You decide who's to blame

I'm a couple days late with this, but on Tuesday, Gristmill had an amusing post about a blog entry written by Jason Vines, Chrysler's head of PR, on their private "media blog":
Despite a documented history of blowing their exorbitant profits on outlandish executive salaries and stock buybacks, and hoarding their bounty by avoiding technologies, policies and legislation that would protect the population and environment and lower fuel costs, Big Oil insists on transferring all of that responsibility on the auto companies.

Yes, even though the automakers have spent billions developing cleaner, more efficient technologies such as high-feature engines, hybrid powertrains, multi-displacement systems, flexible fuel vehicles, and fuel cells, Big Oil would rather fill the pockets of its executives and shareholders, rather than spend sufficient amounts to reduce the price of fuel, letting consumers, during tough economic times, pick up the tab.

David Roberts explains that Vines' post was in response to a recent full-page Exxon ad that attacks automakers for the nation's...ahem...gas addiction problem:
Vines also responded to claims that automakers like Chrysler are doing nothing to improve fuel economy. A recent Exxon advertisement reads, ""Every form of transportation-planes, trains and automobiles-now benefits from improved fuels and engine systems. So why is that despite this overall progress, the average fuel economy of American cars is unchanged in two decades?"

To which Vines responded:
"The auto industry is doing its job by building cleaner, leaner, more efficient vehicles and embracing alternatives to gasoline such as biodiesel and ethanol and hybrids," he concludes. "So while we make these important and responsible strides despite the challenges of global competition and legacy costs, Big Oil is swimming in profits, content to let the nation's drivers drown in rising prices, every time they fill up."

And so, here we are on the eve of $3/gallon for regular gas again (in NY, anyway, and in Houston, Miami, Hawaii, etc). Is a fight between Big Oil and the automakers really going to result in some beneficial outcomes?

Bonus: In googling around for this post, I came across this editorial in the Journal-Standard of Freeport, IL. In it, they call for "energy independence", but they don't really define what they mean. Is it independence from foreign oil, or independence from our addiction (meaning that we should seriously conserve, regardless of where the oil comes from)?

We need a Marshall Plan for energy independence in America, with an aggressive goal of achieving such independence in 5 to 10 years. Such a plan would also address the problem of global warming and greenhouse gases, two scientific realities that the GOP in Washington continues to assume don't exist.

This sentiment may be in the right direction, and it's good to see that small papers across the country are taking on the topic. But it's troublesome if people believe that it'll only take 5 years to acheive "energy independence". I worry that in fact it will make the public even more complacent, since they will continue to think that "we have plenty of time".
Hello Yankee,

Thxs for posting this as we can now start tracking all the scapegoating that will be going on a people refuse to accept the 'Tragedy of the Commons'.

I think going forward we can expect to read media reports of people yelling at gas station attendents at the gasoline price, SUVs having their tires deflated, truckers causing massive traffic jams as their method of protesting diesel prices, the unemployed starting to blame certain ethnic groups for their strife, and so on.

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

Hello TODers, especially newbies!

I feel I should include this link to to help explain the 'Tragedy of the Commons' by Garret Hardin to any new members:

If you wish to read more about Hardin:

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

Thanks for posting link to Hardin site.

I fervently hope many TOD readers will visit there, look at the descriptions of his books, buy some and study them.

Prerequisite to living with Peak Oil is coming to grips with the tragedy of the commons. It is not easy to do so, but it is necessary, because the only alternatives are the worst scenarios of the doomers.

If one person's ideas can be said to be most fundamental to understanding where we now stand and suggesting constructive actions, I nominate Garrett Hardin for first place.

If you want to kmow about the commons why go to somewone as obscure as Garrett Hardin? Try reading Karl Marx. Actually you are not going to read any 19th century British history or literature and not pick up constant references to the commons and to the Enclosure Acts.
When there were substantial commons - common pasture and common woodlands usually, but including all sorts of commonly held land - the system worked well and smoothly for 1000 years. The theoretical problems latterday economists like to yammer on about mostly just did not arise. The problem came when common property was privatized.
I'm sure there's the possibility of researching this one online but I suggest you try the library instead. And look up enclosures or the Enclosure Acts since existence of commons is assumed.
Once you know something about commons and enclosures you will understand everything you've ever learned about Europe quite differently. And understand what an anomaly America is.
Seriously, you are not even going to understand gamewarden vs. poacher jokes if you are relying on someone so far afield as Hardin for the lay of the land on commons.
As "obscure" as Garrett Hardin.

That one word speaks volumes.

Yes, really, obscure.
Won't bother to post anymore on this site & am sure you are already glad of that. Spectator position only.
And Only in America could such an article or such a discussion of the commons exist. You can't adress peak oil or much else while being so severely provincial.

 Don't let Don scare you off the site or stop posting. He has not read much history, and even less anthropology, and almost nothing on communal fisheries management. But then neither has Hardin.
Thanks BOP, we need all the humor we can get on this site.
I personally hope oldhippie changes his mind, and decides to post again here. I have enjoyed his previous posts, and a little google search for "Garrett Hardin" vs. "Enclosures Act" (or even "Karl Marx") will prove him correct regarding Hardin's RELATIVE(key word) obscurity on the matter of commons.  
Being a prolific blog poster does not in any way make what you have to say any more important or accurate.

Having been a reader and contributor to TOD longer (albeit not more frequently) than Don and BOP combined, I also feel compelled to point out that being generally abrasive and/or discourteous to others are not traits that serve well either on this blog, or in post-peak life.  

Since you are so kind, I will post once more, on this probably dead thread. Don Sailorman does not scare me off. I rather like him. A fellow cyclist. A fellow curmudgeon.

The problem is the futility of this endeavour.

Good Lord I probably ran into Garrett Hardin 3 decades ago when some young naiive econ professor ran that article past me. And now he has a new life on the net. Back then I think I bothered to debate it. Looking at that shite again, having been trained as an historian, it just feels like a slap in the face.
There was once, and may be again, a stripe of American scholar who would pick up something plain as dirt, simple as breathing, but unknown to America. Who would know if the facts were wrong? Who would catch that he had no grasp of the field?  Dress it up with a metric. Reference a name physicist, mathematician, philosopher, whatever. Cover by publishing in a journal where no one knows. The audience really was born yesterday. And this stuff now lives forever.

What really bothers me about Hardin is that he committed that essay in 1968. Probably the last time we all really had the chance to live.

Anyone still with me? Read the knave of the soixant-huitards, Guy Debord. The whole oeuvre is 3 inches of shelf, unless you read French and can score a copy of the filmscripts - then it's 5 inches. But would anyone on this board be able to read it? Or read the illustrated version from Grant Morrison.

Anyway this board has people who know lots and lots about about petroleum engineering and the oil biz, subjects of much interest where I should only listen.

Of course you should not go away! We have a lot in common, as you pointed out.

We are in the mess we are in BECAUSE the ideas of Hardin are relatively obscure.

I in no way intended to attack you--but rather to deplore the ignorance of the powers that be as to what our fundamental problems are.


Looking at The Tragedy of the Commons article on that site, I thought this was interesting:

Has any cultural group solved this practical problem at the present time, even on an intuitive level? One simple fact proves that none has: there is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero. Any people that has intuitively identified its optimum point will soon reach it, after which its growth rate becomes and remains zero.

Since today there are a number of countries with negative population growth, the above claim is no longer true (I admit there are holes in this claim, but I'm not going to elaborate). At some point the costs of having children became greater than their benefits. That's a qualitative change that was not an intended technological consequence. That gives me a few extra shreds of hope for the current energy dilemma.

For bonus points, perhaps, prove that the calculus making the cost of children greater than the benefit is reliant on cheap energy. heh.

To reduce birth rates, just educate women. This policy is dramatically effective even in poor and very low-energy societies.

The problem of population in high-energy societies is not a problem of excessive birth rates: Every single modern society has low birth rates, some of them 40% lower than that needed just to stabilize population. The problem that prosperous societies in the U.S. and Europe face is immigration from poor countries.

Neither Democrat nor Republican leaders have the guts to do what needs to be done, because both are captive to special-interest groups that favor large-scale immigration to the U.S. Note that this failure of democracy is a VBD (Very Big Deal), because even though a large majority of U.S. voters want immigration stopped (or greatly restricted), the people have been betrayed by their elected representives.

IMO, the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic parties are both morally and intellectually bankrupt. The major parties are broken and cannot be fixed, and hence the importance of creating a successful new party for the first time in a hundred and fifty years.

For what it's worth, I'm trying to do my best to keep my self defeating cynicism down while Bad Things things like this start to occur. It's far more constructive to calmly explain to people (whose typical news consumption is entirely propaganda driven) what's really going on rather than darkly enjoying "what we've earned for ourselves."
I do still believe in America's ability to change, but I think a real debate needs to happen on what that change we are talking about. I think we need a cultural revolution in rethinking the American lifestyle (big cars, big houses, driving everywhere, etc) along with some of the technical fixes that will improve efficiency and create more renewable energy. Without the lifestyle changes, all of the rest is just tinkering on the edges.
Hello Peakguy,

Heartily agree.  My many previous posts on building biosolar habitats geographically distinct from detritus habitats seems like a logical path forward.  Jeff Vails has some excellent thinking along these lines.  EnergyBulletin has a couple of links:

Jeff's blog:

The Big Question is: are the unwashed masses willing to proactively mitigate by Powerdown, or do we go the '3 Days of the Condor' scenario?

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

Change will come.  I was surfing (like other people) the "gas prices" articles at google news.  They talk about folks filling up their Jeep Cherokees, and cutting back in other ways (eating at home, less Easter travel).  That works for a while, but then people start to wonder if that Cherokee(*) is worth it.

* - I've owned tow Jeep Ckerokees in the past, actually.  I think they are a great size from a driving and utility standpoint, just not worth it in terms of gasoline costs (and repair rate).

peakguy: For what it's worth, I agree. But it seems that the mechanism for that change will have to be through much higher energy prices, especially for gasoline. It may be that $6 a gallon will be needed to stop the proliferation of F-350s, Suburbans, and Ram doublecabs. Americans are unconscious users of energy; they turn dials and fill tanks, but other than that, they are pretty mindless users. However, that doesn't mean they can't be demanding, and the idea that energy is no longer cheap or plentiful is going to take a revolution in their thinking. Before that happens, though, a lot of blame will be tossed around, starting with the local distributor and going to the highest politcal levels. It will take a long time for Americans to realize that "the problem is them".

(By the way, making Americans pay cash for gasoline would be a great way to change their thinking about the value of gasoline.)

We need to find a way so that all the changes that need to take place to mitigate peak oil appeal to people's greed and convenience.

Thats the problem when capitalism is allowed to fully run its course. The majority end up with a mindset that they only want to do things that benefit them. I'm not saying America has lost its sense of altruism, I just saying that corporate and political America has lost its sense of altruism.

Not only do we need to examine the size of our houses, cars and journeys, we need to examine how we are going to pay the world back what we owe them. Otherwise we can either go bankrupt or try to fight the rest of the world then go bankrupt and be left abandoned.

Lets say the US economy manages to haul out another 5 years before the housing bubble pops, the stock markets take a 50% hit and the dollar loses 40% of its value. Based on the current trends we would rack up at least another $10 trillion in foriegn debt in that time. Does the rest of the world even have this much money? Or is it because we're 'printing' it, buying stuff from the rest of the world then borrowing our own money back from them at 4.75% ?

We're already stuck in a vicious circle:

  1. The dollar depreciates.
  2. Foriegn commodity suppliers want the same real value of cash in return for their goods.
  3. Prices go up.
  4. The US economy stagnates because of inflation.
  5. Foriegn investment in the US slows.
  6. Back to 1.

Obviously the government is doing whatever it can to prop up the system and the rest of the world doesn't exactly want a collapse either so they play along. Unfortunately the larger they are, the harder they fall.

My little theory probably has a million holes in it, its just the way I see things at the moment.

I don't see even a single hole in your theory :) Maybe you just missed to add the rising interest rates in the picture.

I agree that we should try to repay our debt, but realistic thinking tells me we shall not. Just takke a look at the trade balance - it will take 5 consequitive years of our whole export to produce what we already owe to our creditors. In the meantime we will need to import nothing, not even energy. But we are structurally bound to paying some $400bln. (half of our export) for our energy imports only - meaning that simply put, what we are talking about is impossible to happen, not even for decades.

What will happen instead is that we will continue inflating our debt and the cycle you describe will become worser and worser. At some point we will simply say "s***w you" to our creditors - the game will be over, and it will clear the stage for a new start.

What peak oil?

Despite the company's performance, some Exxon shareholders, academics, corporate governance experts and consumer groups were taken aback this week when they learned the details of Mr. Raymond's total compensation package, including the more than $400 million he received in his final year at the company.

Shareholder advocates point to what they describe as stealth compensation arranged for Mr. Raymond but not disclosed in proxy filings.

Despite the fact that I have a small urge to throw up, I will continue typing. This man has done more damage than almost anyone I know of. He funded the so-called "contrarians" on climate change that produced doubt in the "mind" of the public at large. He made huge amounts of money but ExxonMobil's production has remained flat over the last five years. He has consistently denied that peak oil exists and has spent considerable money reassuring the public on that point.

When I think of the Prince of Darkness, he comes to mind.

Add to the list that Exxon never paid the all the damages for the Exxon-Valdez disaster.
To the tune of "Starry, Starry Night (Vincent)" by Don McLean:

"Tarry, tarry night.
Paint the beaches black and grey,
Trouble lurked that sunny day...

Tarry, tarry night.
Ten years later, beaches still
Are poisoned from that awful spill.
The bitter feelings linger to this day.
Exxon will not pay
Five billion dollars damage done,
Eight years now have the lawyers won,
While lives are choked like beaches fouled by greed.

Oil we still need, yet the cost is far too dear.
Several million tons are spilled each year.
Now we need to make them hear.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will."

Entire lyrics at


At the risk of sounding like a typical neocon, can you can "Burn in Hell for all eternity?"
Hello Consume More,

The vast underworld of HELL passed Peakoil a long time ago [We superstraw sucked the petro to the surface beyond Satan's reach]-->Now it means freezing to Death!

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

re: "Burn in hell for all eternity.."

In a surprise statement from the netherworld today, Satan (Beelzebub, Antichrist) has announced that his fuel estimates had been somewhat overstated in Q1, and that 'efficiency measures' would begin to be emplaced, such as the implementation of 'Really Bad Noogies, Horsebites and TittieTwisters' as the eternal punishments, instead of the traditional Fires, Scalding and Immolation usually associated with that industry.  "Still," said the Lord of Darkness optimistically, "with people's life expectancy being so long now, there will be plenty of suffering up on top as their fuel expires, too, relieving ~some of~ the pressures on our now overextended systems."  That said, it was impossible not to detect a strong feeling of melancholy from the Evil One.

Take Mr. Raymond's $400 million compensation for his final year, put it in a lousy savings account and he has income of $20 million a year. If he possesses at least double his last year's compensation from preceding years then he makes at least $40 million a year without touching his savings. Crime pays!
Remember that Lee Raymond is our own OIL CEO :-). All that money is going to help fund a foundation to support TOD.

Would you rather have 400 million US dollars or 5.7 million barrels of $70 crude. 400 million doesn't go as far as it used to....

This is such a refreshing shift in the blame game. Perhaps it will become a constructive dialog. It beats flogging the unions, the pensioners, the health care dependents and so forth.

These adverts criticize management.  

Let's see.  Who's going to get blamed for $3/gal gasoline?  The auto companies, who make a product (big cars) that consumers apparently still love, or the oil companies, who have profit margins the size of some nations GDP but can't keep the refineries running.  Boy, it could go either way.
Don't confuse profits with profit margins. Margins are only about 10% on sales. The sales are so huge is why the profits are so large. But over a typical cycle, Big Oil makes between 5% and 10% on a dollar of sales.


So if we have an entire mode of civilization which has structured itself around a nonrenewable energy resource and if the price of that resource is rising to uncomfortable levels because several billion Asians now find they are able to afford to drive cars, that the person we should blame for these developments is Lee Raymond?

I think the executive quote suggests the following:

1) The level of Tainter Complexity has risen to such a level that the executive of a large capitalist firm fails to understand the workings of the very system that provides his own paycheck.

2) That this complaint will likely be echoed by the MSM and elected officials for the sole reason that it will appeal to a broad segment of the populace (see earlier thread which contained quotes from fuel consumers in Billings MT). It is after all an election year, and while we cannot find UBL, we know where Mr Raymond lives.

3) If continued, the outcome will be an environment unreceptive to capital. If you wish to pursue the American Dream you had best go offshore to China, India, Russia, or Eastern Europe.

Re: "...the person we should blame for these developments is Lee Raymond?"

BOP, I can hate Lee Raymond solely on the basis of his actions, policies, propaganda and greed. This is quite independent of Tainter's complexity and the fact that we are oil crack addicts.

For you see, Lee abnegated his responsibilities to society as a whole while pursuing his self-serving goals. He is certainly not singular in this regard. Most corporations and their CEOs do this. But, in Lee's case, we see an egregious attempt to propogate lies at this expense of truths that threaten us all.

I hope this response covers your point.

 I agree with your comments 110%. I am not trying to provide any excuse for the actions of either Raymond or Exxon-Mobil. Both the corporation and the former CEO have a lot to answer for.

 I do find myself baffled by the motive of the Chrysler exec. It is like being arrested for urinating in a public place and claiming "I didn't do it. My bladder did! Don't arrest me! Arrest my bladder!!

I'm glad we agree on this and I agree with your remark about the Chrysler execuctive.

Have a good one, Dave

Well, our society worships psychopaths, the biggest baddest most ruthless mofo is adored. If you don't believe me, how many American movies have been made about Ghandi and how many about Billy The Kid or Al Capone? I rest my case. And corp's are a way to set up a psychopath with human thinking abilities (because it's made of humans) but without a human conscious (because everyone can say they were just following orders). Thus, corporations have been given rights over and above humans in US law because they are even Better.
(Note: Some will object to my Ghandi/Capone comparison because Ghandi was not an American and the others were, but I could not think of an American counterpart to Ghandi. Our culture does not produce people like that. And Ghandi was/is famous enough to be a world figure. But here's another comparison, let's take Billy the Kid or Capone, vs..... JESUS. Yeah, that altruistic guy who never really killed anyone although he was hard on a herd of pigs once. How many American movies about Jesus? Um, making him out to be a good guy, you can't count the American ones making him out to be venal, greedy, etc like a couple have. Anyone? Anyone? I'm certain Billy and Capone have him beat cold in American culture/movies.)
I could not think of an American counterpart to Ghandi.
Martin Luther King.
OK how many movies about MLK? One?
Thought game:

What do Gahndi and Lee Raymond have in commone?



Those with the power have to accept most of blame. The current members of the Bush administration are in the thick of it. Without knowing exactly who THEY are TPTB are to blame. TPTB have access to best intel and most likely completely understand peak oil. TPTB dominate the content of the MSM and the agenda of our leaders. If TPTB wanted decisive action to moderate the energy crisis it would be reality. A great example of TPTB's power is the war in Iraq. This is a war that was created from the top down by TPTB. The people of the US did not want this war. They were told by TPTB that it was necessary. I can only conclude that TPTB do not intend on having a humane solution for the peak oil crisis. Dieoff isn't a problem for TPTB. It is the SOLUTION.
If anyone is to blame for current prices then why not blame China and India.
As for the auto companies giving consumers what they want then just look at the vehicles that are not shown in their TV commercials. Ads for gas sippers are few and far between while ads for gas guzzlers are rampant. How often have you seen an ad for a Prius or Insight. They don't have to advertise cars that have waiting lists. Toyota and Honda keep plugging Tacomas and Ridgelines. Dodge keeps plugging Ramchargers and Hemis while I've never seen an ad for a Sprinter.
There's no reason to advertise something that flies off the lot.  What is the backlog inventory of gas sippers at Toyota and Honda versus their large SUVs?

For what it's worth, I forgive them their advertisements, just because their sippers are flying off the lots.

(Those auto companies without such a product mix are in a bed of their own making.)

Yes, in what little TV I watch (no boob tube at home) I see tons of commercials for large trucks and SUVs. I have seen claims of good gas mileage for one or two of them, lol! Zero ads for Prii, those little Kias, the Saturn Ion, etc other thrifty cars.

BTW the recent good economic news on the radio (consumers are buying again!) is all in auto sales, I think it's ppl trading in those SUVs and getting smaller more thrifty cars.

Off track, sorry, but Robert Newman's History of oil
is now on at 11: 15 tonight for those in the UK and not as previously scheduled at 11:45
Its on more4.
I saved a link when someone here at TOD pointed us to this Peter Tertzakian interview at FinancialSense.  The audio is now up on-line:

Thanks to the original pointer (I forget who it was)!

I reckon the world's oldest question is "who do we blame?"
It's kind of a lubricant to discussion, isn't it? ;-)
It's also a precursor to "so how do we eliminate the people who are to blame?"



Oh, sometimes.  But it's been a long time since we did that on any organized scale inside the USA.  We do have current problems with an ill-conceived attempt to to that overseas ... but the nice thing (for the long run) is that it didn't work.

I'd rather see a return to "oil addiction" speaches rather than "conservation as a personal vertue" concurrent with overseas adventures.

On a purely personal and local level, I do know people whose way of interacting with the world is on a "who's fault" basis.  I try to treat that as an opporutnity for conversation, rather than fall into that myself.  (As I'm sure you know, those folks are a driver for quite a bit of questionable litigation in our society.)

. . . the nice thing (for the long run) is that it didn't work.


What are you smoking? The war is going great. Well for Dick Cheney whose Halliburton stock options are up 3,281%. Yes, you read that right: three thousand two hundred and eighty one percent.

It's also going great for Lockheed Martin, the Carlyle Group, etc.



I didn't work in the sense that they don't get to roll into the next country on their lists.  It didn't work in the sense that it did not cement American militarism.

I think the Halliburton scandals will come undone, sooner rather than later, if a '06 Democratic Congress get subpoena power.

You have far too much faith in 'the other side of the same coin'. The two party system is a joke, just rachet and pawl.
This war has reminded me that democracies don't always get it right the first time.  My fallback hope (which I think is supported by US history) is that the pendulum swings and they work things out in the long run.

Iraq is not such a raging success that Democrats are going to try it again elsewhere, either.

Yes indeed.  Twas a sad day when we learned that bacteria and not someone else's bad juju caused disease.  But, as enterprising creatures, we've found substitutes.  Nothing quite so satisfying as blame.  And, most importantly, it means, IT'S NOT OUR FAULT.
I reckon the world's oldest question is "who do we blame?"

I thought it was "What are you doing tonight?" ...
but as for the "who do we blame?" thing, I believe it is more or less traditional to blame the French ;)

I was talking with some people I know in my neighborhood.  One of my neighbors just got a Prius, the other one is driving an old beat-up car of some sort.

The one with the beat-up car can do a simple calculation.  That car is paid for, so the only costs to keeping that car are the fuel and occasional maintenance.   Getting any kind of a new car implies car payments of some sort.   If his beat-up car were to die tomorrow, then the choice would be relatively simply - he would go out and get something more fuel efficient.  As long as that thing continues to run, he will probably continue on with the old one.   There are probably millions of people making the same calculations every day, and as we all know this is why we needed to get moving on some of this stuff years ago.

There is the longer term question of the viability of the car culture, of course.  There is only so much that you can bring up at one time however.


I'm personally of the mind that purchasing a brand new $25,000-to-$30,000 car is a perfectly reasonable solution to the impending collapse of the car culture.

Are you implying there is something wrong with this line of thinking?



There is no evidence suggesting that the collapse of the car culture is imminent. We haven't even reached stage one, which is the collapse of the gas guzzler car culture.The Exxon guy is correct when he states that very little effort has been directed toward fuel efficient autos. There is nothing to prevent the car culture morphing into car culture lite, with just as many on the road-the difference being that the average car will get 100 miles to the gallon and hit 0 to 60 in about 12 secs.You are definitely underestimating how committed suburbanites are to autos, even if their car is a small slow piece of crap.

Yes, there is something preventing the "car culture" from morphing into the "car culture lite." It's called "time", something which we don't have very much of.

It takes 15 years or so to turnover the fleet. Even if every brand new car got 100 mpg, it'd be another 15 years before we transformed the "car culture" to the "car culture lite."

Right now, the most optimistic estimates are that 80% of new cars are projected to be hyrbids (50 mpg) by 2015.

Other  estimates are 3%, 30%, etc.

This means it's going to take until around 2030 until the fleet is mostly hybridized.

In other words, even we go with the most optimsitic estimates, we're still looking at a generation or so before a significant portion of the fleet are even getting 50 mpg let alone 100 mg.

Let's say the peak is 2010 and the decline rate is a conservative 3.5%. That gives us 20 years before there is a 50% dropoff from the peak which is approximatley a 75% or so dropoff from what we would have accdess to in a business as usual scenario.

If the decline rate is 7%, that only gives us 10 years before we hit 50%/75% dropoff point. (50% from t he peak, 75% or so from a business as usual scenario)

It's the same old problems with most of the soft landing or "car culture lite" scenarios: time and scale render these scenarios very unlikely to unfold.



If your oil supply assumptions are correct, I would say that the fleet will turn over much quicker than the historical average of 15 years.I expect car owners to downsize in an attempt to hold onto car culture lite. Even the most optimistic projections for sales of fuel efficient autos are not being made by persons who buy the oil depletion story.    
Especially considering just how politically easy it will be for the government to provide tax credits for anyone buying a car that gets better mileage than the one they're trading in.
If the peak is 2010 and the decline rate is 3.5-7%, the economy is going to go to shit real fast and the fleet won't get overturned at all because people won't be able to afford new cars.



In prior oil shocks, car sales collapsed. It seems like fleet turnover is likely to slow down not speed up.

What Stuart said.



"Even the most optimistic projections for sales of fuel efficient autos are not being made by persons who buy the oil depletion story."


Wrong.  The 80% of new cars by 2015 figure comes from Booz Hamilton. Who's the vice president of Booz Hamilton? It's James Woolsley who's all over Peak Oil like white on rice.    

Putting that aside for a moment, lets pretend there ultra optimistic estimate of 80% by 2015 mark is actually an uber-optimistic 100% by 2010. My point still stands. We'll need a generation to make the turnover from a fleet of 20 mpg to 50 mpg but we don't have a generatiion before crippling oil shortages hit us.



Matt: You make very good points.Under your oil supply assumptions, you are right- the shit hits the fan before things can adjust. I think the downslope from Peak (2005) will be flatter than you think, but I might be wrong.  
IMO you are underestimating how much people will cut back on driving. Yes, the economy and especially some businesses will suffer, but it is unlikely we're going to start killing each other over gas.
That's a broad brush.  The way I'd say it is, if you are going to spend more than $25K on a new car, be sure you can't be happy in a Prius.  That Prius will probably bring fewer downstream costs than 90% of the alternatives.

As a simple convenience it's kind of nice not to worry about buying gas for 400 miles ... and nicer to discover you only need 8 gallons when you do.


I'm mostly poking fun at the folks who naively think they're off the hook cause they bought a hybrid.  

If I was going to drop $25,000 on a new car for whatever reason, it would only make good fiscal sense to go with the most fuel-efficient car available.



(Bowing in Matt's general direction)

Yes, I'm one of those people too. I don't consider my little whiz-bang mobile to have solved any problems though. It can carry a LOT (like TWO rollaway toolboxes or a bike EASILY or a surfboard etc.) and it's a long complicated story.... I can do my biz which I could call "recycling" but it's really bottom-feeding junk scrounging and keeping some junk out of the landfull but I'm really just a selfish bottomfeeder. I'm no more altruistic than your aquarium's catfish. By having a car I can get out of debt a lot faster (not having one costs me big) then hopefully I can buy some land, somehow become a real producer. And not need or hardly need a car at all.

I don't own a car for the same reason. I've been saving aggresively and putting 40-50% of my savings into precious metals.  Silver's up from $6.00 when I started two years ago to $12.50 or so these days. So forgoing a car has been worth it thus far to me. (I won't be suprised if it corrects down to $8-$11 at some point short-to-mediucm term but I think long term it'll keep going up.)

I work from home and I don't have kids so I can go without a car. And since everybody I know has one I can get a  ride if really necessary. Operating a website about the end of oil gives me an excuse for muching rides when need be. =)  

If I worked a regular office job and/or had kids I'd have to get one. And if I thought owning one would allow me to make considerably more money, I'd just go get one.  



I wish I could get by w/o a car, hopefully in the future. Scrounging for electronic junk with a bike and trailer just isn't the same........

I wouldn't call buying a Prius a solution - it is more of an interim measure, but I suspect that a Prius will be viable transportation for the next 15 years, so I cannot really think of a downside to going this route.

I was speaking mainly of some of the more long term issues, but we have not yet hit the point where the year to year production is actually falling either.  My thinking is that in 50 years, using petroleum to power transportation will largely be over and done with, but we don't have the vehicles or the infrastructure for anything to replace it.  For that matter we really don't even know what would be viable when we reach that point - we can make some guesses, but that's about it.

Car culture lite does have some definite advantages though.  It buys us a lot of time.  It gives people time to relocate closer to their jobs, for example.  Knowing human nature though, I suspect that what will really happen is that if higher mileage cars really do become the norm, people will start to think that they can go back to their old way of doing things, so not much will happen until the next crisis pops up.

Car culture lite would be even more viable with either the auto makers making their hybrid models plug-in hybrids.  The technology is there, folks are already doing this.  It's no panecea certainly but it could allow us to adapt to a gradually declining oil supply.

Now a 25% cut off in oil supply overnight courtesy of a middle eastern war, thats another story.  No amount of vehicle switching will help us with that.

A crash fleet turnover to flex fueled pluggable hybrids is the best way to go. That and restore rail transportation system. It won't happen overnight, but it won't happen at all if we don't start.

I have written to Toyota telling them the only reason I am not now in a Prius is because they haven't made them pluggable rechargeable. There are already three after market companies that are modifying Prius and Ford explorers to make them pluggable hybrids.

 I saw some TV reporter reassuring viewers that "don't worry; you don't have to plug it [Prius] in." People can cope with plugging in their phone and other tools. They can plug in their car. It is not like it won't go if you forgot to plug it in or something.

Yes, I would definitely like to see more plug-in work - that to me is more of a transitional vehicle to all electric cars.  AFAIK, to get plug-in capability, you have to modify the car - there aren't any plug-ins that come that way from the factory.

At the moment I drive a VW diesel.  I would love to see diesel hybrids too, but at the moment I am content to get a measly 50mpg on the highway and I am in no hurry to switch to anything.  I a diesel like this weren't available, I would probably look at a Prius and start hacking it for plug-in capability.  Besides - the diesel is paid for :-).

There are rumors out there that the next-gen Prius will get 94mpg, and that Toyota is pushing to have it out by 2008.  For that matter, I know there are diesels already in Europe that get about ~80mpg.  We really ought to be at a place where 50 was the norm for your run-of-the mill car.

Most people assume that I bought my new Prius out of concern for the environment, that I'm some sort of high-minded environmentalist, but it't not just concern for the environment...I also bought it to minimize gas purchases, & because I believe it will have a much higher resale value than other cars five years down the road when I get my new plug-in hybrid (or when the city upgrades the bus/transit system to the point where I can use it exclusively).  So my Prius purchase is as much out of Ayn Rand selfishness as liburl holier-than-thouism.

So far as the suburban culture continuing, I think it will continue for at least two decades due to the enormous sunken cost in the current arrangements - using 60-mile range electric commuter cars recharging at the workplace, if necessary.  Eventually electric mass transit and denser housing will take over, because it is a cheaper and better living arrangement, but that's something that will take considerable time to build, and it will be a gradual process.

A couple of side points: Having bought the Prius to replace a 1991 Volkswagen Fox, which was my family of four's only car, I am amazed that people insist on thinking that they need a gigantic SUV or minivan.  We took several trips in the VW, including a camping trip last summer with a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, etc.  It was cramped but quite doable.

Second point: Is there any connection to SUV sales and the obesity epidemic?  Do people buy large truck-like things because they need a large seat for their large seats?  Does the shape of their vehicle reflect their body image?  Are they afraid of the incongruity of having a sleek car and a beer belly, so they get the bulbous SUV to make things match?  I'm aware of other reasons for having a SUV - better to have a large vehicle for acting out aggresive driving, women like the idea of a rolling fortress or tank (witness similarity in shape of the H2 to a Brinks truck), but perhaps this is one we've overlooked.  Maybe Stuart can chart SUV sales and obesity in the US, to see if they correlate :^] ?

I'm with you brother! I do think the resale value of my Prius will be much better than anything else I could get when the time comes, and the thing's much more practical than people think - it's huge inside, and it's amazing what you can carry. You can bring your sleeping bag and sleep in the thing.

Another choice for me was a early to mid 90s Volvo 240 wagon, but it likely would get a THIRD the mileage of the Prius and maintenence would not be fun.

I agree with you on the SUVs and body size/type/image. The ones that strike me as the most horrible are one model that's actually smaller in front then gets bigger as you go back past the front doors - the window line is weird, it's like the front end of the thing is pinched down - makes me think of fat women and their pointy shoes, comes on ppl, wearing witch shoes only emphasizes how fat you are. And aggressive driving and SUVs are just two great American tastes that go great together, like butter and bacon. (Homer Simpson's favorite.)

Obesity in itself is also a problem: food is oil. Butter and bacon are problematic, too. The obese meat-eater is a terrifically conspicuous consumer of oil, whether (s)he drives an SUV or not.

The drive-through window at McDonald's yields some interesting  data. The hugely obese tend to use the drive-through rather than walk in for their food. One suspects that they might be making rounds to several drive-throughs each evening.

They are not all in massively inffecient vehicles, however. I think they are more often found in cheap ones: small, medium, large, and extra large cars or light trucks, it doesn't matter. The common denominator is cheap.

Interesting. Recharging at the workplace? Using what electricity grid?
Well, I'm not a total doomer, at least not today, so I'm assuming a future version of the existing grid, powered by coal/nuclear/wind, paid for by either the employee via separate metering or by the employer as a perk....just my version of what's possible in the future...I'm not claiming to have a crystal ball or anything.
Yeah, come on Stu! Let's see some charts, there's got to be a correlation. This could be Part I of great peak oil mitigation ad campaign.  Something that says "you want a FAT ass? Then buy one of these" followed by picture of a Suburban or Escalade. Part II of the ad campaign is my idea of having Jennifer Lopez riding a bicycle with some slogan like "if you want a PHAT ass, get one of these."

Or something like that.



Heh.  That could get people talking.

Sadly I think our culture of instant gratification won't care enough to give up the car.  People are waiting for a magic pill of some sort to make their asses skinny again.  That they will do.  Give up the burger and fries?  Never.

Regarding oil, I suspect a lot of peple realize we probably have a problem - they are just waiting for that magic pill.  That technical breakthrough that will let them go back to life as usual.  If you try and tell them that such a breakthrough is unlikely, the answer will be that the scientists need to work harder.

My brother had a suggestion for the next fast-food fad.  Pre-chewed fast food.  You pull up to the drive through and hold up a big cup in front of the face of a Ronald statue, and he barfs your meal into the cup.

Seems to me that as we go down the backslope, there will be more interest in hybrids, but hybrids --and everything else-- will be much more expensive.

Optimistic scenario is that a smaller and smaller group can afford personal mechanized transport (aka the car) and the greater and greater unwashed put pressure on govt for more mass transit.

Pessimistic scenario is that greater unwashed fall off the end of the economic scale and sleep in their cars with their dry gas tanks.

I'm retired. I pay $160 a month for car insurance and zero in car payments. My car gets 25 mpg so I would have to average about 45 miles/day to spend as much on fuel as I do for insurance. Most weeks I don't drive 45 miles. I worked with many people who drove over 50 miles a day to and from work in large SUVs but they were a small minority. I would make a WAG that for most people insurance plus car payments are still much larger than fuel cost. Even for large SUVs at $3/gal.
Blame game, blame game,
Neocon Big Oil shame game,
When you dwell within it,
You are ever stuck in there...
Who's to blame? Of course I can understand the oil and car companies playing blame game because they don't want to look bad but it really has little to do with them. They do a pretty decent job of supplying us consumers with what we want. They're not perfect and we always want it cheaper but for goodness sake if we look at the major oil consuming nations from a global perspective we're like a bunch of addicts whining because we don't get our fix cheap enough.

The USA has 4.6% of the world population consuming 25% of the worlds oil.

$3 a gallon is CHEAP! The energy in a gallon of gas is equal to something like 1 month of manual labour by 1 person.

If the US economy can't survive at $5 a gallon then we have only ourselves to blame for continuing to build a lifestyle which needs rediculous amounts of cheap oil.

The middle east has over 50% of the world's remaining reserves. If they decided to reduce their supplies to us then thats their right and thats our tough luck. Its not like we haven't had our fair share of the stuff for the last 100 years.

Even Canada is perfectly within the terms of NAFTA to stop increasing the amount of energy they supply to the USA each year.

The USA is an economic, geopolitical, military, social, cultural timebomb.

$3 a gallon is CHEAP! The energy in a gallon of gas is equal to something like 1 month of manual labour by 1 person.

  I think Tenpin provides a very interesting perspective. If I take one month of labour (160 hrs) and multiply by the local minimum wage ($7.75 CDN) then the price of a gallon of gasoline at an equivalent energy cost to labour is $1,240 CDN or $1,076.44 USD.

On the basis of this pricing, Mr Raymond and his colleagues are providing us with a deal that is simply too good to be true; Jason Vines, Chrysler's head of PR appears to be seriously out of touch with economic reality.

If we add back in to the equation the various external costs associated with that gallon of gas (a few dead Nigerians, a few more dead Kuwaitis, the loss of the entire biosphere due to anthropogenic warming) the numbers may change a bit, but not by all that much </Goak Here>>.
Who's to blame? Of course I can understand the oil and car companies playing blame game because they don't want to look bad but it really has little to do with them. They do a pretty decent job of supplying us consumers with what we want.

I was just about to write the same thing. Consumers are to blame, because we have not embraced high efficiency vehicles. Government is to blame because they haven't pursued aggressive CAFE standards. I can't blame big oil or the auto companies because both gave the consumers what they wanted. But big oil and the auto industry has always had a bit of a difficult relationship. This is not the first time they have thrown barbs back and forth.

I saw a graph recently comparing mileage standards in Europe and the U.S. over the past 20 years, and our average mpg was pretty flat, while theirs was increasing every year. It was shameful.


both gave the consumers what they wanted.

This perception is open to debate.

There endless studies of pre-industrial societies and not one of those studies have reported anyone aspiring to ownership of a car, much less a life in the suburbs. It just does not seem to be a major human aspiration.

There are numerous reports from the 1930s of oil and auto related firms buying up interurban electric lines in the US and allowing these to atrophy and the ridership to decline in support of a petition to abandon. I suspect Alan would be able to provide more detail on this. Certain development paths were foreclosed because to do so gave greater assurance of profit.

All technologies have a "direction," or set of biases. Technologies interact in a mutually supportive manner (suburbs justify the purchase of a car, a mobile population supports the creation of suburban development). I suspect there will be many readers of this blog who wish that they could arrange their lives to avoid or minimize the need for a car. This consumer "want" is not easly fulfilled.

Even if you seek to travel by bicycle you will find this to be a excluded option due to the fact that automobiles have the perfect right to travel 20 mph over the speed limit, to pay no attention to other automobiles much less cyclists or pedestrians, are built to a size that mandates they use a lane and a half, and the drivers are only expected to devote 25% of their time to driving, the rest of their attention being devoted to eating, smoking, drinking, selling stock on their cellphone and listening to Karl reading Das Kapital on the CD player.

Half the writing on this blog concerns a desire to organize western life in a different pattern. Much of the rest is a lament of the problems associated with implementing even the most basic of changes or potential alternatives. And this inability to effect change occurs even when we can foretell the complete collapse of the biosphere. Yeast looks incredibly intelligent in comparison. No Goak Here.

Thats a very interesting point about the activities of the oil and auto companies in the past. I can well believe that they would sabotage other forms of transportation to make way for their markets. I guess it even made a lot of (dishonest) sense back then seeing as they had absolutely no idea about Peak Oil.

At the end of the day though, any problems the US has relating to transportation are due to greed and lack of forethought.

I wonder how long ago the US would have needed to start in order to fully mitigate the negative affects of peak oil? How much could we do now if we started a government backed crash program? Could we do it without scaring off all the foriegn investment needed to maintain the illusion that the US isn't bankrupt ? At the moment we seem to be heading in completely the wrong direction, oh well, at least people are talking about it more than 3 years ago when it was ignored.

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.

Here's an old but interesting article:

that contains the following quote.

"Bradsher brilliantly captures the mixture of bafflement and contempt that many auto executives feel toward the customers who buy their S.U.V.s."


Just what in God's name are you doing? You're ruining our blame game with things like "facts" and "the truth." Gosh darnit, I want somebody to blame and you're screwing things up for me. Stop it already or I'll have to go over to or and engage in some sensationalistic race-baiting. I prefer the discucssions here at TOD but if you're going to insist pissings facts in the punchbowl of blame I'll go somewhere else thank you very much.



Well, according to this article:
Are you ready for $3 a gallon?

the problem is high prices for gas, to be blamed on "nervousness" about  the supply from Nigeria and Iran and competition from "fuel-hungry economies" like China and India.

I will say this. Vines is an idiot. Oil companies have spent many billions on low sulfur diesel and gasoline infrastructure. I would bet that Big Oil has spent far more on making cleaner gasoline and cleaner refineries than the auto companies have spent on making cleaner engines.

Notice also that Vines did not answer the question "So why is that despite this overall progress, the average fuel economy of American cars is unchanged in two decades?" He just threw out a non sequitor. Again, I don't think the auto companies are to blame. They gave the consumer what they wanted.


The auto companies aren't completely to blame.  They are only to blame for their share of the $36.5 billion spent on automobile related advertising this year and the totals spent in the past.  See here or here.  That would be money well spent, from their perspective, influencing consumers to buy their products.  I would argue that their success is measured by the extent to which people switched to light trucks from the mid 80s to the mid 00s.

Consumers were certainly the ones signing the papers, but it's disingenuous of the auto industry to claim that they had no hand in the decision.

I am no fan of either the US oil industry or the US automotive industry. Both are plodding dinosaurs; both are about as bureaucratic as the federal govenment; and both are about as capable of making  rapid course corrections as a supertanker drifting with the tide.  

I have had a number of direct encounters with two of the Big Three auto companies through my environmental consulting work during the 1970s and 1980s. From that admittedly limited exposure, I can't say that I was terribly impressed, to put it mildly. Management by fear is the best way I can describe the way things work in the auto industry.

The reason that the US auto industry has pushed SUVs and full-size pick-up trucks is simply that, as Henry Ford II once said, "Small cars mean small profits."

The auto industry doesn't care how much the driver pays for gas, and neither do the oil companies. Correction: the oil companies DO care how much you pay for gas - the more the better (to a point).

Speaking of Henry Ford II, and touching on the subject of automation and outsourcing, I recently heard about a little encounter between Henry Ford II and Walter Reuther, then head of the powerful UAW.  Henry was giving Walter a tour of Ford's latest highly automated assembly plant. While proudly  showing Walter some fully robotic assembly operations, he jokingly commented, "Well, Walter, just how many of these robots do you think you're going to organize?" To which, Walter Reuther, without missing a beat, calmly replied, "Well, Henry, just how many of these robots do you think are going to buy your cars?"

To me that is just about the most succinct expression of this whole outsourcing/jobs issue.

The oil companies and the auto companies - a pox on both their houses!

There is this old complaint, that you hear in a variety of businesses: we cannot cannibalize our sales with a low end product.

In any business, from computer software to cars, you only have that choice if there is no low end competitor willing to eat your sales for you.

The "choice" not to make small cars would have been fine, had there been no Toyota, VW, etc.

Just wait. China enters the US market in 2007 with a new car for $9995.
(Apes Henry Ford)
"You can get it in any color, as long as it's red."