Conspiracy or Stupidity: The Trouble With Numbers

So. Here in Australia, petrol prices are going up faster than iron ore being lifted onto a Chinese freighter, and the cost of putting a roof over our head is moving as fast as natural gas shooting down the pipeline to Japan.

Headlines repeat the IEA warning of a major "Supply Crunch" in the near future (as distinct from what we have right now - which, presumably, is just a minor “Supply Crackle”). Fuel costs and climate problems have driven food prices so high that the most common holiday job for university students this Christmas is likely to be riding shotgun on the Christmas food deliveries.

Oh.... and our politicians are arguing about a five cent fuel excise. Five cents. Petrol is on track to hit $2.00 a litre before Christmas, and politicians are debating a one-off five cent cut as if it was, well, relevant.

Our politicians don’t seem to grasp the nature and magnitude of the problem. Is it a conspiracy? Or are they just stupid? I am going to argue that it is a problem with numbers.

Greater minds than mine have pointed out that training can change the way you think. I remember, back in my University days, sitting with a few engineer friends on a beach and watching the way the numbers of pretty women ebbed and flowed as the day progressed. One of my friends observed “If we could just integrate the equations for female distribution, based on time and location….”

“We could put our towels at a local maxima before the maxima happened….” one of the other guys broke in.

“Wouldn’t work,” said another, “It is an uncertainty situation – the act of observing changes the outcome.”

“It is worse than that,” another replied. “It is input-sensitive – chaotic - organized but unpredictable. We represent an input, but we can’t predict outcome.”

And at that moment we realized that our minds were forever changed.

People trained in engineering or science deal with numbers and outcomes. Our lawyer friends are trained to look for precedents – data that supports their argument - while we are trained to derive the argument from the data.

Greater minds than mine have further observed that plenty of lawyers go into politics, but for a scientist or an engineer this career path is about as likely as an agoraphobic becoming a sky-diving instructor. As a result politics tends to be framed by lawyer thinking, not engineer thinking.

So what does this have to do with the question of Peak Oil?

Our leaders base decisions on lawyer thinking.

The outcome of a trial is not based on the facts; it is based on what they can convince the jury the facts might be. Likewise the outcome of an election is not based on facts; it is based on what they can convince the electorate the relevant facts, issues and threats might be.

Politicians do not deal in facts. They deal in perception. After years of working this way it becomes a framework in which they think. They don’t question this framework any more than I question the theory of gravity – less, because in their experience their framework always works, whereas in my experience theories change.

This brings me to the next aspect of my argument: Experience. People with scientific or engineering training will sometimes base an estimate on experience, if nothing else is available, but by preference they will generate numbers to support this estimate. If the numbers contradict their experience, they will look into the numbers to see what has caused the difference.

Numbers may not tell the complete truth, but they tend to tell the truth within the limitations of their domain and context. I trust numbers to the same extent that I trust the context and domain that they came from.

Unfortunately, a politician’s relationship with numbers is different from mine – partly because the numbers they are exposed to are often statistics. Statistics can be used to prove that there is a crying need for our nation to invest taxpayer dollars into bankruptcy protection for igloo insurance salesmen. Politicians see this sort of number way too often.

This endemic misuse leads politicians to be somewhat sceptical of numbers. Politicians believe their experience, not numbers. Within the context of a politician’s day-to-day job, this is a good thing; their training has equipped them with an attitude that makes it harder for them to be misled.

So, summarising the numbers problem: Scientists will tend to believe numbers rather than rely purely on experience, whereas politicians tend to trust their experience rather than numbers.

As long as the problem under discussion is within the experience of the politician this is a good thing. But what if the situation is different in nature and/or magnitude from anything in the politician’s experience? For example, how many current politicians have experience with events that will change day-to-day life for the entire population? Events such as the Great Depression only come along once in a century; our politicians have no experience with them, so no frame of reference for dealing with them – or even accepting them.

Politicians are not unique in this regard. journalists, investors, and even some economists seem to trust their “gut reaction”, rather than numbers. Clearly this attitude has served them well – until now.

So we have two problems;
1. Politicians tend to limit their thinking to events within the scope of their experience. They trust “gut-instinct”.
2. Politicians tend to inherently believe that the outcome of an event will depend on people’s perceptions and beliefs about that event. Politicians have very little experience with situations where objective reality is more important to outcome than the subjective perception of the reality.

These two factors lead to flawed and inappropriate responses. This in turn leads us to an underlying question. Is it a politician’s job to respond to a crisis?

An engineer’s job is to “solve the problem”, but that isn’t the job of a politician. The difference is important. A politician’s job is not to think about the problem, it is to think about people’s reactions to the problem. They have little or no framework that allows them to think about a crisis directly, they tend to think about how to “deal with” the crisis in terms of how to deal with the perception. That is their job.

However, if politicians want to keep their job they need to find the appropriate people to respond to any perception-altering crisis. So how do we make them recognize that they face such a crisis?

Numbers describing a problem that is outside of their experience will not have any meaning to them – they have been trained to ignore numbers and believe their experience. They are not conspiring to hide the truth; they are dealing with the problem in exactly the way they have been trained to deal with it.

So what can we do about it?

1. If politicians only respond based on experience, then we need to put the nature and magnitude of the problem into concrete terms that they can relate to. We need to show them things that grab them by “the gut” - they need to see graphic, real-life imagery that illustrates the nature and magnitude of the problem. What happens when fuel supply to a community is restricted? (Graphically, in real life - what happened to the Palestinians when this occurred?) What real-life images can portray the impacts when commerce is interrupted? It needs to be made real, in a format that politicians can experience and relate to.
2. I have argued that a politician’s job is not to respond to a crisis, it is respond to the population’s attitude to the crisis. However politicians clearly understand that some people do have the job of responding directly to a crisis, and politicians have the power to bring these other people onboard if the crisis appears to be significant. So we need to make politicians understand:
i. The nature and the magnitude of the crisis.
ii. That the population is unhappy about the crisis.

Politicians already know that people are unhappy (that is why they are debating 5-cent excises), what they have failed to grasp is the nature and magnitude of the problem. We need to address that in a way they understand. It won’t hurt for us to highlight just how much potential for increased public unhappiness still exists, but our real task is to stop putting numbers in front of them and start giving them something they can believe in.

We need to provide graphic, real-life examples that they can relate to at the gut level.

If we can present in a way that they can relate to, politicians will start assigning serious resources to this crisis.

The well rounded person of the future will have knowledge of law, engineering and how to grow spuds.

I am an engineer, an attorney, and I grow tomatoes. Does that count?

Engineering? Ok. Growing spuds? Ok. Law? WTF for?

"Law? WTF for?"
Good point, I was wondering about that myself.
disclaimer: My daughter and several of my best friends are lawyers.

At the moment engineering + law = bigger bucks than just engineering. In the future, maybe still - who will organise the rationing?

Politicians usually do what the voters and interest groups want. It is called democracy, or assocracy. What do the voters and interest groups want? Jobs and a pay check. So politicians deliver. Even if politicians understand Peak Oil, they will act much the same.

In addition, politicians hear about many pie in the sky solutions that will save us. Take your pick: Solar, wind, biofuels, algal biodiesel, hydrogen, methane hydrates, many technofixes, and the latest innovation that is on the cusp of yielding some great power.

Unfortunately, we are ALL prey to the desire to hear "good news". Good news about hugely devastating problems like Peak Oil is wishing it away. Show me a politician (or any democratic "leader") who has been successful over the long term by telling unpleasant truths to his electorate. There are few, if any. Just the number of successful movies in the US with an unhappy ending (very few) is testimony to the "saleability" of good news ("happy endings"). If people voted for politicians who spoke the truth or LIKED hearing "bad news" (unpleasant truths), politicians would use the truth a LOT more often. They don't because we don't like to hear unpleasantness as a general rule. Do you like to read this "bad news"???

Ian (bad news messenger, don't shoot me!)

Didn't a successful politician tell the people "I have nothing to promise you except blood, sweat and tears".
Pity that they are trying to clone dead pets instead of dead Churchills.

In late 2004, I asked my brother, who works in the premiers department of the Victorian government. How aware were they about peak oil. He said he was aware, but as he had no idea about the sense of urgency, he obviously hadn't researched that much. It also meant they hadn't sat down and discussed anything at that stage.

Even though he may have been aware, it was not his job to rock the boat. Peak oil goes against the whole grain of society as we know. Premiers promise new freeways, wealth for all... Imagine how popular he would be telling the premier to sell peak oil to the public. I think they prefer not to know; they cringe from the idea. The philosophy of the day is to let markets take their course.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I'm a scientist, I relate to facts and figures (although I've always been sceptical of "models" on the basis that any model predicts the population it was based on, at that time it was based on, may be useless otherwise). Pollies of course deal in perceptions and electorate concerns.

Lately I've been reading stuff in the letters to the editor column which concerns me. A couple of people claim there are hundreds of capped wells in south west Qld and all we have to do is uncap them and ..... My concern is how to counter them with facts and figures. And then I remind myself that NO figures will convince people if they don't WANT to be convinced.

So how do we give people "graphic, real-life examples that they can relate to at the gut level"?

Show them stories about North Korea.

"This is a small country which relied on imports of fossil fuels to keep itself going. But then..."

Good example. North Korea lost their fossil fuel imports and things worked fine..... once enough people died.

And then they started lobbing missiles over the Sea of Japan and making loud noises underground and things got better again....

Well, the actual cause of their famine was the same as Haiti, basically.

Haiti said, "oh look, we're growing so much food, we need charcoal to cook it with!" then cut down all their forests. Then came rains, and there were no trees to hold the water in the soil, so the topsoil washed away in landslides and... people starved.

North Korea said, "oh look, we can't run tractors and have no fertiliser. Let's just cut down trees and plant more!" Then came rains, and... same deal.

They could have just done more crop rotation, green manure crops, given people private plots of land to till and sell the surplus, planted more trees to encourage local precipitation, and so on and so forth. Instead they went all Pol Pot and drove the people into the countryside to hack at the ground at gunpoint. Which apart from being barbarically inhumane was abominably stupid.

So really the cause of North Korea's famine was not peak oil, but bad husbandry of the land. Peak oil was a catalyst, not a reactant in the equation. So the real lesson is not that peak oil makes people starve - it doesn't - but that peak oil makes people desperate and stupid. That's the real lesson of North Korea's experience.

So really the cause of North Korea's famine was not peak oil, but bad husbandry of the land.

Which is another way of saying that North Korea's famine is the consequence of poor management of natural resources. Global Peak Oil seems to be but one of the many glaring examples that no modern society today is much better at managing these resources than the Haitians or the North Koreans.

Well, they're different things.

I mean, if you handle it well, you can keep getting food from the land for thousands of years. It's a renewable resource. But if you take up the fossil fuels any faster than in a few hundred million years, then you're depleting them faster than they can replenish.

So you can't really fault people for bad use of fossil fuels, if you use them at all you're using them badly.

The land's a different thing. We also have many examples of people using the land for centuries, good examples we can follow. We have no such examples with fossil fuels. So that bad husbandry of the land takes real, genuine effort at being stupid.

Basically, I believe you can't do it until the time is right. The magnitude of the problem is beyond the ability of politics to address - people have to change their life philosophy (simplistically consumption is good) and their life styles. On the positive side, the politicians have also lost the ability to hide the effects of insufficient oil supply. Demand destruction has begun to drive the vast societal changes that reduced energy use and sustainable lifestyles require. For example, if we were not at (or approaching) peak oil and natural gas would there be any chance of reducing CO2 emissions? People are experiencing real pain which tends to clear the mind. Perhaps the time is right for reasoned arguments to work. Of course, a city planner in my community recently suggested reducing bus service because of high diesel costs.

From my American perspective, it has been very interesting reading about the attempts of the Australian political system to address the Murray-Darling Basin situation. Tough situation. Good Luck.

Very though provoking.
I would like to offer up that it is also a problem of institutional group-think.
Suppose that the airlines become concerned that they won't be able to cope with the future massive growth in air traffic.
They approach the politicians, who are in this case good and conscientious guys uninfluenced by kick-backs from the construction industry.
The politician then goes to a numbers man and asks if this is true.
The numbers man is obliged to go to the most authoritative sources for his traffic projections.
That will be surveys which were based on the assumption that there will be no shortage of oil.
The point is though, that he or she can't just provide figures which diverge form that due to an expectation of oil shortage - he would loose all credibility.
These figures are then used to justify both providing funds for the new airport extension and to deny funds for improving rail.

The reason that the figures for oil production are so authoritative is that they are the ones used by governments everywhere, who in turn are the ones who finance the organisations like the IEA who draw them up.
Even without extensive leaning on the organisation, the pressure to come up with the 'right' figure to support the desired outcome is intense.

The point is, that after the initial wishful thinking, no-one who is dealing with the figures can effectively alter them.
Treasury forecasts in the UK, for instance, will be based on their central projection for oil and gas prices - which are already lower than current.
That is the way you end up with budgets which are complete fantasy.

Re: That is the way you end up with budgets which are a complete fantasy.

I have posted several times about the tendency of numbers to dictate logic among engineers and financial types as well as others. While politicians are out to get elected, the motive for others to do things that do not make sense is less clear. But it happens all the time anyway.

Logic is the boss of numbers. Without logic to tell numbers what to do they can not perform useful work or tell us anything. Numbers have a tendency to go off in tangents. Logic will say, hey, wait a minute that can't happen or that is complete nonsense.

This is how we know that infinite consumption of a finite resource is impossible. The numbers may tell us that the demand for oil will be such and such at a point in the future, but it is logic that says no way can the supply grow to meet the projected demand so the demand projection is meaningless nonsense.

Numbers and data can be twisted, tortured and manipulated to prove almost anything especially if relevant numbers and data are omitted which is a another favorite trick.

Some are so fixated on numbers and data that logic is ignored even though it is more important. Without rigorous logic to back up numbers and data, they are nearly meaningless. But some will still insist on statements like here is the data showing that apples are better than oranges. The numbers prove it.


Logic when applied to numbers is mathematics. We all know that the vast majority of the population has math anxiety bigtime. The problem most likely arises from the fact that math teachers aren't paid much, and those that apply for the job, aren't up to the task of making it fun and intuitive (if they had those qualities with regard to math, they would be able to get a high paid job, in engineering, science, or finance). So we get mediocre teachers teaching by rote, and most people develop a visceral strong dislike of math. Then, with voting as a popularity contest, well those who show an easy grasp of that which flummuxed us, and seriously limited our lifetime options, are usually resented. So the politician who promises everyone a golden pony, and only math will show it is not possible, usually wins.

We can maybe make it easier by presenting pretty graphs. And appealing to common intuitive stuff. This might convince a few more people. I would think the concept that any material good does not have an infinite supply, should be understandable to nearly everyone, even if they cant stand/do any math. But the problem with handwaving intuitive arguments, is it is hard for the math illiterate to distinguish between a sound argument, and a BS one. So if we sell an idea this way, we are vulnerable to BS counterargument. There is no real alternative to forcing the discussion to follow sound logical reasoning. But this is not easy to accomplish. Especially when people who should know better have agendas which are more important to themselves, then truth.

Of course the attitude, that you (I mean the other guy here), who don't understand/use sound reasoning, should not be listened to, can be deadly. Far better to patiently explain, simplify, and provide analogies. But, this is difficult to accomplish.

I think this is a good comment as far as it goes, but seems to drop the ball when it comes to recommendations.

The fact is that a message of natural limits is not politically palatable. It has been tried and found lacking. Optimism about the future is pretty much a job requirement in modern politics (plus overt patriotism and religiosity). This is at least as much about the way democracies function as it is about the bias of personality profiles toward or away from politics.

I have put many hours of thinking into a solution for this problem. I don't have a good answer, but the best I have would be to:

- acknowledge that universal suffrage as a principle is flawed (it is the main part of the problem discussed above which we can actually change).
- award voting licences based upon passing a test which would cover topics such as knowledge of the political process, but also statistics and history.
- the testing needs to be sufficiently difficult so that suffrage is valued.
- in order to motivate voting, award financial motivation in the form of tax deductions to voters.

The intention of this policy mix is to create a different set of motivations for politicians. They will still achieve success by responding to peoples attitudes, but there would hopefully be less susceptibilty for the voting body to be pursuaded by weak media analysis, and less tolerance for fallacious arguments.

I know these are big suggestions, prettty much impossible to implement, but they are the best ideas i have been able to come up with.

- acknowledge that universal suffrage as a principle is flawed (it is the main part of the problem discussed above which we can actually change).
- award voting licences based upon passing a test which would cover topics such as knowledge of the political process, but also statistics and history.

I'd be curious to know how you propose to enforce the introduction of this philosopher's state -I believe Plato beat you to it, BTW.

Usually the guys with the roughest gang or the most money tend to get the reigns of power - philosophers and savants make lousy power-grabbers, which is just as well as the few times it has been tried they have made even more lousy rulers!

Plato got just about everything wrong---
His cave analogy was his high point--
Most of the rest has been thoroughly discredited, as has Aristotle's 'essence".
Not that he isn't a fun read, and does bring up some interesting views of , say love,
but Epicurus was far more advanced in his development (Epicurus was an atomic materialists), and Plato was part of the conservative backlash to 5th Century Athens. See it as the Reagan Revolution of Greece.

He was very struck on the Spartans, if I recall, who were probably the nearest thing there has ever been to a bunch of war-robots.

The last 'profound philosopher' who actually got to power, at any rate the one who springs to mind, is Pol Pot, who really fancied himself as a left-bank intellectual type.

Give me a good, moderately corrupt, pragmatic politico any day, thanks! Anybody remember Kenneth Clarke?

I've always wished for something like this. Perhaps a little specialization, if you demonstrate knowledge of history and foreign affairs, but can't get the maths, you can vote on foreign policy issues, but not economics or science. Or, perhaps everyone gets to vote, but each vote is weighted by their test score. Right now the couple percent who work to know whats going on, are completely outvoted by the other 98%. Its not surprising that batshit insane policies pass.

Dot, I have done the same, thought about it and conclude that democracy with everyone allowed to vote simply cannot reach the right solution when the problems are too fast approaching, too complex, and too destructive.

In fact, I am thinking that we are seeing the solution to Fermi's Paradox- the reason we don't see complex civilizations all over the galaxy is that they all do what we are at this moment doing- their power runs ahead of their wisdom and they eliminate themselves.

So, maybe intelligent species cannot ever get over this chasm, and can last only maybe 100k yrs., leaving their planet a ruin never able to do it again. So the Drake equation has gotta take this into account, and the resulting probability is zip for any contact between eye-blink events like intelligence during the billions of years of the life of the galaxy. Pretty sad,

And so what is the probability of me myself actually being here during that eye blink???? Maybe it's all just a fantasy, or a nightmare. I'm goin' back to bed, and think about rewriting "Pride and Prejudice" to get all those misunderstandings solved in a quicker and neater way than Jane did.

You people go solve Fermi's Paradox. Have fun.

Seems like we live in a society that was engineered to collapse!!

All societies collapse sooner or later,in spite of the best or worst engineering.
Some do it in a much more messy fashion than others.Given that most of our leadeship,politicians or otherwise,live in their own little caves,I think the current collapse will be one of the messy ones.

This was a good article explaining how the real world works - I wonder what percentage of the people who read TOD, and agree with the concept of peak oil, are scientifically competent?

IMO it is wrong to think that politicians can come up with a viable policy solutions to global warming, rapid climate change and the situation after peak oil, peak natural gas, peak fresh water, peak phosphorous, peak food etc. - in the end, as always in the past, nature will have the upper hand. Our political systems, law and banking systems have all come into being to support constant economic growth - history tells us that these systems don't work well for constant economic decline.

There will be a range of future possibilities for each of us, mostly politicians talk averages or read executive summaries which are also averages - but they don't realise that the majority of anything being studied is not average, hence any policies are likely to be wrong for us as individuals!

Judging by the output of MSM, who I am sure know their market, the average person (based on their experience of life) can't fully understand the implications of peak oil - sadly, half the population are worse than that!

The MSM does seem to be changing its tune though, especially the quality end of the market.

Take a look at the Economist in recent weeks for example, which is one periodical that is read by many, if not most, business and political leaders.

OK, I think I've just seen one of the first mainstream media admissions of peak oil on my local news channel, with a headline report that the CSIRO has real concerns that petrol could exceed $8 a litre within a decade because global supply is peaking.

They interveiwed a number of motorists who were pissed off with the prospect but still didn't seem to appreciate the full implications.

At least it's starting to make headlines.

Neil Mitchell - 3AW Talkback Radio Melbourne - touted a discussion on the story at the start of his program. 90 minutes later he interviewed the president of NRMA (I think it was him... ?). The interview lasted three minutes, with the interviewee arguing the alternatives of natural gas and coal-to-liquid would not allow prices to get so high.

Further, in the 90 minutes since then, there's been no caller follow-up that I've noticed, let alone interest. It's been recipes for low-fat sausages and football talk (not that I'm personally against such subjects, BTW).

So let's hope the MS idea there's another 5 trillion barrels of affordable oil still out there and man's influence on the climate turns out to be bugger all. No-one's interested otherwise.

Regards, Matt B

Actually Linc Energy commissioned a report which estimated that there is 6 trillion tonnes of coal suitable for underground coal gasification in the world. Given that Linc get about 2.5 barrels of oil per tonne of coal via UCS, that is 15 trillion barrels of oil for the future. (We consumed 1 trillion so far.)

I don't whether to be horrified at the potential CO2 emissions or comforted that we have breathing room to move to a more sustainable future. I also have no idea as to whether the report is useful or just boosterism for Linc Energy.

Anyway, it's all here.

(pdf warning)

I know someone who bought shares in Linc a few years ago for about 18 cents each. They came close to $4 a little while ago.

Two days ago, my dad bought 500 (rather expensive) Woodside Petroleum shares - he's 68 and they're the first shares he's EVER owned. Talk about an Average Joe sold on PO! He's up $1000 so far, but perhaps he should blow that on Linc?

Regards, Matt B
Currently without a share portfolio

Might be worthwhile. He hadn't even heard of PO when he bought them, he just happened to have in-laws in Chinchilla near where the pilot coal-to-liquids plant is, who talked him into buying some.

If "easy oil" access gets desparate (an attack on Iran?), no doubt this sort of option will gain serious legs ahead of "the other alternatives". Afterall, we are all still stuck with petrol-sniffing gas-guzzlers, including the thousand-plus models still on the immediate drawing board.

Regards, Matt B
PS. Joe-Public-in-General (sadly, I still include myself, though I'm consciously consuming less) will place lifestyle ahead of the planet any day. Running out is not an option!

I'm inclined to agree Joe. Coal for liquification is something we're not short of here in Oz. With almost the entire vehicle fleet built to burn hydrocarbons, you don't just snap your fingers and replace all that overnight. Eventually, petroleum engines will go the way of the dinosaurs of course, replaced by something better but in the short term future........

Coal liquification costs a packet, and would need huge capital inputs to get going and take years.
In Germany in the war for instance it was used for essential services, not popping the kids of at school in the suburbs.
By the time it is working then then the present way of life should have gone the way of all flesh.

It is cheaper, easier, more economic and more efficient to simply burn the coal and produce the electricity to power EV's, which are much more efficient than ICE.
Not that many people will have them for a while, but the time lags are no greater than for the coal liquification plants AFAIK.

Liquification will be handy though for uses which you can't use electricity for - if Aus wants to carry on having connections to the rest of the world by aeroplane, for example.

I have been told that the stuff coming out of the Chinchilla pilot plant isn't that suitable for aviation fuel and must undergo further processing to be used as such.

I hope we can replace ICE with EV in a reasonably timely manner. Could be a bitch for people still owing money on their old fashioned petroleum cars as they will probably have bugger all trade-in value.

EV's and plug in hybrids aren't due to start trickling out until 2010 from the big boys.
By that time we should be in the mother of all recessions, so hopes of a smooth changeover are pretty well non-existent I would have thought.
My guess is that most will go for, and be able to afford, some sort of electric bike or trike.
The old gas-guzzler will probably by acting as a flower bed in the back garden by the time most can get their hands on an EV.

The efficiency of non-rail public transport is greatly exaggerated, especially for less dense population areas.
It is fine when the buses are full, but you have to provide buses for the rush hour which then stand idle or run half empty the rest of the day - not very good for fuel economy.

To keep the running costs reasonable in a world with expensive fuel you can look at hybrid or electric buses and so on, but they cost a packet to buy- and you still have to pay a driver.

Switching over to a lot more public transport won't be easy, cheap or very convenient.

So a lot will switch to scooters and bikes as petrol goes up - petrol driven at first, then increasingly electric.

Judging by the huge fall-off in traffic along my road during school holidays one of the bigger obstacles is the short range school run mum.
Try to convince her to pedal the 3 miles to school with her 3 kids when the diesel is costing her 75p at current rates. Most round here would pay £5 without blinking.
I think the schools will shut from lack of heat and light before she gives up on that.

There's no reason why they shouldn't.
Cars should last ages with less use, and 6 miles a day won't cost that much in fuel.
I fully intend to keep my little Polo, but keep the mileage down.

The real stories of how changes will be carried out when they hit will be on an ad hoc basis, with a thousand different compromises depending on individual circumstances rather than through a grand plan.

In Australia with its vast coal reserves heating and lighting should not be in danger - it is liquid fuels that will get increasingly expensive, so the school would likely continue to have heat and light.

If the that mum looses her job, and her husband does too, walking or biking for that family at least would suddenly come back into fashion.
And a lot will loose their jobs.

Some time ago, I noticed someone started to spell the verb "to lose" (e.g. I lost my head) with two o's. I paid little attention. However, now I see that others are copying this person. Perhaps they read it and were converted. I don't know. It seems to be almost viral.

When new visitors come to this website, they will immediately observe this phenomenon and perhaps assume that we pay as little attention to our numbers as we do to our spelling. In any case, it makes a poor first impression.

If that is the way this verb is spelt in the USA, I take back all I have said here.

Attetnian 2 dettail si importunt.

My pet hate is misuse of apostrophe's ;)

Also the affect/effect, bought/brought, and they're/there/their confusions. Fucks me right off.

Linc's prospectus has it's UCS coming in extremely cheap. Unfortunately I had to sign something to say I would not reveal details. But it's much less than the $60 per barrel quoted for deep water Oil. Scale and ramp up time are the problem.

I haven't invested BTW, (no money :-().

The entire Future Fuels Forum report from the CSIRO is available in its entirety here, along with a separate document detailing the different modelling and scenarios for oil prices/emissions targets. They're part of the sidebar on the right.

Their scenarios for oil see the price as between $2 and $8/litre by 2018, with the $8/litre prediction being the "extreme" scenario.

I guess the point is, that MS media might grab the $8 per litre and declare it "a ridiculous (or unimaginable) notion" to the 99% of us Joe Publics, who really have no idea that the days of affordable oil may be drawing to a close. And the point will be lost.

As it stands, an estimation of "$2.00 a litre by Christmas" sounds reasonable, given current circumstances. As does, "$2.50 by this time next year". Any forecasts beyond that will be simply scoffed at by most. I would have thought keeping the extreme view away from the media (and therefore Average Joes and Janes) might have been a better way to go - if the original intention was indeed to alert the public.

Regards, Matt B
Probably not a great fan of future modelling, including the application of Hubbert's curve to today's trends.

Thanks aeldric,

I think I've been attempting to make similar points here since I signed on a year or so ago (indeed, in that time I've also emailed quite a few polies - written with a friendly tone - simply seeking clarification on the finiteness of certain things and if there was any plan in the closet if affordable oil actually did start running out). No response of course, but I figure if enough of us start asking such questions...

For the moment, the only answer for me as a 42-yr-old Average Joe with mouths to feed is to keep flying solo; continue gearing down for a simpler life (part of that vision though is the three kids living at home for another thirty years. Not too sure about that!).

Best of luck in your efforts.

Regards Matt B
PS. Passed the motorbike learner's test yesterday (along with my 68-yr-old dad). Should we invest in something "practical", or something "fun"?

Forget email if you wish to register a point with a politician.Try snail mail,it gets a little more respect but don't count on the reply making much real sense.Still,it is a way of applying some pressure if enough of the concerned do it.
Re motorcycles.I rode bikes for 30 years,both for fun and long distance touring,when I was young,then out of necessity for commuting to work.I did 200,000 km on a CX500 Honda just riding to and from work.
I have not owned a bike for about 15 years as I couldn't justify the extra expense over and above owning a 4 wheel vehicle which I needed.Now I can't justify not owning a bike to cut down on some car trips.I recently bought a Kawasaki 250 Super Sherpa which is a trail bike but has ample highway performance with it's 6 speed gearbox.Unless you intend to cart around pillion paasengers a 250 is adequate.If you are a tyro on bikes I don't advise a passenger anyway.
Always remember that you are very vulnerable on a bike in many different ways and accidents are more likely to be fatal.I suggest investing in an advanced rider's course.

Thanks for the reply. I work from home, so a scoot and back-streets for the first year will probably be the way to go (until I test for the full license).

And yes, current traffic flows concern me greatly! Hopefully car and truck numbers will drop substantially over the next few years, as pump prices "really" become unsustainable... ?

Regards, Matt B

2 thoughts on that Joe...

First off, I caught a ride from a cabbie in Fitzroy yesterday. We had a bit of a chat about the CSIRO projections. He told me he reckons there are about 20% less cars on the road these days. People are either carpooling or not taking those frivolous trips. So, good news for those of us on bikes.

Secondly, from personal experience, just because that driver looks right at you at the roundabout does not in any way mean that they are not going to pull out right in front of you. People just do not see bikes. Pretend you are invisible and you should do alright.


The problem is that these two phenomena are not mutually exclusive. Is there an organized effort on the part of some elements in the political system to provide a rationale for the status quo? Obviously. But conspiracies (if we want to buy into a deeply skewed negative frame) depend on a good deal of stupidity. First and foremost they depend on the stupidity of a sort of pseudo-hip disbelief in the reality of conspiracies. Even while our recent history is riddled with them.

I do not disbelieve in conspiracies. Problem is there's just so many of them, they can't all be true, so how do you decide which is which?

I do not disbelieve in conspiracies. Problem is there's just so many of them, they can't all be true, so how do you decide which is which?

So many conspiracy theories, I think he means. The way to decide which ones are true is to get their adherents to use them to make characteristic predictions; significant, interesting predictions that no other theory makes. If they won't do that, they can properly be ignored.

If they do make such predictions, then you know they're not just howling idiots. For instance, one who suggests all major powers' governments have been, since 1947, puppet governments whose real rulers are the aliens who crashlanded at Roswell might therefore predict that politicians in high office will have a higher probability, per year in office, of sudden death or incapacity after 1947 than before, because after 1947 they'll be getting orders, and inevitably some will comply for a while and then suddenly have had enough.

One could test this by asking, without saying why, asking a researcher to produce statistics on politicians' completion of their full terms of office by decade.

Maybe there's an easier, equally definitive test. It's not as easy to think them up as I expected.

--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996

Great post Aeldric. The Australian discussions are becoming more sophisticated and informed as time goes by. Your post raises the question of whether it is more worthwhile to try and educate the politicians or the voting public.

I tend to think that public education is the best hope - if people can be made to understand the real issues they may start to threaten to vote them out unless the politicians demonstrate some ability to respond constructively.

This will not be easy of course as folks seem to prefer "lucky country","mining boom","Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" to "Banana Republic","Arse end of the Earth","fragile supply chain".

The public are also not given the numbers - they just get hand waving and this will save us optimism.

Pwople are not good at maths - it is probably a wasted effort to talk about EROEI or high heating value but they can respond to some simple numbers.I don't know if it is a worthwhile approach to quiz people as they may feel that you are trying to make them look stupid or that you are a smart arse.

I understand Joe Public's frustration about trying to get information out when it is drowned out by the "stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones" dross served up by some sections of the media.

It is possible people might respond to a question such as "Are you interested in when Australian oil production peaked?" during one of the wokplace dicussions you often come across about the current price of petrol.People often don't know that we have as they have been so socially conditioned to this "land of plenty" myth.

The answer is a simple number "2000". This can then lead to slipping in some other simple numbers e.g. Peak production volume in kbd,latest month production in kbd,current consumption in kbd.
They are often taken aback that this does not seem to correspond with what they think they have been told from politicians and media.

They are usually astonished to learn that we import little petroleum from the Middle East and that our main imported crude supply comes from Vietnam.

I am not nearly as good with maths as most of you blokes but I love my numbers as I find they express the truth succinctly and brutally. I have been downloading merchandise import data from ABS since Dec 06 and boy when you look properly do they contain some truthful little nuggets.

The fuel embargo of the Palestinians was mentioned in the thread above and I think as proud Australians you will be surprised to know that the a large chunk of the missing fuel seems to have found its way to fuel Australian 4wd's,V8 Monaros and jet skis rather than to provide an impoverished people with the basic necessities of life.

From Dec 06 we had imported exactly zero liquid fuels from Israel ( I doubt that we had ever imported any} but there it is in May 08 $A38.2 million of motor spirit.

Strange that this happened around the time that Mr Rudd was all exercised about taking legal action against Mr Ahmedinajad regarding comments attributed to him concerning Israel.

What would I know though I am just one of those peak oil fruitcakes.

I understand Joe Public's frustration about trying to get information out when it is drowned out by the "stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones" dross served up by some sections of the media.

I am so @#*&$! sick of hearing this Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani quote! Somebody please tell me I am not the only one who has made the observation that, unlike petroleum products, rocks are still there after you have used them!

they have been so socially conditioned to this "land of plenty" myth... They are often taken aback that this does not seem to correspond with what they think they have been told from politicians and media.

fungible, don't you know we are a "net energy exporter"?

end rant, cranky pants off.

Father, Farmer, Doomer, Engineer, Drummer.

Back in mid 2006 when oil was touching $70-$80 per barrel, Howard introduced the $1500-2000 subsidy for LPG conversion ( one of his better bribes). I still can't figure that in a country sitting on trillions of Cu ft of conventional and Coal seam gas we don't mandate conversion of all 6 cylinder cars to LPG if we wish to really get somewhere while other technologies evolve to something useful and reasonably price effective.
Oh that's right ,too many people took up the subsidy and it was capped. Dumb politicians rule!

How do you explain the german chancellor, Angela Merkel, being a doctor of physics then?

Well, she was under the influence of Helmut Kohl for a long time...

You are definately on to something when you say it is not a politician's job to solve problems. That is true. Their job is to carry out the will of the people.

The problem lies in the fact that big money tends to exert its will on politicians much faster than the general public. For example, if something happens, like a school shooting, the big money funded anti-gun groups are there lobbying to turn the schools into even bigger prison camps and victim disarmament zones. Even though every single bit of evidence shows that schools would be safer if they were not victim disarmament zones. Then the drug lobby is right there wanting to drug all the students so that they go even crazier and kill even more people. Every big corporate lobby has a chance to exert their will on the politicians... But the general public? No they have to wait till the next election to exert their will. And even then they cannot do it because they are given a choice between corporate hack A and corporate hack B. So the country goes down the drain. The only solution is for people in this country to stop wasting their time on the plethora of crap they call entertainment, and start becoming informed and involved so they can participate in the lobbying process. The more the general public participates in the lobbying process, the less power the corporate elite lobbying entities will have.

"For example, how many current politicians have experience with events that will change day-to-day life for the entire population?"

This is why we have history (or USED to)--so experience would extend back more than ten or fifteen years from the present.

Although for an analogue to Peak Oil, we have to go back into archaeology as well. But all these studies are now considered irrelevant, so we no longer operate with a baseline of experience.

Still, in theory, we could go BACK to paying attention to these studies.


Anyone notice in the US the state of Utah went to a four day work week? At the same time they are rapidly expanding their rail and light rail systems. I wonder if this conservative state with more of a long view gets it?

Politics 101

Most of us reading this site are above average. Many actually vote in elections even after seeing, "Read my lips" and his first born fail miserably at politics.

Once one votes, one loses all right to criticize any politician. The political question is always the same," Do you want your arm, or your leg cut off"?? I fail to see the imagined Patriotic imperative to vote for the "Lesser" Evil. The only real power a Patriotic voter has is to withhold the vote if it has no Long-term National benefits.

Patriots seem to choose the lesser of the evils and then proudly vote for the charlatans. We never hold them accountable, even after we see their lips moving.

Democracy has one serious drawback, it is government by Lowest-Common-Denominator, not the Highest-Common-Factor, as it should be.

Professor Antal Fekete leads a very compelling argument, naming the US politicians who took us down our present road to destruction. Apparently when they took "real" dollars off the gold standard, the die was cast.

There have been about 50 elections since then, spanning both sides of the fence. After each election the problems just kept getting worse. Finally George W found the "Final Solution" to politics by reaching the all time low of political competence. He did have a majority mandate, need more be said about politicians and their mental acumen, or the mental giants who vote them in.

Do Not hold your breath for any political solution to any of our problems. By 2050 the G8 "leaders" will already have bought up all the Bottled Oxygen, and Gas mask Companies.


Most of us reading this site are above average.

Every discussion forum, blog, or mailing list I've ever been has had people claim that this particular place had smarter than average people. Every single one.

They can't all be right.

When asked, more than half of people claim to be "above average" in intelligence, driving ability, sense of humour, writing ability, and so on.

This should be borne in mind when someone tells us that "since we are smarter than everyone else, and those commoners are stupid, either we should rule or we should just give up on this silly thing we call democracy."

"The people are too stupid to know what's good for them" is the root argument of fascism. I don't support it.

Of course you also know that the "Average" IQ is 100, which is about a horse. Then after that threshold there is "intellect"

I disagree with you in that The Oil Drum fortunately seems to avoid most of the mindless comments which many many other blogs seem to attract.

Of course we all claim to be intelligent and smart. All our mothers love us. However", Intellect" is a talent which cannot be hidden and many of the TOD comments exhibit such intellect.


Ratbert's take on it...

Very thought-provoking post Aeldric.

I think it's very sad that the Peak Oil message couldn't cut through in the late nineties, when there were far more political options for adaptive action. In the final analysis, despite enormous effort, the earnest Geologists and Engineers proved unable to influence the Politicians.
- Until this year when most Pollies are only waking up because of the un-ignorable price rises as the disaster begins to engulf us. (At least TOD has many years worth of analysis in the archives for anyone who wants to quickly educate themselves...)

As for a graphic, real-life example of life without oil, the Pollies need only rent the "Mad Max" DVD.

Actually, they had quite a lot of oil. After all, they had enough they could waste on very fuel-inefficient vehicles :)

What an amazing insight..we are the victims of lawyerlike thinking. If correct it may possibly explain a lot.

Amazing, perhaps not. This post from Canada's Financial Post however is: "Up, up and up...", a lead editorial by Lawrence Solomon dated July 12 pretty much recites all the usual cornucopian arguments as a matter of cant. If you think this is irrelevant, the FP usually spouts the same policy as Canada's minority right-wing government.

If you want to see the "lawyer" argument in action, read Mr. Solomon's "Deniers". This casts Global Warming skeptics and Kyoto critics as opponents willing to monkey-wrench even the most prudent and/or marginal GHG policies like price signals. The recent G8 meetings are a good example of the policy effects. Global action has been effectively stopped.

Let's hope the alarmists are way way off base, 'cause if they're even close...! I recommend somebody technically inclined post the FP editorial here so TOD can break LS' ill-informed magic spell before it affects more government policy in this blessed - and blessedly stupid - country of ours.

Thanks July1406,
Here are the urls for the Solomon articles mentioned above:

Abundant energy will power future growth:

The Deniers: Our spotless Sun: