ASPO-USA Sacramento - a Comment

This is the post where I try and draw my own conclusions from the Conference. And not recognizing many of the papers in this does not mean that they weren’t important, but rather that from my own perspective that this is what I got most from.

The recurrent word that cropped up, again and again, was Scale. It was an attempt by the speakers to try and convey to their audience the size of the problem that is coming at us, increasingly rapidly. That one word encapsulates the difference between those who talk of the world energy problem in Quads (quadrillion Btu’s), as opposed to those that talk of the solution in terms of kilowatts and Megawatts. (The handy Dashboard on my Mac tells me that a Megawatt is 56,869 Btus/min. A Quad is 1,000,000,000,000,000 Btu.) The current shortages of gasoline are largely brought about by a transient closure of refineries that affects around 1 mbd of oil supply. The time is not far distant when such shortages will become more regular as we compete for supply in a more competitive global market.

The tipping point that seemed still a comfortable distance away three years ago when the American ASPO meetings began in Denver, is now just about here. And the solutions that have been discussed do not approach, as yet, the millions of barrels a day (mbd) of fuel replacement that we may need before long. At the same time, to return to the theme of my own paper, we do not have the educated human resource that we need. Data from my Dean of Enrollment shows that ACT report national high school student interest in engineering was at 14% in 1982. By 1992 it had dropped to 9%. By 2005 it was down to 5%, and has fallen below that since.

(Ed note: In what follows I’m referencing presentations now, rather than folk, and the citations are pdf files.)

The net result is that we are heading into trouble. As Matt Simmons, I think, said “it will make what happened in the past week look like a picnic.” Glancing back through Richardson Gill’s The Great Maya Drought I found the section where he talks of the impact of famine, and how priorities switch from nation, to community, to family, to self. We’re still at the nation level, or even, some might say, still thinking globally, but one wonders how long that will last. Because the numbers are real, the decline in global production is coming, and it is going to be soon. And the decline curve will be greater than we anticipate.

In that regard I do have to tip my hat to the organizers for inviting Peter Wells to give what might be considered the cornucopian view. And he came and talked to a room full of cynics, so my hat is tipped again. But that being said, the CERA/IHS position and predictions have been proven wrong so consistently, that some of the value of the talk came from seeing how intelligent people can be led so far astray. Though to be fair, his predictions were less optimistic than those coming from CERA. And I appreciate his giving us the view “from the other side of the fence,” and the problems that the folk in the Middle East have in deciding what world demand will be so that they do not overproduce into a market in a way that will drive the price down.

Part of the problem comes from what is defined as a resource, rather than a reserve, recognizing that this changes with circumstance. For example the heavy oils that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Iran cannot produce and sell at the moment (e.g. Manifa) depend on the construction of new refineries, such as those at Yanbu and Jubail. The Jubail refinery is scheduled to come on line in in 2012, with a production of 400,000 bd. The Yanbu refinery that will take the other half of the Manifa production is scheduled to come on line in 2013. To count the Manifa oil as an immediate reserve, as KSA and Mr Wells apparently does, is thus, in my opinion, wrong. By the time that it comes into production that oil will be needed to match declines in production from the remaining fields in KSA, which by then will be in visible decline. The evidence for that was provided by Joules Burn.

Mr Wells predictions for exploration success are, I believe, likely to be found optimistic, and the chances of Saudi Aramco being able to achieve the levels of sustained production from Enhanced Oil Recovery techniques that he gave are very optimistic. As a result I don’t think that we will see a sustained KSA production that rises much above 11 mbd, if it reaches that high (he thinks more that 12 mbd and sustained). I also think that his projections for Iraq, at up to 7 mbd, are way above what is likely to be achieved, even if the political mess out there does get straightened out in the next ten years. But then, the nice/bad thing about making projections is that, after a while, you get to see whether they were true. And sadly, we will know soon enough, whether undue optimism was in fact warranted.

With crude oil supply in bad shape, finding that natural gas supplies were no better as Andy Weissman pointed out reinforced some opinions that I had already formed, and written about. But it leaves no other immediate choice, than a greater reliance on coal. It may not be popular, it may have lots of cost issues. (I cannot yet see a willingness to pay the power and financial costs for significant carbon capture and sequestration, nor the political will, when that cost is openly discussed) but there is little else.

On the liquid fuel alternatives, Robert Rapier was his usual excellent self in reviewing biodiesel. Though while I don’t completely disagree with his notion that “algal biodiesel” is still an R&D project, I do suspect that if the different parts of that complex puzzle are addressed simultaneously, rather than in order, then the impact can be sooner, and more promising, than he holds out (but then I’m biased). But that said, there is not yet enough promise in the biodiesel future to answer the need.

However I would like to close with recognizing the talk that Randy Udall gave. If it takes a little courage to come as a cornucopian to a peak oil conference, it takes a lot more to get up and tell folks not only that Peak Oil is more important than Climate Change, but also that there is an arrogance in the IPCC community, intolerant of outside information. He shared a note from them:

“We are all extraordinary skeptical of the "peak oil" stuff. We know of no reliable information that suggests that we're going to be running significantly short of any fossil fuel in this century…It certainly won't happen with any significant price on carbon.

“We've done a few 300-year scenarios that have some shortages in them, but even that may not be realistic. This is especially so with coal!”

“The Chinese say they have enough coal for centuries…The idea that we're only going to reach 450 ppm is not defensible, especially when we're already around 385 ppm. Do we really think there is only another 60 years of fossil fuel left? I don't think so.”

With all the politicians now so earnestly lined up to parrot this opinion, it is going to take a significant shock to divert their, and the world’s attention.

Sadly I suspect we may see it, even before the next conference. (There were even those who wondered whether the situation would get bad enough in the next year that we might not have one.)

And so I came away a lot more apprehensive than on my arrival. Somehow having a lot of folk confirm my fears brought home that this is not a theoretical exercise in a way that, as an academic, I sometimes forget.

The talks were all information intensive, and I would highly recommend not only downloading the presentations, but also getting the DVD’s when they are issued. The Energy Challenge has already posted some information on where and when.

I submitted a written question to Mr. Wells, "What impact (and when) will North Ghawar watering out have ?"

He responded that they were already getting high water cuts and shutting in some wells, it is not a sudden oil > water (I knew this, besides Ghawar is too large to water out uniformly).

And then, in a quiet voice, he said that North Ghawar should "mostly" water out within the next two years or so.

He did not address the impact of this development.


That sounds scary! I don't remember hearing him say that, but it would have been easy to miss.

I do remember a change in tone and volume when he said that. And, yes, for someone with claimed special knowledge, it is scary.

I believe that statement more than offset every positive about KSA that he touted.


I caught that, too, as did Jeffrey, but then his slide shows no reduction in SA's production (in addition to a tripling of Iraq's production in about fifteen years).

Wells-OPEC Forecast

Something doesn't add up.

Something doesn't add up

Aramco claims for future production capacity ?


Hi Gail and Alan,

Did anyone take audio or video of Peter Wells' presentation?

I suppose it's also possible to ask him for confirmation.

Westexas, AAngel and I all remember him saying this (I had a conversation with Jeffrey about it). There is some value in getting the exact wording, but really not that much.

I think it is clear that it is not a message that he wants to shout from the rooftops.


Now that I am reminded I also seem to recollect hearing this, and may have noted it at the time.

It was likely videod by Terrachord, the conference production company.

GREAT post HO, as always.

A problem of "Scale" and perspective to set priorities.

We’re still (thinking) at the nation level, or even, some might say, still thinking globally,...Because the numbers are real, the decline in global production is coming, and ... soon... priorities switch from nation, to community, to family, to self.

I bet many of us here started focusing on the "family" part quite a while ago (and if you're like me, have been dragging them kicking and screaming into the Real 21st century).

I believe Scale will be dictated by Finances and Time. In other words, priorities will (should) be set by what can actually be accomplished given these constraints. This will be true of not only nations but also individuals.

Now in reality, I believe that what will occur will be a clusterf..k of grandiose plans (both governmental and individual) that have no chance of success and will never come to fruition. This will lead to receding horizons making it even more difficult to succeed as time is lost and costs escalate.


"Peak Oil is more important than Climate Change, but also that there is an arrogance in the IPCC community ".

The IPCC and climate change has been a most horrible distraction at this TimezUp.

Thank the godz for people like Mr. Udall, Matt Simmons and Ken Deffeyes - leaders with a spine who are Awake and Sober.

While I believe in AGW, I lament the fact that scientists have become political activists. When that happens, you get bad science. Inquiries regarding PO at are met with a blanket "we use USGS figures. There is a enough coal for centuries", even though James Hansen has co-authored papers on more realistic emission scenarios. Recognising the limit of FF reserves should be part of seeking the truth, but risks watering down the "message" on GW. I think AGW still remains a severe threat even with limited FF, so this should not be the case.

I sense that after being ignored and downgraded for many years, (e.g. researchers applications being vetted for views on abortion), scientists are keen to make a stand on what is an important issue. However, as PO becomes a real issue during this century, the public will ask why scientists did not warn about such a vital issue. The public will think, why should we ever to listen to scientists again.

As a conference attendee I found the dismissal of Climate change and an immediate issue to be very frustrating. The IPCC is an intergovernmental organization that produces political scientific documents (kind of like the EIA) and has been criticized as bowing to political pressure

to downplay the more serious scenarios of climate change. While Udall quoted some researchers who were dismissive of PO that is by no means typical. James Hanson, for example, has been quoted her on TOD as saying estimates of future fossil fuel production are inaccurate. Moreover, Hanson and others have pointed out that a reduction in fossil fuel use that will attend a decrease in supply are likely to exacerbate warming as the cooling effect of aerosols will be diminished.

New research into Anthropogenic climate change has identified several tipping points that could lead to rapid, and catastrophic changes in climate. Much of this new research can be found in concise form in Fred Pearce’s With Speed and Violence. I would recommend that those who dismiss Climate Change as a non-immediate problem check it out.

I am continually amazed at the tunnel vision involved on both sides. We heard many speakers call out the EIA for the fact that they have downplayed PO for political reasons. Yet those same folks embrace the IPCC’s “its serious but not that serious” position on climate change. Rapid changes in the earth’s climate will be catastrophic. For example, Randy Udall dismissal of water shortages and population ignores the effect that a loss of glacial storage will have on Asian populations or what effect a decreased snow pack will have on the American West. Far from being courageous, those who feel that we must ignore one problem to address another are simply myopic.

At the risk of stirring a little controversy, the debates and discussions on Climate Change and Peak Oil do not occur in an isolated environment. By which I mean that the public are aware through personal observation of the impacts of both. If the current impact of Climate Change has only been, for most of the United States, that the winters have got a little warmer, and that the temperatures have yet to surpass those of the 1930's, then it is hard for the public to be concerned.

If at the same time the price of gas has multiplied over four times in the last couple of years, driven in part by a diminishing gap between supply and demand at a reasonable price, then it rapidly becomes more evident to the public which is the more immediate problem.

Unfortunately, I suspect for the nations energy security, the issue of Climate Change (have you noticed that since the globe has, at least temporarily apparently stopped warming - except in the Northern Latitudes - the phraseology has changed) has seized the politicians attention. The problem that this raises is that, in accepting Hansen's maxim that "coal is the enemy of mankind", they put needed power stations on hold, or cancel them. Thus, since there is a lead time in construction, if and when that power will be required (even railroads need power from somewhere, as do electric cars) it may not be there since the scale of renewable and sustainable energy growth within the needed time scale is not going to be sufficient.

This is not to say that certain parts of the world are not seeing severe impacts from Climate Change - the droughts in Australia being one example, and if the patterns of the last warming period are followed, the droughts in California and in the South East may be sustained for decades, rather it is to suggest that the price of heating oil this winter, and whether there will be enough natural gas to go around are more immediate problems that the public can relate to. But even there getting an accelerated solution to the problem is proving to be quite difficult.

Climate scientists have used the term "Climate Change" since the 80s as they knew, even then, that it was not just a question of warming. The popular media has preferred Global Warming. My Master Thesis in 1991 was "Promethean Legacy: Global Climate Change and U.S. Energy Policy."

My point is that people express frustration with overly optimistic scenarios regarding PO tend to discount climate change effects because they are only looking at overly optimistic scenarios.

I think the best way I have seen how to combine climate & peak oil has been done by Rob Hopkins from transition towns movement:

From the Transition Handbook:

"The Transition Timeline is a tool for the Transition communities starting to grapple with preparing their local Energy Descent Plans. The first version is nearing completion, and should be made available next month, and it is intended as an ongoing interactive project.

It lays out the global context of peak oil and climate change in some detail and then considers the Transition Vision of how the UK could develop over the next 20 years within that context, looking at the key areas which local subgroups have tended to form around, such as food, transport, electricity generation, health and so forth."

Homer- Dixon's The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization is another great source. Homer-Dixon sees 5 interlocking stressors: peak oil, climate change, environmental destruction, population and economic inequality.

Peak Oil and Climate Change must be addressed together, comprehensively. And yes, Homer-Dixon extends that argument very persuasively. Personally, I use "resource depletion, toxic planet, climate change, cancerous growth and economic inequality" as the five stressors. I was at a Transition Town workshop this weekend and I hammered on economic inequality and class as something largely left out of the Transition Initiative. It's critical because that is the basis of legitimacy, social contract and any decisionmaking process. Transition Towns is very middle class; that's important in that what's left of middle class has to get angry, but it's not enough to have only middle class participation.

All of these stressors have to be reconciled together if we are to have a "positive" outcome.

cfm in Gray, ME

The idea that we're only going to reach 450 ppm is not defensible, especially when we're already around 385 ppm.

Actually, the IPCC is 100% right about that. Where I differ with the IPCC and climate change activists is that I consider the CC situation to be beyond any political fix. I agree with Lovelock, the climate is way past the tipping point. The numbers:

We have measured 70 ppm increase in 50 years. Assume that use of fossil fuels is at peak now, and will rapidly decline mirroring the growth over the past 50 years. (Wrong, because natural gas and coal use is still increasing) Assume no positive feedbacks from the environment (Arctic peat does not decay, the Amazon does not burn). Disregard the several decade time delay between atmospheric chemistry changes and climate changes. You still end up at 455 ppm by 2058. The CO2 persists for hundreds of years at least.

The last time that CO2 was above 450 ppm was the Eocene. Antarctica was ice free at that time. The seas were 70 meters higher. It could take centuries for all the ice to melt, but that is the destination.

How you feel about this depends on where you live. If you have farm land in Iceland at 100 meters elevation, you would not be troubled. My perspective living in the South Pacific is a bit different.

Some of the islands are getting flooded out already. For people living on atolls, where their ancestors have lived for 3000 years, it is already the end of their world. I was also in the Caribbean recently. One of the most shocking unreported stories is that almost all the shallow water coral in the Caribbean died in 2005 due to high sea surface temperatures. It is not recovering. The great barrier reef coral, already suffering dieoffs, will probably all be dead within 30 years. These disasters have already happened or are in progress, while the sacred mass consumers are still enjoying this year's new record global liquids production.

The idea that running out of fossil fuels will prevent catastrophic climate change is wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe if oil had peaked in 1958, it would have helped. Maybe we would have a world population of 2 billion with a nuclear electric economy by now. But that didn't happen. If anything, fuel switching like coal to liquids projects will accelerate and exacerbate climate change. The climate change people are correct to be indifferent to PO, except concerning how it encourages greater global coal and natural gas use.

Obviously, PO is going to trigger all sorts of chaos in the economy and food production. Cherfurka predicts that world population could decline by 5 or 6 billion by 2100 due to PO. But that would be necessary anyway. The carrying capacity of the Eocene climate world will be much lower than at present. Even if someone invents tabletop fuson, the dieoff is going to happen anyway.

You seem to have not been attentive to the material published here at TOD on the issue. I recomend these posts:

Implications of "Peak Oil" for Atmospheric CO2 and Climate

The Coal Question and Climate Change

It's still possible that we have passed the tipping points or that the additional carbon we are still going to add to the atmosphere will have us pass the tipping points.

The conclusions drawn in both of those articles are based on the thinking available at the time, and, as MicroHydro points out, things are much worse than the IPCC reported, in my view.

Climate change may be another problem that gets away from us, to borrow a term from Dr. Hirsch.

You need to check a geologic record of CO2 in the atmosphere. We are at 380 ppm, not 3800 ppm.

Over the epochs going back to the Pre-Cambrian, Carbon Dioxide has been locked away by the planet in the form of Carbonates, Organic rich muds, coal, oil, and gas.

Fortunately for the planet, a group of apes came along and mined and burned the captive carbon.

Thus restoring the balance.

Gaia theory works:-).

But if apes continue doing so dinosaurs will return and wipe them away.

I am continually amazed at the complete lack of logic displayed by otherwise seemingly intelligent people. The above post is a perfect example. How can such a statement be made, logically? It cannot. Let us examine:

1. Climate Change can end humanity, PO cannot.
We do not know what the climate consequences are going to be. Runaway warming could make the planet inhabitable for humans. Can PO? No. Even if all don't die, in such a warming scenario only a tiny fraction would survive. (While there is a difference in terms of survival of humans if 6.6 billion die and as opposed to none surviving, the difference for those alive now and their descendants, would a world of.1 billion people be recognizable to us? No, so it is a moot point.) This alone makes the above sentiments not only illogical, but demonstrably false.

2. We don't know when either will manifest in an unambiguous way, but we know both can have extraordinary impacts in very short time periods. Yes, BOTH. Climate can flip in as little as two years, which is nothing, really. This alone makes the above sentiments not only illogical, but demonstrably false.

There is more to say, but I must get to bed. In any case, saying one is more important than the other is ludicrous just yet.


Which particular statement were you saying was illogical? Wars over resources have been going on for millennia, and with nuclear weapons have the potential for escalation to the point where Civilization can be destroyed, in a time scale even shorter than two years. We are still competing for resources with other countries, and I anticipate that this competition will grow.

We do not know what the climate consequences are going to be. Runaway warming could make the planet inhabitable for humans.

Given that the planet was in the past 6ºC warmer than today I'd like to hear how that could be possible (solely by increaing atmospheric CO2).

Eradicating the last of the hunter-gatherer tribes in Patagonia, New Zealand, etc. will be quite difficult IMHO.

However, humans were not around the last time the climate was +6 C, crocodile teeth on high Arctic islands imply a VERY different world. Human organization above the extended family, any knowledge of history or science, will probably go extinct in such a world.


Human organization above the extended family, any knowledge of history or science, will probably go extinct in such a world.


Knowledge and organization are lost as radically hanging circumstances result in upheaval in everything, including population #s.

Step by step, with little time or opportunity to increase knowledge or complexity, knowledge and social organization will decline over centuries and millennium. I suspect that resource wars will be the direct cause of much of the decline as crocodiles move towards the poles.

Crop failures coupled with shrinking land area are powerful disruptive factors.

As a counter example, the Chinese evolved a society that accepted famine as "normal" and without excessive disruption (a new dynasty perhaps). But these were normal, Malthusian cycles within a "normal" range. Vast areas of farmland did not just disappear beneath the waves.


I fail to see what any of this has to do with atmospheric CO2 concentration.

Even after the cold events of the III and V centuries, that plunged us into the dark ages, European culture rebounded once more during the Medieavel Warm Period just to endure the much more serious transition imposed by the Sporer Minimum.

Those were minor, almost trivial, natural variations. Human society degraded and then recovered, using cultural resources from isolated islands (Ireland, Arab).

We are discussing the impact of man made Global Warming on an uncontrolled level !

A papercut compared to multiple lethal stab wounds PLUS terminal cancer !

The homes of more than half of humanity will disappear under neath the waves. All farming and all weather patterns will be disrupted (think crocodiles in the high arctic).


I am looking forward to the DVD set. I just can't justify the expense of flying to the West Coast for a meeting about peak oil. Unfortunately I miss the one-on-one conversations with people that way.

One thing that strikes me is that this is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Not that much changes on a week to week basis, and in a sense the basic story hasn't changed in years - it is only the details that change.

Hehe. The web link to order the DVD set is partially up, but it doesn't look like they are quite ready to accept orders yet:

I found the link on the first page of Kjell Aleklett's pdf file of proceedings..


Never mind what the Establishment and the masses say or think. It is time to change our lifestyle and plan our future. I think the intellectual Jews left Germany long before Hitler came for them.

We know what is coming down the tubes, and should plan our lives accordingly. Sure "they' may be wrong by 10-20, or even 30 years, but we of intellect must position now.

If the population of the planet keeps increasing, even God cannot save us from the inevitable. He may help a bit with mass pestilences, plagues and floods, but only those getting onto Noah's-Intellectual-Ark will be left to pick up the pieces. The lesser intuitive masses as always, will be the cannon fodder.

(Personal irrelevance, I have survived four social implosions by being ahead of the game. The lesser intellectual Patriots, are still biting the bullet in these societies)

Peak oil is a fact. Peak Credit seems to be a fact. Peak derivatives and peak leverage seem to be a fact. From here it is all downhill.

With the fact that one barrel of oil represents about 11 years of human work and represents about $200,000 modern dollars (TOD post), we had better get a touch of reality very soon.

For anyone of intellect to even think of continuing along the path which got us here, is an insanity.

0-60mph in 5 seconds, cars are an insanity.
100mph cars are an insanity,
Long range cars are an insanity. I live in a country where villages are about 10km apart (a horse/ox days range)

Mega houses and air-conditioning are an insanity. (I live where a room 10x10 can sleep 5+ people).

Suburbs and commuting 20+ kilometers to work are an insanity. If one cannot walk to work by 7am the job is not sustainable.

Asia, in its backwardness, will soon be ahead of the leaders.


Personal irrelevance, I have survived four social implosions by being ahead of the game.

Umm, four times? Once bacause you were born there, and one more from bad luck, but two more make me wonder about your skills as a prophet.


To My Critics,

Of course I now have to explain. I am not a bank clerk or a desk jockey whose main danger is a paper cut.

Half my family were high government officials in Zimbabwe. Circa 1970 they knew the writing was on the wall and pulled their money out.

By 1976 I decided South Africa was terminal so I built a yacht and sailed out. (a bit too soon but safer that way)

in 1977 I was in Argentina looking for a place to roost and was there for Mrs Peron's revolution, and the Disappeared and Dirty war. I left as soon as I realized the new regime was terminal.

Many years later 2000/2001 I was in Fiji looking for a good place to spend time when a Fijian called George Speight decided to fix the looming Indian Prime Minister problem, by kidnapping the Parliament.

I left as soon as I realized my future was not there.

Were I an Author I could write a book that would make the one trick Patriots sick with envy.



Might want to consider Texas for your next stop. Just brush up on your Spanish. If the SHTF very quickly it might be one of the more comfortable spots in the US if not the world.

Hi Rockman,

What locations (more exact) in Texas do you recommend?

And why? If you could expand on this, I'd like to know.

Asia, in its backwardness, will soon be ahead of the leaders.

You should read up on what is happening in China. They are not building "Transition Townes" but rather a repeat of the US model except on a much larger scale and much quicker. Two good books are "China Road" by Rob Gifford (NPR) and "China: Get Rich First" by Duncan Hewitt (BBC). Both authors live/lived there for a number of years.

Thanks for the summary and comments!

The IPCC ppl quoted fall into the typical R/P trap. The whole concept should be outlawed and the people who use it to think about oil should be shot. Really. It's just moronic.

If they can't think in volumetric flow terms, their reasoning is even less valid than the worst of climate change denying rabid idiots.

Somebody needs to explain this to them in terms that they can analogously understand in terms of AGW.

Here's a very crude start. Somebody can fix it:

Look. Carbon production per se is not a problem, right? Biomass ties it up, oceans soak it, it recycles in the earth processes.

The problem is exceeding the volumetric flow (volume/time) of CO2 generation compared to the recycling capability of the earth systems.

If you pump too much of it, it builds up in the atmosphere and causes too much radiative forcing, hence global warming.

The exact same thing happens with crude oil, but in reverse.

You need to consume more volumetric units per unit of time than you can actually produce. Never mind the stock or 'reserves' now - think only about the productive flow maximum available.

This production flow cannot grow forever. This is regardless of the amount of reserves. Hence, peak production flow is inevitable. No sane geologist on earth will deny this. I doubt you want to argue this.

So, if need is constantly higher than production flow, then a shortage of oil builds up (cf. build up of CO2 in atmosphere).

An increasing gap between need and production flows, causing a price inflationary forcing in the price of oil, hence catastrophic rise in price of oil

There's even the likelihood of anthropomorphic catastrophic oil production shortage (due to wars, geopolitical loops, resource nationalism, EROEI trap, etc).

See just like AGW! It wasn't so difficult to understand after all.

This is one of the reasons I've cut down on reading and posting in the otherwise excellent TOD.

I've clearly past the 20/80 threshold in reading related understanding myself - and talking to most people (cf. IPCC ppl in question) is like talking to a wall: rigid structures are immune to conceptual change.

Nice, Samu. Thanks. (If I used the rating system, I'd rate this post up.)

Heading Out, it isn't clear to me from your essay what you are implying with your data about engineering interest. Is your lament about an educated populace that there aren't enough mathematically literate people out there to understand what a Quad is or the scale of the problem, or that there aren't enough engineers to implement solutions you believe are wise? I suspect there is some truth is both statements, but your own reference to data at a particular school doesn't seem sufficient to make a case about the educational abilities of an entire populace.

One point that I think is worth mentioning, and applies to ASPO as a whole as well as to TOD participants, is that given our general state of mathematical and (IMHO more importantly) rhetorical and logical illiteracy in the US, it becomes more and more urgent that people take on the project of educating the general populace about peak oil and its implications. And by general public, I mean the truly general public. Many TOD pieces are written at a level far too advanced for most Americans to read or understand, and contain technical language that many people are not familiar with. They are often lengthy and require extensive background knowledge - now this is extremely valuable, of course, and for someone with the technical background, or even a self-taught amateur with a taste for deep waters (like me) gets a lot out of it. But no matter how many times people hit the digg or whatever buttons, much of the work peak oil thinkers are doing is simply hugely inaccessible to people.

Add to that the boys club culture that pervades ASPO and TOD (which I actually find rather endearing, despite my mocking it periodically), and the tendency to talk about sheeple and how moronic the masses are, and you have a large number of very brilliant, talented, dedicated and quite wonderful peak oil spokespeople who are also inaccessible to many of the people who most need to really grasp PO and the issues it raises - in some cases, they seem to be contemptuous of accessibility issues. It isn't clear to me that's what your reference above to engineering interest implied, and I apologize if I'm misconstruing you, but I think it is important to understand that, for example, scale can be explained to people without even an algebra-level education, if it is done with great care and creatively. My six year old son, for example, can discuss scale for both energy and astronomy in quite detail, despite the fact that he's still learning his times tables. That is, the problem is both the literacy level of the population as a whole and the ability of the knowledgeable to present information well. IMHO, some of the problem lies on both ends of that equation.

There are some notable people doing this - Matt Savinar's site offers an accessible (if high defcon, although these days it isn't seeming so unreasonable) version of this. Kurt Cobb writes newspaper narrative level versions that are excellent. TOD's own clearest mind, Gail Tverberg writes accessible primer material. I flatter myself that by speaking and writing to women and families more directly than anyone here has, I've been marginally helpful, even if my readers do not always speak in Quads ;-). My claim is not, of course, that the oil drum should do more generalist material, but that more people are needed to do the work of speaking accessibly about peak oil, and that they might be recruited through both TOD and ASPO. If there were interest and personal commitment, TOD might also provide more primers than it does at present (the ones it has are quite good, although pitched even a bit high for the average American who has poor critical analysis skills).

I think ASPO has, to a degree, some responsibility in the failure of a wide audience to fully apprehend its mission. Lack of engineering or mathematical literacy may be part of the problem, but elitism, lack of engagement with issues that immediately affect ordinary people (including the ways that Peak Oil is already being expressed in daily life, which apparently aren't nearly as fascinating as the next generation of technocars), and a lack of interest in doing the dull ground work of explaining energy density to people who are not engineers, and have not studied math for many years is also central, as are the weak writing skills of many engineers and technical experts (TOD and ASPO also have some fine and very clear writers as well).

I admire many of the people who presented at ASPO this year enormously, and look forward to reading the publication of their later works and the summaries. I think ASPO and TOD together may have one of the great concentrations of brilliant minds. But brilliance of thought often requires some training, care and clarification to be transformed into brilliant presentation of thought, skilled teaching and accessible material.

Sharon Astyk

Try going over to the forums at for an idea what the general public thinks. Endless speculation about "gouging". Endless rants about the need to start drilling. Or how the problem is caused by politicians, and we just need to throw a bunch of them out and the problem will somehow be solved.

Every so often you see someone trying to explain peak oil to the crowd (and I myself have tried once in a while). Hard to say what kind of impact we have, but many refuse to accept it. We get accused of advancing the "peak oil agenda" - whatever that is. There are political opportunists who have their own agendas of course, and they spoon-feed misinformation to the masses.

There is even a lot of misinformation about what peak oil really is. Every time there is some new discovery somewhere or another, you get people jumping up and claiming that peak oil has been disproved. I would be curious to know what fraction of the population has heard of the term "peak oil", and then what fraction of those people understand the definition to be anywhere close to correct.

I am thinking that a part of it is denial. For to accept peak oil in the near term implies all kinds of changes that people just don't want to make. Or for that matter, it implies a future that shall we say is somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain, and some people are having a hard enough time as it is with things as they are.

Here's a very small "victory" (?).

I sent an e-mail to one of our more active city council members thanking him for his contributions to local quality of life issues. I then added a short description of peak oil, and attached a couple of links.

His response:

"Thank you for your E-mail concerning Walnut Creek, and the information on "peak oil." I was not familiar with this concept before you brought it to my attention. I can easily see that the consequences, both economically and socially, will be overwhelming.

Thank you for the information.

[DB] "

dunno how sincere his concerns are, but he clearly read the note I sent him. I'm crossing my fingers that he will invite me to discuss some of it.


I use one "shocking" fact. there have been *NO* restrictions of drilling in Texas, on or off-shore. Yet Texas is an oil importer. They cannot produce enough oil to keep traffic flowing in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, etc., much less export anything to the non-oil states.

Another is that the USA imports more oil than we produced in our best year of oil production, 1970. So, without massive conservation, we would need to produce what we produce today PLUS what we produced in 1970 PLUS a little bit more.


I have another anecdote which I think helps to illustrate what we are up against.

There is a guy I know - decent guy, and not an idiot. But he wasn't trained as a scientist either. He sent me an email about some guy claiming that he had developed "surge technology", that could power a car with no batteries and no gas. Most of us here would immediately file that with other bogus items. But since this guy doesn't have the scientific background, he didn't know about the laws of thermodynamics. I tried to explain, and he protested that "at least the guy was trying to do something".

This (and several other encounters) have led me to believe that there are a good number of people in the country who are like this. No real scientific background, so they don't really understand the theory. Many of them are good with their hands and with tools. To them, they share the aim of using less fuel, but they go about it just by tinkering with an incomplete understanding of how a car works. To them, the state of the art is advanced by people like them tinkering in their garages, and it baffles them when we argue against their efforts based on scientific principles.

The same mentality comes in when discussing oil production. To these people the way you find oil is you just start drilling. They don't understand the theory, they don't understand the reasoning why you find oil in some places and not in others. So when we argue that worldwide oil production will peak, they view it as merely an opinion rather than a reasoned logical argument.

Thanks for the comment - I added the word "national" to the line about the interest in science and engineering, since when I wrote it I didn't catch that it could be just interpreted to apply to a single school. I put the conversion factors for both Quads and Megawatts in to try and illustrate to those not familiar with the size of both units what the difference was that I was trying to highlight. I (and the rest of us) do try and phrase a lot of what we write in terms that we think are understandable.

One of the reasons we started the site was to try and explain the story behind some of the events that unfold in the world's press, and we still try to do that. Unfortunately when you are trying to do things such as predict how fast a gas well in the Barnett shale is going to run through all the gas it will produce, sometimes one has to discuss the models that are being used to make the prediction (as opposed to being able to cite the actual numbers) and this is even more true when trying to predict when oil fields and whole country production starts to drop off.

Some of this can be done with illustrations, unfortunately (as many of the readers here will tell you) my HTML skills leave a lot to be desired, and thus I often use words when more pictures would help - but where I muck up in being able to format properly. I will persist however, and may even get better.

Thanks for the response, Heading Out. My intention was not to suggest that all TOD posts should all be accessible to everyone with an eighth grade education all the time - I come here just as everyone else does for in-depth technical analysis. But I do think that ASPO and perhaps other groups of people who are trying to not just create a forum for detailed technical analysis, but to raise widespread awareness, do need to think about ways that we can make some of this material more accessible. It is frustrating that most Americans are illiterate in so many ways - their math, logic, critical thinking and rhetorical skills are all poor, and that makes it very difficult to communicate with them.

At the same time, we're not likely to change that super-rapidly, and I think it is important to encourage, and support people who do the sometimes dull work of explaining what EROEI is, as well as the ones who do the work of figuring out how much water is being pumped into the Ghawar. Unfortunately, I think the level of enthusiasm for the latter, which is sexy and cutting edge, has sometimes distracted people from the reality that what may be most needed (and of course, one doesn't imply there's no value to the other) is the consistent iteration of clear explanations of the same concepts. I'd particularly like to see ASPO really consider taking up this task, rather speaking (as they have explicitly advertised for past conferences) to "elite" audiences.

In many ways the current crisis provides an enormous opportunity to connect people's ordinary lives to the question of peak oil, to help them understand what is undermining their ability to pay for food and get to work. I'd hate to see that opportunity squandered.

Sharon Astyk


One of the difficulties in getting the Peak Oil message across is that most people don't have the bandwidth to listen to it. There are too many voices out there, and even if the message is delivered at their level of understanding, it is too uncomfortable for them to want to take the time to process it. Part of the goal, then, is to reach the messengers they might listen to -- whether they be mainstream journalists, politicians, academics, or other leaders -- and refute the contrary message that new technologies or discoveries are going to easily solve the problem. This requires attaining a certain level of credibility with them by highlighting suspect data and debunking misleading claims. How often have you heard something similar to the phrase: "...experts say we have X decades of oil/gas/coal left"? We do try to make things more understandable to the mainstream, and when we fail it is often because of our own individual energy (and time) shortages. Finally, comments are very critical for identifying where we are falling short. Otherwise, we don't know if we are being clear -- or perhaps just not being read.


Joulesbourne, I appreciate the reply, and of course, I've heard this argument over and over again about ASPO especially and also TOD. I think there's some truth to the need for scholarly credibility, and it is admirable that you have established it. That said, however, I think there are two problems with such an analysis. The first is the idea that appealing primarily to elite audiences is the best way to get information out to the general populace, a sort of trickle-down theory of knowledge. This, I think is quite inaccurate - generally speaking, the best way to influence policy makers and has often been simply to influence the people who elect policy makers, and the best way to influence journalists is to show a popular interest in the subject. Yes, I agree there are issues with voice and bandwidth out there - that it is hard to be heard. But it is also hard to influence policy makers and journalists if they aren't receiving reinforcement from the general populace, as you know.

Kurt Cobb uses the example of the 9/11 truth movement as a model for how significant change in the larger public narrative is made - I can think of other examples of substantial changes in public understanding, and not one of them began by attempting to influence policy makers and to offer one's narrative only to an elite audience.

The second is the idea that one can only do one of the above - establish scholarly credibility and address the general populace. And yet, that's not true - for example, many universities tenure writers and thinkers whose major claim to fame is their ability to express ideas to the general populace. They may also be creative scholars, but their popular writings often dwarf their technical scholarship. It isn't an either-or trade off. Again, my claim is not that the people here who are doing such remarkable work, often for little return, should take on more, but rather that ASPO particularly might seriously consider encouraging such work, as might TOD, if only because there's considerable evidence that much of the elite audience you speak to can't comprehend the technical data either. Material written for a middle-school education might go a long way to aiding, say, Congress ;-).


One thing we might consider doing is the same thing that all scholarly journals do: require every article to begin with an abstract. Even better would be to hyperlink any technical terms or jargon in the abstract to a glossary entry.

Hello Jewishfarmer,

If I may jump in: as usual, I greatly value your contribution, but I believe the great strength of TOD is in the tremendous numbers of comments that follow the keyposts. The further explanations, the requests for more detail or other links, TODers offering different but comparable analogies to further flesh out the topic for newbies, and much more.

The underlying emotions that just oozes out of the dark pixels to the alert reader is IMO, the best defense against MEGO*. I can still picture TODer Fleam's possibly high risk gambit to migrate from Prescott to SF, OilmanBob's humanity as his disease closed in, OilCEO's drunken, incoherent rages, and the other TODers who felt the need to pixel-protest against the dying light until they were banished.

*MEGO: My Eyes Glaze Over

Weblinks, such as these [Warning!]...

...are IMO, visually bracing and heart-beat racing to help prevent MEGO as we go postPeak, and are great tools to push Peak Outreach to the general population.

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

I have been trying to spread word about Peak Oil quite a bit recently. Of course, to my social detriment (but that's okay, I'm used to being an outsider). Most recently by sending out a link to because that was the first time, to my knowledge, that I could send people to a MSM site that had very good information, instead of to some obscure website of doomers. ;-)

One of the ideas I had was to create a chart something like the old peak oil poster, that would explain the basics in really simple and obvious terms (graphics). This site ( ) has a good idea but I think we need more info on the sheet. I had made a slight tweak of one of those, still needs some work.

Basically, just saying "I'm trying!". And I will keep doing so.


The chart and graphic is cute. Of course it is also almost completely false. Most of the items listed may use natural gas as a component of their manufacture, but few of them use much oil.

This is an informative chart provided by Gail the Actuary in one of her "tutorials" on peak oil on The Oil Drum:

Total tutorial here:

Here is what we do with most of the oil we produce in the world: WE BURN IT. Right out the tailpipe, right up the smokestack, right out the exhaust of jet engines. Less than 13 percent is used for all other chemical processes, and if you even count a few percent of the propane as used for chemical processes, it would still be no more than 15%.

I am sure that you did not mean to do so, but this is the type of "hysteria" marketing that causes sensible people to dismiss many in the peak oil community as card stacking the stats to try and make the situation look far worse than it is and peddle some sort of assured "doomsday". So kids, even in an oil short world, you will probably still be able to wear plastic shoes and buy chintzy plastic items. All the sadder in my view that you will probably be given cheap Chinese plastic crap and never be given a good quality set of leather shoes until you reach adulthood and buy them for yourself. Oh, by the way, asphalt for the roads is made from oil. It consumes 2% of the oil produced. No fertilizer for farms that I know of is made from oil.


Thanks for the info, and the links. I did know it needed more work, and that it was only covering one of the categories of FF uses (right, not oil!). It was an initial tweak of a concept I may go further with, though I'm wondering now if it really matters much with this whole financial thing covering up the problem for likely many years, or decades even.

Always good to get headed in the right direction early on though.

Thanks again...


No problem, and I think I owe you an apology anyway. I know I came off sounding a bit edgy in my post (I am being kind to myself, like a smart ass would be more correct to say :-(

I try not to normally do that, but I had been in contact with some folks that were really prone to mis-using facts in my worklife and they do it on purpose, so I think I was a bit on edge. Sorry.

And I don't want it to sound like I was in anyway minimizing the problem you are pointing out, we have a real issue coming with natural gas too, although as you say, the slow/recession/depression economy (whatever it turns out to be) will hide that as well at least for awhile.


This hyperbole becomes tiresome in what should be a scientific debate. None of the ASPO luminaries, when crunching numbers, has yet to come to the conclusion that population is a part of the problem and hence stopping its growth is a part of the solution. Therefore, we have not only enough oil for the current population, but enough for the coming millions upon millions. The numbers, as analyzed by the scientists, back me up.

Hello FiniteQuanitity,

I respectfuly disagree on global population: Please read the UN FAO report on how nearly one billion are suffering from food insecurity. If that causes you to suffer from MEGO, please plan a series of visits to Darfur, Zimbabwe, Haiti...

I am just staggered by the suffering and violence going on in the world, and IMO, it will only get worse on the downslope. When no child under five dies from a preventable condition [approx. 50,000/day] + and no young adult dies in violence, but lives to become an elder, then I will grant your point.

First, regarding UN reports, I have been repeatedly given assurances on this board not to worry about population growth - that the UN projections are for population to peak in 40 or so years at some 1 to 2 billion more than what we have now. The implication being that we have not only enough oil and food for 6.5 billion, but also 7.5 to 8.5 billion. And that position goes virtually unchallenged. So you are in the minority looking at current suffering and hunger as a problem. Per UN calculations as stated on this board, even more suffering and hunger in the future will not be a problem.

I am only aware of (there may be more) one place on earth - China - that has ever come out against population growth. However, I think they have now come back into the fold. It appears that their new prosperity has them looking the other way (more so than they had in the past) regarding their "one-child policy". So the world's political and religious and business leaders are pretty much in lockstep with the scientists of ASPO and the Peak Oil community - population and population growth is not a problem. In fact, per their actions, population growth is viewed as a blessing. So I encourage you to revisit your data, rework your figures, and see if you can come up with a conclusion regarding population growth that fits in congruity with the great thinkers of today.

Glancing back through Richardson Gill’s The Great Maya Drought I found the section where he talks of the impact of famine, and how priorities switch from nation, to community, to family, to self. We’re still at the nation level, or even, some might say, still thinking globally, but one wonders how long that will last.

I do not understand how you see a priority being placed on national interests in our current cultural environment. The emphasis is at best on family and often only on self. Our economic and political system strongly encourages this narrow focus of interest. Status and security are gained at the individual level by earning wages manufacturing and selling as much stuff as we possible can in the short term. The more HDTVs and Blackberries that people buy the better our 401K funds perform. Everyone knows that if personal financial disaster hits, apart from their immediate family, they will largely be on their own.

Our economic system is set up so that high consumption of resources is regarded as a sign of productive 'health'. The minute growth even starts to slow down for a month or two every newspaper in the country publishes a story about the 'anemic' growth of the most recent quarter. This deep contradiction, in which depletion of wealth is equated to increase of wealth, has been present in capitalism from the beginning. In Wealth of Nations Adam Smith wrote about 'frugal' people who dedicate a substantial part of their yearly income to increasing their capital so that they will become wealthier in the future. Thus 'frugality' is equated with speeding up the consumption of resources as rapidly as possible.

Of course building infrastructure is a good thing if that infrastructure helps to build up a system of economic production with long term stability. Unfortunately our current economic system is incapable of encouraging the creation of such infrastructure. Any action which would slow down, halt, or (horror of horrors!) shrink composite production in the present cannot be even remotely considered. The only sensible response to the crisis we are facing involves shrinking wasteful forms of economic production and dedicating the saved resources to creating sustainable infrastructure. Of course such an action will involve people losing their jobs. We need to support these people while they are being retrained and give them confidence that they will be supported in their old age. We need to create a cultural and political environment in which any person who is willing to put their shoulder to wheel and help create the new infrastructure that we need is guaranteed shelter, food, and medical care independent of whether or not some private investment bank is willing to extend credit to the manufacturers of electronic toys. Voluntary simplicity and mutual support are the path to adaptation of human productive systems to a finite world.

This community based solution to the problems we are facing cannot be considered because the dominant cultural orthodoxy forbids its consideration. Even here on TOD anyone who suggests such an approach is largely dismissed as a left wing lunatic. If you are hoping to find a purely technocratic solution which will continue to allow the capital market/every nuclear family for itself orientation of our current economic system to dominate society into the distant future, then your pessimism about finding solutions is well justified.

I should point out that my conclusions that capital markets need to be eliminated (which, by the way, is a different thing than saying that markets in general need to be eliminated) and that emphasis should be placed on community security rather than on family security is not based on my reading of socialist or Marxist writers, of which I have very little knowledge. These conclusions are based on a completely independent effort to think about how economic production can best be organized in a resource limited world. I began this effort firmly committed to the idea that any solution that did not preserve capital markets was blue sky idiocy, and I was reluctantly driven step by step to the conclusion that all of the so-called 'practical' solutions which preserved our current economic norms had absolutely no chance of being successful in the long run.

What happened to the comments on pod cars and local vs desert solar?



You sometimes post useful stuff but most of the time you are no better than a troll.


"The handy Dashboard on my Mac tells me that a Megawatt is 56,869 Btus/min. A Quad is 1,000,000,000,000,000 Btu."

But that tells us little about scale, because the Megawatt includes a time component, but the Quad does not. It's like comparing horsepower (which includes time) to torque(twisting forc) which does not. There are many of these types of comparisons used to prove that absolutely NOTHING is scalable, and of course, the public believes it because as has been said above, they are not able to digest the math, they just see strings of zeros proving beyond any doubt that they are doomed.


Triple Crisis:
Peak Oil, Climate Change, Overshoot

Peak Oil and Climate Change resemble the parable of the blind men touching an elephant. Each observer is correctly describing what a part of the elephant is, but none have a holistic understanding. Peak Oil and Climate Change are two facets of the problem of overshoot, and neither can be mitigated in isolation from the other.