agents and developers of course). I think what I learned about presenting Peak Oil is that you do need some clear air, i.e. not mixed in with other issues like greenhouse gas etc.

I think it depends on the audience but I would like to see a presenter talk about the technical definitions of peak oil and examples of peak oil in various regions, the issues surrounding uncertainty of reserves, production data and graphs especially the last five years corelating to the price rise and a look inot the future of oil production from tar-sands, heavy oil etc. I also think for an Australian audience it wouldn't hurt to clarify where the petrol comes from that ends up in your car. I wouldn't get into making the conclusions forthe audience. Everyone needs to have their own personal "Oh Shit" moment and you do need the opportunity to look smart answering all the stupid questions that inevitably flow from a group a newly inducted Peak Oil virgins.

I haven't done presentations on peak oil, but I have had the conversation at least a hundred times. I generally start the conversation with gas and oil prices. What works for me is always to speak in the 3rd person. I am not a Doomer. I am not a cornucopian. But I know people who are from both sides, and here is why they believe what they believe. Then I spend some time debunking some of the promising solution, while explaining clearly why "those doomers" believe the things they do.

This has the impact that I don't immediately get written off as a crackpot, and people tend to listen to the message. They may not agree, but I give them something to think about.

That's a great tactic in a conversation. A presentation, on the other hand...

Now, I read the presentation - and saw the usual problem that I have when I try writing about PO myself:

WHAT'S YOUR (for me relavant) MESSAGE?

"The problem of Peak oil is real"...
just doesn't cut it. 'cause the answer to "it's going to be a problem", whether PO or GW is, "well, we'll somehow get by."

Which is, of course, why Ralph had the list of "objections", that we will indeed NOT just get by somehow.

Bob Shaw's two-by-four approach is great because he's presenting die-off with the answer "head for the hills". And then more immediate solutions can be evaluated.

What do you tell a Rotary Club in Adelaide?? Hell, I don't know. What interests a Rotarian there? Start with the Saudi quote "my son flies a jet plane and his son will ride a camel" -- The Saudis know what's coming - does Australia(Adelaide)?? Well, Australia is even going to profit immensly from PO - by selling billions of tons of coal!! Who cares if we ruin the planet while we're doing it?? We (the rotary) are the moneyed people, we'll do great, won't we? Our sons will be sitting on top of it all just like the Saudi sons..

Now, (once you have the audience on your side..) give your real message: GW, Widespread poverty, Fear of the yello man, better asset allocation - what do you really want to say??

I've also had hundreds of conversations on oil, etc.. and think that almost everybody understands oil depletion in some way or another. Most of us know that the problem "is real" someday, while the discussion "well, we'll get by somehow" is the real Gordian Knot. For: we might get by, we might not get by.

So what's you REAL message?? To stop building roads? (i.e. better resource allocation..)

Just remember, there are thousands of people on this site alone trying to figure out what the real message (for ourselves, for local politics, for humanity) actually is...

Cheers and best of luck!

In June 2000, I was asked to speak about the "high" price of gasoline and the relatively quick run-up in prices from 1998 and 1999. Nationally, the average price per gallon (all grade weighted average was $1.69/gallon (locally about $1.58/gallon). Since this group of people knew what I did and had known me for quite some time, it seemed natural to them to ask me to give a short presentation. The dot-com bubble was in it's intial deflation.

I spoke of the typical cycles we saw in gasoline production (at the refineries) and the seasonal changes in price with summer driving demand and global demand for oil. But there wasn't a single person in that room that had any idea of how much oil/liquids we used in the US (19.6 MMBPD) or how much was imported (~57%). We were in the middle of an election cycle and candidate Bush was talking about "jawboning" the Saudis (later we were to find out he really liked holding hands with them).

I was asked a question immediately about whether gasoline prices would ever go back down (below $1.50/gallon). I told the room "no" or at least not for any sustained period of time. There would be brief periods of time when it fell back but if the room was looking for the days of $1.00/gallon gasoline to return, something very different from what we had been doing.

And that's hwo I introduced peak oil to this group. None had ever heard about it. I showed the US production right up to 1970 and everyone "saw" the production ever increasing (until the next slide showed 1971 through 1999. I showed a couple of versions of graphics with various production areas (Alaska and the GOM, in particular) and then a graphic that showed US production and the amount made up by imports.

And then, since this was a drinking crowd, I pointed out that peak oil is about rates. If you are rate limited (for any number of reasons) then it was like trying to drink through the swizzle sticks in everyone's drinks, rather than a soda straw, or a firehose. And that one day in the not too distant future (say 2011) what the US had seen in it's production was likely to be seen globally. And in the bidding war over resources, gasoline and oil would likely go much higher possibly driving economic collapses in various parts of the world (the Asian financial crisis was still fresh in people's minds and the flood of liquidity that characterizes a bubble burst had not reached the consciousness of most people around the dot-coms. I had been completely out of stocks for over a year at this point).

So, price changes and the challenges they present are a good entry point. To the people whom I see on a regular basis since that presentation, I seemed remarkably prescient. I have spoken formally on this topic off and on since then.

But I left them with the following thought: we can be "victims" of poor planning and inaction and to stand against continual,unending growth can be very challenging. There will be a time when the numbers simply do not add up. Our choices can be to take matters into our own hands, become informed, and make an informed transition to some other economic and personal model for the living.

And one question that one can ask and should answer if they are going to take this challenge seriously is this: "How much is 'enough?'"


Yes a lot to cover in a short time, In explaining PO I find it best to dispel myths first, like
"The oil companies control how much of the worlds oil? (A:15%)" or "How much of the Worlds oil does Shell produce (A:3%)", once you engage an audience in this way you can build on their knowledge, like the person than told me that Canadian Oil sands had more oil than Saudi Arabia, my reply "Yes the do but to get it out they have to strip mine and area the size of Great Britain" and yes I know they are working on in-situ extraction but the point was pithily made

A LOT of people are still in the mindset that this is all a rip-off by the oil companies, and our current govt are using them as a scapegoat to cover their own incompetence NZ Government-ordered inquiry

Neven (NZ)

Yes, I've encountered that "it is teh conspiracy of teh guvvermint an' teh companies!" many times.

I emphasise the physical part of the peaking. What I do is say,

"When we first drilled oil, the stuff was literally oozing out of the ground, just whack a pipe in and it's yours. So it was cheap, ten bucks a barrel or something. But that stuff is mostly used up. Now we're going for the more difficult oil.

"Have you heard of the Canadian tar sands? Those tar sands are like getting oil from the bitumen in that road - they have to pump in fresh water and boil it all up at hundreds of degrees to get the oil out, and the heat dissipates so now they're thinking about freezing it around and only then heating inside this big cylinder. That's a lot of energy and effort to get the stuff out. And after all that the stuff is really heavy so they have to mix it with regular crude oil to get anything useful out of it.

"Have you heard of the recent Brazilian discover of some oil offshore? Well, their discovery is 3km down in the sea, then another 1km through rock, then another 2km through salt, then another 1km of rock, and only then is there oil - nobody's ever got oil from a place like that, the pressure gives them lots of technical problems.

"So, oil from the tar sands and under the sea - they can do it, but it takes years, it's a lot of effort, a lot of very well-paid and experienced people, a lot of energy used. And that all costs money. In the end, if we want to get the oil, we can - but it'll come out slowly, and we'll have to pay for it.

"With Canada and Brazil both, that oil is not going to come out as quickly as when we could just whack a pipe in the ground and it'd ooze out under its own pressure. So over time, how much oil we can get every day drops down.

"We are never really going to run out of oil. But we'll get less and less each year, and it'll cost more and more. At some point, mate, you are going to have to walk and take the train. Sorry."

The numbers are not all precise and the description not scientifically accurate, but the basic idea - that we have to go to more and more effort to get the oil, and effort costs money, and eventually it'll be more trouble than it's worth - that's accurate, and you can get it across without trouble.

Hi Neven,

Whereabouts in NZ are you?

Adelaide is a particularly tough gig since the whole town is in denial or Micawberism 'something will turn up'. After all their River Murray irrigation industry has just collapsed after 100 years thanks to climate change. The State has 40% of the world's uranium but they don't want nuclear power. Perhaps Peak Oil cuts too close to the bone. All is not lost though since I think those people will go home and discuss it with others. Rather than agreeing with work colleagues about fuel tax cuts they may argue the peakist line. If so these talks could be achieving a lot more than first appears.

The best advice I can give is:

1. Know the audience you're talking to. I've given a few talks to various small organizations, but then also taught a course on "energy and our future" (my energy policy course) to undergraduates at my university.

What "matters" to each potential constituency is what you need to pay attention to in order to connect. With some groups, it was a bunch of relatively wealthy white guys--others a diverse set of mostly women; with the undergraduates, it was a diverse group of people who were worried about getting a job. I modified the talk accordingly and tried to provide germane examples.

2. If you have 30 minutes scheduled, I usually plan to talk for 10--and by that I mean the 10 minute presentation that you give in the mirror that takes 7 minutes.

That is not a lot of time. If you have 60 minutes, plan to talk for 20 tops--which means 15 minutes into your mirror. You will always go longer than you think.

Have materials ready to structure the time after you have finished the formal talk...sometimes you will be bombarded with questions, sometimes you will get crickets. It depends on your comfort level, dynamism, and how you have related to the audience. It could also be that the audience is hungry and hasn't heard a word you've said.

You also must learn that speaking about peak oil is not about you, it's about your words and your ability to convey them. People are not there to see you, so try to check your ego at the door. It makes you better, trust me.

If this is a group of folks who are new to the concept, inevitably they will respond viscerally to peak oil, usually with anger or denial if they are new to the argument. Be prepared for this, and do not egg it on. Remain calm and de-fuse the situation as best you can. Jokes are good. Facts can work when presented non-confrontationally. Personal stories work too. Your job is to expose them to the logic and facts, you can't digest it for them too.

If this is a group of folks who are relatively well-versed, then you can get wonky. However, even then, you can lose people with term-laden jargony crap. Use your words and your time wisely either way.

For most, more learning occurs in the interactions between speaker and audience, and audience members to each other, than in a direct lecture; therefore the direct lecture has to be "setting the table" for future learning and interaction...not the dispensation of "The Truth." Not in the world we live in. If you have learned anything from here at TOD, I hope you have learned that.

3. You cannot convey or know everything. Don't try. Keep your logic and facts simple and straightforward. Don't cuff it either. If you don't know--SAY YOU DON'T KNOW and that you will find out the answer. Have your card there and offer an email address to folks for questions afterwards.

4. Learn from your time with the audience. Critique yourself when you get home--I have a written journal of every lecture or talk I have ever given. What didn't you remember? What could you have done better? What didn't "flow?" That's how you improve and become better...

This is not an easy thing to do. It's even harder to do it well.

Great advice.

I use this joke with the right audience occasionally:

Two economists find themselves locked in a basement. They're not sure what time it is, because it's dark and they can't read their watches. They think it's nearly dinner time, cause they're starting to feel hungry. But they're not worried; they are not starting to panic - because they know that their demand will create sandwiches for them!

More jokes here:

In my presentation file linked above, I have a slide about the energy content of oil (petrol/gasoline). I find it important to convey how fantastic oil is as an energy source and how amazing it is that it just flows out of the ground in huge quantities. When you have to start making your own transport fuels (biofuels, hydrogen, batteries whatever) you find that nothing else stacks up quite the same way - the alternatives are all hard work. If I get that understanding across, then I'm happy.

Your approach will not work for all audiences.

Here in Finland people are much more reserved and there are only few if any questions after presentations. Even when the audience is interested in the subject of the presentation.

But as you said you have to know your audience. That is #1.

I spoke to my Rotary a few years ago and about half loved it and the other half was shocked and confused. I didn't hold back. Went right after our societies belief systems of being "exempt" from laws of nature and that technology and progress are inevitable. Basically said we are about to discover how dependent we are on a functioning planet and local ecosystem services...the bright side was a reversal of the diabetes and obesity epidemics.

I still show up at Rotary meetings sometimes and they generally know and like me. More probably have "gotten" it since then as the prices have gone up and the media is beginning to reinforce my position.

Many times, however, I have been frustrated by the way development interests latch on to any message as an opportunity to push their pet project that will make them lots of money, even if it means more roads, paving of farm land, etc.

I was invited to speak at a Chamber of Commerce meeting about my new business, a 13-acre organic farm with a CSA and little market in the town I was speaking. I had planned to speak about what I was doing and then why I was doing it, i.e. Peak Oil. I had even prepared handouts using some of Gail's presentation. However, the turnout was small that night and when everyone introduced themselves and seemed so nice and innocent, I didn't have the guts to discuss the why. Even my son who had encouraged me to talk about Peak Oil, "Mom, this is your chance. You'll regret it if you don't," leaned over to me and whispered to can that part. Instead I talked about the massive spraying that my non-organic neighbors apply to their vegetables and my recipe for killing groundhogs. That in itself was enough to turn a few stomachs before eating the non-organic lettuce and green beans. Besides, it almost seems too late for people to prepare!

Besides, it almost seems too late for people to prepare!

Don't go down that tunnel!

Have you met anyone who didn't want to find out earlier and start preparing earlier?

If they have the opportunity to find out from you then at least they can be responsible for the consequences, whatever they choose to do or not do. But if they don't find out now, they might panic when they do find out later.

I spoke to a father of four children and he quietly said, "I've got a lot of work to do" before asking me how I'm preparing.

There is still time, not tons of it, but some.

If you can't support them in their preparations, tell them to take the UnCrash course via email. They receive an email every week that walks them through how to prepare.

In August the series of San Francisco Townhall meetings I'm organizing with the San Francisco Peak Oil Taskforce and the Presidio MBA program will start taking place, too. The topics are:

  • What's Happening With Oil?
  • Growing Food in an Urban Environment
  • Creating Communities and Local Economies
  • Personal Preparation for Energy Descent
  • Transportation in a Post Peak World
  • Keeping Healthy in a Post Peak World

You'll be able to send your loved ones to a series of recorded webinars that will cover the basics in each area. I'll announce them closer to the live presentation dates.


Please! Please don't be so patronizing. And then use it as an excuse to sell your services. "If you can't support them in their preparations, tell them to take the UnCrash course via email."
"You'll be able to send your loved ones to a series of recorded webinars that will cover the basics in each area. I'll announce them closer to the live presentation dates."
Please! I think I'd rather have my "loved ones" endure Peak Oil blindly than endure your seminars.

I apologize if that's come off as patronizing.

Many people have told me that they think these services are exactly what they were looking for because a) they don't know how to explain what is going to happen and b) they don't know how to prepare.

You don't have to attend anything; that doesn't mean other people may not be interested. Just keep scrolling if it's not to your taste.

BTW, the students, the school, the SF Peak Oil Task Force and me are all volunteering our time for these free seminars because it's in all our interest to get our city ready.

I wanted to give a plug for Andre's course. He gave it free to a group of us from the Post Carbon website (we were in NC, NY and somewhere else).

The talk was excellent- he has been giving thought to how to present these concepts, just as the writer of the article that started this thread has.

wow, what a blatant attack on someone volunteering their own time to help others prepare... I am going to take a look at this uncrash course, sandiego, not sure what your problem is... maybe you just don't like being told what to do, but then again, you could just scroll down... Thanks for the info andre!

People are all over the map on their understanding and their ability to understand. And likewise, there are half a dozen people around here (Southern Maine US) doing various versions of peak oil talks. I don't talk much about peak oil directly, but - for example - about these great melons I got at the UMaine farm in Monmouth, about genetic diversity and resilience - because we need that to cope with scarce resources (like oil, water, soil, nutrients). About community (and how are we going to stay warm when oil is $10/gallon). Footprint and horizon is another good frame - about how the size of our footprint leads to war and peace - about the necessity to live mostly within the horizon.

local, local, local

cfm in Gray, ME

I highly recommend the site for how to create an engaging presentation that connects with your audience. Suggested starting point is the "Popular Posts" section on the right hand side.

I've never given a presentation but had a few talks to my friends and acquaintances. If I was convincing enough to get the message through their reasoning would then follow these general steps:

1. Oh damn, this is really bad
2. I can’t do much about it
3. There are people more capable and competent than myself to deal with this (government?)
4. Move onto the next subject

I find it difficult to influence someone as to change their thinking let alone way of life.
I also see most people being more concerned about their own current affairs than the fate of our civilisation which is probably fair enough. So I tend to formulate my pitch along this premise. But how can I end it on a positive note? I though people would be more attentive if I could do that.

It is difficult to change ones life style.
Especially when everything still works.

Habits are hard to break.

People deal with things in different ways.
But mostly people tend to do the things they are used to and the things that they have to do right away.
Everything else is deferred until they become things that have to be done right away.

Only few people really plan their actions ahead of time. It requires energy to do that. I'm not only talking about scheduling things. I'm talking about real plans. Cost benefit analysis. etc.

And even if they think about plans does not mean that they will be implemented.

That's the depressing side of things now the positive:

I think you have to start small. Learn to crawl before you can walk type of thing.
I'm starting my peak oil readiness by getting in shape first. Walking first. Then running. Now I'm doing almost 30 km a week and feeling good. You also get to know the nature around you. I'm running in the forests around where I live as much as possible.
Next I'm thinking about using my car less and less. This is one habit that is going to be a tough one.
I'm also educating myself on where to buy/find food locally and other useful information.

People tend to receive information better when it comes from a source that they know and trust.

Also information coherence is important. This is one mistake that I make often when explaining things. I often give information that is beside the point and not important at all. And often the recipient gets the side point but the most important issue is lost in the noise.

What seems to help get their attention is when you mention that all that money that is being yanked out of their wallets will soon be coming right back at them buying up their companies, technology and land. Within a few years those trillions of equity investment will create an enormous flow of dividends out of the country which will further weaken the balance of payments and currency.

But the real stinker is the realization that the grand solution that we have all being blasted with on TV, radio and magazines by our government, big companies and the green guys may not play out. All we have to do is shift billions to solar and wind and we will have a nice, neat, clean, sustainable future for all. The problem, minor as it may seem to many, is for every MW produced by solar and wind another MW of NG, diesel or coal fueled power generation must be kept on standby. Another equally small problem is it takes about ten years just to payback the energy invested in solar. Remember Net Energy? I know the "great minds" will solve these problems. But what if they don't?

speed says,

"The problem, minor as it may seem to many, is for every MW produced by solar and wind another MW of NG, diesel or coal fueled power generation must be kept on standby"Another equally small problem is it takes about ten years just to payback the energy invested in solar."

When making a peak presentation, these are the kind of assertions that a speaker had better be ready to prove.

If I were in the audience I would ask, "What source do you have those numbers?"
"I noticed you conveniently did not mention using other options for backup, for example, nuclear power, or methane recaptured from waste, or the possibility of overnight storage which has already proven viable for example concentrating solar with heated sodium or various types of flow batteries, but only mentioned Natural gas,Diesel or coal as backups, do you have a preference for these fossil fuels?

When you say it takes 10 years to payback the investment in solar, what type of solar are using for that calculation: Thin film? Polysilicon? Concentrating mirror?

How long does it take to repay the initial investment in a new coal plant? Nuclear plant? Combined cycle natural gas plant? Should we keep in mind that fuel would have to continue to be added to the fossil fuel plants, fuel that is only increasing in price? Do you attribute any carbon release advantage to solar, and if so, should that be budgeted as an advantage in some way?

Trust me, a sharp audience will see right through any attempt to stack the argument by omission of evidence.


Depends on the audience but I agree with not making stuff up that you either have no expertise or published data for. For Peak oil virgins I would keep it simple and focused on the oil situation. Don't be tempeted into the whole renewables debate that are alternatives for electricity production. If anything you should touch on the bio-fuels scalability issue but I wouldn't try to go into the whole EROEI thing. It gets too complicated and people won't understand what you are talking about.

I think if you're discussing this with any sort of economically literate audience, the best thing you could do is start with ROI and EROEI. It frames the whole argument in the most logical terms. Otherwise, you have to explain the benefits and pitfalls of each of their arguments of all the new oil recovery technologies one by one. EROEI sets those questions up to be knocked down one by one with maximum understanding. I think EROEI is the best way to frame the argument. There is alot of jargon that can be tossed, but I believe if you're really going to get an audience to understand, you have to walk them through the return on energy invested lesson.

I find the ERoEI argument works well with economics majors among my friends. They can't dispute what they've spent the last 4 years studying, it was the ERoEI argument that tipped me over the PO Aware horizon

I've found that explaining EROEI to a green audience is time consuming and complicated. I make the case based solely on the number of barrels of oil we need vs what we're likely to get. It's more accessible for people, I've found, than trying to explain EROEI.


I'm sure you're doing your best to get the point across, but I'd hate for you to leave misunderstandings about supply/demand (oil available vs. need oil) with your audience. We WILL adapt to higher prices and thus change the oil available and needed oil. You have to establish this. For a while, it will determine oil rate. Not forever, but for the near future (next ten years). the US will once again tighten up the slack in energy usage (like it did in the 70's). No, I don't think this will solve the problem, but it will stopgap the problem to bide our time for longer term solutions and ease price inflation.

Beyond that, if your audience is sophisticated enough after that to start demonstrating knowledge of technologies to get more oil from the ground or alternative energy sources, I think it is imperative that EROEI be discussed for them to truly understand what they're proposing. You can point out the deficiencies, but EROEI is the thread that ties it all together.


I move amongst several groups, some of which would understand EROEI in 30 seconds flat and some which just don't understand what energy actually is, let alone the relationship to itself when harvesting it. They all pretty much understand that with no petrol, the car doesn't go, and if the petrol gets more expensive then they have a problem. I'd leave EROEI for a quick whiteboard demonstration in response to a question after the total presentation, and mainly use it to point out the limitations of the inevitable alternatives that so many for so long have pinned their hopes to.

I appreciate that some audiences would benefit from hearing about EROI straight up.

Rather than explain EROEI per se, I give an analogy. We used to just dig a hole in the ground and the oil would gush out, just like the Beverly Hillbillies. Now, it's like jackhammering chunks of your asphalt driveway and putting it into you food processor to try to get some oil (tar sands and oil shale).

The problem, minor as it may seem to many, is for every MW produced by solar and wind another MW of NG, diesel or coal fueled power generation must be kept on standby.

"they" are solving that problem and I also don't think that applies if I put a solar panel on my roof.

One of these hurdles is rethinking how wind (and, for that matter, solar) installations are evaluated financially. A big drawback investors and utilities have found with these renewable energy sources is that they are "variable." Simply put: they can't generate electricity when the sun's not shining or the wind isn't blowing.

In the past, utilities believed that they had to compensate for this variability by installing more fossil-fueled power plants. The more wind or solar on the grid, the thinking went, the greater the need for reliable backup generating facilities.

Recently, however, researchers have started to question this notion. Simulations and models have shown that connecting geographically dispersed wind and solar sites can greatly decrease the variability of the whole system and reduce the need for backup power plants.

Re-thinking the Variability of Wind and Solar Power

I have seen papers that have shown that when distributed enough wind power generation does not need that much power generation on standby. It is a popular myth but one that has been totally debunked.

Wind will not stop blowing everywhere at once. And wind will blow somewhere all the time.
Same principle is true for solar power.

Power can also be stored by using artificial geothermal wells or molten salts or other methods.

"Same principle is true for solar power."
Perhaps the sun always shines somewhere, but it's hard to connect those areas to yours if they're a continent away.

There are always arguments why something is feasible or realistic, and why it's not. If you present a peak-oil story, I recommend being versed in both sides of the argument (including about possible mitigations for peak oil).

Bucky Fuller showed how a power line across or under the 50 mile Bering Strait could connect most of the world to a global solar and wind power network. Something like 20% to 30% would be lost going half way around the world but the fuel and pollution savings would be worth the benefit.

You don't need anything fancy like that.

Between wind and solar, it's extremely unlikely that across half a continent it'll be dark and still at the same time. Combine that with some storage capacity - like molten salt for solar, or pumped hydro - and you'll be right.

We already have grids which cross half a continent, and higher demand in one area is offset by higher supply in another area. It's not a radically new problem. We've been facing it for years.

"But what about the cost?", I hear people near-scream all the time. A ridiculous rationale, considering we _already_ pay for backup even with our fossil-fuel generated power.

I am not too concerned about the cost. In the first place, when it comes down to it we're going to pay whatever it costs simply because we want to have electricity. If the choice is between even $1/kWh and "no power", the choice is obvious.

In the second place, that's the choice we're going to face in future. As fossil fuels deplete their price is only going up. So twenty years from now we'll be paying a fortune for electricity, whether it's because we're using some overpriced renewable/nuclear or because we're burning our last coal, what's the difference?

Eventually the fossil fuels run out, but long before that their price goes stupidly high, and we're face with the decision of what to replace them with. And then the decision becomes "either high expense and some power, or no expense and no power." We may as well face this decision sooner rather than later.

I have never spoken to an audience on PO, but I have tried to tell lots of people over the years. I find generally they fall into 3 camps. The first is those who already know about PO in which case a circular dicussion is doing little more than "preaching to the converted".

The second group are people you know quite well; and who are therefore prepared to listen to me, but whose actions therafter indicate they haven't taken in anything I have said.

The third group is everyone else. I was taught as a kid never to talk about politics, religion, or money in "polite society", whatever that is. PO seems to comprise at least one of those topics and the general reaction is to regard me as a nutter. That is true even today with $130 oil.

I do not think all my efforts over the last 3 years have contributed to one extra person understanding PO, or understanding it better at all. Now I stay quiet for the most part, unless sorely tempted. I do not use the term "Peak Oil", but instead talk about oil production not increasing. Sometimes the discussion then moves on to tar sands, shale or biofuels and it runs into a bog of detail. I try and stop it then by saying that oil is important for its energy contribution to society; and that none of these options contribute energy; and therefore are less valuable. They are lost at that point.

The worst group are economists from the Austrian school. Their arrogance is astounding. They have no regard for the knowledge or learning of anybody else and believe in their theory as zealots. They will not be persuaded, at any point, that oil is anything else than another commodity. Society WILL respond, as it always does, to the prices signal (if only there weren't any taxes and governments would stay out of the way).

Society WILL respond, as it always does, to the prices signal

hybrids and electric cars are being developed like crazy right now. even GM is developing an electric car. all of this is because of high oil prices. yes, society does respond.

But does it respond fast enough?

Truly intelligent society would respond to scientific projections before a price signal.

I have to agree with Stephen Hawking on this. There is no really intelligent life on earth. :-)

The worst group are economists from the Austrian school. Their arrogance is astounding. They have no regard for the knowledge or learning of anybody else and believe in their theory as zealots. They will not be persuaded, at any point, that oil is anything else than another commodity. Society WILL respond, as it always does, to the prices signal (if only there weren't any taxes and governments would stay out of the way).


Yes I've had this experience several times. It doesn't matter how much evidence you amass, or how many times that you point out that the megaprojects in the pipeline (both conventional and unconventional) cannot possibly hope to offset the decline in mature fields, or explain that alternative technologies will take decades, they simply won't believe you.

It is a religion and their faith is absolute.

or explain that alternative technologies will take decades

hybrids are here now. it wasn't too long ago my friend who loves muscle cars was saying they'd never catch'd that work out? PHEVs and EVs are literally just around the corner. batteries are already heavily involved in transportation. many battery limitations right now are almost as much how much we over commute as opposed to the limitations of the technology. peak oil will help solve that.

"It is a religion and their faith is absolute."

doomerism often sounds like a religion too. nothing can shake the notion that our society is utterly dependent on oil and will collapse w/o it. the doomers will tell you that right after lecturing about how we waste so much oil in big SUVs.

Hybrids are currently running at 3% of new vehicle sales in the U.S, less everywhere else. That's not a transition, that's tokenism. If you want to see a real transition look at Europe where diesels are now more than 50% of new car sales.

I'm no doomer. I'm all for hybrids, EVs and PHEVs, so lets bring it on. Where are the governmental incentives to get things moving? Where are the feebates? Where are the higher fuel taxes? Where's the halt to construction of new roads and airports? Where's the massive build out of public transport and rail infrastructure?

I don't see any of that. What I do see is people protesting in the streets about high fuel prices, and pandering politicians promising to cut fuel taxes.

Its not that we can't transition to new transportation technologies quickly, its that we won't. Primarily because 99% of the populous is either ignorant or in denial about this issue, and the politicians will do anything to maintain the status quo as long as they can. Only when they absolutely have to will they start making the changes that are needed.

That's not a transition, that's tokenism.

a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. what was the market share of the ipod a few years ago? it was nothing. hybrids are only one part of the solution. sales of subcompacts are booming while the YOY sales figures for SUVs look like new home sales statistics.

Its not that we can't transition to new transportation technologies quickly, its that we won't. Primarily because 99% of the populous is either ignorant or in denial about this issue

1. what if we don't have to transition quickly.

2. people may be in denial about PO but they sure know high gas prices.

If the problem was only the car maybe hybrids would be relevant. Unfortunately they are just a distraction. What about trucking, agriculture and aviation? These industries are hardly less important than cars; and they all dependent on oil, trucking to facilitate our current dispersed infrastructure, agriculture, because more than half the world is urbanised and relies on commercial agriculture and aviation because there simply aren't any alternatives. There are other industries at risk too: What about petrochemicals, fishing, supemarkets, etc etc

Of course there is an alternative, we can truck less, grow & make more locally, eat less and fly less. That means our current living arrangements will change. Sorry John15, go to if you want Austrian school economics. But here on TOD, we do tend to understand basic economics (quite advanced economics sometimes too), however we know enough to know that although the price signal is working, that it is way too late and that as a mechanism it is very poor in managing oil, THE vital but depleting resource. It seemed fine in times of expanding oil supply, but it can be well argued that it priced oil too low and permitted the blow off in hubris of big SUV's and cheap flights.

The problem with giving absolutes such as "its too late" is that most of the innovation that people will look to when the crisis hits full bore is that you can't see them unless you keep your head down in research papers everyday. we have millions of people worldwide looking for solutions and some might be useful, even if 99.99% aren't.

I think many TODers fail to credit the human species with how rapidly it can change. Of course if the human race fails to adapt, we're screwed, but what use is it to promote that idea? The only worthwhile thought is that there is something that can be done (beyond TODers control, as this is a very small segment of society with very little influence worldwide). The biggest influence is economics and although some here sneer at its effectiveness in the short term, its has the power to change behavior worldwide whereas no one here does. So I think if there really is a solution to back, it would be the free market (and those promoting technologies to solve PO through it).

Everything else is just whining about what can't be fixed.

I agree Greg,

reading articles and just seeing even in the past 4 months how much more influence peak oil has had in MSM (i regularly see that energy crisis and peak oil showing up in headlines these days) is inspiring.

I believe that the next generation (my generation) is equipped to tackle this problem, but the only thing is no one knows about it yet.

The other day I wanted to find out how many of my generation is PO aware, I asked 10 people who are between 20 and 24 if they had ever heard of the term "Peak Oil". Everyone of them said they had never heard of the idea, and when I briefly explained the concept, 8 out of 10 immediately extricated themselves from the conversation, the other 2 listened to what I had to say and then said "gee, that sounds you want to play some mario kart?"

I really like the idea of this thread, giving presentations and informing the public and next generation is the job of informed people like yourselves. If anyone has experience in presenting these topics to the next generation please post your comments, I look forward to reading them.

Great work as always TODers!

What about trucking, agriculture and aviation?

they can all conserve and go hybrid too. instead of shipping by air or by truck we can ship by rail instead.

Sorry John15, go to if you want Austrian school economics. But here on TOD, we do tend to understand basic economics

well you don't know economics if you slight the Austria school because it is the economics. take it's correct view on peak oil.

First, whatever ends up replacing petroleum will come in its own good time, later than we'd like but probably sooner than we expect. It will come because it stores energy and power better than gasoline does and more cheaply to boot. It will come with some tremendous benefits and some unfortunate drawbacks. Consider as you lament the evils of crude oil: the fairly accidental discovery of kerosene and expansion of the refining process in the second half of the 19th century saved whales from an early mass extinction while at same time making nighttime light and winter heat affordable to even the most impoverished parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Gasoline itself was originally a waste product, largely unused until the invention of the internal combustion engine, and automobiles made for cleaner streets (no more manure) and safer farm equipment, given that farmers no longer had to wrestle with motors that had minds of their own. Kerosene itself languished as an unloved byproduct of refining for several decades until the invention of the jet engine.

Second, that new fuel will probably not come as the result of government-sponsored research. Government efforts to target new development – whether hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid engines, coal gasification, ethanol subsidies – may contribute some, but the kind of thinking and investing needed to find or make that new fuel probably cannot be done by government bureaucrats, scientists or regulators, who can only think incrementally and usually only consider efficiency and conservation, rather than entirely new ways of doing things.

The Myth of "Peak Oil"

"It will come because it stores energy and power better than gasoline does and more cheaply to boot."

sarcan> It's called diesel. /sarcan>

That is EXACTLY the wrong answer.

This is not whale oil being replaced by petroleum. This is crude oil being replaced by difuse energy. (Wind, solar, etc..)

Could be better, but it certainly won't be more powerful. Dig?


1. what if we don't have to transition quickly

Well, we have built our entire civilisation on oil, and oil supply is likely to fall off a cliff around 2012. I would call four years pretty quick.

2. people may be in denial about PO but they sure know high gas prices.

Sure, but lets look at the response to high fuel prices (which BTW are still laughably low in the US by world standards). So far we've had protests, politicians promising to freeze or cut fuel taxes, politicians demanding that OPEC pump more, conservatives demanding that oil companies be allowed to drill anywhere and everywhere, liberals demanding that we tax oil company profits. None of this is going to help, and will only serve to dilute the price signal and delay the inevitable.

Show me somewhere in the world where there has been a sane and sensible response to the recent spike in oil prices?

Show me somewhere in the world where there has been a sane and sensible response to the recent spike in oil prices?

everywhere in the where people are conserving, taking the train, buying a higher MPG car and etc.


one of the very first posts by Stuart Staniford was on the likely impact of various decline rates on whether we suffer 'a collapse' or not:

His conclusion seems to be that we won't see any economic growth at all with oil supply contraction rates > 4% / Year-on-Year and if the rate goes to >11% average we might face a 'collapse scenario'.

However, I think this analysis is probably due for a re-visit in light of the ELM. Its likely that different countries will lie in different bands -what effect would a collapse of multiple countries have on the whole? We could see a cascade collapse effect: very dependant importers crash (US?) > Corn/Wheat Prices Explode > Food importing Oil Exporters (KSA?) crash, etc...

it's also worth remembering that cars consume large quantities of oil in their manufacte and Hybrids even more exotic 'stuff' than standard cars. If the average quantity to construct a car is 50 barrels and each one of those costs $1000 we might not be able to afford a transition. (Law of Receeding Horizons). Upshot: Get it while its still 'cheap'...!

Regards, Nick.

Speaking to the paragraph concerning the "economics of the Austrian school" (also known as libertarians in many circles):

Whenever faced with a problem whose solution is difficult to understand and when proposed a solution that involves massive government intervention, you should definitely expect hositility towards that solution. The problem is that those from this particular school of thought view government actions as empirically poor solutions historically. There are way more examples of government misallocating resources and making the overall problem worse than there are of government mitigating the problem through resource allocation. (I say that based on studies of credit, disease and housing crisises throughout the ages). They're not being obstinate, but if you limit their choices to government action or chaos, they'll take their chances with the unknown result of chaos rather than the likely poor government response inevitable.

At a local PostCarbon group meeting (Toronto) we had a consultant come by and discuss this issue. I'm a numbskull and forgot his name, but he was very very good. He had a great deal of experience as a community activist for various environmental groups in Ontario.

It was very interesting to hear him speak, as environmental groups have had greater success in getting and keeping public attention. He worked with us like so, and I am wildly paraphrasing:

"OK - so you go to a group and give a presentation. What I want to list on the white board are their reactions, so talk to me."

(we list a lot of common reactions - rejection, "technology will fix it", outrage, contradiction, flat/no affect, depressed affect, etc.)

"OK - now, tell me how their reaction MAKES YOU FEEL."

(we list our feelings - frustration, anger, disgust, resignation, weak hope, etc etc.)

"OK - now, tell me how you think THEY FEEL that caused the reaction they gave."

(we list what we think they feel - anger, fear, frustration, doubt, etc.)

"OK - so now: The conversation you think you had, between your presentation and their reaction, is NOT THE CONVERSATION THAT NEEDS TO TAKE PLACE. What needs to take place is the conversation between your feelings about the subject. People will be informed by facts, but they make decisions from their emotional centre. If you don't have their emotions, you won't have them."


What I took away fro mthis was basically, he was telling us everything that the major media have already figured out for the past 100 years since Bernays invented PR: people are emotional and they make emotional decisions - decisions that make them "feel good" about what they're doing. Even if they are motivated by pure unadulterated white knuckle TERROR, or green vomit disgust, they will respond in a positive manner if given a positive direction in order to deal with the fear / disgust / anger / etc.

If you don't give them that out, they're not going to buy into it, and you will fail in getting your message across.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So, basically totoneila's 2x4 approach is a recipe for failure in mobilising society. It won't and can't work. All it will do is succeed in scaring people and demobilising them - the classic effect of the doomer approach, where, if we're all screwed - why bother?

I was at the Peak Oil, Climate change, and sustainability conference in Michigan a few weeks back, and the conversations I was having went basically like this:

Geology is going to force the issue, so you don't need to force Peak Oil - it's here. what will happen is this: people get meaning from narratives, and they need narratives to make sense of the work and various phenomena. So, as the phenomenon of Peak Oil inserts itself courtesy of Geology "doing its thing", we have to insert the peak oil meme into the general energy discussion as things continue to deplete.

This will give people the narrative they need to understand what is happening, and then we can give them the directions they need in order to cope with the crisis. And deal with it they will. Some better than others.

The Peak Oil Awareness community needs to become PLAYERS in the game. This is hard, because many PO people are engineer-types who are convinced by facts, and don't need persuasion. If the rest of the world was so rational... The fact is, THEY'RE NOT, and when times start tightening, they're going to be looking for answers, so it is important that the Geological and Scientific answers ARE THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE, and not the energy faery BS from the political and technocratic classes, or the "invade some poor sucker for their resources but call it The War on Terror or Free Trade" neocon/neoliberal narratives.

So, presentations need to reflect this, and i would suggest PRESENTATIONS FOR MEDIA COMPANIES. Not as a media stunt, but more as a way for the company, AS A CORPORATION, is aware of what it is facing. When the Media people realise "Oh Shit - this company needs to change EVERYTHING" you can be damn sure the Geological and Scientific narratives will dominate the energy discussion, and not the economic / technocratic. You see, they GET economic / technocratic narratives 24/7. It's on constant tap for them. But, as we all know here, the economic / technocratic narratives have significant and critical blindspots, and if they continue to dominate the discussion, the conversation will only get increasingly dire.

We need to connect with our audience in a wholistic and emotional manner - this doesn't mean reducing or cutting facts - it means honouring people's legitimate concerns and fears, sharing them, and showing how these fears can be conquered by developing a new decentralised networked and sustainable society that uses a FRACTION of the energy we now use, but is vastly healthier in every concievable way: physically, mentally, socially, and culturally.

We gotta get this going. NOW.

I think there's a lot of truth in what you're saying, people need to be able to relate to these issues. A lot of the time they're told things and it's "okay, that's nice, but what am I supposed to do about it?"

That's when I pop in with my insanely radical, "Burn less stuff. Drive less, use less electricity."
"But what difference can I make? Why should I change if no-one else does?"
"Are you faithful to your husband/wife? Have you ever had the chance to steal from work or a friend, seen a big pile of cash, and not taken it?"
"Sure. But screwing around and theft is just wrong."
"Yep, but do you expect that your faithfulness and honest will make the whole world faithful and honest?"
"Of course not."
"But you still are faithful and honest, just because you think it's the right thing - no matter what everyone else is doing, yeah?"
"Well, that's why I use less fossil fuels. Because it's the right thing to do. Doesn't matter what everyone else does. So I walk and take the train, I wear jumpers and have hot drinks instead of turning on the heater, and so on. It's the right thing to do."

I try to bring things down to this everyday level people can relate to.

very clever and insightful, I will definitely use this concept as a rebuttal to critics about what they can do personally, thanks!

The original comment and this one are good -thanks.

I think the idea of taking leadership by example is a good one but the problem is our whole society seems geared around consumerism and loose one-upmanship (and I'm talking about the UK here -the US must be even worse!]

So you end up simply looking like a 'Green' do-gooder -the type who sips a non-alcoholic drink at a party so as not to go 'over the top'...

This is going to take a long time to change but time is not something I believe we have a lot of. When I look at the local shopping mall I see 'Nintendo Kids' who are clones of their parents consumptions habits. They will kick and scream and claw away rather than give up anything of their lifestyle.

The mental impact of acceptance is catastrophic and hence the facts are denied wholesale or another less worrying narrative explanation is seized upon to explain events.

Even a good chunk of PO aware people are just in it for the money -I would probably verge on this myself: I'm constantly looking for ways to make a bit of money out of this, but always with an eye on the approaching iceberg and learning how to raise chickens :o). I really wonder what needs to happen for things to change -like the 'Global Warming' narrative until we get a bombshell on the scale of 9/11 the masses will remain in PO denial IMO.


Interesting - thanks.

Storytelling works best as a timeline from past to present to future. Explore the history of the subject - from the Lower 48 peak to 1970s oil crisis; then the North Sea discovery and peak; and finally the present-day in Saudi Arabia.

If you're dealing with an older audience then they will have memories of the 70s oil crisis; keep their interest by saying "the 1970s was a walk in the park compared to what we're about to face".

Explain that oil isn't just transport, it's in everything we buy. If you're feeling particularly gloomy then mention the natural gas & fertilizer connection. Discuss airlines going bankrupt, truckers going out of business, everyday supermarket costs rising as a result. Keep it local - maybe there's a new airport, a new highway, or a proposed new light rail system in your area. If local businesses are struggling to compete with the mega-mall, give them hope.

Finally focus on practical solutions. No matter how pessimistic you may be, it's vital to give people something to take away, something they can do to help. Relate it to the audience's age group - retired folk need to think about keeping warm ("should I insulate my house?"); college students need to think about career choices ("should I train to become a pilot?"). People of all ages should think about transport choices ("do I really need an SUV?") since this is easiest single thing to change. Last of all, encourage people to spread the word. This is particularly important if there are any elections coming up or votes on local transport issues.

In the Q&A session you'll always get the following:
- Hydrogen will save us
- Canada will save us
- It won't affect me, I earn more than $100,000 a year
- The free market will find a way
Prepare your answers well!

In my time, I've written for about three dozen magazines covering industries ranging from energy to banking, pulp and paper to IT, feed grains to advertising & PR --and I've never seen a harder sell than peak oil. I'm well known enough to be able to have long conversations with my publishers.

If I propose an article demonstrating how peak oil and peak food will affect globalisation, or the links between peaking natural gas, fertilizer and feed, the eyes just gloss over. Equally or less interesting topics usually get attention but one sees in the body language a certain defensiveness towards the whole PO topic that makes it deeply personal.

A lot of these guys also run up huge fossil fuel bills via frequent flying or car trips, complain about their rising cost. But when peak oil is gently introduced, the blame is always deflected to speculators, countries refusing to open up to western oil majors, etc.

What I've concluded is that peak oil is eliciting an emotional reaction similar to that of grieving over a loved one: First comes denial, later comes anger, finally a cold acceptance. We've been in denial for about 5 years but as the wave of strikes and demonstrations implies that we are now transitioning into the socially dangerous phase of anger. Expect the next five years to be rocky. With anger on the rise, your peak oil arguments will run into emotional roadblocks. When nature's cruelty forces acceptance of the fact, people will finally 'get it' without much help from us.

Equally or less interesting topics usually get attention but one sees in the body language a certain defensiveness towards the whole PO topic that makes it deeply personal.

There is an interesting phenomenon I've noticed with people that occurs when they break their word or lie or cheat: they blame the person to whom they made the agreement. It's a rare person who can accept immediate responsibility when they are confronted with a situation in which it's clear they were the reason for whatever happened.

I think you're pointing out something similar here.

Ive heard several folks make the comment about audience members who are convinced that some sort of technology miracle will occur, and we will barely feel a thing. Or some other cornicopian view about the stone age not ending due to lack of stones.

Whats the correct response to someone who blows off the whole idea because market forces will magically create a solution?

It seems to me that once we get across the idea of peak oil, we can talk all we want about solutions, ideas, vision, and forward thinking about a post peak world. But if folks still believe that the status quo is safe due to these unseen forces rescuing us any day now - then it would appear that the effort would be in vain?

I give them the WWII analogy.

"Germany believed in the technological miracle. They built jet aircraft, rockets. Thing is, rockets were invented in the US in the 1920s. Jet engines were invented in Britain in the 1930s. The Germans went for high tech, and lost. The Allies took stuff they already knew worked well and applied that.

"Sure, the US built atomic bombs, and after they dropped them, the Japanese surrendered. But you know something? After the Hiroshima bomb a Japanese scientist was sent there by his government to see what had happened. He figured out what it was and told them. And you know what they said to him? They said, if we gave you unlimited resources and six months, could you build us a bomb like that? We could perhaps hold out that long.

"He said no, but the point is - they were seriously considering holding out under six months of atomic bombardment. Six months of a couple of cities being destroyed each week. What really hit the Japanese was the Red Army pouring over Manchuria, and the threat of the Allies following up the a-bombs with an invasion. So the high tech didn't make them surrender, the threat of a land invasion did.

"What wins wars is not high tech gadgets, but taking stuff you already know works well, and applying that really well. A big effort and time.

"Same thing here. What'll keep us going is not some wonderful new high tech, but doing things we already know work well. Wind turbines and stuff like that."

The Germans went for high tech, and lost. The Allies took stuff they already knew worked well and applied that.

it's sooooo much more complicated than that.

the US had a tremendous manufacturing advantage. we had lots of manpower. we had lots of money. Germany had hitler making dumb mistakes. germany had a war on two fronts, the russians fought and suffered tremendously. had the germans been able to conquer england(which the germans lost because the English had a new technology called radar and because the leader of the German luftwafe was an idiot) or develop a better submarine and stop us from using England as staging base they might have won or at least given us a stalemate.g

and the Germans ran out of gasoline - no wehrmacht without that.

the Allies didn't have that problem.

Goering was personally responsible for so many incredible blunders:
- The failure to allocate enough steel to U-Boat construction pre-war;
- The halt order to the Panzers at Dunkirk;
- The decision to cease attacking radar stations in the UK.
- The decision to switch the Battle of Britain from attacking the RAF bases to attacking population centres;
- Failure to invade Malta;
- The decision that the Sixth Army in Stalingrad should rely on aerial re-supply rather than break out.
- His continued demoralising exhortations to his Luftwaffe pilots.
... That it makes me wonder whether Goering was actually working for the Allies!

"Never attribute to malice that which can satisfactorily be explained by incompetence." -- Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

And about some of Görings blunders:
-The terrain around Dunkirk was considered unsuitable for Panzers.
-The RAF attacked population centers in Germany so he replied in kind.
-Göring was against Operation Barbarossa in the beginning.

the US had a tremendous manufacturing advantage. we had lots of manpower.

And the US had the Saudia Arabia of oil - Texas. The US shipped alot of oil and the result of the work from oil out of the US of A. (and I thank a TOD member who've I forgotten for pointing out the oil flows from WWII)

Being able to ship that oil elsewhere allowed others to use it.

(Oh, and with 'Rosie the Rivetor' being a meme of the time - you sure about 'man'power? )

we had lots of money.

I hear that pre-war germany had lots of money too. Why didn't they win?
(Oh wait. 'lots of money' is a BS argument. You keep being wrong anytime you bring up money. Or at least unwilling to defend your claims about 'economics' when challenged.)

Oh And John15, you've been asked to comment on privatizing water.
Is there any reason why you have not bothered to apply your 'money' arguments to private water?

I hear that pre-war germany had lots of money too. Why didn't they win?

they didn't prosecute the war very well and their currency devalued to the point where they had to pay with gold. currency devaluation often happens with regimes that are losing wars.

(Oh wait. 'lots of money' is a BS argument. You keep being wrong anytime you bring up money. Or at least unwilling to defend your claims about 'economics' when challenged.)

it's not a bs argument. money is important and when have I been wrong about money? when have I been unwilling to discuss economics?

what is this about privatized water? I don't know where that's from I don't care to comment on it.

they didn't prosecute the war very well

Well DUH, they lost. Show how that has a darn thing to do with 'money'.

it's not a bs argument.

Yes. Yes it is. But go ahead. Keep saying the word 'money'. One day perhaps you'll get around to defining what 'money' is, as some on TOD say money is FRN, others claim gold or silver.

money is important and when have I been wrong about money?

Lets start with you 'defining' what 'money' is. Then I can show the readers of TOD how what you have to say is, well, worthless.

when have I been unwilling to discuss economics?

1) When you claimed 'free markets' existed, then were unable to produce one for examination.
2) And right here:
I don't care to comment on it.

Thank you for finally saying that you don't wish to talk about a topic you chose to comment on BTW.

I think the first thing to recognize is that if the person is relating to the market like a religion nothing you say will make a difference. If you still want to say something, do it for the benefit of the other people in the room, many of whom are open to hearing your answer.

What I say is something like: "The market is an excellent mechanism for responding to external forces. The US economy is particularly good at that — but that comes at a cost. That cost is that it isn't very good at long-term planning, and something as big as transitioning away from oil requires very, very long term planning. We didn't do that planning and now we are reacting too late. We have very few options other than planning for some form of collapse."

That cost is that it isn't very good at long-term planning, and something as big as transitioning away from oil requires very, very long term planning.

could you explain why this is true? I could easily cut down on fuel consumption tomorrow with virtually no problem. buy a more fuel efficient car. stay home. have something delivered. car pool. walk. bike. convert a car to waste vegetable oil. take a bus. start building an electric car. convert my hybrid to a plug-in hybrid.

Hi, John15, thanks but no thanks. I've watched the conversations you've had with others. You have, in my opinion, little grasp of reality and how long it takes to accomplish big projects.

I suspect you've had little or no experience managing a sizable project or, if you have, you've never had one go sideways on you and have had to pull the plug after much time and expense.

You seem to think that this transition, were it even possible, will go quite smoothly.


You have, in my opinion, little grasp of reality and how long it takes to accomplish big projects.

we've show during WWII and other times that society can change very quickly. I reject the notion that it's just big projects that will save us.

car pool
take the bus
move closer to work
drive less
buy a more fuel efficient car.
get a scooter

High school kids have converted cars to EVs. calcars converted a hybrid to a PHEV. there are both large and small projects we'll undertake. we already know how to make cars. we know how to make batteries we just need to work out the details.

Thank you for making my point for me.

Thank you for making my point for me.

ok. please explain to me I can't walk, take the bus, ride the bike or buy a new higher MPG car tomorrow?

Now this will certainly sound patronizing to you...but you don't know enough to know that you are omitting 80% of the economy, like the construction industry, the damage that shortages will cause to our just-in-time manufacturing systems, the havoc caused by broken supply chains when bankruptcies occur, the fallout of the failure of the entire airline industry and more.

The point is that if people can change their everyday lives in such simple ways and save so much fossil fuels, then surely industry and agriculture can, too.

Of course, many people imagine that due to "the market", every business which exists must be perfectly optimised already, with zero waste. It is not clear why we expect that individual people acting on their own behalf will not be optimised and perfectly efficient in their use of resources, but businesses will be. Do we suddenly leap thirty IQ points when we walk out of our homes and into our workplaces?

There's waste everywhere. "Bike, train, drive less" and so on are good advice for individuals, but it's trivial to come up with similar advice for other businesses, though nontrivial to list all the possibilities for all the businesses in existence.

The problem as I see it is that none of you are offering John a solution, you're just going through and listing the problems.

The only solutions I see that aren't market driven are government driven and like you said "Do we suddenly leap thirty IQ points when we walk out of our homes and into our workplaces?" Well do we leap 30 IQ points when we walk out of our homes into congress? No, we don't. We elect people that are the same as us, so trusting any single entity to "fix the problem" is irrational. John proposes that people will be motivated when they see it in their best interest to change. Thats all we can hope for and if you don't trust humanity and the market to fix things, I can guarantee you world governments can't fix things because they're made up of the same people that couldn't agree on the proper allocation of resources through individual transactions.

John's solution is the only solution. Inform, persuade, wait and hope. Change yourselves and have faith that humanity will follow, because that's all you can do.

The only solutions I see that aren't market driven are government driven and like you said "Do we suddenly leap thirty IQ points when we walk out of our homes and into our workplaces?" Well do we leap 30 IQ points when we walk out of our homes into congress? No, we don't.

You're reversing the intent of what I said.

It's often asserted that if business is doing something, it must be doing it at peak efficiency, and at the same time it's said that "the public" do not do things at peak efficiency.

But the people involved in business are "the public", so these twin assertions contradict each-other, saying that the same people doing things so intelligently at work cannot do them intelligently at home.

Which is obviously absurd. And so we're left with: if we can find efficiencies at home and save fossil fuels, then we can do so in our businesses. So I was saying that if we can be smart at home, we can be smart at work - and yes, in a parliament, too.

Whereas you are supposing that everyone is stupid everywhere they go. And all I have to say against that is, "speak for yourself."

I apologize. I was reading more into your comment than you actually said.

Actually André, John15 misses out a much bigger elephant than that. The small problem of food production and distribution. In John's fantasy world we can succeed in a massive training of the population in how to become food sufficient and get out all the seeds and allocate the land, all while coping with a zillion other problems.

Another part of John's fallacy is that changes that one person can quickly make cannot be done by a whole society so easily - resource shortages rapidly arise.

Sadly I think it likely to be best to just ignore John15 - he is doomed by his own rigid denial. And if we allow ourselves to get distracted by it, we will be sucked into his whirlpool of doom too.

ok. please explain to me I can't walk, take the bus, ride the bike or buy a new higher MPG car tomorrow?


These are all very positive steps, and you (along with everybody else) most definitely should take them. We will all be forced to make all of these changes anyway, and soon.

Read the Hirsch report. We needed to start making this transition 20 years ago. We didn't. So now by default we have chosen the painful fast transition.

You can try the Concorde, Moon walk, Fusion response to "technology will save us"

The last high speed commercial aircraft flight across the Atlantic was in......?

The last moon walk was in .....?

Forty years ago nuclear fusion was going to supply all our energy needs in forty years. It's now how many years away...?

You just need to give them examples of technologies that have not been able to be replaced/built.

I know I shouldn’t touch this with a 10 meter pole, but somehow I just CAN’T resist. So apology beforehand…

I came to the peak oil discussion in a real way in 2002, and came to TOD US over two years ago.

This was after being absolutely convinced by what could pass for research in the 1970’s of the “energy crisis” of those days that we were facing the final fuel crisis then, and having to abandon that theory in the 1980’s. Thus like so many baby boomers who recall history going back to the 1970’s. So I am familiar with much of the terminology and forms of rhetoric that appears in discussion of peak oil per se, and energy depletion issues in general.

Some thoughts on discussing or presenting peak oil to others:

1. Do not come across as condescending. This is imperative. So much discussion of peak oil is based on the idea that the bulk of humanity is ignorant. We hear this all the time: “They just don’t get it”, “they don’t understand”, “you don’t understand the magnitude and implications of this problem, etc. This may or may not be true, but telling your audience they are ignorant is no way to win friends and influence people. On a similar note, DO NOT accuse people of being in denial simply because they question your assumptions. The audience or listener has every right to ask questions and want to know how you know what you say you know.

2.On a related topic to the last sentence of point one, how do you know what you know? One of the things that is most galling about both the peak oil camp and the cornucopian camp is what comes across as an absolute CERTAINTY in their own assumptions and projections. I can give you a set of sample assumptions: (a) “Oil production will continue to rise” (how do you know?) (b) “Oil production will continue to fall” (how do you know?) (c)”We are half through the world’s reserves of oil” (How do you know that?) (d)”There are trillions of barrels of oil left, we are not even a quarter of the way through world reserves” (how do you know that?) (e)”The shortage of liquid fuel will lead to world catastrophe” (how do you know that?) (f) “We will adjust and everything will be fine? (How do you know that?)

Notice that the above are opposing sentences, but can any of them be proven? If you give the audience an assumption, make sure that it is given an assumption, unless you can prove it as a fact. And very few things in the realm of energy can be proven.

3. Now let me put forth an assumption that cannot be proven, but that my experience with most people has caused me to accept: If you begin to talk about “Ulduvai Gorge”, “mass dieoff”, “Collapse of Civilization”, the return to feudalism, etc, you will be perceived as just another variety of an end of the world kook. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Equally suspicious is discussion of “peak everything”. It just seems completely unlikely that every commodity peaked at once (including those that can be recycled and metals that have only come onto the market in a big way in the last few decades). Most of the boomer audience will be familiar with commodity investment cycles and be more prone to believe that when prices on everything goes up all at once, it is a financial cycle, not a “we’re running out of everything at once” event.

4. Charts. When you use them, make sure you know where the line divides the historical record from the “projections”. I know that sort of returns to a prior point about projections, but do not make the assumption that just because the charts project something that it will be accepted by the audience. Also expect the audience to ask about prior periods of decline in oil production, and why that did not prove peak oil. They will. I do.

5. Do not completely dismiss technical advances. Your audience has lived to see repeated technical advances completely alter everything from their workplace to their family life. If you begin with the assumption that “nothing can be done” and that technical changes will have no effect on the future of the energy situation, you will lose credibility. Pointing up the difficulties involved in technical advance is acceptable but do not dismiss technology completely.

6. DO NOT use the peak oil issue to go on an attack against capitalism, modern economics and “fiat” money. Your audience likes money. Money has been good to them if they can get it. Leave the political and philosophical discussions aside, unless you want to be seen as having an agenda that you are using peak oil to push.

7. Speaking of an agenda, assume the audience assumes you have one, because you do. We all do. Many major voices in the peak oil movement had well known agendas (anti suburbanism-James Howard Kunstler, anti modernism-Robert Heinberg) before peak oil came along, and that’s o.k., but there is no point in trying to deny it. If you have an agenda your best to face it and admit it. (I am well known on TOD US for having a pro technology and pro solar agenda, and believe that peak or no peak, oil has become more troublesome than it is worth. Thus, I would endorse a move away from oil even if I had never heard of peak, on the basis of national security, national economic destiny , carbon release issues and freedom from the oil producing monopolies {national or private}. Peak oil only adds to my concern about the U.S. energy future, but is not my only motivation. I am best to admit that up front)

8. Lastly, show humanity. Be VERY, VERY careful about recommending plans that sound like social engineering (I.e., forced migrations, forcing people back to the cities, forcing them back to the farms, taking their property, dismissing their concerns for their children and health care, etc. Some in the peak oil movement have made the error of promoting what sound like inhumane programs to assure that “some” will survive at the expense of others. This comes across as elitist and frankly fascist.

Now you have a right to ask, “how do I know these things”, or at least, “why do I assume them to be true?” I am blessed in having many very bright and alert friends. I also have friends in both the consumer and media research industries and in the financial community. They are tough. They are curious. They do not accept things at face value and are not easily convinced unless they can see facts to prove a case. However, they are willing to change their mind once the evidence proves it is time to do so. They are a tough audience to sell, but once they buy in, they are valuable allies. That is the audience we MUST sell on the need for change. If we hope to sell them, we better have our facts straight.

Oh, and one more thing, DON'T make predictions with absolute dates. This has been done before. They have often been dead wrong. If you make a prediction and give a date, you have made yourself a prophet. Then you ABSOLUTELY must be right or your credibility is finished.


I like your approach. One of many good replies in an excellent thread.

Respecting the legitimate skepticism (which is different than a closed-minded dismissiveness)that people have is important. I'm a bit of a skeptic about many things, and frankly, I think it's one of my better qualities.

A good way to appeal to skeptics is to critique the non-peakers. Put the spotlight on them. Two examples:

The Saudis say they have XXX Billion barrels. Who has verified that? Why should we believe them? Don't they have a vested interest in us believing that?

How has the IEA figured out future supply? My god, you mean they've taken just pulled future OPEC supply from thin air, by assuming that supply will match demand? They're only just getting around to actually trying to add up the numbers? Good lord.

This is the approach that Simmons has taken, at least in part - highlighting the lazy assumptions that everyone has been relying on.

I'm not suggesting that challenging the claims that others have made is, on its own, sufficient for a peak oil presentation, just that it might help when dealing with a tough crowd.

A final note - based on what little I know of my own psychology - skeptics often don't like to show that they've changed their minds. Those frowns that confront you might not be a sign of failure, but of engagement with an idea.

No need to apologize at forehand - this is an excellent posting.
Thanks for giving me and my (unfortunately only) Peak Oil friend some handles as how to explain to our families what we are concerned of and why we are making preparations, without the risk of antagonizing them because of our lack of experience of explaining heavy subjects like Peak Oil.

I am a qualified public speaker and expert regarding Peak Oil.

I can assure you - people don't WANT to hear about our PROBLEMS. They want to see CASE STUDIES of solutions that WORK. I was a member of Portland's Peak Oil Task Force and helped craft their Peak Oil plan.

I am presently working with eleven neighborhoods in Portland to deploy a new community solutions tool that helps relieve the pain of high transportation and food costs. Bright Neighbor helps neighbors safely congregate and effectively build community.

Portland's value system is based on community connectedness, diversity, responsibility to the environment, sustainability and equity for all.

The problem is, there is not equity for all. Peak Oil reveals the money system as an unfair advantage for the rich while hard working people can't keep up with energy price increases. We, as a society, literally can't afford to live they way we have been living.

Peak Oil is here, now, and immediate local community building and food/water security solutions need to be deployed. Now.

So, I've given plenty of talks, but none about peak oil. The secret to a really successful talk is connecting with your audience, framing, analogies, and keeping cognitive load to a minimum.

I think talking about P.O. in a meaningful way to a lay-audience is almost impossible (which is why I never do it) and here's why: As I mentioned above, the key is "framing." If you utter the words "peak oil" you're already in the wrong frame because those who've heard the word before will all activate their "crazy kooky tinfoil hat" schema - you've already lost your audience. Secondly, I think "peak oil" is a "red-herring" because the key issues are eroei and flow rates - the point of actual peak is irrelevant. If you start talking about the "peak" you're in the wrong frame because every Tom, Dick and Harry will immediately think "we can always drill more." Geology is overcome with technology. Why can't we increase recovery factor to 50%? (Answer, you probably could, but I'm betting the eroei would be so bad as to render the idea useless.) The frame we WANT to be in is "eroei and flow rates" which are a function of geology AND politics.

So what's the problem? The problem is that humans are notoriously bad at conceptualizing rates and ratios. We just suck at it and I wish I knew why (because that's one of the things I study in my research). The point is, the talk is going to get really sophisticated really quickly and nobody is going to follow you. So we're back in the wrong frame talking about the "finiteness of our resources," to which anybody can reply: "we still have the Canadian tar sands, whose reserves are bigger than those of Saudi Arabia."

Sorry to sound such a negative note, but I will never give a PO or "limits of growth" presentation for the reasons outlined above.

I intentionally try not to prepare too much beforehand. All I have are a bunch of graphs and maps on either transparencies (if there's an overhead) or powerpoint (if there's a computer and projector). I arrange the graphs and maps in some semblance of order (usually natural gas, then oil, then a short bit on home retrofits). However, I could almost shuffle them like a deck of cards and wing it that way, too.

Most of the graphs and maps, by the way, are from downloads via TOD.

I feel that my non-preparedness helps me to allay some of my nervousness--though I do know thoroughly what the graphs and maps are intended to convey beforehand. The other advantage to relying on outside sources is that if anyone accuses me of being an idiot (I don't have a background in the fossil fuel industry), I can defer their wrath to the sources (clearly labelled) of the graphs. Actually, this hasn't happened yet, but I could simply ask the accuser how they would prefer to interpret the graphs.

I guess I am a bad man, but I wouldn't do a presentation which argued the case - I would appeal to their instincts and let them argue the case.
So I would ask questions - if oil is so high, what happened to the GM electric car - how come we are not driving them?
Do you think the Governments of oil producing counties are going to be honest with you about how much oil they can pump, or would they fib if it suited them and get every last dollar whilst the going is good?
Paranoia is your friend! ;-)

People don't like to be lectured to, they do like to think that they are slightly cynical and knowing, so all you do is put things so that they can 'see through' what is happening - but don't go off into some rap on your take on the capitalist system or something, define your objectives, in this case to get some acceptance that oil is not infinite in supply, and that we are maybe not doing what we should about it, and that the country is going to hell in a handcart - I'd be stunned if you couldn't get 99% of people on board with that, Republican, Democrat, whatever.

To sell a green agenda if you are talking to Republican, conservative voters you just have to ask if they feel we have lost some of the values that made this country great - you will soon be listening to tales of what their grandparents did to economise and struggle through, and how we don't need all this fancy stuff.

You just have to work with the values people have instead of challenging them.

I have one word for you: Graphics.

I've given a couple of talks to university audiences. Put up the charts.

After going through the charts of fields / countries that have peaked, I show the chart of world oil production, and ask: "What does this look like to you?" (Pause.) "It looks like the left side of a bell shaped distribution, right?"

I put up some more graphics and don't say anything -- just let them look at it.

I also put up some quotes from leaders they know (or, who are VPs of oil companies, etc.).

Anyway, for some graphics, see my website (and the PowerPoint linked there -- most linked from TheOilDrum):

Cheers, Mike

and it's a good one too, Mike. Check it out folks, worth your time.

I refer to it as "a peak oil riffing journal on crack." :) And believe me, that's a compliment.

Mike, your page looks great. Can't wait to dig in, but that will have to be Wednesday.

As it happens, I'm prepping for a presentation to the Marin County Board of Supervisors that takes place tomorrow afternoon.

Do you have a video/youtube giving this presentation live? Actually, it is very thorough and very lengthy. This is enough material for a Peak 101 course!

Thanks. No video yet, but I'll see if I can get the university to video record it next time and put it up on YouTube.

As an aside, last semester I taught an Ecological Psychology course, where I cover much of this material. I happened one day to be walking to class just behind one of the class students, who, of course, was talking on her cell phone. I managed to overhear: "...I'm going to class now. This class is scaring the sh*t out of me!" Not sure whether I should have taken that as a complement, or...

In the meantime, I highly recommend Richard Heinberg's "Peak Everything" lecture on YouTube (recorded, I believe in Auckland, NZ). See:

It is in about 6 or 7 parts. We'll worth it (but, he scares the sh*t of of me, too...)

I’ve seen some well educated and well written authors post questions of this nature: Why is it that in some regions of Africa, for example, where populations have already reached many resource limits, do we not see large scale ‘die-outs’? Why instead do we see continued exponential growth with declining living standards? My speculation is that some of the assumptions in the question are wrong, but also that even in regions with high density and subsistence living, there has been infusion, perhaps a trickle of outside energy e.g. food, liquid fuels, simple technology(?) that keeps their system growing or extending carrying capacity and thus preventing the die out scenario. Does this make sense? How would you respond to people who deny that an overshoot and collapse will occur because of what they’ve seen about currently overpopulated regions to date? Also, do you think any of the incidents of genocide that have occurred fit into the overshoot and collapse model as Jared Diamond has suggested?

My suggestion: refer anyone who doesn't quite accept the idea of overshoot to Dr. Albert Bartlett's: Arithmetic, Population and Energy:

That's not addressing the problem Schuyler mentions, is it? The population ist still exploding, even though resources have been abused, right? Africa is in Overshoot but is not in die-off, right?

Why not?? I mean, some signs are there: Genocide (Ruanda/Sudan), Epidemics (Aids), Draught/Starvations (Ethiopia), but the life expectancy is still well over 50, something that was unheard of on this earth before the 1900s.

I think I know the answer, but that's not the thing here. It is asserted that overshoot will result in die-off, meaning the two correlate directly. But this is not the case and is often set up as the straw man when arguing against resource depletion. (meaning Schuyler's objection is a question of logic..)

Now for my answer: PAX-Americana.
As long as the world political system is relatively stable, Africa (and most of the world) will stay in Overshoot. And there remains a *relative* amount of order. Once this system begins disintegrating, we'll begin experiencing die-off in many, many parts of the world.

Cheers, Dom

It is a distasteful analogy, but think of a yeast colony overshooting the carrying capacity of a petry dish. They won't die-off if you are standing over it sprinkling more and more sugar into it. (And filtering the waste...) That's sort of like what is happening in Africa. We take their oil and minerals and give them genetically modified foods and dirty vaccines. What a deal.

I wouldn't have to answer that question, because I wouldn't say that overshooting our resource limits leads to immediate catastrophic collapse and mass deaths.

It just makes life a lot harder, and changes it a lot. Consider for example this account of a bus journey in Uganda. It's nothing like taking the bus in the US, Australia or Europe. That's what taking the bus is like when a litre of fuel is a day or week's wages.

Hi Schuyler01,

It's not just "some regions of Africa" that have reached "many resource limits". If you think about it, regions such as Western Europe and Japan reached their resource limits long ago, but they have continued to grow by purchasing global resources. Cheap Oil has "lubricated" globalisation so far.

Where countries are too poor to purchase food, in many cases they have been able to access food aid. According to aid amounted to 8.25 million tonnes in 2005. (The global community tends to abhor large-scale die-offs on their TV News.)

So we're not really at the scenario assumed by your questioners - yet! However, it could happen, particularly if food aid, freight-transport fuels and fertiliser supplies give out. Hopefully we will always realise the importance of allocating declining oil stocks to these uses.

The still-declining living standards in the poor African countries that you mention are themselves an indication that they have not yet reached the final point of "large scale die-off". However, the outbreak of massive inter-ethnic violence, such as in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, must surely be at least partially due to population overshoot.

The worst catch in conveying the point, I think, is when you come across an audience that thinks it already knows what peak oil is. I've several times seen people dismiss the entire concept over a subtlety of definition, then class the non-peak supporters as automatically the more reasonable authority based on having labeled peak oil as crackpottery based on *the wrong definition*. It's ugly.


Graphics or no graphics, the anti-peak oil defense mechanisms are strong for the following reason: buy in.

No matter how clear, graphical or even-minded you are, your average audience member drives an SUV for 45 minutes on the highway to get to work, depends on it to bring kids to school, groceries home and get to the neighbourhood park. His or her house is probably a suburban McMansion with a hungry gas furnace. Lately, the heating, air conditioning and transportation bills have been killing him. All family members, work colleagues, etc. are in just as deeply as he is. A few more doubling of oil, gas, food and fuel prices and the entire world of such people crashes.

They will be immobilized in their homes, be confronted with the fact their neighbourhoods are unworkable now that family can barely afford one car. At work, the dividing line between haves and have-nots is those who can drive or helicopter to work and those who are cramped into SUVs converted into private shutte buses --a two hour journey both ways. I've seen this in the Philippines, where the vast majority of workers must make such commutes to and from work every day. ---And under peak oil, this grim sort of car pooling will come to suburbia...

Whatever one thinks of James Kunstler anti-suburbanism, it's unsustainability cannot be undone. The inability to convey the peak oil message is up against a human subconscious furiously avoiding its date with the future.

Whatever one thinks of James Kunstler anti-suburbanism, it's unsustainability cannot be undone.

bike. walk. car pool. bus. high MPG car. the suburbs has more land to grow food. there is also a lot of roof space for solar panels. wind power might be more suitable in the suburbs.

I've been contemplating this post all day and have already added some comments up thread.

What I would like to hear from people is how do you avaoid being lableed a nutter or a doomer when you are in a job that comes with a certain social position that assumes you to be welded to BAU. It is easy to be politically active behind the TOD veil of anonymity but standing up at your Rotary or Church group and telling your friends and associates that basically the lives we have been creating for ourselves is completley bogus and about to end, is setting yourself up for social and community ostracism which will make it even harder.

I spoke with a client today who is fully expecting jet services to increase out of our regional airport which he can get more business from. I mumbled something about higher oil prices but really coul'dnt launch into a full scale discussion with this bloke as I am still pitching for his business ( haven't got my permculture backyard CSA going yet and still have mouths to feed).

I do my bit for PO awarenes by leaving cards all over the place with a peak oil message and sterring people to TOD but at some point his is going to catch up with me and I will be "outed". That is still a big career risk and I'm not sure what I can do about it. Does anyone else have these issues and how do you deal with them?


Your point is well taken, and this demonstrates the problem that political leaders must surely face...if they come out boldly on the side of peak awareness they are considered by many to be a bit off the beam, and are voted out or ignored, but if they play it delicately, they can't easily sound the alarm. One noticed this type of "political" speech in the comprehensive NPC (National Petroleum Council) report on oil and gas, and several politicians (Obama included) seem constrained by the same problem.

I have decided that the best bet is to urge needed mitigation efforts on the basis of multiple threats: Climate Change is now pretty well accepted, so there's one reason to support alternatives and conservation and reduce fossil fuel consumption. Balance of trade is another. National security is another. High tech job creation and being able to compete with our world trading competitors is another.

Someone upstring said that we must appeal to the "emotional issues" as much if not more than we do to the rational aspects of human thinking and I think this is correct. We have to play to pride, the sense of destiny of a people, patriotism, to secure our national destiny, avoid the risk of climate change, and create a prosperous national economy. There is also the issue that we could be approaching the maximum sustained crude oil production that can be affordably achieved, and creative measures now would assure that we would be more prepared to avoid potential dislocation from such an event should that time be near. Conservation measures to reduce waste and alternatives to diversify energy supply would act as a contingency plan to assure national stability and economic inclusion for everyone...

Now, do you notice what I just got away with in that last paragraph? I essentially described peak oil without once using that term, and phrased the efforts at mitigation in such a way so as to make it sound like nothing more than addressing well known national issues and engaging in contigency planning. Because if there is any risk we are approaching the maximum sustained crude oil production that can affordably be achieved, then we should be ready, right?

I have long been convinced (and said it in prior posts on TOD US) that we should sell the coming need for mitigation and change on multiple fronts. The peak is only one threat, there are several more on which we can base our request that the nation buy an insurance policy! I refer to the U.S. because that is where I am, but I sure that a similiar approach holds promise for most other developed nations as well. Play to the home crowd, you have to convince them first. And whatever you do, DO NOT sound hysterical.


Thanks RC,

Spoken like a politician. And I think that in a sense is waht we need to become, engaged in the political process to an extent. Perahps we need to join the exisiting political machines and try to steer them from within rather than fight them from outside. At least it gives you a veneer of respectability as long as the message is always positively spun about protecting the future etc.

How do you avoid being labeled a nutter or a doomer when you are in a job that comes with a certain social position that assumes you to be welded to BAU?

First thing I do is keep my mouth shut at work.

Being labeled a Peak Oil kook will probably mean loss of a job.
My job presumes that Business As Usual will continue forever. It presumes that The Market will provide. It presumes that Technology will save us. The last thing that customers want to hear is that The Dream may be over and our nightmare is just beginning.

Quite frankly, I would rather not hear it either.

Did you also tell your clients that the real estate bubble is about to burst? (Where are you from?)

These are things I think are addressed more off-hand, like posing questions:
What happens if housing prices begin to fall?
What happens if inflation hits double digits?
What happens if jet fuel just keeps getting more expensive. Is it worth the risk? Is there a better, ie with less risk, way?

Now, to your fellow Christians at Church. Don't "sell" peak oil (besides, who cares if they understand it?) Sell: Possibly hard times ahead, where we need to depend on each other. Sell (rotary club): Social responsibility and creating local (community) solutions.

Cheers from Munich, Dom

and the Germans ran out of gasoline - no wehrmacht without that.

the Allies didn't have that problem.

war is all about cutting off supplies. example:

Operation Tidal Wave

but you don't know enough to know that you are omitting 80% of the economy, like the construction industry, the damage that shortages will cause to our just-in-time manufacturing systems, the havoc caused by broken supply chains when bankruptcies occur, the fallout of the failure of the entire airline industry and more.

business are a lot of times even more adaptable because often they have more incentive.

just in time manufacturing will simply adjust. ships are slowing down and using SAIL POWER. how about that as a blast from the past? big rigs are slowing down to save fuel. the construction industry works on you being able to afford the costs going into building a home. if you can't afford their costs is doesn't get built and we save all that energy. the construction industry turned on a dime. I don't know what you mean by the failure of the entire airline industry because that didn't happen and most likely won't. let's look at the airline industry. new planes with high fuel efficiency are coveted. airlines are trying to make everything lighter. they are putting in light seats. they are charging more for baggage. they are redesigning food carts because having them lighter literally saves tens of millions of dollars a year in fuel costs. these costs savings are happening at all levels of society. I used commuters as an example because getting to work accounts for 40% of our oil usage.

1) I second memills' comment about charts [and that site indeed has great material]. Graphics is so much better than words alone.

2) I've done more than 1000 sales pitches and 500 public lectures to wild varieties of audiences, although not on this topic, so the rest of this are general ideas from experience in delivering sometimes-very-technical talks to varying audiences under time constraints.

a) I don't know if you read your script live, but if you did, don't do it again, ever. You're way better off showing charts or even bullet items and talking from them (but not reading them). Of course, beware dumb PowerPoint, as per Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint, or in Tufte's "Beautiful Evidence".

b) If you have a chance, practice the speech to a video camera. If you haven't done this, the first time is excruciatingly painful, but it is well worth it.

If you want use a script, go ahead, but practice until you don't need it.

c) "Know the audience" has been mentioned, and is really important.

d) But then, even if you know the audience ice-cold, ask the audience a few questions at the beginning, and periodically during the talk, even if you know what to expect as a result. Do this even with 1000-person audiences.

For starter questions, ideal are ones that ask people to raise hands, establish a *distribution* of knowledge, and get everyone to raise a hand at least once.

Possible sorts of questions might be:

"Think about the number of years you've been driving. Stick your hand up if you've been driving more than 40? 20? 10? [i.e., keep going down until all hands are up].

"What's the lowest gas price you remember?" (small group, can even let them call out).

"How much did the last tank of gas cost you? more than $100? more than $50?" (i.e., adjust for local).

"OK, how many have heard of Peak Oil?"
(hands up)
"OK, peak oil to some people means that we're out of oil, for others, it means that the maximum production is reached and slowly descends. If you believe the second, leave your hand up, else take it down."

You may be able to work in a joke or wry comment about the results of the survey, integral to the topic (never tell a standalone joke).

Then, now and then during the talk, ask the audience to respond.

e) WHY?
If someone is reading a script, they're probably not looking at the audience as much as they should be.

Audiences react very differently to being lectured at and being interactively engaged. When you start with a few questions, you set unconscious expectations that you're having a discussion with them, and they're more likely to be sitting forward in their seats and engaged. Any time it looks like they're starting to get disengaged, ask another question, even if it's "Did that make sense?"

Audiences vary widely in:
- Their responsiveness
- Willingness to ask questions during a talk, even you suggest they do
- Willingness to ask questions during a question period
- Willingness to come up afterward and ask a question directly, as opposed to in front of an audience.

Some of the variability is circumstances, and some is cultural.
[One time in Stockholm, I felt like I must have been having an off-day, as I wasn't getting much reaction. I expressed this to my host later, who reacted with surprise saying "You must be kidding. That was the most excited audience I've ever seen for this sort of talk." Oh.]

Nobody wants to ask a dumb question. Sometimes it's good to arrange a shill to ask a specified first question or two during a question period to get things started. [And if you're in an audience, it's kind to lob a softball to a speaker.]

At the other extreme, in a group small enough for people to ask questions during a talk, and you're willing to have them do it, it is invaluable to have a whiteboard or flip-chart to scribble on. Tell them you'll be glad to answer questions during the talk, but if it's hard to answer it right away, or you're going to cover it (with charts) later, you'll write it on the board so you don't forget, and if you haven't covered it by the end, you'll come back to it. This is especially important to keep your talk on track while being clearly responsive. It is *really* important when speaking to an audience whose knowledge varies hugely, as somebody who knows more than average (or thinks they do) can totally derail a talk if you let them. [I sometimes used to talk to small audiences of senior managers who'd bring a couple technical experts with them, eager to show their skills in front of several levels of management. You can guess what that's like.]

Anyway, when trying to convey complex topics to mixed audiences in limited time, every bit of graphics, and every little trick helps, as time is precious.

Good luck!

Some people have mentioned this (particularly JohnMashey) but I'll underline it:

It's important to be with the audience and not with your notes or searching your memory for the next line.

It's easy to forget this when trying to remember all the tips and tricks you might have committed to memory. (Was the joke here or here? Did I remember to make eye contact with all four corners of the room? Did I stare too long at that person? Was I supposed to sit them on toilets to feel less nervous? etc. etc.)

All those things are useful but when I train business people to speak I work on what I consider to be the most important element first, which is this:

Can the person be present in front of a group of people?

By present I mean this. Think of having a conversation with just one other person.

On one side of the spectrum are those people who barely look at you and are essentially waiting for you to stop speaking so they can speak.

On the other side of the spectrum are those people who make you feel really listened to and that everything you say is gold.

The second situation is uncommon enough when speaking one on one but it's really really difficult to be present in front of groups because most people are essentially scared of groups. (It's probably due to some experience we all have had in the past when we were ridiculed in front of a group, or something similar, like raising our hand and saying the wrong answer causing the other kids to laugh.)

The best speakers are all present. Some people call it "connecting" with the audience. If you've seen Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, watch how he is in front of the audience. Very confident, very present. (He wasn't this way during his campaigning.) Bill Clinton was exceptionally present during his speeches and was famous for his oratory skills. Most of that, I say, is his capacity to be present with the audience. Everything else flowed from that (his empathy, his timing, his tone, etc.).

The best actors are present, too. It's the only way we will buy into their character.

There are many ways to practice being present, one of the easiest is to do mirror work, which simply means saying the speech/talk to yourself in the mirror. Soon you'll be able to tell when you're present and when you're not. Or gather one or two people and bribe them with dinner to allow you to practice. Ask them to tell you when "you've left the room." When you stop being present, just back up, get yourself present again and continue. It's a skill and like all others it can be learned.

For any method to work, though, you must know the words cold so that you can concentrate on being with the audience rather than wondering which words come next. Knowing the words cold will allow you to practice connecting with the audience.

It is, after all is said and done, just a conversation with people.


I recommend spending the first 1/3 of the alloted time to present focusing on the history of petroleum discoveries, differentials in field size and location, and the geophysical constraints on petroleum evolution and structural capture. Much of this can be done with maps and schematics. For example, where are the largest proven reserves -- this could be done with a Mercator Projection of the world. As a side-bar show original oil in place, history of extractions by nation, as referenced on the map, and production trend based on past performance. This should suffice to show that most of the remaining known large reserves are in producing nations "hostile" to western intrusion, and that producing nations "friendly" to the west are in a state of decline. On the geologic side a series of cartoons beginning with massive accumulations of algae in epicontential sea undergoing burial and evolution to petroleum, then the "durn stuff" migrating into a trap for discovery and production. A few charts reflecting demand through time in industrial and industrializing nations should work nicely to show the increase demand is the driver, the reality of global production plateau and the likely upper limit to global production, then a disharmonious decline.

Plenty of fodder to make people sit up and pay attention. If you wake people up early in your talk, you will have a captive audience, sitting upright with all ears open. By way of analogy, Franz Joseph Haydn's 94th symphony is called the "Surprise" because Haydn included a little ditty in the first movement that is loud and dissonant -- his way of getting people to sit up and pay attention.

Let's assume for a moment that you are an atheist and you have been invited to speak to a group of evangelical Christians (or any other religious denomination)on your proposition for the denial of God.

By the very nature of their religious affiliation these individuals are committed to a belief system which both informs and guides their lives in a very profound manner. That you might be able to effectively sway them is slim.

Obviously this is an exaggerated example, but it helps to state the problematic nature of espousing our concern for PO to anyone else. Our universal true religion is our dependence on fossil fuels for all the comfort and convenience we enjoy, and making a convert to the coming new reality is a difficult undertaking.

(Sorry - meant to make this a new post)

Our universal true religion is our dependence on fossil fuels for all the comfort and convenience we enjoy, and making a convert to the coming new reality is a difficult undertaking.

People want comfort and convenience and in general aren't concerned if that can be achieved by oil or something else, as long as it can be achieved. Nobody wants to believe that they will be worse off than those before, so you can imagine that telling people they are going to be in such a position will be met with a great deal of hostility. (There's a great deal of shoot the messenger in us). However, if you frame PO as a problem with a solution that can lead to "more comfort and convenience" if (name a list of things to be done), then people atleast have a goal to reach for, something that will lead to them living a better, easier life. However, before they feel the pain, they won't take the medication, so really all you can do is feed them the remedy so that when they're really searching for one, they'll know what to do, because they won't do it preventively or with mild symptoms.

I am in the so-called hearth industry, a term that refers to companies that sell wood and gas stoves and fireplaces. A year ago I gave a peak oil presentation to two industry gatherings. The response was surprisingly positive. Everyone commented on how much they enjoyed the presentation. Go figure.

This year I was invited back by a colleague to give a presentation to her dealers at their annual dealer meeting. This time my theme was Personal and Professional Planning in an Uncertain world: What if the future isn't business as usual?

To deal with resistance, I adapted the five stages of grief, developed in 1969 by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying.

The Five Stages of Peak Oil
1.Anger: "You #&!%ing people are crazy!"
2.Bargaining: “Technology will save us"
3.Denial: “I don’t believe our society could fall apart like that”
4.Depression: "It’s hopeless. I’m giving up"
5.Acceptance: "I’ll be a survivor, not a victim"

The core of the presentation was this list of things that can be done. Again, despite the blunt message, the talk was well-received.

1. Get out of debt now. That is, unless you are very in debt now in which case inflation might reduce your indebtedness in the future, but this is a high-risk strategy.
2. If your house is bigger than about 750 square feet per person, sell it and get a smaller one. It will use less energy, be less costly to maintain and remove one more source of stress: the need to impress. In looking for a new house, think in terms of modest living arrangements, a lot big enough to grow a garden and within walking access to stores and services.
3. If you now have to commute to work, make other arrangements. Ideally arrange things so you can walk or bike to work.
4. Cut energy consumption at work and at home. You are not just cutting to save money, but to learn to live with less. Be ruthless. Your conservation efforts will go on forever. Rely on renewable energy.
5. Replace large, heavy, overpowered vehicles with lighter, underpowered vehicles. Don’t expect luxury while driving. Expect a future of ‘unhappy motoring’. Drive less.
6. Shorten your supply lines if possible. Distance travelled will become a much bigger part of price than before, so local products will become more competitive. Buying locally helps to support your community and is also good Karma for a retailer.
7. Stop looking for bargains in your personal shopping. It is increasingly apparent that there are none. Don’t shop at Wallmart, for example, because it is a betrayal of all other specialty retailers.
8. Try fossil fuel-free recreation. Some examples:
a. hike instead of four wheeling
b. canoe instead of jet ski or water skiing
c. bicycle instead of motorcycling
d. holiday locally rather than internationally
e. cross country ski instead of downhill or snowmobile
f. play croquette instead of golf
9. Expect and plan for no growth or contraction in the economy and your business. Part of your income has been based on the froth of rampant consumerism. Visualize your company without it.
10. You can probably lead a happy, successful and productive life on less than half of your current income. A good start in protecting your business and household is to begin now to cut expenses. Frugality is a noble virtue, one worth practicing.
11. Build your social network. Cheap energy allowed the nuclear family to isolate itself. Relationships with friends, neighbours and relatives will become more important. Besides, this is where human happiness is to be found.

Take Action
Because action breeds optimism

It was a risky presentation to give to a business audience, but again, the response was positive. I have no idea what I could follow this up with.

This is about the best thread I have read at TOD. Everybody at their best giving tonnes of good advice and real life experience with "outsiders". I have never given a presentation to anybody, do not mention this at work, only in context generally (we sell auto parts for God`s sake).

My wife is convinced(hey she went through hell on earht in st. Petersburg in early 90s total collapse) and sells the idea to other Russian speakers on the net in chat rooms from what I have told her. It is viral there too, the American Russian emigres read LATOC now and discuss among themselves so my wife thinks "mission accomplished".

I talked to my brothers for last couple of years occasionally by phone (they are in Alaska) and only now in the eyes of one of them the shit has hit the fan has made plans to reduce some energy use and go to protest march. He likes my ideas he said. Joe blow knows the pump price but not why it is happening (ELM from Mexico,etc.) and could really care less until it really hurts. That is what I learned from my brother. Now he is pretty well converted but no fanatic. If I say "what if driving gets too expensive" he can't think that far, as how is he gonna move and to where. There is no way to bike or whatever. Pretty much people are stuck. Housing and transport investment is major decades long stuff and discarding it ain't gonna happen "'cause my wonky freaked out kid brother said it's the end of the world".

I remember I was converted to one of these pentecostal churches in the mid 70s as a preteen to teen and one of the things was to go around leaving pamphlets and try to convert people on the streets. "Hey dude, Jesus loves you, you are going to hell, if you don't get yourself right with the lord". I mean no wonder I am not into PO presentations and damn cyncial about the whole preaching thing.

In the Hindu / Yoga thing they say that the disciple will come to the Guru when they are ready.

This all PO lecture stuff seems to me more like the Noah story, preaching perfunctorily to an audience of people who could care less out of duty and trying to save oneself while you still can.

Anyway I am a born comic, though shy. I was thinking maybe of a mime/clown performance would be good. Get the people rolling on the floor about their own wasteful behavior or lifestyle, totally viscerally accepting about the total stupidity of it all and maybe you can get the wonky stuff over later.

Mime/clown with barrel of oil on stage or car and bike, trying to heat house or running out of electricity, going to empty supermarket or trying to grow own food. This could be pretty funny. I hate preaching like poison and I think if people sense a preachy message they will turn off. Funny is true. Humour hits down deep only if it is really true to people. They have to cry laughing it is so true.

Why hasn't anybody suggested the 40 year factor. Hubbert looked at how various minerals had a 40 year lag between peak discovery and peak production. In the 1930s oil discovery peaked in the USA. Not including Alaska since it wasn't a state when he made his prediction Hubbert said oil production in the USA would peak in the 1970s. It did. Oil discovery worldwide peaked in the 1960s or 40 years ago. Let your audience think about that for as long as possible before you say another word.

I have given 4 formal presentations on Peak Oil, and there were very high tech people in 2 of the audiences. A Peak Oil group (CREF in Albany, NY) sponsored 3 of the 4 last week, with radio and TV interviews and newspaper coverage. The problem is that most people get that Peak Oil is here now, but few of them and many on this site persist in thinking that we have significant alternatives to oil, natural gas, and coal. We do not, and that is what the best scientific and government studies show, and global collapse is sooner than most realize. Tis all reviewed in a report on my website at Peak Oil Associates. With little oil, it will not be possible to maintain the Interstate highways and the power grid. And when they go out, that's it. Nothing coming in on the Interstate and no communications. That is why I got out of Dodge quickly. Anyone want to retire in a quiet safe sustainable place in Mexico? Call 603-668-4207 my old NH phone number, and here with Vongage telly, or clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com

Graphs, pictures and more graphs. My husband just gave a peak oil talk to two groups of teachers in Texas, sponsored by Texas utilities (now under another name...bought up by some international group). What got their attention was when he showed them the human population growth curve and asked them what had caused it. One woman said "global warming". In all, he was not impressed with their knowledge. But they seemed receptive. Only one teacher knew about peak oil.

At my local "oil awareness" meetup a couple years ago I suggested we organize a "public outreach", and coming from Toastmasters, I thought it sounded like a fun challenge, but never got any takers, basic doomer response "It's too late, anyone who doesn't get it, won't" conclusion. I wouldn't disagree, although certainly $4 gasoline (poor undertaxed U.S.) is a good wake up call now to see if anyone new wants to get it.

Last night I was at an (Minnesota Independence Party) meetup for candidates for Senate, and 3 for 3 candidates seemed reasonably informed about Peak Oil, and accepted that a long term energy crisis is looming. BUT talking afterwards, I found plenty of party members convinced the standard delusions the "shortage fear" was manufactured for fun and profit, and that the Environmentalists of course were preventing the necessary drilling to make the U.S. energy independent again. Well, at least I could politely state their facts were wrong and ended the unwinnable discussion.

I must admit "abstract facts" either bore me or depress me. Myself I just look at trends and say "things can't last", and what can I do about it?

REALLY I've never found a single satisfying conversation about PO. There's two serious-minded responses that come out: (1) You're right, we're fucked. (2) It can't be that bad, but it'll work out.

Both answers are identical, an implicit "Nothing I can do about it." The first comes from people like me who are willing to admit there's a problem. The second are unwilling to depress themselves with reality. I suppose I can imagine myself in both responses AND I'm just trying to make myself serious about it.

Probably my "doomer" mentality is a road-block. My only personal response is defensive - minimize my personal risks of getting caught standing when the music stops. It's not a bad response - get out of debt - get rid of my car and ride a bike - reduce consumption - invest in efficiency - grow a little food, compost and recycle... It all works for me, and it's one of those "anyway" responses, things that help my life seem more sane.

Perhaps "doomers" are the wrong messengers? Doomers like me look at "trends" and can't see the 100,000,000 little things that can combine together that will change the trends by the time we get there.

Here's my favorite "doomer" graphic: (Clever and powerless)
Head in the clouds...

I MOST get pissed off by the optimists who try to sell crisis as "opportunity", neglecting to admit the fact that the opportunities and expectations of the past must ALL be up for renegociation for a chance that the future will be a place we'll want to live.

So anyway, I guess that's why I've mostly given up talking. There's no solutions until after the shit hits the fan. The momentum of the ship towards the falls is greater than all resistance to it. The question is only when to jump ship.

I think a risk assesment approach that couples impact with probability is a best way to get people acting on the issue:

For the average level of comprehension of peak oil, see the comments on this blog 'High oil prices here to stay'

They are very depressing reading, with most blaming anything but the lack of increased supply to match increased demand.