Friday Open Thread: Hemenway's "Apocalypse, Not"

Today from our friends at The Energy Bulletin we get this article from Toby Hemenway:
The phrase "the end of the world as we know it" has been uttered so often in the last decade that some Peak Oil advocates simply use its acronym, TEOTWAWKI. This awkward shorthand was once employed by Y2k catastrophists, and that heritage alone--the most unnecessary "sky is falling" panic in my lifetime--is enough to make me skeptical of the negativism embraced by many of my fellow Peak Oil believers. Peak Oil is as inevitable as death and taxes. But for every convert that Peak Oil's doom-and-gloom extremism sweeps up, it alienates plenty of people who might otherwise climb down from their SUVs. Peak-Oil catastrophism's repetition of doubtful facts and its sometimes muddied thinking betray a lack of critical analysis that discredits the Peak Oil movement. I'd like to delve into some of the errors and half-truths surrounding Peak Oil catastrophism, not as encouragement for those who want to party on blindly into the end of oil, which would be tragic, but as a way of refining and bolstering those arguments around Peak Oil that are valid.
Discuss. I happen to think he makes some very good points.
Hemenway says:

There is no doubt that oil is running out. But to believe that it will surely bring the end of the world, you must believe that:

  1. Our demand for oil is unchangeable and is not significantly affected by price.

  2. We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior.

  3. Significant oil conservation is not possible in the time frame needed.

  4. Even with conservation, demand will be more than oil plus alternatives can possibly meet.

  5. Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks.

OK, here are some thoughts.  In general, I think that Hemenway's approach is through the looking glasses of the First World Middle Class, and "on the average".  Thus some major points get missed, e.g., that resources are not and will not be equitably distributed, and that major unemployment (that even he predicts) means some people will starve.

Referring to the numbered points above:

  1. Depends what counts as a "significant" change in demand.  If the demand is inflexible enough to cause a major price increase, as very clearly is the case, then I'd say this can cause major life-threatening problems to poorer people around the world.  E.g., we already see many go back from cooking on kerosene to spending hours a day collecting the little that is left of the woods in their area.  Also, many depend on cheap food imports, and their price is rising.  Sugar price has doubled due to the ethanol craze.

  2. This too is observable.  Watch the world's richest country plunge into multiple desparate wars, and destroy its own societal values, in a futile attempt to secure what's left of the oil.  Watch the people of China destroy their air and water in order to industrialize and buy cars.

  3. It would take a lot of time and a HUGE amount of resources to rebuild not just our transportation infrastructure but also our housing.  The Hirsch Report specifically addresses the time issue, and concludes that we need a CRASH program to start 20 years before the peak to avoid major, "unprecedented", problems.

  4. conservation is good and can achieve a lot, but until we get a cultural shift, the gains will be spent elsewhere, thus no reduction in energy use.  Moreover, one person's savings through conservation are another person's income denied.  It will be a long time before we'll voluntarily work half time so others can work too.  During the Great Depression most people had full time jobs (at lower pay) while a large minority had nothing.  See also the next point.

  5. I forget whether it was AA Bartlett or MK Hubbert who said this: we don't have an energy crisis, we have an energy shortage resulting in a cultural crisis.  The reason our society is indeed very fragile is that we've built an economic/financial system that depends on endless exponential growth, and will collapse without it.  This has happened in the 1930's, with great suffering resulting, despite no lack of physical resources.  Imagine what it would be like, and the societal reaction, if a depression goes on for a long time with no visible solution, while the few rich party on.

I missed responding to the discussion here about "money" on the Wednesday open thread, but here is a relevant writeup on "how money works" and why we need to radically change it:  Climate and Currency: Proposals for Global Monetary Reform - from FEASTA

See also:
The Ecology of Money by Richard Douthwaite
more articles from FEASTA

Some quoted text from the first one:

Feasta believes that the present world financial and monetary system is so gravely dysfunctional that it makes the achievement of sustainability impossible. We have three main reasons for this belief:

a) The Earth is finite, and, as all economic growth requires some use of the Earth's resources, perpetual growth is not compatible with sustainability. Unfortunately, most of the money used around the world is created on the basis of debt and ... it needs to grow continually by enough to ensure that investors can always find attractive opportunities and consequently always borrow more than they repay. ...

b) National and multinational currencies created by some of the wealthiest countries in the world are used as if they were world currencies. The countries issuing the pseudo-world currencies gain enormous power and advantages at the expense of the rest of the world.

c) Individual governments cannot afford to take account of whether the growth required to stop the global system from collapsing is socially or environmentally sustainable because current account and capital account money flows are lumped together when the market determines their currencies' exchange rates. This gives the owners of mobile capital an excessive amount of power over exchange rates and hence over governments. ...

I have read the rest of the comments to date and agree with most of the pros and cons on this article.  I am also not a doomer but get pretty pessimistic because of people being overly optomistic.

Another major flaw in logic in the article IMHO.

In 1965, world oil production was 12 billion barrels. It may peak soon at 30 billion. Estimates project that in 2040, production will have slipped to 12 billion barrels--back to 1965 levels. To descend to that point would require a drop in consumption of 2.2% per year for 35 years. Can we do this? I think so. From 1973 to 1975, and again from 1979 to 1983, consumption fell by roughly this much per year. When prices fell, consumption rose again. For a glimpse of the future, note that when gasoline prices briefly spiked 30% due to Hurricane Katrina, US usage dropped 6% over two weeks. Saving 2.2% each year is well within reach.

The math is not this simple.  There were a lot less people in the world in 1965 than today.  We have already made large gains in efficiency.  To decrease oil usage at the same time as maintaining or increasing population is going to require a lot more savings than 2.2% per year because most of that usage is not distributed equally among the worlds population.  This is assuming a fixed rate decline on the backside of peak, which I question as well.  

Try running a world of 6.5-9 Billion people on 12 billion barrels per year, the same as many fewer Billion people in 1965 and see how successful you are.  Something has to give quickly, either population declines or we get super efficient very quickly.  

The problem with banking on efficiency is that you get most of your gains early in the process.  Doubling the fuel economy of a 50mpg car doesn't save you near as much gas as doubling a 25 mpg car.  Same increase in efficiency big difference in consumption gain.

Excellent points.  A lot of people think it would be no big deal to go back to a 1930 or 1900 or 1850 type of life.  But our population is much larger now than it was then:

Your point about efficiency is spot-on as well.  The classic example is Southwest's ordering its pilots to save fuel by running only one engine when the plane is taxiing.  Easy way to save fuel.  But then what?  You can't cut back to no engines.  

/Currently, about half the petroleum used in the US is spent on gasoline and diesel for personal vehicles.  It seems that a lot of this is still being squandered, so we do have a chance to reduce consumption in a substantial way - - if people could be convinced to park their cars.
Of course, the paradox of this is that if people parked their cars, it would be the end of the "drive a car by myself anywhere, anytime" world that they had known.  As others have pointed out, the whole concept of the "end of the world as we know it" is too subjective to be meaningful.  
Self nomination for quibble of the day:

Actually you could if you were referring to the main engines. Just utilize a tug which admittedly currently run on fossil fuels. There would be safety issues as more wheeled vehicles would be on runways and taxiways, but it is possible and almost undoubtedly would save some fuel.

It would still be necessary to allow the main engines to reach an optimal thermal state amd be run up prior to take off.

BTW, IIRC Southwest used to run their auxilliary power units almost continuously rather than plugging in to ground power. The theory was that this enabled faster turn around. This may no longer be the case.

To quibble further, you could use an electric tug!

To quibble a bit further still, you could use an electric tug to get the plane to the runway, then use a tow-cable to help pull the plane up to speed.  There probably hundreds of ways to play this game, and I'm sure we'll end up playing most of them.  

Does anybody have any thoughts why this particular article elicited so much reaction?  

These themes have been discussed elsehwhere, so I don't quite understand.

I think there has been an influx of folks with more pessimistic outlooks, at TOD.
I am only going to answer his above #2)))

Just observe any other addict.  They will spiral down and down and die to get their very last death bringing fix.  I have seen it happen.  I know people that are now dead because they could not change an addictive behavior.  Be it drugs legal and illegal,  We are addicted to OIL just witness that fact and cringe that we will not stop till we are dead.

The facts speak for themselves

While Hemenway's article that purports to debunk the catastrophists' scenarios is a nice try, it has several weaknesses, and vtpeaknik has illuminated many of these.  There are three other things worth emphasizing:

1.  1965 vs. 2006.  In 1965, there were approx. 3.3 billion people on the planent.  Today, there are approx. 6.6 billion, i.e. double the population.
In 1965, a much smaller percentage of the planets food and energy crops were genetic varieties requiring lavish dosages of synthetic fertilizer, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides, and generous (and energy intensive due to pumping) amounts of irrigation.  Norman Borlaug's "green revolution" essentially    transformed world agriculture creating vulnerable, but high yielding varieties that could never survive on their own in the wild.  More primitive plant breeding techniques pre-Borlaug  had given us lower yielding varieties, but at least these varieties weren't so weak, so drought intolerant, and so dependent on petro-derived chemical protection.  In 2006, we can look back at the last 30+ years and see how we have simply delayed the day of reckoning to stabilize world population - instead we were lulled to sleep by leveraging agriculture with a diminishing resource - fossil fuel.  As oil & gas get more scarce, there will most certainly be a frantic return to less chemical dependent means of crop production.  The question is, with such a high percentage of the world dependent on the status quo (Archer Daniels Midland, etc) and upon imports of food aid: will there be chaos?  widespread starvation in places like Egypt?  It would seem to be highly likely.  We really don't know how many people the planet can support using permaculture, or more hollistic methods of food production. But, the last time we tried (pre-1965), the population was less than half of today's, and even then, there was considerable hardship in the developing world.

2.  Diminishing Returns of Technology for Efficiency.  Regarding the potential for conservation via technology, Hemenway is at best naive.  Sure, as energy gets expensive, lots more people may drive less, or carpool.  But don't be delusional about constantly doubling fuel efficiency.
The best examples we have for efficient cars are from Honda & Toyota - Honda's Insight gives at best 70 mpg, but only carries two people and little else.  This is a 3 cyl. engine with a big battery.  If you just want a 3 cyl engine you can dredge up the old Geo Metro from the early 90s - it got 54 mpg tops.  The old Civic VX got 50 mpg, and the smallest Toyota Yaris maybe 52 mpg.  Anyway,  Honda's & Toyota's engineers have been working on the efficiency thing for decades, and we are likely to only see tiny increments of improvement going forward.  The most likely scenario is that people will be replacing their cars with 1 cylinder motorbikes to carry two persons plus a bit of stuff.  With these you could eke out 100 mpg.   But before we retreat to these more minimalist modes of transportation, what will become of the hundreds of millions of existing gas guzzlers?  Will they be magically recycled, just in time?  
In terms of home heating, we may see people retreating into smaller portions of their homes in the winter, and draining the plumbing from parts they can't afford to heat.  Also, they could thicken the walls with scraps from other construction, but again, where are the huge leaps in efficiency going to come from?

3.  There are legitimate weaknesses in the scenarios laid out by the more "catastrophist" wing of the peak oil milieu, but Hemenway misses them.  On Savinar's site, for example, he mentions what the world or US population is likely to be (based on a UN estimate) by the year 2020 and juxtaposes this with how small oil reserves are likely to be at this time.  What Savinar fails to grasp is that once oil prices pass a certain threshold, say, $100 per barrel, maybe higher, the growth in world population is likely to stop in its tracks, and begin reversing.  Many countries in Africa, and parts of Asia are going to suffer unprecedented levels of austerity once the industrial agricultural complex begins to falter, and first world nations can no longer give food aid or even sell much food for export.  When this happens, people who might be considering having children simply won't be able to.  Their own survival, and where to find their next meal will their only thought.

Dude, you are quite right to raise the population issue in association with oil depletion.  The product of gross depletion, decreasing EROEI and increasing population stands to make the descent much steeper - as we have to get by on MUCH less energy per capita than we've been accustomed to and built an infrastructure (particulary food production) reliant upon.  But I have to disagree with you on one point.  Pop. growth will not "stop in its tracks".  Even poor, desperate people have children.  There's tremendous momentum in the demographic structure.  The global bulge of those currently under 30 (give or take) are going to have a lot of kids themselves.  Once things are bad enough for enough of them to be starving to death rather than procreating, we'll be living (and dieing)in TEOTWAWKI, rather than  having staved it off.
My latest crunching of these numbers (and I'm not a number cruncher by nature) is thus: Assuming decline of FIP of 5-8%, half of which is offset by new production, yields a net decline of 2.5-4%. Ten years out, as EROEI declines from todays ~15:1 to ~10:1-7:1, and population grows to ~7.5 billion, we're left with a net available energy of about 2.5 barrels/person/year, compared to today's ~4.4 bbls/pers/yr. So we'll have roughly 60% of today's available oil per person in just ten years. I'd love to see someone adept at graphics figure out a way to show this visually.
You may be partly right about the behaviour of poor people in times of austerity.  Clearly things have been brutal in countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan for decades, yet these countries populations keep increasing.  It is hard to know exactly how much more marginal a person's existence needs to become before a person consciously decides not to have children.  Typically though, once a woman's physiology is compromised by lack of adequate food energy their body is either too weak to procreate or conception does not occur.
It is a too-oft forgotten fact that during the oil shocks of the 70s there were short periods of starvation in countries dependent on food aid.  Clearly, countries like Egypt with population sizes that have gone far beyond their  lands carrying capacity will suffer immensely if US & Euro food aid is cut off.  Initially there may be rationing...later there may be an attempted exodus north to Turkey and Greece.  
More stuff to follow, but where the hell did the UK plot come from?
In regard to using Hubbert Linearization (HL), which the author did not discuss, on the Lower 48 versus the total US, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.  

If you want a recoverable reserve estimate for the total US, you should use total US production.  If you want a model for the world, which is what I am after, you should use the Lower 48.  In any case, in subsequent interviews, Hubbert made clear that he was talking about Lower 48 production when he made his prediction.  

Using HL, Deffeyes is now predicting that we are slightly past the 50% of Qt mark worldwide, using crude + condensate.   Everyone has endlessly discussed the Hubbert prediction, but what no one, as far as I know, had discussed is the accuracy of the HL method on post-peak Lower 48 production.  In the article that Khebab and I coauthored, link below, we addressed this issue.  

We (my idea, Khebab did the math) used only 1942 through 1970 production data to predict post-1970 cumulative Lower 48 production.   You can see the HL plot in the Energy Bulletin article, and I think that you will agree that there is not much room for argument regarding the linearization plot.   Using only 1942 to 1970 data, the HL method was 99% accurate in predicting post-peak Lower 48 oil production.   Some have suggested that we used "curve fitting" to derive this result.  This is categorically untrue.   Khebab is a completely objective scientist, and the data are there for anyone to review.  

Today, the world--in regard to production data--is where the Lower 48 was at in 1970.   The mathematical proof that Khebab and I provided suggests that Deffeyes' estimate of 1,000 Gb of remaining conventional recoverable crude oil + condensate reserves should be on the order of 99% accurate.

What we know is that:

All of the large fields currently producing one mbpd or more are old;

Cantarell, the second highest producing field in the world, is probably is probably now declining at a rate of up to 40% or more per year;

Oil prices are in a record high (nominal) trading range of $60 to $70 per barrel;

The world, at 50% of Qt, is at about same point at which the Lower 48 started declining (49%);

The current swing producer, Saudi Arabia, at 55% of Qt, is at about the same point at which the former swing producer, Texas, started declining (54%);  

Most recently, as predicted by the HL model, the North Sea peaked at 52% of Qt, and it has been following the predicted decline curve.

If you believe the HL guys, you should cut your spending, get out of debt, reduce your commute to and from work and home, consider starting a garden and try to reduce your spending to 50% or less of your income.  

If we are wrong, you will have more money in the bank, less debt and a lower stress way of life.  

If the cornucopian guys are wrong. . .

"M. King Hubbert's Lower 48 Prediction Revisited"

Don't you think that the decline of world production will be stronger than in the lower 48 case? Because of modern extraction techniques such as water & CO2 injection, horizontal drilling and huff 'n puff?
IMO, the world will follow a decline curve similar to the Lower 48 (where we have also tried all kinds of secondary and tertiary recovery techniques and horizontal drilling).  

However, I predict that some countries, such as Russia and Mexico, are poised for very steep declines, and I think that overall net export capacity will be a severe problem starting this year.  

Ok, but those techniques where only used after a long period of extraction, whereas in most modern fields those techniques are being used right from the start. For instance the North Sea is declining faster than the lower 48.

Yeah, that's been my argument for a long time. And a lot of people don't see that problem at all. Export capacity will decline much faster than world production due to increased internal demand in producing countries.

E.G. Indonesia now should be expelled from the OPEC and should join the OPIC, now being an oil importer instead of an exporter;-) Join the club....

I cannot speak for the world's depletion rates, but the UKCS North Sea is an ideal case for observation.
1) The data is exceptional. 2) Start, peak and tail are a time and geographically bound event 3) Most oil is a light sweet crude and flows well 4) Most of the good oil reservoirs are clastics (sand grains with pore spaces, relatively little cementation). This helps flow rates. (Most reservoirs in the Middle East are Carbonates with very different characteristics for permeability and porosity).
Almost all are offshore and took significantly large amounts of capital to develope in the form of large, hostile weather proofed structures.

Once discovered and developed, production flows were ramped up. The reasons were Financial and Political.
The Oil companies required a prompt return on capital expenditure (big platforms cost money). The Thatcher Government required as much money as they could get to help offset the costs of slash and burn of the older , rust-belt type industries, recession, loss of tax revenue, increased social security burden etc.

Each oilfield was essentially well bounded, understood and recoverable reserves relatively easy to calculate. If you look at production curves for most individual UKCS fields, then you see three phases: Intitial ramping up of production, followed by a brief plateau phase, followed by a decline phase with a slope which is gentler going down than the initial ramping phase going up.

It is likey that overall production (area under the curve) does not increase by much whichever way you produce the oil. Though this is highly debatable since high ramping can inflict damage on resevoirs and producing wells. It is fair to say that operators did take this into account and optimised flow rates to avoid killing the goose.

Oil extracted can be either slow and steady, or fast and furious. The extractable amount in place does not budge much. What happens next is infill drilling to hit sweet spots missed in the intial development. Horizontal / Extended reach / Geosteering drilling all helps. Also, you can occassionally identify stranded , isolated geological traps that contain oil and drill to them from existing platforms (common). Also, maybe you can drill deeper and pick up other oil bearing strata that was missed in the initial development phase (rarer).

However, what is clear is that no field ever went through a
'renaissance' where the initial maximum peak was either matched or equalled. The classic Hubbert curve is exhibited in almost all fields. The curve may be skewed, but the eventual outcome is always the same.

The Chessboard scenario of discovery sequence is also fairly evident in the UKCS. Initially each King or Queeen is developed, and the knights and pawns in smaller , stranded traps become attractive and are developed.

Decline rates on the downward slope after a field peaks in the UKCS has caught a lot of people on the hop. Not least the UK Gov. UKCS appears to have peaked circa 1999. Actuality occurred at least 5 years before theory.
Some of the individual field production graphs are very startling and can vary from 5% per annum YOY to 13% per annum YOY.

Go to Matt Simmons Website and look through his power point presentations. He has quite a few production curves for The UKCS. They are quite a good graphic representation of just how fast a 'major' field can peak and decline.

Carbonate reservoirs do behave differently to clastic reservoirs. The bulk of the middle eastern oil is trapped in Carbonates. One of the main reservoirs in the USA is/was the Austin Chalk. This was very significant in the history of the lower 48 (and indeed the history of the world and especially World War Two...) and I am sure 'WestTexas' could illuminate the story of the Austin Chalk better than I.

Yes, depletion can happen very fast: When we started , we were listening to the Sex Pistols and Souxsi and the Banshees. Morris Marinas were common (ugh). My first car was a Richthoven Red Truimph Dolomite 1500 cc with twin overhead camms...

But isn't it possible that underwater wells are produced faster than those on land?  Given the high costs, it's in their interest to produce the oil as quickly as possible.  

I think the world depletion rate could be faster than many experts expect, but I am not expecting it to be as fast as the North Sea.

Per "friend of friend" that I know, who is PhD Geophysics from Havard and worked for Shell in the Gulf of Mexico, underwater reserviors typically produce faster because the strata is not as compressed "all other things being equal".  The trend as one goes from onshore to shallow offshore to deep offshore is higher and higher permability.
Russia is frequently cited as an example of a "twin peak" HL problem.  IMO, we are spending too much time focusing on the top of the production  curve, i.e., the production per unit of time, rather than the area under the curve, i.e., cumulative production, or Qt.

Let's use a very simple example, a bottle of water.  You can pour the water out at a minimal rate all the way up to the maximum rate.  Regardless of the rate at which you pour out the water, it does not affect the volume inside the bottle.  

Of course, oil fields don't react precisely this way; a low rate of production can increase the recovery in some cases and very high rates can damage the reservoir, reducing ultimate recovery, but those are effects on the margin.   Unless one produces a field at a truly irresponsible rate, the rate of production (in most cases) won't have a major impact on ultimate recovery.  

Consider the US versus Russia.  

US oil fields have been pretty much produced at the steady maximum efficient rate, and as outlined above, the HL method, using only 1970 and earlier data, accurately predicted 99% of post-1970 cumulative production.  

Russian production collapsed in the early Nineties, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it then rebounded.  It looks like overall 2006 production will, at best, be up slightly or flat year over year.   I expect it to be down, year over year, by yearend.

The HL method, using only 1984 and earlier data, accurately predicted 97% of post-1984 cumulative Russian production, through 2004.  (All technical work done by Khebab.)

In other words, if we focus on the volume of liquid inside the bottle, rather than the rate at which we are pouring it out, the HL method was remarkably accurate in predicting the cumulative production for both the Lower 48 and Russia.

Therefore, IMO Deffeyes' estimate of 1,000 Gb for remaining world conventional crude + condensate reserves is going to be quite accurate.  

On the long run you are right, ofcourse, about the significancy of the URR.
But I think that the top of the peak and the onset of decline will be such a major event in human history that it is very well worth to look at what will happen right after the peak.
Most people don't look that far ahead in the future.
So I think that 5-10 years ahead is pretty long to look ahead.
And if the decline truely sets in this year (as many seem to expect now), the major point will be: how much will production decline (platteau vs steep decline discussion).
BTW the OPEC thinks the world has 1144 barrels left
Im buying futures contracts!!
BTW the OPEC thinks the world has 1144 Bn barrels left
just sold. At a loss.
When Texas ran out of oil, people just went elsewhere to get it. It wasn't worth all that much effort to try to pull it out of Texas' declining reservoirs.

But when the world runs out of oil, there is no "elsewhere" to go. Some people conclude from this that we're doomed. My thinking is that it means that people will work much harder to get the remaining oil out of the ground.

The situation of one state or one country running out of oil is not analogous to the whole world running out, and you can't extrapolate from one circumstance to the other.

  You might be right, but I guess that an economist would claim that as prices rose, people already began to take a second look at US reserves.  And in at least one case that I am aware of that interest has indeed risen for those old wells.  An economist might claim that the most efficient use of those resources is already taking place, so you won't see some miracle jump out at us.
I've seen new drilling this year, in Huntington Beach, California.  Those are old reserves (1920).

BTW if anyone's in the Huntington Beach/Newport Beach area, check out Cappy's Cafe next to the Pacific Coast Highway - you can sit at your table and watch oil rigs working about 100 feet from your table. If I still lived down there, I'd hold Peak Oil meetups there.

That's an incredibly optimistic supposition without any support that I know of.  For example, there are thousands of stripper wells pulling out 1 barrel/day in TX, CA, & elsewhere as we speak.

Just like CERA, if you can't point to existing tech that will help, you can't count on it. Otherwise it's no more than wishful thinking, much more dangerous than guarded pessimism.

That is why when my sister-n-law asked me when I was moving.  I told her as soon as possible, but after May 7th, I have in town Obilgations still.  But I will be out of town and in Colorado by June.  I can't wait for gas to shoot up to 3.50 or 4.00 dollars a gallon.  I have a place to stay, a way to live and I will be earning nothing, and saving everything.  

I will have 1,5 city lots to plan and plant the way I like if I can make the plant purchases from a no money angle.  I can trade a nd barter for anything and I am getting better at it around here.  The City I will be in is 1/20th the size of the one I am in now. Any distances in it are completely walkable for me even with my blood clot damage.  I can survive on a shoe string budget and be just fine.  

And When I get the house in working order, I might have a GF to live in it with me ot I stay in the Shed and livein grounds keeper.  Laughs.  The easy life.  In snow country.

The Energy Bulletin has added links to TOD and discussions.
Try here
he does make some good points and I completely agree that we should be focused on solutions rather than heading for the hills and waiting for TEOTWAWKI. The emphasis should be on the AWKI part. It all depends on your frame of reference.

Higher prices will no doubt focus people's minds on energy issues to an extent that might not be imaginable now if only for the war production analogy.

I guess my main problem with his position is that the infrastructure to make the adjustments necessary is simply not there. It's not just the fuel that we need to worry about, its how we've adapted everything in our lives around it.

And he really leaves our the population/food issue.

Hello Peakguy,

Your Quote:"It's not just the fuel that we need to worry about, its how we've adapted everything in our lives around it."

Good point!  Another item to consider is all the Americans running up debt by using their house equity as an ATM cash machine, and the magic of plastic credit cards.  To my mindset, this is a massive national delusion to delay KAROSHI, death from overwork:

In the Thirties Depression, very few had debts outside of a mortgage, and if the whole family pitched in whatever  income they could generate, some muddled through.  Today, many Americans, instead of getting a second part-time job to save for the future purchasing of a desired item [usually worthless junk anyhow] have avoided this additional labor stress by using debt instruments.

In a postPeak world, most of these people will be desperate to pay off their debts, but will be unable to find sufficient 2nd and 3rd jobs [much less hold on to their primary jobs]: so either their health will deteriorate from bankruptcy stress or the stress from karoshi will kick in.  Deathrates will rise regardless, and if the stockmarket, pension, and Social Security system go down too, the elderly deathrate will rise to astronomic levels in a short period of time.  

Notice that no consideration of violence is included this posting so far.  If there is violence, obviously deathrates ratchet up that much more.

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

So it is good that my girlfriend owns a cementary.  Though it won't be the big business she might hope it to be if al the poeple that die are also poor.  We could have vaults for the ashes of folks.  

 Rent a plots,  a penny a square foot a year for 250 years. Sign on the dotted line!

 17 acres not planted, 43,560 square feet per acre, 2.50 per square foot, for a 250 year lease.  ==1.8 million give or take a few 100,000.  so We could make do on that.

 I know rather a morbid way for me a generally positive guy to go.  But I am looking on the profit side of things.

To believe that PO will bring TEOTWAWKI, you don't need to believe all his points, 4 and 5 are sufficient.

I'm not a convinced doomer, or EOTW'er, (it simply requires more faith than I can muster) but 4 and 5 are sufficient and arguably true.  The one point that I feel most people don't appreciate enough is number 5.  Our society is not as robust as people believe.  Stability is an illusion, one humans are particularly prone to seeing.

The reality is that societies require a great deal of trust in authority and our fellow citizens.  That trust will be tested and nobody yet knows how society will react.  But you can look at places like Bosnia or New Orleans to see how order breaks down.  Those places were stabilized because external forces were brought to bear.  When PO occurs there won't be any outside authority to restore order if it breaks down.

The US has come together before to meet serious national challenges.  The Great Depressiona and WWII come to mind.  The response to those challenges strengthened the country.  It redistributed wealth more fairly, enabled racial integration, connected the country like never before.  Do we have the backbone to meet this type of cahallenge again?  I feel that PO will present a challenge of the same magnitude.  And I worry about how well prepared we are.  Do we have leaders that we can trust?  Do we have a generation willing to make sacrifices?  

The same people that danced disco and wore red LED watches were the ones that came together and reduced total oil use in the 70's.

If that isn't proof that you don't need a bunch of hyper-rational Mr. Spocks, I don't know what is.

Then hope is truly lost..  I just KNOW I can't fit into those pants anymore.  You think Travolta would do some Pro-Bono-Disco, for the sake of the children?

Wait, are you sure it wasn't the leftover Hippies, the Proto-punkers or the AV geeks? (that was me, surprise!)

and as all that goes, there WILL be some super-rational-spockists, and they'll be welcome at my farm.  But I trust that we've got some fight in us, and we'll start to wake up and respond- as usual, the night before the paper is due.  The spelling will suck, but we might just pass!

I remember trading in my '69 Camaro 327 for something called a Toyota Corolla back then ...
IMO point 5 depends too much where you live in. I can see US society and way of life as being too fragile - a logical result of a too successful history of prosperity. We simply have not been seriously challenged throughout our history - no major wars or defeats required us to build more robust infrastructure and type of living. We just chose the path of least resistance and progressed for a while.

Americans usually scoff at european way of life, being too much influenced by government, too socialized etc. We do not understand the fact that there are certain reasons this to be the case - a very long history of bad times that teached people they need to hold together and choose cooperation versus competition to muddle through. Of course too socialised countries tend to produce other types of problems (as evidenced by France recently), but it is all a matter of trade-offs - which one is the least evil at a given point of time and circumstances.

See, I don't know about that..
"I can see US society and way of life as being too fragile.."

I think when we're well off, our cultural image of success gets equated with 'Isolated, Apart, Distinct'.. our yards get walled in, our cars are soundproof, on go the shades and the headphones, as if that barrier is our security and our luxury in one fell swoop, and there is your socially deprived Yank.  But there are bits of genetic code in the American Culture that still wants the bean suppers, town-hall meetings, rallying in the square for a great cause.. (with Torches and Pitchforks?.. no, different movie)  But when we're flush, that stuff is just too annoying to bother with, we'd rather be left alone.  When the barbarians are at the gates, we have pulled together in hopeful ways.. for 'Great' Wars, for Disasters and Tragedies.. (if you hit me with Terry Shaivo, you'll have me in the corner right now) Ozone Emissions.. Nixon and the EPA (forget China),

Who knows for sure what we'll be capable of and what we'll do in the pinch, but I do think part of our cultural setup does show up in hard times, when it seems just lost during our 'Party Decades'.. Look at how the Twenties and Depression fed into the Great Generation.  Yes, it was a generation fully subsidized by oil, but I don't think that was why we came together like we did.

Yes, true... to some extent. Historically we have been pulled together mostly by things coming from the outside - wars, disasters, oil shocks etc.

This time it is a little different, because it is our own consumptional society (obviously liked by most people) that is the cause of the problem. Unless our politicians try to present it as an external problem again, which I am sure they will (with almost certain success).

It is different.

It's funny, though.  I said that as I typed it, and I was smiling.  It's like, 'Go ahead, Test us.  Let's see what we can do.'  If it's time for that turn in the road, then alright, woohah!

Scary, but exciting nonetheless!

Quoted very loosely..
(Sam Hamilton to Lee?)
'When your dog has eaten strychnine, the only thing you can do is take him to the chopping block, and cut off his tail.  The pain might make him vomit out the poison, or it might kill him.'     apologies to John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Don't worry about the politicians.

Whether they know it or not, their job is not to lead, but to follow.  Somebody gets a good idea going and it starts to work, the pols will be there and claim it, and spread it around.  That's their job.  They're supposed to come up with all the ideas, too?  Nah..  The fertile ground for ideas is out here, where there's room to think and experiment.. they're busy just trying to survive.

Um, the adults of the twenties had nothing like the debt we have today, and they were financially crushed by the market crash and ensuing recession.  It took the extra production needed for World War II to get the country going again.  And then, the end of the war could have sent us back into the sink, except that we embarked on the greatest road, car, and suburb-building orgy in world history.

I hope that's not our set of plans this time around...

The meme that most surprised me was the "we're off Hubbert's curve" line.  That's not a message I pick up at TOD, but perhaps I'm not reading enough for the details.

Overall, I think he's got it.  This notion that people bring to peak oil, about a fragile society on the verge of collapse, that is the pessimist's starting point, and not even a peak oil conclusion.

He cherry picked the regions he fit to to make the curve look as bad as possible.  Because the curve is not great in the tails, if you force it to fit there, you can make it look terrible even on the US data where it has performed well.  (Of course it's undoubtedly true that the model is sketchy in some cases like those with a double peak, and we lack a good theoretical understanding of why it works when it does).

Other than that part, I agreed with much of what he said.

I'm not sure that either the curve's successes or its failures are mysterious.
It's easy to show that if we search an area for oil without stopping in the middle, and produce the stuff as quickly as we can, the curve will give us an accurate prediction.
As a matter of historical record, often either or both of those conditions hasn't applied.
So we can't use the curve as an oracle, but if we pay attention to how we are using it, it can be helpful.
"The 1973 Arab oil embargo sent prices skyward, and Americans bought small cars and turned down thermostats, squelching demand and thus domestic production. "

Well, he is off the rails in saying it was high prices that reduced production - indeed, those economists pooh poohing po are expecting today's high prices to boost production tomorrow. The fact is, as texas says, that high prices in the seventies enormously boosted drilling in texas and other us on and off shore regions, all of which no doubt reduced the rate of decline but was not sufficient to reverse it, and exactly as today's higher prices are bringing drilling rigs out of cold storage and increasing us drilling in old fields for what would at one time have been pretty small beer. It is true, as he says, that high prices also enticed big oil to some inhospitable places, such as the north slope and the north sea, bringing about substantial new production and, finally, lower prices. Today, with fewer unexplored areas left on the globe, it is not so clear that major new supplies will be forthcoming.

I do agree that high prices today are likely to bring about what it did in the seventies - a) lower living standards, b) major increases in efficiency, and c) substantial new energy production from other sources such as nuclear.  Whether we will someday see less focus on materialism is another question - I don't recall any such movement in the earlier epoch. I also do not expect a recession caused by high prices to bring about a price decline, because none of the three recession in the seventies managed this feat.

The future is murky when viewed from the present - you get a better angle by looking backwards.

Re: "Other than that part, I agreed with much of what he said."

And from Toby

Re: "Humans are activated by crisis, and often do little until it arrives. We waffle and deny as a bad situation builds, such as during Hitler's repeated aggression in Europe in the late 1930s. Then we pass a trigger point and leap into all-out efforts; we are galvanized into war or its equivalent....

I'm surprised at what you say here, Stuart. Hirsch Report. Climate Change. We can do too little, too late. The problem is that these crises are unfolding slowly. When does the "Peak Oil" crisis arrive? The thing that galvanizes us into action? Does it take a big Oil Shock? Probably. But then it's too late. We're looking at Kuntsler's long emergency at that point. There will be no magical recovery from a substantial oil shock this time around as there was in the 1980's. Al-Qaeda is planning that right now. The nuclear situation in Iran seems to be a lose-lose. Nigeria is rapidly becoming too unstable to support oil & gas production. Ghawar could start to collapse any month now just like Burgan or Cantarell. Iraq is a nightmare. Etc.

Homo sapiens is resilient and resourceful but there's a limit on that. This is the issue.

There will be no magical recovery from a substantial oil shock this time around as there was in the 1980's.

I wasn't aware of a magical recovery. You should know from Tertzakian that a combination of pain, efficiency improvements, and more drilling formed a transition period.

I was referring to Prudhoe Bay and the North Sea. Of course, the transition (1973 to 1985) was painful but really what bailed us out in the end was plentiful (and secure) new production from the aforementioned basins and some other sources. Once these resources came online, OPEC was forced to drop their prices to sell their oil and we went through the "cheap oil" period from 1986 to about 2002. Hence the bogus OPEC change in proven reserve numbers that allowed those exporters to increase their production quotas to sell oil and maintain revenues. I repeat, this will not and can not happen again. Historically, it was a unique one-time phenomenon. Obviously, as we know now, there is no significant spare capacity and the notion of a "swing supplier" is now obselete.

best, Dave

I've seen this idea before, that one can go from the Hirsch Report to Kuntsler ... but I don't get it.

This is where we go from geology and technology, and make the transition to expectations about the human species and/or American society.

Hirsch says that if we do not start mitigation until peaking begins, then we will experience a shortfall (call it 30% over the next 20 years, continuing).  That's the geology and technology.  The way we respond to that shortfall breaks out with our personal psychology.

That's the rub.  There is no hard technical reason that society has to come apart on a 30% oil reduction.  We know responses are available.  Market adjustment, and failing that rationing and reserves for critical services.  To see a Kunstler style crash we have to insist that America will refuse those responses.

We have to believe that market won't respond, and seeing that, America won't try anything stronger.

That's just silly.  20 years is a long time, and with our feet to the fire we can make a lot of changes.

High oil prices are increasing the US trade deficit, the report says. In addition, the recycling of petrodollars is driving down interest rates providing an unsustainable boost to US private consumption.

The IMF estimates that oil prices explain half of the deterioration of the US current account deficit between 2002 and 2005. In that period, the deficit rose 2 percentage points, to a record 6.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

 The IMF is in general agreement with your point 5 and has cautioned that there is the possibility of a "disorderly" adjustment in the world financial regime (See link for details).

 "Disorderly" is an interesting word. It avoids the negative connotations of "depression," "financial crisis," "collapse," or even "TEOTWAWKI."

 In one sense "TEOTWAWKI" is a constant within the western econo-cultural meme. Today is not the same world as 1960, or even the same world as 1989, or 2000. For each of those eras it would be fair to see that we have seen "TEOTWAWKI."

 For the IMF to state concerns over a "disorderly" adjustment is fairly strong language.

The IMF recently posted an excellent presentation which discusses the growing trade imbalances caused by surging oil prices, which concludes with the same 'disorderly' phrasing. This analysis probably formed the basis for the discussion that will be given in the forthcoming World Economic Outlook from the IMF.

Petrodollar Recycling And Global Imbalances

But the bottom line remains: adjustment is necessary in current account-deficit and current account-surplus countries, including the increasingly important oil-exporting countries, if the global imbalances are to be reduced. The rising global imbalances suggest that the steps taken thus far are insufficient and that the world economy remains subject to serious risks of a disorderly adjustment.
As for:

"2. We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior."

I think the problem has been we don't notice that the civilization is collapsing.  The old frog who starts in the cool water that is being boiled phenomena.  This is why social commentary by the likes of Kunstler is important.

As long as there is no "we", and we are just a bunch of individuals chasing our own interests it is safe to assume that we will do nothing to change. It would be in everyone interest to keep the status quo for him/herself resulting in a robust society determined to do everything else but change.

It all depends on the societal response - if we stick together, and succeed in forming strong bottom-to-top societal structures (e.g. communities that influence municipalities, which influence states that influence federal government) we will muddle through. The way I see it now is that somewhere at state and federal level the connections are severely broken.

I was having this discussion with a friend. I think conservation/radical change is a prisoners dilema. Why will most people change when thier neighbor isn't? Why will most people take the two hour bus ride when thier neighbor still gets to work in 20 minutes driving the humvee? Why will people move into the city when thier neighbors still have a nice house in the suburbs?

Yes if everyone worked together things might work out. But it takes that initial inertia to get everyone going. Until then most people will view it as being better off taking care of themselves and not giving up thier status quo. The 'prisoners' have to be able to speak to each other. And how do you get 300 million people to do that?

Just my two cents.

Why will most people change when thier neighbor isn't? Why will most people take the two hour bus ride when thier neighbor still gets to work in 20 minutes driving the humvee? Why will people move into the city when thier neighbors still have a nice house in the suburbs?

They won't do it voluntarily until economic necessity forces it on them. That's why very high gasoline prices this summer are a good thing.


Perhaps if we had a true national leader, that would be a start.
Hello Shawnott,

Your Quote:The 'prisoners' have to be able to speak to each other. And how do you get 300 million people to do that?

If I was head of the Democratic Party: I would be encouraging the other Democratic leaders to be talking about Peakoil bigtime, and have former President Carter give a modern, updated version of his famous 'Sweater Speech':

My gut reaction is that it would be a mainstream media sensation, or else reveal that the MSM is truly owned by the elites.

Now that Bush has called us addicted to oil, whichever Party formulates the best policies to deal with declining net energy will have the political advantage. In short, we need a national debate on whether 'Nuke their Ass--I want Gas', or 'No Thanks--I like Empty Tanks' is the best path forward.  If the military budget can be shifted to Powerdown and inducing an educated cultural shift to one child families: then I would be much more optimistic for the planet's future.

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

I imagine the Democratic party has not forgotten the electoral effects of President Carter's approach.
People just do not want to hear about peak oil!  It makes them uncomfortable, so they turn right off (or mumble something about ethanol). The Dems we have now can't even decide if they're against the Iraq War; there is zero possibility they will suddenly grow a spine and talk about this...
I think you've got to divide Jimmy's baggage into piles.  The big meme was "weakness."  After that "pessimism" and "malaise."

A different spin would be a strong, vigorous, evangelical, drive into a new energy economy ... on a Harley. ;-)

Hello Stuart,

Thxs for responding.  But the Democrats, or some other party, needs to counterpose the delusional military Republican theme of 'Nuke their Ass--I want Gas', and infinite growth best expressed as the non-negotiable lifestyle.  Some political group needs to jumpstart a massive 'No Thanks--I like Empty Tanks' biosolar mindset.  C'mon, Richard Rainwater--make it a self-fulfilling prophesy!

For example, if I was President [not likely], my first action would be to announce to the public that they must read TOD and other related websites and books.  I would then introduce legislation, as previously discussed in my earlier postings to fund the creation of the biosolar habitats, and vastly shrink, but train and shift the military to the Earthmarine mindset.  You would need mostly skilled snipers, as this is the most efficient extrasomatic detritovore ever created:

According to figures released by the Department of Defense, the average number of rounds expended in Vietnam to kill one enemy solder with the M-16 was 50,000. The average number of rounds expended by U.S. military snipers to kill one enemy soldier was 1.3 rounds. That's a cost-difference of $23,000 per kill for the average soldier, vs. $0.17 per kill for the military sniper.

Richard Rainwater, and other billionaires of the biosolar mindset, can hire lots of these guys from Blackwater Security now, if they were so inclined to protect their budding habitats:

Many of these guys are former Special Ops with advanced degrees, they would easily understand the need to protect the biosolar habitat from the pop. Overshoot.  But it would be far better to create huge habitats in the NE & NW, and elsewhere, as scientifically determined, to maximize the other lifeforms; the biosolar spiderweb of life.

Geographic boundaries would have to be redrawn along the lines of river basins, as they should have been all along.  For example, the Columbia River Drainage Basin currently crosses many states, this would have to be modified and redrawn so all biosolar resources would be under the control of the biosolar scientists.

Once sustainability numbers were determined and announced, those currently living inside this basin, not wishing to be a biosolar, can start moving out to a detritovore area like Phx. At a predetermined pace, the Columbia area would have to eventually rely strictly upon daily biosolar energy from hydro, solar PV, etc and greatly reduce reliance from external detritus inputs. A purposeful downshifting in detritus-fueled complexity as Tainter suggests, but they are free to ramp up new biosolar tech and techniques as much as possible.

Obviously, this is a very brief discussion of what needs to happen, but I am primarily leaving the details up to those people currently living in the NW and considering secession.

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

Oh, but I really believe Jimmy Carter is going to be vindicted at long last.  It is just a matter of time.  He was the only president who tried to be honest with us over the ramifications of our gluttonous energy habits, but Americans didn't want to hear about it.  So we replaced him with an actor who promised "morning in America" and presided as if the future didn't matter.  And the country simply forgot about the 1970s and went on a 25 year cheap oil binge without regards for the consequences.  Well, the party's now over, and we are not prepared.  And the words of James Earl Carter will be ringing loud and true before long.
Naturally, I meant to say "vindicated".  
Hello Dinopello,

The curious thing about Peakoil is that doomers sounding the alarm creates an Powerdown impetus that delays the downslope, but optimists and oil abiotics, by saying Peakoil will be no big deal, only hastens the downslope as this convinces the masses to ignore Powerdown.  It's like an inverse psychological function--very ironic to me.

I see Peakoilers as those people trying to get the frog to jump out of the pot before it is too late.  The houses in my neighborhood were built shortly after the '70s energy crunch: most were built with both A/C and swamp cooler systems and enhanced insulation.  Yet, most neighbors have yanked off the roof-mounted swamp coolers and the interior attic ductwork that connects to the A/C ductwork and registers.  In the years to come, I hope they can afford to re-install this equipment to realize the energy savings.

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


It does seem like quite a conundrum.  Maybe the people who only stress efficiency, with everything else remaining the same are like the frog trying to convince the cook to turn down the flame a wee bit so the water doesn't come to a boil as fast.  I'm all out of analogies.

I read this piece through a few days ago, and while there are some valid points, a lot of it seems naive, especially relative to the discussions that are posted here.

>>1.  Our demand for oil is unchangeable and is not significantly affected by price.<<

Average retail gasoline price:

1995     $1.16
2000     $1.53
2005     $2.31

US petroleum demand (quadrillion btu):

1995     34.56
2000     38.40
2005     40.46

At precisely what level does price limit demand?  I see no evidence over the past decade of that, especially if the price rise is gentle.      

>>2. We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior.<<

Why do we assume that society will collapse equally everywhere in response to higher oil prices?   Is it so far-fetched that the US will outbid many if not all other countries for oil, and our lifestyle here will be minimally affected (at least for a decade or so) while around the world things go poorly?

>>3. Significant oil conservation is not possible in the time frame needed.<<

This is meaningless without specifying the time frame.  Would significant conservation occur today in response to a $2/gallon federal gasoline tax, the proceeds used to build alternative energy infrastructure?  Certainly.  Will the government's response to rising energy price be to (a) increase taxes further to further force conservation, or (b) reduce taxes and subsidize alternatives to keep fuel as cheap as possible?  I suspect is will be (b) (witness movements by the states to reduce/eliminate gas taxes in response to Katrina last fall, and the whole corn-based ethanol sham).

>>4. Even with conservation, demand will be more than oil plus alternatives can possibly meet.<<

What alternatives, and what time-scale?  Again, the devil is in the details.  If we are talking about a 2%/year decrease in the supply of oil starting today, things are pretty hopeless even as far out as 2020.  

>>5. Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks.<<

The question is how many shocks will have to be absorbed.  Will the government be able to effectively fund an enormous energy infrastructure change at the same time as the social security/medicare crunch hits, and while we are fighting the war on terror?  There is a limit on the good faith and credit of the United States.

This is my favorite, though:
>>High unemployment could be transformed into fewer people making, buying, and needing to earn money for unnecessary widgets; spending less time at jobs they hate; and producing, alone and in community, a larger share of what they actually need--which does not take 40 or more hours a week. It is an opportunity for the role of economics in our lives to shrink, and for an expansion of time for the many things money cannot, or should not, buy.<<

Next stop, Utopia!  Never mind that the only message that 95+% of Americans hear is "buy, buy, buy."  Is there any evidence of society as a whole heading toward this community-based utopia?  I feel less than confident that my neighbors would pick up my mortgage payment, etc. if I lost my job.  Maybe I just don't have enough faith in humanity, but there seems to be more "I got my piece" out there than "let's all share so everyone's happy."

Average retail gasoline price:

1995     $1.16
2000     $1.53
2005     $2.31

US petroleum demand (quadrillion btu):

1995     34.56
2000     38.40
2005     40.46

At precisely what level does price limit demand?  I see no evidence over the past decade of that, especially if the price rise is gentle.

Incomes also rose over that period of time. A doubling in gasoline prices over 10 years might seem bad at the moment, but it really doesn't crimp most people's budgets by that much. I recently saw a study that suggested gas would have to rise to over $6/gallon before people were going to make big reductions in their energy usage. I really don't think it will take $6 gas, but very high prices will have an impact.


similarly, if Peak oil first causes financial malaise, the drop in income could mean less demand even at $2.50/gallon.

And remember the phenomenon that affects us all - relative vs absolute. After Katrina - gasoline was $3.50 here and people were going nuts because it used to be $2.10. Then things moderated and it went back to $2.70 - people thought it was a bargain and didnt complain at all,even though it was $.60 higher than a month ago...

(so lets add a $5/gallon gas tax, piss everyone off, then change it to $2 tax a month later and everyone will adjust..

For a change, a real question. I'm under the impression that Y2K was a real problem and that the fact that it didn't cause much damage was because it was taken care of in good time by competent people. Am I wrong? Was there never a real Y2K problem?
This has been argued here before.  Some doubt it, but some others of us (including me) pop up and say yes "I fixed Y2K bugs so that my customers never had to worry about them.  I wore a beeper on New Year's Eve, Y2K, and was happy not to get a page."
Ditto.  We fixed the problem, so there was no problem.  Hearing people say the Y2K was a hoax is a great compliment to those of us who had a part in implimenting the solutions.
Y2K was not only a problem, it was a huge problem. I spent the first few years (yes, YEARS) of my career working on nothing but Y2K issues. Testing, coding, re-testing, setting things forward, setting things back, planning workarounds...the work seemed endless. And i made assloads of money on overtime and weekend bonus pay.

The only reason everything didn't go crazy was because there were thousands of other people like me in every industry doing the same thing.

I followed Y2K very closely. The point which is forgotten is that Y2K was not just a technical problem that people fixed in time. That is the mainstream view.

The group I follwed were Y2K doomsters. At that time the Usenet group was a major gathering point.

The message from the doomsters was that Y2K remediation was too little, too late; and more importantly, that it was fundamentally impossible to fix most Y2K problems because they were buried in inaccessible embedded systems, or were part of intractably complex, ancient programs. Further, the Powers That Be knew about this and were covering up the seriousness of the Y2K problem while preparing their own bunkers to survive the inevitable chaos and economic collapse.

The point is that Y2K was fundamentally a conspiracy theory. The main idea was not just that Y2K would destroy society, it was that there was a cover-up.

I see so many of these themes echoed among Peak Oil doomsters that I can't help wondering if they are the same people: the notion of inevitability, that remediation cannot and will not work; the idea that governments know about this and are engaging in a wide-scale cover-up while taking steps to protect their own power.

The details have changed but the underlying message is exactly the same. We are doomed and there is nothing we can do about it. Head for the hills, stock up on guns and gold, store food, and hope you can fight off the hordes of rampaging mutant zombies who will soon be attacking. And many of the true believers actually welcomed this, seeing it as a cleansing of the earth and a chance to start a new society,  which would of course be based on the principles which were most important to them personally. Just as we see today.

I read TH's piece on EB and had a brief exchange of e-mail with him, which I won't quote from here.

I doubt anyone who's read my comments here or on my own site would be surprised to hear that I agree strong with TH's views.  Peak oil and peak natural gas are very serious challenges that will cause considerable human and economic pain as we make the long transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables; only an idiot would think otherwise.  But I'm convinced that the doomers are grossly underestimating the flexibility and ingenuity of their fellow human beings.  Why would anyone assume that extreme economic changes won't elicit extreme responses from people?  Very often, the most extreme Apocalypticons will talk about a wave of resource wars erupting as countries fight over dwindling oil (and yes, I do think Iraq was almost entirely about oil), but they won't assume that people will take significant steps to conserve energy, support meaningful public policy, or make any lifestyle changes at all.

As an exercise, when you read doomer predictions, notice how easily you can find the extreme assumptions in their views.  The two that pop up most often are "peak oil equals no oil at all" and "we won't do anything to save ourselves as we spiral into hell".  And when you spot one of these or another equally weak assumption, remove it, and see how well their argument holds up.

Speaking of such efforts, I just picked up a copy of the local alternative weekly paper, which has an interview with Kunstler, who will be in-town (Rochester, NY) to speak on the 11th.  As soon as I get a chance (likely not until sometime this weekend) I'll post a longish commentary about his statements on my site.

Speaking of such efforts, I just picked up a copy of the local alternative weekly paper, which has an interview with Kunstler, who will be in-town (Rochester, NY) to speak on the 11th.

If it's the one I'm thinking of, it's online here:

There is a picture on page 57 of the February 2003 issue of National Geographic. It's a boy standing in the very top of a tree eating leaves. All of the leaves below him are gone. They have been eaten. There is nothing on the ground but raw dirt. His error was to live near the path of an oil pipeline in the Sudan. His society does not use oil, never did use oil and worse, failed to militarize when it was discovered nearby. They were overrun.

That was several years ago. It is old news. It occured well before this site came to be, well before many of us heard of peak oil.

This business of the invisible hand can be brutish.
I think talk of underestimating our flexibility and ingenuity is bullshit. It's like the MSM going on about tar sand and corn syrup. The truth is... we will continue taking as much oil from everyone else for as we possibly can. We will justify it with money for as long as that works.

Lou, you give us some great posts!
And I appreciated your mention of the tone of the TOD discussion recently.  I have let myself get dragged into some Sniping, and it's really a waste of time.  I've been stopping myself and saying 'What would Lou do in this situation?'  Alright, enough.. It IS true, but I don't want to embarrass you.

The thought that came to me from your post, regarding #5, and the question of America's 'Fragile' society.. (Isn't this the longest continuous democratic rule on the planet right now?) is that part of having some of the serious social and economic imbalances that we do in the US, is that, far from being the 'Lazy Americans' that we frequently scold ourselves for, our families work multiple jobs, have less vacationtime than other developed countries (by far), and are enduring under some truly monumental lifestyle stresses in this land.  Is it possible that a great many Americans are actually a bit tougher than those class-blinded stereotypes ( from 'Nascar' and 'TrailerTrash' to 'SoccerMoms' and 'Yuppies') tags would have us expect?  Sure, we're also addicted to all sorts of things, Sugar, Cigs, Alcohol, TV, etc..  and the kids get 'Teletubbied' till THEY are tubby..  but there are too many ways of looking at the great mess of Americans that boil 'them' down as 'Spoiled, Selfish and Soft'.. It deserves a more compassionate look.

As far as the Doomer suggestion that the 'American Drone' will just watch the great down-swirling from his easy chair, and won't (statistically, of course) lift a finger..  well, maybe it's part of the problem with a statistical analysis.  Lots of people, including these doomers who are busy thinking and writing about it, are doing more than just gazing at the looming waterfall with glazed eyes.  But there is an internalized hopelessness that infects anybody who tries-  that says "This is hopeless, I'm just one person.  I'm Statistically Insignifigant." that makes it easy to write off anybody else's meager efforts with an air of Scientific Certainty.

'You lose, and then you lose, and then you lose again.  And then you win.'  -Ralph Nader (Speaking about some of his  many OTHER campaigns.. or at least so far..)

Lots of people, including these doomers who are busy thinking and writing about it, are doing more than just gazing at the looming waterfall with glazed eyes.  But there is an internalized hopelessness that infects anybody who tries-  that says "This is hopeless, I'm just one person.  I'm Statistically Insignifigant." that makes it easy to write off anybody else's meager efforts with an air of Scientific Certainty.

We can be our own worst enemy.  Look at the doctors that weren't allowed to help with the sick and wounded in Louisiana last summer because they didn't have the proper paperwork, the trailers that sit empty because they are the wrong type for the area (not approved for use in flood prone areas), the officials that have no idea what is going on while half the country knew exactly because they had turned on CNN.

You could write a book about the mistakes made during / after the various hurricanes last year.  After that debacle, I am convinced that a disaster affecting more of the population will utterly tear the country apart.

Guess that makes me a doomer, huh?  You wouldn't know it most of the time.  I'm a relatively happy guy and all that.  

'Why would anyone assume that extreme economic changes won't elicit extreme responses from people?'

I certainly don't - the response to losing a war with crippling economic repercussions certainly resulted in the eliciting of extreme responses from Germans.

This is one of the reasons I am not worried about an abstract problem with humanity's die-off in terms of peak oil, but the U.S. and what could happen there scares me (abstractly, admittedly). No, not because of any direct comparison between two times and cultures, but because the U.S. seems so utterly dependent on liquid fossil fuels, and most Americans seem incapable of even conceiving of living without commuting/driving. And most certainly America has built essentially nothing but commuting/driving infrastructure since the early 80s, regardless of a few fairly small scale exceptions and hopeful plans of future construction ('telecommuting' is a fascinating example of how deeply that idea has gone into forward looking America thinking). For example, all of the farmland I grew up within 30 miles is utterly gone in Northern Virginia. As is all the old farming infrastructure (feed stores, Southern States seed/harvest storage facilities, etc.). And the farmers, of course.

In my fairly ill-informed opinion, peak has arrived, and the only questions worth long term consideration (the next 10 to 20 years) are what that means. For example, do you think a nation so rabidly split into factions (noted that it seems to be occuring here online too), with immense debt, and what seems from the outside to be a declining level of both education and practical experience is capable of meeting exteme economic changes in a rational and confident manner?

By the way, how is Bush's Mars expedition going these days? That would be a complex, demanding, fact based example of the sort of effort required from America, the sort of leap into a hard to define future with a clearly defined goal.

Did I hear laughing? Crying for those who used to believe that space technology would offer a continuing round of benefits to far exceed those of weather and communication satellites?

Look around the U.S., and think what is being done today to prepare for a future with energy costs which will undoubtedly consume a larger portion of available income, however defined. After all, that is what has been happening for several years at this point, and there is no reason to expect a change regardless of whether oil production increases slightly, falls slightly, bumps around, or goes off a cliff.

Talking about how infrastructure will be changed because it needs to be is pretty much emblematic of today's America, from my perspective. How's that American rail infrastructure industry doing these days, you know, the one which will magically re-appear because it has to? (Need always beats engineering - says so right here in the Hollywood script.) Attractive as destroying part of Crystal City near DC may be, I doubt it will happen as a way to recreate the old freightyard - as a matter of fact, can anyone in the U.S. name where a rail freightyard/railhead exists within local distance of where you live (especially one which isn't handling containers from/to Europe/Asia - New Orleans gets a pass)?  The lyric (probably not remembered correctly) 'people in Hell want ice water' captures the flavor of how I think the U.S. will feel in a few years. Time ran out on the clock sometime between the mid-80s and now. That is, the 20 year span for America to get ready for peak oil before the peak is what we lived through. And boy, imagine what the history books will say if that is true. My opinion, but the facts do seem to be breaking that way these days. Add the 'future is now' aspect of giant oil field production management over the last decade or two which concerns Simmons so much as a real joker in the deck - not that anyone has mentioned sudden steep declines recently except for offshore projects, but look at Yibal in Oman for an omen.

Just wanted to mention that the car packed highways in Fairfax County look great, by the way - truly complementing the huge new houses. And how is that I95 work going these days? What a traffic bottleneck for the entire East Coast - hope that huge investment cleared up the commute/vacation problems. Nice to think how much gas will now be conserved since so many vehicles will be humming along, instead of stuck in traffic with idle motors. Imagine what a wise investment it will look 5 or 10 years from now, when the famed American economy, with a savings rate not seen since the  Great Depression, replaces all of its gas guzzlers with zippy plug-in GM and Ford hybrids. Peak oil is nothing when America finally gets around to rolling up its sleeves and gets down to business. After all, if we could put a man on the moon a full generation ago, we can do whatever the hell we want to just because we want to, right? And if that doesn't work, maybe we could declare a long war on two words, instead of just one. You know, the war on words like drugs or terror have been such hits, I bet beating two words, like 'peak oil' or 'climate change' would be a lot easier.

By the way, how is Bush's Mars expedition going these days?

It's sucking the life out of the rest of the space program.

Heck, some scientists are worried that our weather satellites will fail before we can replace them.

That is what I am afraid is going to happen with peak oil.  All the money will go for grandiose plans that have little chance of success, while the easy things that have an obvious payoff will be neglected.  Because politicians like promising people hydrogen SUVs.  They don't like telling them to take the bus.  

It will be really sad if hubble is allowed to crash when it can be saved. 'Man on Mars' is simply not going to happen, so the loss will be in vain.
   well, I think debt is killing America's space program, though the Bush's Mars dream is shifting priorities away from (co-incidentally?) the sort of fact based systems which lend support to another world view than the current government's. Interesting story I remember about how the ozone hole was originally ignored as flawed data from a satellite in the very early 80s, since it didn't fit with the models then current - in that case, a simple mistake it seems. Roughly the same thing occurred with water comets of roughly house size being noticed, though that anomaly did give rise to good science being performed, against the wishes of almost everyone who knew as scientific fact that Earth's water came from illustrations of volcanoes in textbooks.

But the Mars mission is an example of the sort of scale and complexity required to preserve an industrial society in a changing world, and what worries me most about today's America is not how grand the plans are. I still think the 70s idea of solarsats/rectennas work easily when combined with the 80s idea of a space elevator. (And notice that superconductors have also seemingly disappeared from public view - how did the Detroit test go, for example?) How long and how much to get such a system up? - as a SWAG under 100 billion dollars, and under 10 years, with a lot of hard engineering required. Neither the time or money is something America really has any more.

But before it seems like I too am infected with grand visions, there is a lot that could be done very much at home in America in terms of simply living differently.

The thing is, that was as blindingly true in 1976 as it is today, and nobody in America (let's not quibble over the odd individuals and people over 75) did anything but consume more and close their eyes harder.

And these days, shout a lot louder about conspiracies and blame anyone but themselves for their own lives.

I might add, on a more slightly hopeful note, that other nations are starting to fill in various gaps (I am pretty sure that the French can sell all the imagery required to replace Landsat), but their focus is certainly not directly tied to American interests, and the massive space industry in America will be difficult to replace. But the odds are, it will be replaced, since other societies see the advantages and benefits of now proven technologies. Knowing what is going on with Earth's climate is starting to become a real focus in most industrial societies, for example.  

I think you have nailed it, expat.  The levels of cluelessness and denial in America are formidable indeed, and they will lead to great pain and anguish.  As Kunstler noted, we are at the peak and it is making us crazy.
Why would anyone assume that extreme economic changes won't elicit extreme responses from people?  Very often, the most extreme Apocalypticons will talk about a wave of resource wars erupting as countries fight over dwindling oil (and yes, I do think Iraq was almost entirely about oil), but they won't assume that people will take significant steps to conserve energy, support meaningful public policy, or make any lifestyle changes at all.

To quote Warren Buffett quoting Mark Twain,"A man who tries to carry a cat home by it's tail will learn a lesson that can be learned in no other way".

IMHO, human nature being what it is, many people may not accept the potential dire consequences of PO until it is too late. If the economy starts to unwind, given the enormous Federal debt, the budget deficit-the account deficit, the trade deficit, coupled with huge consumer debt-credit card and mortagage, things could get extremely ugly. If foreign nations holding our debt start to dump dollars, the Fed may feel compelled to start up the printing presses, and give us a good glimpse at what infation can do.

If you are out of a job, have no savings, can't pay your mortgage-you may have difficulty conserving and adapting your way back to prosperity, even through extreme measures.

As an exercise, when you read doomer predictions, notice how easily you can find the extreme assumptions in their views.  The two that pop up most often are "peak oil equals no oil at all" and "we won't do anything to save ourselves as we spiral into hell".  And when you spot one of these or another equally weak assumption, remove it, and see how well their argument holds up.

I don't use either one of these arguements but the one I like the best is "there is no viable alternative to oil". PERIOD!! We haven't found it yet and time is short. So how does my arguement hold up now??

Hemenway says:

Even if we conserve, even if China builds more one-cylinder cars and we all have only one child, the end of the oil age is going to be rough. Worldwide depression and soaring unemployment are almost inevitable as oil gets expensive. Yet even that very dark cloud is lined with silver. Depression, by definition, is a shift from economic growth to contraction, and that in itself means less oil consumption.

Yay, we all lose our jobs.  We don't have to work!

Honestly, I don't see much difference between his position and the doomers'.  

Ah, "I'd rather be out of work than in somebody's soup pot?"

Seems a big difference to me.

I don't see how the first precludes the second.  
Honestly, I don't see much difference between his position and the doomers'.

I see the difference as the suffering people went through during the Great Depression as they adjusted to a new economic reality, versus some scenario out of a Michael Crichton novel.  


I see two problems with that scenario.  

  1. In 1930, the population of the U.S. was roughly a third what is it now.  

  2. The Great Depression ended.  Heck, it was only four years of economic contraction.  The scenario Hemenway paints is a depression that doesn't end.  It just gets deeper and deeper every year.
Well, India's taking action:

Energy crisis forces shift from personal transport to public transport

The Centre has given its go-ahead to Metro Rail projects for Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore and would provide viability gap funding for the projects in various states, Union Minister for Urban Development Jaipal Reddy said on Friday.

The choice of deciding about the nature of gauge to be adopted in the metro rail projects has been given to state governments, Reddy said.

Great article by Hemmenway. I went through my own period of hopelessness over a Peak Oil TEOCAWKI last fall. Mercifully, it only lasted a month or so. Hemenway is correct about humans being a "just in time" species. Civilization won't collapse, but we mostly likely see a prolonged and painful economic contraction which will force us to find an alternative god to "Infinite Growth" to worship.

These days I'm more concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor and not just in the rest of the world but in the good old USA as well.

John Robb of the Global Guerillas blog had an article published in FastCompany a few days ago. Here's some food for thought:

"Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks--evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as

Warren Buffett's NetJets--will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security--as they do now with education--and shore up delivery of critical services. These "armored suburbs" will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled by civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge."

I think parts of South Africa are like this already if you want to see an example - I have a friend who went back to SA and made a fortune from private security systems on the back of it all.
Shell said it could restart production in Nigeria soon...prompting the militants to respond with a warning that anyone found on the oil platforms will be killed.
I am always struck by the fact that TEOTWAWKI is invariably used in essays such as his without a definition and then set up as a straw man to knock down.

The reality is that the world we know will end if we are to acheive a stable-state society.  The end might come because society acts intelligently or it might come from wars and dieoff.  

I read another of his articles that was linked at the bottom on rural versus urban survival.  What struck me was his naviety.  In the TOD linked essay, he seems to anticpate that society will come together.  Yet, when he was trying to live his dream in a rural area, he couldn't deal with his neighbors and moved to Eugene. To me, that really undercut his position.  

Frankly, he sounds like a Mike Lynch clone.

Ah. Great point.  I hadn't read that older article until you mentioned it.  It doesn't seem to jive with this one.

I started to wonder whether, if the Big Crash came, I was really in the right place. We had the best garden for miles around, and everyone knew it. If law broke down, wasn't there more than a chance that my next door neighbor, a gun-selling meth dealer and felon, might just shoot me for all that food? How about the right-wing fundamentalists past him, who shot Stellar's jays for fun and clearcut their land when they suspected spotted owls lived there? Or the two feuding families beyond them--one had fired a pistol during an argument, and neither would give way when their cars met on the road. I began to sense the outlines of a pattern that replicated one in society at large. We have the technical means to feed, clothe, and house all humanity. But legions starve because we have not learned to tolerate and support one another. People's real problems are not technical, they are social and political. Down in Douglas County, I'd solved most of the technical problems for our own personal survival, but the social hurdles to true security were staring me in the face.
'I'd solved most of the technical problems for our own personal survival, but the social hurdles to true security....'

Captures American society's approach in a nutshell, I'd say - including his surprise at discovering the truth that humans are social animals. Older societies are those which seemed to have become older due to solving the social question first (defined in their terms, which can be ugly - killing female infants as a form of population control, for example), and which are often still marked by not caring as much about solving technical problems or personal survival, as compared to survival of a greater unit or whole.

I read this article some time ago. It rang true to me - I don't think rural societies will be safe if state police are no longer functional, which means a reversion to feudal societies, where the strongest/most brutal rules. Our veneer of civilization is maintained by police/national guard - these forces will withdraw to cities and surrounding areas, leaving rural areas lawless, if and when the crunch begins to grind.
Hello jkissing,

If my hypothetical creation of biosolar habitats and protective Earthmarines ever gains 'societal traction'-- the exact opposite of your posting should occur.  Then, the worst place to be would be inside the urban areas as the Earthmarines will force most to die-in place.  The detritovores will be denied the chance to ransack the remaining rural eco-system and wildlife areas.

Contrast this scenario with Zimbabwe's misguided 'taking out the rubbish campaign' whereby they are forcing the poor out to the rural areas so these desperate people will unknowingly complete the process of eco-system decimation.  Recall the National Geographic picture of the kid eating the last leaves at the top of the tree again.

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

I did hear of that picture. Very few countries, certainly none in Africa, are likely to come to the consensus needed for your ideas. In  my own rather optimistic view, the slow squeeze will push first world countries to the same solutions that worked in teh seventies - nuclear and conservation, including smaller cars/pooling. And, maybe sooner than later, we will see dramatic incrases in efficiency of cheap solar panels, maybe 3x current to about 30%.
$6 gasoline will cause serios conservation, as it does in Europe, and substantial transitional pain, but not civilization collapse, again just like europe. Third world countries like india and china also waste an enormous amount of energy, but markets and the hidden hand are correcting this.
[ I am always struck by the fact that TEOTWAWKI is invariably used in essays such as his without a definition and then set up as a straw man to knock down. ]

This was my thought as well.  By the way, there are some really excellent sawback machetes you can pick up at your local army/navy store for about $30 to $40 dollars.  Nothing quite like a machete for home defense.

Off topic I know, but someone here at work mentioned that Venezuela could save us.  I tried to back up my pessimisms with figures, but couldn't find a country assessment.  Can someone point me to a country assessment for Venezuela, or could we get an updated one.  I've searched but can't seem to find much.  Sorry for the interruption, back to the topic.
You are not off-topic.  This is an Open Thread.  :-)

Here's ASPO's Venezuela analysis:

Your friend is probably talking about Venezuela's heavy crude/bitumen, which was in the news recently. They've got a lot, but it's hard to extract and hard to refine.  

It would be interesting if the more technically inclined can tell us more about it... How hard is it to obtain and refine Venezuela's heavy crude? Is it higher or lower quality than the tar sands? Are they going to be subject to the same restrictions as tar sands (e.g. due to low EROEI)?

I encountered a piece claiming Venezuela's heavy crude becomes profitable at 50$/barrel. Since such levels and above are almost surely here to stay, what is the potential of ramp-up in production and what are the possible hurdles?

Every time I hear of some source of energy becoming profitable as soon as competing sources are up to a certain price, I laugh.  That is because the cost of "production" of any energy source is not a constant, it is more likely roughly proportional to the overall cost of energy.  E.g., we hear all the time about the cost overruns of tar sands capacity expansion.

The correct way to measure is EROEI.  It may well be that Venezuelan heavy oil was not, but now is, "profitable", but that means that we've exhausted the sources with higher EROEI.  The same holds for the Canadian tar sands.  That is bad news, not good, as it means more environmental damage, and less economic benefits (less net energy gain).  The same holds for many "alternative energy" schemes: their price may become "competitive" but only because our overall situation is worsening.

Note: it doesn't really mean that the better fuels are exhausted, only that they do not cover the current demand, driving up the price.  Thus those who still "produce" high EROEI fuels are making a killing!  Norway wins, UK loses (as they practically gave it all away in the recent past).

Actually my question "Is it higher or lower quality than the tar sands?" should translate partially in "are they having higher or lower EROEI"?  But this is not the whole picture:

Even with high EROEI there might be other hurdles and bottlenecks - high capital or human labor costs, lack or expensive infrastructure, political uncertainty/limitations etc.

Even with low EROEI the resource can be utilised if there is an abundant lower quality resource that can be used to fuel the extraction process - e.g. stranded NG. For example if the bulk of the energy goes to refining process some of the raw heavy oil itself may be used as a energy source etc. Therefore I asked for the details to try at least to guesstimate how much of them would be able to be brought to market in future. And maybe buy some heavy oil stock I don't know :)

Somewhat perversely, the following was posted on a UK housing forum which discussed this issue [mods - please reduce this quote if it is too large, but I felt it was worth it]:
I've had quite a bit to do with the natural bitumen (extra heavy oil) in the Orinico belt in Venezuela. Was doing consulting looking at non-conventional means of sulphur extraction from it in 2000 and also was the promoter of a plan to use this desulphurised oil for electricity generation. Also looked at acquiring an existing oil refinery that Shell planned to close at the time (in Australia, Shell has since modernised and kept the refinery) as well as identifying suitable power stations.

My understanding, which comes directly from information provided by PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) is this:

Reserves in the ground are about 1.3 trillion barrels of oil in place.

About 273 billion barrels of this oil are recoverable. This is achieved using water + "detergent" injection and it flows from the ground as an oil/water emulsion mix. The 273 billion barrels is oil, not including the water.

In order to produce conventional "oil" it is necessary to upgrade the oil in very expensive processing plants. This also reduces the produced oil volume somewhat, giving a real recoverable reserve (upgraded to light sweet crude which is what the market wants and refineries can process) somewhere in the order of 230 billion barrels. This is equal to about 7.5 years world oil consumption at present levels of demand. It is 5 - 6 years' supply at forecast (2020) demand levels (depending on which forecast you choose).

The maximum production rate is governed by the economics of the processing plants. It would be prohibitively expensive to build a plant that could not run flat out for at least 30 years. This is typical of industrial plants in general, not just those relating to oil upgrading. There are also significant geologically driven extraction rate limits for natural bitumen.

Overall this gives a maximum production rate of no more than about 10 million barrels per day bitumen. Depending on the extent of upgrading and the process used, this is around 8.3 million barrels per day of medium crude oil that can then be refined to petrol, diesel etc.

So, in short, the bitumen reserves in Venezuela could realistically sustain 2% per annum growth in oil demand for about 5 years before supply is at the economic limit. This would require massive investment delivered right now at a truly massive pace which is unlikely to be achievable in a physical sense (the world doesn't have enough drilling rigs, and they take quite some time to build, for a start).

Plants built thus far produce about 0.5mmbpd of upgraded crude oil. These will use about 6.6 billion barrels of the bitumen resource over the next 30 years (or 10 billion barrels over their maximum realistic life of 50 years). Add in the bitumen sold thus far as Orimulsion (for use in power stations) and the remaining resource is about 260 billion barrels of recoverable uncommitted bitumen.

From a chemical perspective, the bitumen is approximately 3.85% sulphur which is not ideal but can be overcome via conventional refining (at considerable cost). The Orimulsion product used in power stations contains 2.7% sulphur (and 30% water).

Provided that electrostatic precipitators (ESP) and flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) are fitted to the power plant, emissions are not problematic. The failure to use these controls at the 3 UK plants which burned Orimulsion was responsible for considerable acid mist and heavy particle fallout in the vicinity of those plants and ultimately led to their closure. Other countries have had far fewer problems in terms of environmental impact although from an economic perspective, Venezuela has in recent years moved away drom the selling of cheap Orimulsion in favour of classifying the natural bitumen as crude oil and pricing it accordingly.

In Short, the Orinoco Belt natural bitumen (extra heavy oil) is a useful resource in global terms and is likely to be of major economic importance to Venezuela in the future. But it is not a solution to peak oil. Heavy oil extracted through drilling (as is the case in Venezuela) is notoriously slow to extract. Indeed there are heavy oil fields in the US dating back 100 or so years which have never achieved high flow rates. This does, of course, mean that they last rather a long time so no surprise that they are still pumping after all these years.

That Venezuela is claiming that the resource will last 200 years is in itself pretty much an admission that they won't be achieving high production rates. Indeed if you do the maths then you will find that they are simply stating that the total reserves are 200 times the present annual production rate. It's a help but not a solution.

Thanks for the information. I had always assumed [oops] that the Orinoco ultra heavies could / would be produced in situ but via steam or fire flood.
my impression is that Venezuelian bitumen will repeat the tar sands production saga. If this is so, even 10mln.bpd. after many years of heavy investment may turn way too optimistic.

I think some people are imagining that it would be enough to write a check with enough zeros, wait for a couple of years and voila - you have an almost inexhaustible resource. I don't think this would be the case.

>what is the potential of ramp-up in production and what are the possible hurdles?

Like any heavy oil field, it will require an input of water and heat to extract the oil. This will required a heat source such as Nuclear (not going to happen), coal or wood (possible), or natural gas (in adquate supply in that region), and lots of water. The biggest issue might be disposal and seepage of waste water.

Ultimately the maxium production rate from tar sands is going to be lower than production from large conventional fields. The total production of all tar sand fields (globally) will never meet declines in conventional oil production. The extraction rates from tar sands do not scale well and the EROI is significantly lower.

Obviously if Venezuela giving serious thought to their tar sands, all is probably not well with their conventional production. I think they need $50/bbl guarantee to enable them to get financing for developing these fields. If they get OPEC to set a floor price at $50, then finance boys would be more likely agree to lend them money. I don't believe the media play on OPEC production Quotas since everyone is now permitted to produce flat out. Also note that Citgo (Venezuela) put up for sale their Houston Oil refinery today, which is currently configured for lightmedium crude. Is this because they are running low on conventional crude and probably need refineries capable of handling Heavy Crude? It could also mean they plan to ship the oil to somewhere else. Either way it doesn't look good.

On an offtopic note, here is an article about the Saudi's worried about excess demand for oil:

"Saudis worry that oil demand could outstrip vast resources"

"Most urgently needed is energy conservation, especially in the United States, which now burns up a quarter of the oil sold to the world, said Saddad al-Husseini, the former head of production at state-owned Saudi Aramco."

"Also last month, Saudi Arabia began opening valves on a 300,000 barrel-per-day expansion in output from the world's largest oilfield."

Sounds if all is not well with the Kingdom production. Now they are going to push production even harder on the Ghawar field. This will ultimately reduce maxium recovery from this field by damaging it. Notice that every time that the Saudis discuss increasing production, it always comes from the Ghawar and not the other fields that that tout about.

"The refinery, one of two planned in the kingdom, is aimed at opening bottlenecks on delivery of refined products such as gasoline and diesel. The plant will boost Riyadh's output because it can refine heavy sulfurous crude that the kingdom is now unable to sell."

It looks that future Saudi Production will be coming from heavy sour crudes, otherwise they wouldn't be building a heavy crude refinery. If Saudis were still swimming in seas of lightmedium crude that will come on line in couple of years there wouldn't be a need for a heavy crude refining.

Last Monday updated the production for 2005.
With this new data, I've done the following graph:

A 2001 version of this graph can be found at:

Recently I posted the same thing for Norway's oil production:
Free Image Hosting at

and gas
Free Image Hosting at

I am almost done with Mexico's graph.

Wow! what an excellent way to visualize the double peak. Nice graph.
Amazing graphs! many thanks!

Can you give the links where you got the production data by fields for Norway and Mexico?

Thanks! You have very nice graphs too. Keep up with the hard work!

Well, Norway's oil production by oilfields can be found at

For Mexico, it is not as easy.
With the Statistical Yearbooks of Pemex (section of Exploration and Production) of years 2005 (page 8) and 2001 (page 8) you can get field's production from 1990 till 2004. In these files you can find a graph that plots the production of the four regions from 1980 until 1990, and using Adobe Acrobat Professional's meassurement tool (which is extremely convenient) I have extracted the numbers. Besides, I've also obtained Cantarell's production (from the start 1979) from a graph in someone's presentation (which cites O&GJ).

Finally, Pemex has the 2005 numbers here and in excel here.

I would love to have production numbers by oilfield prior to 1990 (from 1980-1990 are only by region). Going to the last number of Oil & Gas Journal of each year you could do this, but that is a lot of work!!

If anyone could help me with Mexico here, I would appreciate it very much.

Of course, total numbers can be obtained from BP.

Anone care to comment on his second graph World Oil Production and Hubbert's Curve?
This guy is making two points:  (1)  an attack on Hubbert Peak analysis and (2)  a critique of the "end of the world" Peak Oil doomers.   We can debate #2, but if this guy's research is so poor that he posted a flagrantly wrong graph on the UK, how can you take anything seriously that he says about Peak Oil mathematics?  

In regard to your specific question, I'm not sure where the world plot came from, but I suspect it was from some of M. King Hubbert's writings from years ago.  Again, you will note he completely ignored the current HL work that Deffeyes described.  

But back to the UK, the facts are 180 degrees opposite from the plot that he posted.  The North Sea is a prime example of the HL method working, when conventional wisdom indicated that the peak was 11 years away.

Storms push Lloyd's into the red

Insurance market Lloyd's of London has reported a loss of £103m ($180m) for 2005, following large claims from hurricane damage in the US.

The loss followed a profit of £1.37bn in 2004, and Lloyd's said that 2005 had been "the worst year on record for natural disasters".

The market had net claims of £3.31bn from the string of hurricanes that hit the US and the Caribbean last year.

Unlike some insurance companies, Lloyd's didn't announce they were pulling out.  However, they suggested that it may be more difficult to get insurance from them in the future:

However, Lord Levene warned that the market should not dismiss the events of 2005 as a one-off.

"We must not fall into the trap of thinking that 2005 was a freak year which could never happen again," he said.

"We must only accept risk at an adequate price and on the right terms."

I wonder if that's what's going to end up driving people away from the coasts?  Not the hurricanes themselves, but the inability to get insurance for their homes and businesses in coastal areas.

It is unfortunately very common for people to stand around and watch/permit/participate in their society do all the wrong things and then collapse.  Diamond's book is full of such stories.

Cuba made some very smart choices perhaps because the crisis was so obvious.  Instead of trying to keep the same system alive through efficiency gains and resource substitution, they simply creatively built a new one.

I fear that if our crisis is a slow one, the fact that the "game is over" won't even dawn on most people and we will chase pipe dreams that promise to solve short term problems related to discomfort in our lifestyles rather than questioning the future of those lifestyles and creatively transitioning to something completely new.

It will take something totally new to get us out of our mess.  Permaculturalists are great at envisioning the wonderful alternatives possible, but the vast majority of people need to see it to believe it AND they need to realize that their current way of life is impossible to maintain.  

Tricky negotiating these threads.

Cuba's solution is not new, merely a soviet copy. and, as usual regarding those communist countries that lie with any possibility of escape, eg n. korea, the best and brightest risk their's and their children's lives to leave. Cuba will be a success story when the boats are heading towards rather than away from it.
Sorry to see such a knee-jerk reaction to "communism", with no factual data.  Cuba's current small-scale labor-intensive organic agriculture model is VERY DIFFERENT from the Soviet style industrial agriculture.  The latter was not much different from the capitalist version...  But the "Soviet copy" in place in Cuba ground to a halt when oil subsidy from the Soviet Union stopped as the S.U. collapsed in the early 1990's.  The Cubans were literally starving.  Thus they had to change.  The remarkable thing is how much they changed.  It has been a success in that they now eat almost as much as in the Soviet days - but using a totally different system.  There are writeups on the web.  There's also a movie coming up this spring.
The only discussion I made was that many want to leave, and add that this desire, prohibited by the police state, was true before and after the soviets stopped subsidizing the experiment.  Are you challenging this point? I have read Cuban Diaries, by Isadora Tattlin, describing life in Cuba today. If you haven't lived there yourself you might find it an interesting read. Apparently, other than a better climate and a more vibrant culture, life is not much different from Russia in the soviet era, ok only if there is no altrnative. What communists do best is to crush all individual initiative, which in turn always leads to a subsidence, hand to mouth standard of living. Note that many island states have done quite well without hydrocarbon resources, eg japan and gb before the north sea. However, none of these success stories were communist.

As an aside, the revolution was supposedly the end of prostitution and the beginning of universal health care. With the end of soviet subsidies, prostitution is back in full force, and aids is presumably climbing fast while at hospitals one must bring one's own medicine.
Perhaps things will get better now. World sugar prices have climbed, so they should now get more for the only export they have that anybody wants.

>The only discussion I made was that many want to leave, and add that this desire, prohibited by the police state, was true before and after the soviets stopped subsidizing the experiment.  Are you challenging this point?

Lets not for forget the huge in flows of money by tourism and Cubans living abroading sending home money. Yes, indeed tourism is booming industry in Cuba. Without the inflow of foriegn capital, Cuba would either resemble N. Korea with massive stavation or have completely collapsed (Soviet Style). Cuba is by far no means a permaculture success story. Instead its a story of surviving on table scraps handed them from foreigners.

>World sugar prices have climbed, so they should now get more for the only export they have that anybody wants.

Except for:
"As recently as the late 1980s, Cuba was the world's largest sugar exporter and the third largest sugar producer. Today, however, Cuba is no longer a leading sugar producer and exporter, and it is questionable whether the Cuban sugar industry can even hold on to a mid-ranking position."

Sugar exports have been steadly declining. This is because they lack the required petrochemical fertilizer inputs to prevent yields from declining. Cuba is now well down from its Peak Sugar output and product will get continue to slip unless they start pumping in fertilizers again.  Cuba is an absolute permaculture failure.

Talk about fighting the last war! If the blindness and pigheadedness of all the Cuba commenters is any measure of how clever and resourceful we shall be WTSHTF it's going to be doom.
Please everybody back off on preconceptions that only ever existed as a function of Cold War propaganda.
But you don't want to do that do you? Being anti-communist or pro Castro is more important to your psyche than survival.

If this is the best TODers can do I should go buy an SUV.

This looks like a trap: b/c they failed to keep using petrochemicals to sustain sugar yields, Cuba is a permaculture failure? I think the Cuban story tells us that ALL yields will decline w/o petrochemical inputs (regardless of nation or political arrangement). Cubans fled on boats in the 1990s during the transition to a post-petro ag society, not a surprise given that the option was to starve. Who will be the North American boat people? I put my money on poor people in inner cities. Where will they float to? I'd go to Venezuela.
Looks like you will have the honor of leading teh parade - don't see anybody else trying to emigrate to the newest communist country. Note that the soviet union was a large energy exporter that heavily subsidized energy to all its citizens, and provided other benefits such as housing to many people that would otherwise be poor, plus provided universal health care and education, but they fell apart anyway amid widespread unhappiness. BOth before the breakup, and continuing to today, it is the US that the poor want to migrate to.

I agree energy exporters look to do better than importers, but there are others I would select long before Venezuela, such as Canada and Australia. chavez might be able to avoid anarchy, but this is hardly assured.

Regarding Cuba - if Brazil can justify fertilizer for its sugar cane, whether to export sugar or to produce ehtanol for internal conumption, why can't Cuba? Based on changes in sugar prices over the past few years, they should be planting every m3 with cane - of course, such decisions may have to wait for the appropriate committee's attention.

Sugar cane is a fairly intensive and destructive plantational monocrop, requiring substantial land and other resources better utilized for foodstuffs.  Cuba is a small, densely populated (74% urban) island, while Brazil is larger than the US and, except for a few coastal cities, very sparsely populated.  In addition, Brazil's shortsighted approach involves cutting down vast quantities of Amazonian rainforest, a process with delitrious effects far outside the boundaries of Brazil proper.

You set up a strawman arguement asserting that there are no people eager to migrate to Cuba.  Cuba is a post peak-oil society, while the US continues to party on in pre peak-oil bliss. Are you ready to voluntarily live without oil yet?  No?  Who is! Ready or not, eventually we all will, and then you can judge apple to apples.

Cuba had to make some hard decisions, but they faced them and did an admirable job.  Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than the US, while we have more lawyers per capita, no doubt a great benefit to society.
Cuba's literacy rate is better than ours, and their infant mortality rate is lower, despite being one of the poorest countries in the world.
It seems that we could do better.

For your reading pleasure:

Posters note:  Some of the following comments refer to local issues.  However, space does not permit elaborating.  Further, I am highly critical of the efforts that Jason's group, Willits (CA) Relocalization (WELL) have made.  I live in the town north of Willits and am very aware of his group's efforts.


I know that this is the big WELL conference weekend (I don't have your URL off the top of my head so maybe you want to post it).  Yet, it is suggested/required that attendees come with 12 different color marking pens.  And, BTW, no reason was given for having the pens.  Let's see, does Willits or any community within 90 miles (your relocatization diameter) make marking pens?  And, don't marking pens require petroleum products?

My problem is that you and WELL are pissing around the edges.  The current population of Willits is unsustainable regardless of any efforts that are taken and you must know it.  It is unsustainable even if you draw on resources 100 miles out because then you will be competing with cities like Santa Rosa with 100k+ people.  

In addition, Willits produces nothing besides a few beef cattle and some hay - it's all people washing each other's laundry.  All the major manufacturing businesses have closed such as Harwood Products (a lumber mill and before Jason's time) and Remco which left the ground containinated with chrome salts.

Nor, has WELL addressed water.  You haven't lived there when the city had to draw on the Boy Scout lake (a private lake) or it would have run out of potable water.  Think of the water problems if a number of residents decide to grow gardens.

The usual rationale is, "Well, at least we are doing something."  I am fed up with this sort of shuck and jive.  "Something" isn't going to do it and you must realize this.  Don't you feel a moral responsibility to be honest?

The next rationale is usually, "The people aren't ready to hear the truth."  In other words, let's play the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain and, when things get bad enough, we'll open the curtain.

I don't want to belabor these issues...and there are far, far more.  Julian Darley (sp) is wrong; relocalization won't do it when local economies don't produce anything and the people within them have no transferable skills.  When you drive through town, do you see any businesses that are not totally, absolutely dependent upon other businesses that actually make stuff a thousand miles away or off shore?

Sorry for the rant.  I've been working up to it for a long time.

Our web site is:

On that site are some reports regarding energy, food, and water.  I do the math and can site some statisics off my head if you would like:

Willits area has 13,500 people within 322 sq miles.  The town of Willits is 5100 people in 2.3 sq miles.  Little Lake Valley has most of the classified prime ag land and about 4000 acres of this not paved over already.  Using historical records and some modern small scale examples of what crops can be grown here using yields not based on green revolution technologies, a basic food diet could be produced for the 13,500 people on about 4000 acres.  Most of this assumes dryland farming techniques.

We have also studied the city water supply and know its capacity and vulnerabilities to drought and power disruptions.  The city of Willits is working on installing a system based on renewable energy to power pumps that move the water to large storage tanks for gravity feed to the city.

This is just a smidgen of what we have been learning and facilitating.  By no means do we claim to have solved all the problems of economic stagnation or outside dependencies here.  

One must also look at how localization is defined.  We don't imagine cutting off the borders and not importing anything.  This is about relative proportions of imports versus local goods and services and what we decide needs to be localized.

Also, I don't believe every community can do this.  What I would say to folks in Las Vegas:

"Population density will need to realign with biological productivity and will require some translocation."

If you are bitter and depressed I totally understand and wish you well.  These are really difficult issues to deal with and I struggle every day with the implications and scale of the problems.

Call me if you want to discuss.  I am in the phone book.

The ASCE (American Association of Civil Engineers) estimates that the US needs to spend $1.6 trillion over 5 years to upgrade the nation's crumbling infrastructre. Of course a good chunk of this money would be dedicated to fixing the roads and higway infrastructure which might become less important in a post peak world, but what are the chances the infrastructure will get the fixes it needs before Peak Oil hits? If it doesn't, by the time the effects of peak are really making themselves felt, the attempts to upgrade and fix the infrastructure might be just too expensive.

Like most Americans, you probably don't think about our nation's infrastructure--the public works that serve as the backbone of our country--until something goes wrong: you find yourself snarled in a traffic jam, or hear a report about a possible contaminate in the water supply, or become frustrated at your plane's two-hour delay. But waiting until one of these works fails is a critical mistake, says the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The group, which notes that a sound infrastructure not only helps the economy, but also is a quality-of-life issue, recently judged the country on 15 infrastructure categories ranging from aviation, drinking water, and hazardous waste to rail, schools, and security. The resulting "2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure" awards the U.S. an overall grade of "D": a step below the cumulative D+ received in 2001, the last time the ASCE issued the report. The document also offers an analysis of each of the 15 areas, as well as breakdowns of infrastructure quality in each of the 50 states.

The ASCE estimates that $1.6 trillion needs to be invested in the next five years to solve the current and looming infrastructure problems. We spoke to ASCE president William P. Henry about the report, the potential what-ifs, and the ways through which we can get the infrastructure back in shape. Excerpts from the talk follow.

I am still on the fence on whether the collapse of civilization is inevitable. I'm glad to see an article--albeit not a very good one--coming from the non-apocalypic side from someone besides Amory Lovins. Hopefully it will inspire more meaningful debate. Hemenway leaves out some very, very important considerations in his arguments. He focuses only on Peak Oil and leaves out the myriad of other environmental problems facing humanity. Lester Brown and WorldWatch Institute have a nice summary of these. Most important on my list are:
  • Climate Change
  • Destruction of farmland (topsoil loss, nutriet depletion)
  • Deforestation
  • Decline/collapse of fisheries
  • Overpumping/depletion of aquifers
  • Water pollution
  • Nuclear and chemical waste

Without oil and other fossil fuels to "make up for" our rampant environmental destruction, there is no way this population can be supported. And with the imminent natural gas disaster in North America, what's left of the forests will quickly be devoured. Forget about civilization, survival is about to be the real issue once again.

This was my favorite lunacy:

Humanity has reached the stage, finally, where basic survival is not in doubt for many people. We have not yet grasped that the struggle for survival is essentially over, and we have overshot....we no longer need to labor all our waking hours for the basics of food and safe shelter, and to fight off disease and predators.

Uhhh, WHAT?!?!?! Maybe you haven't been paying attention Mr. Heneway. Last time I looked, only about 1.5 out of 6.4 billion people had reached that point, not ALL of humanity. IMO, we are now facing the situation where basic survival IS in doubt for everyone. And he even agrees that "we have overshot" but then fails to address it. How exactly does a civilization support 4.5 billion "extra" people without abundant fossil energy? Not to mention that population continues to grow...

As our brilliant and steadfast beacon of reason, Dr. Al Bartlett, has pointed out time and time again "Modern agriculture is the process of transforming fossil fuels into food", and "Endless exponential growth is impossible in a finite world."

As far as all the numbers he threw out there, I'd like to add a few of my own in regards to renewable energy. For electricity generation in the US, we get 6% of our energy from hydro (which is technically NOT renewable since the dams are filling with silt). We get another 2% of energy from "other" renewables, nearly all of this is from biomass and geothermal. Wind and solar are not even a blip. They are so insignificant, the EIA lumps them together as a foot note in its energy stats. And this is going to replace oil how?

So despite claiming to be on the fence, I am very cynical. The jury is still out, but I lean to the opinion that we are royally f*cked.

To your list of issues I would add the collapse of the fractional reserve banking system.  If the global economy begins a permanent contraction, loaning money for interest is going to become a supremely unprofitable enterprise.  As soon as bankers realize that 80% of their loans have become bad debts, and that it's a global and permanent phenomenon, the civilization-destabilizing effects could leverage the dislocations of climate change and oil depletion many times over.
Yes, I left out many, many other important things. The banking system is a key one. Another is Bush and the War on Terrorism (which many of us know to actually be the War OF Terrorism). An invasion of Iran or nuking Iran (which is a VERY real possibility, to my horror and terror) will send us into an oil nightmare. Maybe the rapidly approaching US police state will be able to keep the good life going for a few more years for the elite.

I'd also like to agree with dinopello about the frog in the pot analogy. The signs of collapse are all around us, with deteriorating infrasturcture, massive debt, no healthcare, environmental damage. Yet we are at the peak, everyone who "has some" has more than they've ever had before. Technology is cooler than ever, etc, etc. Things look good at a casual glance. A deeper look show that the water is pretty damn near boiling.

"I am still on the fence on whether the collapse of civilization is inevitable."

That is such a great quote. :)

How do you feel about

"All good things must come to an end" ?  

HAHAHA! Thanks for catching me! I meant to say:
"I am still on the fence on whether the collapse of civilization is inevitable IN THE NEXT DECADE OR SEVERAL DECADES."
I hardly consider myself a 'doomer' but neither do I see any cause for much optimism, either. Hemenway does argue his point quite effectively.  However, I have a good deal of trouble with the way he deals with dubunking the supposed Peak Oil points Nos 2 and 5. For what it's worth, heres my take:

Point No. 2 - "We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior."

Well, first off, even Dick Chaney said something to the effect that 'The American way of life is not negotiable.'  I presume he means that the US is entitled to all the oil it is capable of securing and screw the rest of the world.

Hemenway is right, but not the way he thinks he is. We ARE changing our behavior: instead of just buying oil we are now trying to use our military might to secure future oil supplies. Other countries are starting to follow suit, in the 21st Century version of 'The Great Game'.  Of course it will appear that we are paying for the oil, as money will change hands between US oil companies and puppet governments, but the real coin of the realm is force. Our behavior is changing in the direction of one day slaughtering each other for control over the last dwindling reserves.  This may not happen tomorrow or next year, but in my view it's the logical conclusion to the way things are going. When it comes down to a choice between cooperation and competion, the latter usually wins out.

Point No. 5 - "Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks."

I think this is the one where he gets himself into some trouble, as his point of view is that of a person insulated from the shocks that are going to be experienced by the lower orders. Society IS quite fragile, and history has shown that even relatively minor perturbations can cause massive pain and suffering. Again, mostly for the lower orders. Most of our vital systems ARE highly interconnected, e.g., power, food distribution, water supplies, telecommunications, finance, etc.  If you've ever been in or near a major metropolitan area during a crisis, this fact becomes painfully apparent. Of course, things eventually return to normal, provided that all systems can be brought back to the pre-crisis state. Unfortunately, that is not always the case (New Orleans possibly being one good example).

No, I don't think we will suddenly find ourselves in a 'Mad Max' type of scenario.  However, I do picture the most likely post-peak outcome to be the US and Western Europe reduced to a standard of living on the level of the former Soviet Union during the worst of the Brezhnev years. But regardless of how bad things get, there will always be government apparatchiks zooming around in their huge Zil limos (or in our case, Lincoln Navigators).  

So, when he more or less says, 'We will do OK.', one must ask, "What you mean 'We'?"


"instead of just buying oil we are now trying to use our military might to secure future oil supplies."

I believe you said something similar in yesterdays open thread. I generally agree that our venture into Iraq is for oil. But I don't have a valid explanation as to how we control the oil.

Could someone who understands the supply chain explain how a country can control oil resources? Is it simply a matter of once we invade we give the contracts to drill the oil to 'our' companies like Exxon who then bring it into the US? Is it ever really a matter of oil being bought off the 'open market'?

shawnott -

In your comment you rhetorically ask, " a country can control oil resources?"

I'm not sure I quite understand the question (one controls something simply by taking control over it),  so I will at least partially answer it with some other rhetorical questions.

What were the Brits trying to do when the created this thing called Iraq right after WW I, making new maps just for the fun of it, or having control over oil?

Why did the US topple the elected leader of Iran in the early 1950s and put their boy, the Shah, in power? Democracy?

Why has the US enabled the corrupt and decadent Saudi royal family to thrive, when it the natural course of events they would probably have all been murdered decades ago?

Why did we (alegedly) try to carry out a coupe against Hugo Chavez? More Democracy?

Was this all for spreading democracy and American values, or was it to ensure that US (or at least US-headquartered) oil companies and the financial interests behind them had first crack at the various countrie's vast oil reserves on favorable terms?  

Though it hasn't turned out the way the Bush regime had planned, the ideal outcome of the Iraq invasion would have been the installation of a cooperative puppet government that made cozy deals with US oil companies and their political cronies. Sure, once the oil is out of the ground it can be sold to the highest bidder, but the key question for you is: who gets to do the selling and who decides to whom it gets sold, and most important, who gets the profits from all this activity?  

So that is what I mean by the term 'controlling oil resources'.  Maybe you would use another term for what I just described, but that's what I call it.

In the end I don't know know what Hemenway is actually saying. He's gives the example of the lethargic response to Hitler in the leadup to WW2, but, everyone finally rallied, etc. My goodness! WW2, with perhaps 30-50 million people killed, is not a pretty big thing? Were not the alarmists back then, after all, right?

And he elsewhere says he himself expects a world-wide depression, etc. Same reply.

As for prices taking care of things, that overlooks overshoot. There is NOT a perfect and momentary equilibriation brought about by the price mechanism, else there would be no depressions. Further more, there have many, many instances of societal collapse in the past as discussed by Tainter, Diamond, et al.

It reminds me of the old Shaw story: "We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling over the price." We know that we face a humongous crisis, we just don't know how big it is. Now do we know how rapidly it will unfold.

What I do agree with is in not giving in to despair. Individually, we know we die. We also know our species will die eventually. But there is no reason to think the species will die soon. And there is every reason to think the species will have to scale back. How far back is a matter for both science to try to estimate and the future to reveal. All that's left for us is to do our best make the future for our descendants as easy as possible. And there is absolutely no danger that we will do too much to soon. Just the reverse.

Even as I say that, it occurs to me that there is a danger of fascistic type thinkers wanting to engage in selective culling of the herd and that type of stuff. But I would hope that what ultimately emerges on the downslope is a realization that we are all one tribe and must jointly manage this one globe, our home. Do I believe this realization will emerge easily and without a lot of spilling of blood? No.

Admittedly, I am an extremely pessimistic person. I always think things will turn out worse than they do. And for that exact reason, I am also a very happy person. Now of course, 9-11 caught me off guard. But I recalibrated my pessimism downward, and am once again happy, but prepared for still more downward recalibrations.

"the species will have to scale back. How far back is a matter for both science to try to estimate and the future to reveal."

If you could expand the "Titanic" onto a global scale I guess one could get an excellent idea of what is about to transpire.  The engine room is flooding but the passengers on 2nd and 3rd class are still asleep.  "Science" will not decide how to scale back the species, our genes will.  That is what 98% of the members of this list ignore.  Engineers can not face the fact that there is NO solution.  They are wired to "find a solution", even if one does not exist.  They will bend the rules to make a solution "fit"...


Aha, a thread Halfin can't object to us doomers posting on :-)

1. Our demand for oil is unchangeable and is not significantly affected by price.

If there are no alternatives available at the same price, then yes, demand is remarkably inelastic.  Demand destruction has occurred in the past and will occur in the future, but if there is no alternative to driving your car you have the distance you need to go, you will pay for the gas, no matter how many extra digits show up on the pump.  If you need to cut back to pay for transportation or heating fuel, you will typically cut other expenditures that aren't as energy-intensive.  That means inelasticity.

2. We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior.

The argument is poorly stated, IMO.  If we cannot maintain our way of life when energy becomes scarce and expensive, then civilization as we currently know it will transform.  If the transformation is too rapid it will turn into a collapse.  The problem is structural.  It's not our addiction that causes the problem, it's the simple fact that petro energy is the fundamental underpinning of our current civilization.  If the underpinning fails, so does the civilization.

To describe our relationship to petroleum as an addiction brings a moral dimension to the argument that is supremely unhelpful.  It's like saying the human body is addicted to food.  While obesity from excessive consumption of either can be a problem, our need of food and our civilization's need for petroleum are simply the facts of the situation.

3. Significant oil conservation is not possible in the time frame needed.

As others have said, this is a meaningless statement unless we are given some idea of the time frame.  Is it 5 years?  Then the answer is no.  Ten years - maybe.  Twenty years - probably.  It's similar to Hirsh's observation about the effect of time scale on the probable success of energy replacement srategies.

4. Even with conservation, demand will be more than oil plus alternatives can possibly meet.

This seems intuitively obvious when you take into account the multiple roles that oil plays in our civilization.  We may be able to conserve on transportation, but only if people have enough time to move closer to where they normally need to go, and have enough time to pay for a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.  But how do we conserve on fertilizer on a global scale?  How do we replace the enormous amounts of plastic and other synthetic materials that are built into the very fabric (sic) of our society?

5. Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks.

Again, time scale is the issue.  We can adapt more easily to big slow changes than big fast ones.

People on the world's margins will get hit first and hardest, especially by food price increases.  This analysis was written by a North American.  We are obese enough (in many ways) that we may be able to conserve our way our of trouble for a while.  However there are 6.5 billion people out there, most of whom don't have our cushion of affluence to draw on.  If the oil supply begins to fail at 10% per year, how long will it take to depopulate Africa and Asia through starvation and disease?  How much of that depopulation can we (speaking globally) take before the whole thing comes apart?

I see our responsibility to move to conservation and renewables in terms of palliative care for the species.  If I were to define "optimist", "realist" and "doomer" in this context, I'd say that an optimist should think we will lose no more than half the global population by the end of the century.  A realist might say no more than 75%.  For us doomers - I don't know.  85%?  95%  A residue of breeding pairs?

Our economy and embedded economic institutions have been trained on growth for the last 150-200 years.  This growth has been fueled, literally, with increasing consumption of esp. wood, coal, gas, and oil.  Once we start down the energy slope, the real growth will disappear (although inflation may make it appear that the number of "dollars" in circulation is increasing).  We have not encountered this paradigm before, certainly not on a global scale.  If the value of all investments declines over time, will banks lend money?  Will banks even have money to lend?  Will they be asking for you to give them bank all the money they lent you?  What will money mean?

Read Richard Douthwaite's The Growth Illusion [ ] for some of the implications of how this decline may affect our financial institutions and economies.

This is the scenario that has me worried.  And one of key the reasons for the Post Carbon Institute's "relocalization" campaign.

Bingo.  I share that worry - the collapse of the fractional reserve banking system could easily have a bigger direct impact on civilization than GW pr PO alone or together.  It could become an enormous misery amplifier.
The more the USA conserves, the more oil is opened up for other economies to use, hence, not lowering demand just our share of it. Demand destruction therefore has to be on a global level or else it just turns into demand re-organization. Thoughts?
I think the opposite is happening.  Demand destruction is already occuring - just not here.   India is forced to build railroads because of high fuel prices.  Vietnam has dropped tariffs on imported oil, to try and lower prices.  Jordan, Panama, Indonesia, China, even Iraq, have been forced to raise fuel prices.  Farmers in Bangladesh are marching in the streets because they don't have fertilizer for their crops or fuel to run their irrigation pumps.  And Africa is in the grips of energy crisis they never saw coming.  

As long as we can keep paying higher prices, we can force those on the bottom to suffer the demand destruction, while we keep driving our SUVs.  As long as they keep taking dollars, anyway...

I just posted my rebuttal.
The imagery is a good one!
Love it.

I differ from many (most ?) TODers in that I am more concerned with what CAN be changed than what the "final" result will be.

IMHO, the unknowns exceed the knowns making an insoluable problem (no reliable forecast).  The number of assumptions required to make a forecast are S*O large that some ar ebound to be wrong.

However, I am S*U*R*E that electrifying our freight railroads and building Urban Rail ASAP will help (My SWAG, 10% less oil from these two steps in ten to twelve years, more in twenty years).  More will likely be needed than these two steps, but these two steps are, IMO, essential.

If we have a national rail network operating off of renewable energy (hydro, wind, geothermal, etc.) and electric Urban Rail systems in twentyfive or thirty large cities (coupled with bike lanes, and not the 25/30 largest cities) there is limit to how far that our economic society can fall to absent widespread chaos.

Several here have espoused "retreating to the hills", growing veggies and "waiting for the end" (or words to that effect).

First, if we "just" see $9/gallon gas & 12% unemployment, rural areas will be among those hit hardest.  Everyone (almost) in rural areas drives a pickup to get everything from town/Walmart.  Many have jobs that they commute long distances to.  I see rural areas hit as hard as Phoenix in an early Peak Oil world (early lasting decades ?).  Some have access to wood for heating, some do not.

Rural medical care is not good now. Later ?

Would a city with an excellent Urban Rail system, excellent medical care, excellent non-highway transportation and a supportive population known for their comity not be a better place ?

This brings out the question, what is the purpose of life ?

To hide & survive "no matter what" (till one gets sick & dies), or to strive to make a difference and enjoy living whilst doing so ?

I know my path.

I agree that urban is likely to be better than rural.  Tainter found that the population clustered around the cities as collapse approached, for the obvious reasons.  

Though I suspect we may end up with cities with walls around them rather than cities connected by rail.


The answer to your comments about rural peoples is actually, MAYBE.  It depends.

In my case, I'll go out to my shop and weld up a wood gas/biogas generator.  I have the parts and I can run the welder on my PV system. I have thousands of trees.   My only concern is lubricating oil.

As far as health goes, docs aren't worth crap today without techonolgy - hell, they probably don't even know how to make ether out of household materials (and, yes, you really can make ether at home).  Therefore, I have a lot of stuff that native healers used.  It may be garbage but it's better then being told there is no hope without modern medicines.

I agree with you. Why waste our mental and emotional energy making predictions about the unknowable future? Rather, as you correctly suggest, let us do what makes good economic and social sense:

Take the first steps to get away from a car and truck focused economy. We KNOW how to do that. The costs are reasonable, and the technology is all there and solid.

The problem is to unify constructive thought and action. All this dithering and blithering about doom gets us nowhere: Let's build streetcar lines, electrify our railroads and insulate our houses.

Cheezus, when you look at your numbers--good hard numbers, what you are suggesting is a slam dunk. As I see it, the big obstacle is the vested interests who do and will cling to the status quo until their last breath.

For change to be more than incremental we need a new political party, perhaps one based on a social movement. Both the major parties are morally and intellectually bankrupt, as is shown, for example, by bipartisan refusal to fund Army Corps of Engineers requests to do what is needed to save New Orleans. (IMO, your blaming the Corps itself is wrong: They follow orders, and the politicoes have always held the purse strings, but this is not the main point. The main point is that at the federal level the political process is broken.)

It's small money to join the Adventure Cycling Association, or the League of American Bicyclists.  There are lots of easy, targeted, things like that.  More power to Alan and his electrics, more power to the leagues and their bikes!
"The Corps follows orders".

Not always.

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Canal was authorized to be 9' deep. The Corps dug it 12' deep since they did not want to build "an obsolete" pork barrel boondoogle.

I was reminded of this when I was told, in a private dinner with two Corps engineers, that they wer enot sure that they were airthorized to improve the levees in one particular (that was not specified by Congress eitehr way).

Depends if they "want" to expand orders or not.  True of so many orders.

From your example, the Corps WAS following orders--though in one case making adjustments that in the opinion of somebody was a good idea.

Without funding and explicit legislation and orders, the Corps can legally do absolutely nothing. That the Corps did nothing in the face of abundant evidence that much needed to be done is in no way an indictment of the Army Corps of Engineers. It is, however, compelling evidence as to the irresponsibility and fecklessness of one administration and Congress after another. BTW, there is plenty of guilt to go around in regard to corruption and ineffectiveness in Louisiana, too, but in my opinion the buck stops at the doors of the White House and especially the branch of government that holds the power of the purse--Congress.

Show me one Congressional appropriation for the protection of New Orleans that was not spent.

You cannot spend money you do not have, unless you have the power to borrow, which the Corps most emphatically does not.

Once again, I think you are pointing your finger in the wrong direction.

In the Tenn_Tom Canal example they were explicitly authorized to build a 9' deep canal.  They disobeyed this Congressional dictact to build what they thought was right and functional (a 12' deep canal) even though the entire project was not particularly functional.  The extra 3' in depth added significantly to the overall excavation, larger than the Panama Canal.

The Corps of Engineers, as an extension of the Federal control of navigable waterways in the Constitution, was given control of the levees after the Great Flood of 1927 (they had specific levees before then, including New Orleans, but this gave them global, systemic control).  In the 1970s they proposed and were given suthorization for a 30+ year program to build levees for the "Project Specification Hurricane" that could follow several different paths.  In 1985 they did tests that confirmed that the detailed design was faulty and would fail before it's design load.  Instead of publicizing this finding, retrofitting the highest priority locations that had been done by then, they continued on.

By 2005, they were down to the lowest priority upgrades; turning the bridges over the canals into "bath tubs" (every hurricane warning, we would sandbag these bridges, cutting local roads.  Turning them into "bath tubs" eliminated this step and preserved open streets.  I thought it would be cost effective to retrofit one or two bridges over each canal and sandbag the rest).

I*F the US Army had any integrity they would have designed the levees to the stated standard (instead of "value engineering" them to failure), publicized their tests that showed design failure and done the highest priority levees properly.  The bridges could still be on the "to do" list in 2005 without any harm.

Funding was driven by requests from the US Army Corps of Engineers.  There was a long term project with certain politically agreed upon specifications & schedule.  Rarely was funding not appropriated in full for the next scheduled step using Corps of Engineers estimates.  When there was a delay (i.e. partial funding), it was made up the next year sue to political pressure.  The Corps sold a "bill of goods" to Congress and the local population, whilst knowing that the design was faulty and did not meet the specifications in that "Bill of Goods".

One has to deal with the US Army Corps of Engineers to understand how much their bureaucracy drives what work they are authorized to do.  (Think Master Sargents telling their captains what to do.  Not the chain of command, but it happens VERY commonly).  If they want to do something they will NEVER stop.  They have been pushing for 40 years to build a larger lock in the Industrial Canal, but this would severely damage the Upper & Lower 9th Wards.  That "push" has been so strong, for so long, that I wonder if it impacted levee protection (I did note that of the three breached levees in New Orleans, they successfully patched two, but let the Lower 9th flood a second time during Rita).

I will point out that the two greatest mission failures in the history of the US Army were the burning of Washington DC and the flooding of New Orleans.  One was excusable, the other was not.

The real weakness I see in doomer arguments is that they are all general pronouncements on the human condition, and do not have a well thought out energy time line.  There is not a quantitative argument that world oil and natural gas production will fall to X in 2020, and that since we need Y oil to survive, we will die.  No, the doomer argument is "oil production will fall (some unspecified amount), and since we're a crazy society on the verge of collapse, down we go!"

Doomers don't even want to talk about what is possible if we are forced at some late date into a faster "energy mobilization" ... because we're doomed I tell you!

Certainly the cornucopians are as crazed in their optimism, but I don't think that excuses mindless pessimism.

Certainly the cornucopians are as crazed in their optimism, but I don't think that excuses mindless pessimism.

Why not?

I'm as pessimistic as anyone (moreso, probably), and find it greatly annoying when Dreamers constantly say "we'll just have to develop our technology!" or "We can be very resourceful when we need to.  Look at WWII!"

These types of statements are lacking the same specifics.  Sure, we could all be driving vehicles that get 40 mpg, but they've been around thirty years at least and we haven't switched over yet.  Instead, gas guzzling vehicles are more popular than ever.  Sure, we could install mass transit systems in major cities, but right now leaders are still putting new highways on the drawing board that will take fifteen or twenty years to complete and have no way to be financed.  Who will pay for for a rail line?  

As long as we are made to guess how much oil there is remaining and how fast it can be processed, I think either way (optimistic or pessimistic) will be just a guess.  And currently I am feeling very much like a 'glass is half-empty' kinda person :)

Let me get this straight, you are defending mindless pessimism?
I'm saying mindless pessimists have as much to say as mindless optimists ;)

Of course, I consider myself a thoughtful pessimist.  Like a Seinfeld character but not as funny.

I think Kramer might be more useful than George in peak oil ;-)
Another interesting new diary by Jerome a Paris:

Kaboom: Peak copper, superspike prices, oil and US debt

This is an issue I've written a lot about, and where Stirling Newberry has written some fairly extensive diaries as well, but it's new to see that link between oil prices, debt and global unbalances from an institution such as the IMF.
Hmmm.  And then there's this:

OPEC Warns High Commodity Prices May Kill Oil Projects

PARIS - Soaring commodity and raw material prices are increasing the cost of oil and gas projects by up to three times, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ministers said Friday.

Although current high oil prices may be helping to drive much-needed crude investment, the rising cost of construction projects could curtail new energy production development, they warn.

Excellent article! It is time we take back the Peak Oil argument from the gloom and doomers. Get ready for innovation, high employmentand a better environment as we adjust our infrastructure according to the new peak oil realities. And adjust we will....
Did you even read the article?  He's not predicting high employment.  Quite the opposite.
Yes I read the article, and I disagree with him on that point. Does anyone have information on how lowering the degree to which labor is mechanized will decrease employment?
"It is time we take back the Peak Oil argument from the gloom and doomers."

That's what I'm trying to do with my site. I have had a keen interest in what we now call relocalization dating back to the late 1980s.

From Bloomberg:

Cannibals, Cassandra and Oil Costing $200: Is a Crisis Brewing?

Why is Stephen Leeb, who manages $160 million for Leeb Capital Management, comparing himself to Cassandra and Jimmy Carter?

Both of them predicted disaster, one for Troy if it messed with the big horse, and one for the U.S. if it didn't wean itself off foreign oil. Leeb also has a vision.

He foresees an energy crisis that could spell the end of modern civilization -- though presumably not before he sells lots of copies of his latest book, ``The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel'' (Warner, 211 pages, $24.95).

No stranger to skepticism, Leeb is perhaps best known for his prediction in ``The Oil Factor'' (2004) that oil would reach $100 a barrel by the end of the decade. Now, citing worsening fundamentals, he predicts oil will top $200 a barrel and touch off hyperinflation, double-digit interest rates and a cascading collapse of the world economy. His book, written with Glen Strathy, tries to be both a call to arms against a looming oil shock and a primer on how investors can protect themselves.

Stephen Leeb did a recent interview on FSO:
Please remember analogy is a weak form of argument.  In order for an analogy to be valid the two things being compared must be alike in all esential respects or it is called a false analogy.  A false analogy is a logical error.  I submit that comparing Y2K to Peak Oil is a false analogy.  Y2K was a computer programming glitch. Peak Oil is a physical geologic problem completely unrelated to computer programing.  True they may both cause hysteria but that means nothing.  The comparison is false and thus a reasoning error.
Right. Just like an corelation not necessarily means that there is a causal connection.

E.g. the more cars a family has, the less children there tend to be in the family.

But no one in his right mind would claim that cars are a good contraception....

Just had a quick skim... interesting points but also some also some bits I'm not so happy with like the North Sea graph. The dip - was the Piper Alpha explosion and the Hubert peak drawn is wrong since it's area isn't equal to the URR.
They note, correctly, that per-capita use has begun to drop world-wide, and they leap to the conclusion that this can only mean we're headed back to the Stone Age: Less oil per person must be just like less food or money per person, so civilization is going to end, this sloppy thinking goes. However, US oil consumption per capita has declined substantially since 1979 and we've got more toys than ever.
I would suggest that food per person has indeed been falling since the 1980's and Americans only have more toys than ever since they are now being made elsewhere - with other people's oil.
Estimates project that in 2040, production will have slipped to 12 billion barrels--back to 1965 levels. To descend to that point would require a drop in consumption of 2.2% per year for 35 years. Can we do this? I think so. From 1973 to 1975, and again from 1979 to 1983, consumption fell by roughly this much per year.
We had a recession in the mid 70's and the early 80's - to say that a 2.2% decline is okay is to say that a 35 year recession is also okay - great! I also think it's wrong to compare peak oil, global warming, aquifer depletion and soil loss to recent disasters such as:
A series of Class 4 and 5 hurricanes, the eruption of Mount St. Helens, years of surging inflation, a stock market crash, two major earthquakes in California, huge floods, September 11, a stolen election or two, multi-state blackouts, the destruction of New Orleans...
And suggest we survived those so we can survive the former. Peak oil, global warming, aquifer depletion and soil loss are vastly more far reaching and long lasting that anything we've recently survived - they are completely different types of problems. Good effort but I think if that's the optimists argument the pessimists are closer to the mark.
A good rebuttal, Chris. I thought Hemenway's article did a decent job with the data he could find, even though there were serious flaws in some of that. Sadly it may convince some, for now.

We humans could survive peak oil relatively intact but IMO it would take profound changes in our economic, social and value systems with consequent massive behavioral changes. I personally do not think we are capable of that profound change. If we are capable and do it then it may be our most significant change since we evolved into this species, perhaps as profound as the change from hunter-gatherer.

We could have got through peak oil with current systems relatively unchanged but would have had to start mitigation a decade or more ago. It is now too late for adjustment within the economic status quo.

Your comment "Peak oil, global warming, aquifer depletion and soil loss are vastly more far reaching and long lasting that anything we've recently survived - they are completely different types of problems." is spot on.

The growth in human population and wealth over the last couple of centuries is largely the direct result of our exploitation of fossil energy sources. Most of what humanity is now is due to an energy feeding binge, you know what happens to populations when they have used up their food supply?

Humanity has never been globally confronted with a reduction in energy supply. Current economic (and probably other) systems are absolutely incapable of adapting to that, they will break.

The crux is the speed. If our dependence on oil and natural gas (specifically) and fossil fuels in general was managed down gradually over 50 or 100 years then it would not be a significant problem, I'd hope. Odds are we will be faced with perhaps a 5% decline rate starting within maybe 5 years. Crash conservation measures should cushion the first couple of years, economic slowdown maybe another couple, then it gets harder.

There is no reason (other than human stupidity) to think that peak oil brings the end of the world but, as you know it, Jim, yes it does.

But Captain, what will we do when these dilithium crystals are exhausted? I dunna know how long they have left?

Don't worry, Scottie, I'll think of something. Just get the warp drive back online.

Aye, aye Captain.

...Reality and illusion have blurred, we western humans are mostly unaware of how hard it can be to survive, nor have we the skills. Most seem to believe the cavalry will save us.

World 'cannot meet oil demand'

THE world lacks the means to produce enough oil to meet rising projections of demand for fuel over the next decade, according to Christophe de Margerie, head of exploration for Total and heir presumptive to the leadership of the French energy multinational.

The world is mistakenly focusing on oil reserves when the problem is capacity to produce oil, M de Margerie said in an interview with The Times. Forecasters, such as the International Energy Agency (IEA), have failed to consider the speed at which new resources can be brought into production, he believes.

"Numbers like 120 million barrels per day will never be reached, never," he said.

And in another story...CNN reported that oil prices fell today in part because of a government report that predicted crude oil prices would rise $14/barrel...but not for years and years.  Couldn't find an online source for that one, though.

I saw that comment from the head of exploration for Total, Christophe de Margerie, and I marvel at the continuing disconnect in the fabled market. Things like this continue to convince me that the social and psychological aspects of the impacts of peak oil will be far worse than peak oil itself needs to be, and that the actions that fall out from mass delusions bent on retaining unsustainable ways of life will be what get us into the greatest troubles of all.
I think a few oil shocks will change thinking significantly.  There is no reason for people to change behaviors right now.  Almost none.  After a few shocks, they will change.  We will change.

It's Spring vacation here in my kids San Diego school district.  Everyone is heading out for vacation.  To places far and father.  Jumping on planes to the east coast, hawaii, loading the car up.

These behaviors and more will change.

"CNN reported that oil prices fell today in part because of a government report that predicted crude oil prices would rise..."

Can't decide if that reminds me more of Lewis Carroll or George Orwell.  Doublespeak thru the looking glass...

On the broader issue, however, it seems to me the signs of the coming perfect storm grow more apparent daily, if not hourly now.  Looking backward, I see a species that has been living on phantom acreage from eons past for more than a century now.  Looking forward I see the finite phantom dwindling before our gluttony, shrinking EROEI exacerbating the descent, vanishing net exports leading to a sudden, stark realization that we have to feed, clothe and warm ourselves.  Putting both visions together, I see Mr. Hemenway as gravely mistaken about our prospects.  I will credit and echo Westexas - make yourself a net producer of food and energy if  it is at all possible.

Re: "These are the significant beliefs needed to be a Peak Oil catastrophist. Each is false. Let's look at them." [the five main points from Toby Hemenway]

Open invitation to Toby Hemenway

Sorry, I'm late to this discussion. The five main points repeated for your convenience.

1. Our demand for oil is unchangeable and is not significantly affected by price.
2. We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior.
5. Significant oil conservation is not possible in the time frame needed.
4. Even with conservation, demand will be more than oil plus alternatives can possibly meet.
5. Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks.

Well, Toby have you ever read TOD? These are exactly the points we debate in an objective way based on data, theory and scholarly research (eg. Tainter on the collapse of civilizations). Sometimes Doom & Gloom is the right answer to the question. In fact, in August 1914, that was the correct prognosis and World War I followed. These five points have been exhaustively discussed here. Where do you get off lumping all the people in the Peak Oil community together. When I write a post (or all the others), it is well researched and thought out. We here at TOD do not just simply write we're all gonna die! and that's the end of it. Sure there are some wingnuts in the Peak Oil community. There are some in the Republican Party too, you might have noticed.

So, Toby, if you're reading, how about spending some time at this website for a few months and get a clue about excellent analysis is all about? It's free on the internet, all you have to do is follow or type in a link. You might spend some time in the archives, TOD didn't start yesterday.

I largely agree with Hemenway.

I have a single quibble:   Though I don't have the data to back it, I can't but imagine the US is more energy efficient because we've outsourced manufacturing.  Transportation and heating are obviously large components of energy consumption, but after that we've certainly been able to decrease energy consumption by putting the manufacturing in other locals (even if transportation back and forth during the manufacturing process increases energy consumption). I don't know what the tradeoffs are for this.

In addition, US GDP has become much more service oriented and virtualized.  Maid services and lawn mowing, which always took place in the past, but by the owner or the kid down the street, are now performed by businesses which (if they aren't running double books or hiding their income from uncle sam) results in increased GDP with no increase in actual activity.

Regarding the end-of-the-world folks:  they can find a plethora of causes, e.g. bird flu, ebola, economic crashes, constant war, etc.

The negativism is one of the reason I no longer spend any time at (can't stand it even holding my nose).  I participated there for about a year maybe a year and a half ago, but then quit because there were far too many end-of-the-world types, gun nutters (there's nothing wrong with guns, mind you), a few racists, and xenephobes.  I found it more enjoyable abusing them than ignoring them.  So I left.  I peek in now and then to discover them devoting much attention to Katrina, Bird Flu, Iran, etc.  Sky is falling, sky is falling!!!! (granted, I'm painting a one-sided, overly negative picture--shame on me, now I'm being negative).

I have long argued that those in the peak oil community should step completely away from the survivalist groups.  Completely.  They are totally different issues.  Survivalists and end-of-the-world folks should hang out somewhere and exchange ideas.  I think that's great.

Peak oil should be about geology, economics, and technology.  Everything else is rampant speculation.  I've read overshoot.  I've read a host of texts on how we are living on capital rather than income.  I agree.  But I believe there are a host of ways in which demand destruction can flow through the system.  I live by the 5 freeway in Del Mar (San Diego, CA).  Every day it is a river of steel.  If push comes to shove, and I had the power, I could, though user fees (or high gas prices), drive a good percentage of those solitary drivers into carpooling or, better yet, hydrogen powered buses. I bet that even a large suburban area could be decomposed into a network of transportation nodes in which automobiles provide local transport to the nearest bus node.

We can do it.  It's not that tough.  Cell phones can be integrated into the commuting system as well.  Bus schedules, real-time reports of bus locations, etc.

Hemenway says it like I see it:  it's not going to be pretty.  There will be unrest.  Financial problems.  The US standard of living will decrease: current account deficits will not continue.

But the negativism is, for want of a better word, boring.  Tedious.  A given since the hairless ape built the first fire and plowed the first field. The dark side has risen up before, whether it be in German death camps or the slaughter of indigenous cultures.  It's a given. Happened before.  Probably will happen again.

But that has nothing to do with peak oil.  That's why I like this site.  It keeps the conversation moving forward, primarily on peak oil, and there are those who are willing to hold their noses to extract some benefit from Stronger souls than I am.

And yes, someday the human race, and everything on this planet, will be dead.  And no, we are not likely to have made safe transit to another planet or dimension.  That's science fiction.  So improbable as to be equivalent to impossible.

Sometimes we have to accept and get on with it.

Analyzing the impact of peak oil is quite complex. When calculating the economics of various alternatives the results are always influenced by the energy you are trying to replace. I think that doing a financial analysis is not going to tell the whole story. We need experts in thermodynamics to analyze alternatives in terms of energy. Without all the cheap diesel to transport and mine coal the economics of coal utilization will change. On the rising side of the peak it is very difficult for people to grasp the need to change. The necessary changes to ease the impact have to be done by government mandates. The free markets will not provide an humane solution to declining resources. In a totally free market you die when you can not afford to live. An oil and/or energy tax seems like a necessary first step. There is more usable energy on the rising side of the peak even though the total energy produced is roughly the same. In other words it is much easier to invest (expend energy) in alternatives and energy conservation on the rising side of the peak. Everything will be more expensive when the production declines finally arrive. 10 years on the other side of the peak we may find we don't have the energy to make huge infrastructure changes.

Long live the doomers!

Bill Gates has quietly become the largest shareholder in CN Rail (1.86 BILL).Obviously he buys the reality of oil depletion and stands to profit from it. It won't be doom for everyone, at least not for a very long time.  
Well, he did say he was reading "Twilight In the Desert," and found it convincing.  

Kind of depressing, though.  Bill Gates, unlike the rest of us, is in a position to do something about peak oil.  He's famous and respected and filthy rich.  There's so much he could do.  But it looks like all he's going to do is try to profit from peak oil.  

I do think that is an unfair dig at Bill Gates:
  1. Are you aware of the activities of the charitable foundation set up by him and his wife?
  2. Are you aware that less than 1% of his estate is going to his family after his death?
  3. BTW, are you aware of the disposition that Warren Buffett has made for his estate when he dies?

Bashing the rich when they do not deserve it is counterproductive, IMO.
Gas is currently 1.46 euro/liter in The Netherlands. That is about $6.70 per gallon.
Some of the "Y2k catastrophists" were all the members of the Federal Reserve Board.  They are not usually known as a doomsday cult, but, as we have discoverd in the recent disclosure of detailed 'minutes' - they were very worried about the Y2K problem.  In fact they were worried so much, that the money base was expanded more rapidly than ever before in late 1999.  This created a huge stock market bubble, which the Fed later tried to blame on speculators.  

Perhaps without 'cultists' like the Fed, there would not have been the money devoted to the Y2K problem to see it through.  

In comparison to the extremes to which the conservative Fed went, POers look quite rational in comparison.

Hard not to agree with the doomers when the death spiral appears to be underway.  Oil price doubles, commodity prices double shortly thereafter, nothing gets done.  Figuring in the time lags to do anything, whether rail, nukes, wind, or what have you,  unless you have some mechanism that cheap oil returns what would be the basis for any optimism?
"We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior."

"Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks."

I've been doing some interesting reading lately regarding how societies deal with disruptions and upheaval.  According to anthropologist Anthony Wallace in his article on Revitalization Movements:

A revitalization movement is defined as a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture....the persons involved in the process of revitalization must perceive their culture, or some major areas of it, as a system (whether accurately or not); they must feel that this cultural system is unsatisfactory; and they must innovate not merely discrete items, but a new cultural system...In revitalization movements [chain reaction effects] are shifted into a new Gestalt abruptly and simultaneously in intent; and frequently within a few years the new plan is put into effect...

He goes on to say, however:

...a society will work, by means of coordinated actions (including "cultural" actions) by all or some of its parts, to preserve its own integrity by maintaining a minimally fluctuating, life-supporting matrix for its individual members, and will, under stress, take emergency measures to preserve the constancy of this matrix.  (my italics)

Of course there's more but the gist of this is that societies will seek to maintain stability by whatever means necessary but that when a society is disrupted past the point at which stability can be maintained, then a new cultural matrix will be created in order to meet the needs of the society's members.  Sometimes the new culture works and sometimes it doesn't.  Wallace was concerned mainly with the rise of new or revived religions but his theory applies to more general cultural changes.  My answer to Hemenway's first (above) point is that we very well may try to preserve our current society until it is no longer salvageable, after which we will have to invent something entirely new.  My answer to the above second point is that our society is so strong that it will have to sustain massive shocks to the point where people's needs are no longer being met on an acceptable level before we will change.  Wallace says:

Rigid persons apparently prefer to tolerate high levels of chronic stress rather than make systematic adaptive changes in the mazeway(1).    More flexible persons try out various limited mazeway changes in their personal lives...Some persons turn to pyschodynamically regressive innovations; the regressive response empirically exhibits itself in increasing incidences of such things as alcoholism, extreme passivity and indolence, ...intragroup violence...irresponsibility in public officials, states of depression and self-reproach...

In other words, folks, things could get really ugly as we try to preserve our way of life.  This is, of course, only one possible societal reaction to peak oil, but I think there's just as much reason for pessimism as optimism.  Take your choice, I guess.  

Wallace's article can be found in the journal, American Anthropologist, Vol. 58, No. 2, April, 1956.

(1)cultural matrix

Great post.  Anthropologists have studied how societies deal with change, and it's not terribly encouraging. We've got a lot of inertia to overcome.  There's going to be a lot of resistance to change.  Even if we reach the point where we all agree change is necessary, there won't be agreement on what sort of we see clearly here at TOD, every day.