Monday, June 06, 2005

Peak Oil

Well, this is the problem with having a career. While I was balancing my page count with the research, Kevin Drum has done a perfectly serviceable series of articles on Peak Oil. I'll probably revisit this in the context of some other ideas, but for now, not bad reading.

If you'd like to maintain that nice, mellow panic-buzz -- like taking too much Robutussin and trying to remember where the hell you left your wallet -- you can always go read some Joseph Palmer, or track articles at Global Public Media, or hang at the website of the guy who created the latest buzz with the article excerpted from his book The Long Emergency -- Jim Kunstler. His blog is Clusterf*ck Nation, which I find abrasive and amusing as hell.

I am incredibly encouraged by the fact that the Western Democrats (or at least some of them) understand that energy independence is both crucial policy and smart politics.

8 comments:

Bryan N. said...

Here's a Cliff's Notes version of his book in Rolling Stone.

Scoopy said...

If you'd like a media presentation of what global oil peak is and what it's likely to do to the world, check out "The End of Suburbia", a nice documentary that utilizes Kunstler and a host of other articulate experts.

You can get it at a number of sites by googling the title.

It's a great film to have on in the background while you put the finishing touches on your "The End is Near" sign.

Steve said...

Gadzooks, are you kidding me?!?! Drum's analysis is pretty bad, if you ask me. He ignores basic economics. For example, suppose your favorite beer doubles in price. Do you simply take it in the wallet or look for another brand or other form of alcohol? Granted, there are not currently other substitutes right now for oil/gasoline, but why should we look now. Relatively speaking oil/gasoline is still cheap. Sure it has gone up in price, but it still hasn't passed the high water mark left during the last gasoline crisis.

Further, as the price of gasoline goes up, the price of research for a substitute also becomes relatively cheaper. Why discount this possible route out of the problem? Nope, the only thing we can do is look for more oil or go without. Granted it is a possibility, but are you really telling me that you are running out and going long on oil and coal futures? What you aren't? Why not are you stupid? If Kevin's logic is so impeccable then you should be snapping that stuff up before the we hit the peak and the price really takes off!

There are lots of other problems as well. For example, Kevin and the Peak Oil folks rely on the Hubbert curve. The Hubbert curve strikes me a lot like the Laffer curve. You tellin' me a good liberal boy such as yourself Jon thinks the Laffer curve is a good tool for setting tax rates? That is sort of what you are saying by implication.

I'm working my way through Kevin's series with my own reply series at Outside the Beltway (just look under Steve Verdon). Weirdly enough all of Kevin's posts when taken in total basically says in the big picture Kevin agrees with President Bush, we need a National Energy Strategy. Come now, how often does the government solve problems like this vs. adding to the problem and making it worse (Nixon and his price controls anyone)? My guess is we certainly will have a problem if we let the government start dictating energy policy. I say let the price go up and provide an incentive to conserve, look for alternatives, improve current alternatives, and so forth.

Rogers said...

I don't agree with a lot of Kevin's conclusions, but it's a good Cliff's Notes way into the basic ideas behind Peak Oil.

I believe your analogy falls apart, because in it you assume there's other beer. The better analogy would be, your favorite beer doubles in price, you go to the next bar, and the publican throws you a big thumbs up from behind some copper piping: "Gonna have us some beer in a few weeks, laddie!" Your "Granted, there are not currently other substitutes right now for oil/gasoline,.." is a big, stinking, the entire economy's riding on it "granted."

The main place where I think we disagree, Steve, is that in order to get out ahead of the impending oil problem, we needed to start doing that research quite a long time ago. Or, lacking that, dive in now, hard. Unfortunately, the people with the money to do that on the scale necessary are a.) the government or b.) oil companies. Neither of whom seem all that interested. Small companies are doing their best, but you don't get to the moon in ten years without NASA so to speak.

The Hubbert curve, despite a cursory similarity to the Laffer Curve because it's, well, a curve, is based on hard data and decent mathematical extrapolation. Nobody who digs for oil or is working currently to find oil, including the USGA, doesn't believe that we're drying up.

In a perfect world, you're right, let the market hit and incentivize research. The problem is, nobody in any public position seems to be supporting alternatives, and the research is just plugging along too slowly. So by the time the market hits, the ancilliary economic and social damage will be ... severe.

Steve said...

There is only one big problem with the, "There is no known substitute so there is a big problem" hypothesis. We have never gone through a complete hubbert cycle for ANYTHING. Consider that for a moment. Copper? Nope. Gold? Nope. Another problem is look at these kinds of predictions. Club of Rome? False. Paul Ehrlich? False. Thomas Malthus? False. Heck even Hubbert's prediction fro running out of oil in 2000 has been proven false.

Could running out of oil be a problem...our first complete Hubbert cycle? Sure, but based on past experience I'd say we should consider this a low probability event. That I can't predict the future, and admit it, should be seen as a sign of honesty. So far, these doomsters have been predicting the future, getting it wrong, and moving goal posts. A sure sign of dishonesty.

The main place where I think we disagree, Steve, is that in order to get out ahead of the impending oil problem, we needed to start doing that research quite a long time ago. Or, lacking that, dive in now, hard. Unfortunately, the people with the money to do that on the scale necessary are a.) the government or b.) oil companies. Neither of whom seem all that interested.

Okay, for the government why do you trust them? These are the guys who buy a hammer for $600 and spend $1.5 million on bus stops. As for oil companies could it be they aren't spending the money because they don't foresee a problem yet? Oil and gasoline are still cheap compared to the last peak (1980, IIRC with an inflation adjusted price of about $3.00/gallon for gasoline and $100/barrel for oil). Maybe there is no investment in research because there is little percieved benefit to doing so.

Small companies are doing their best, but you don't get to the moon in ten years without NASA so to speak.

But do we need to go to the moon? The first oil well was not a big expensive endeavor. Neither was the kerosene burning lamp. What will replace the oil/gasoline? Beats me, but I'm not convinced we should be worried, let alone putting the people who want $600 hammers in charge of finding the solution. Remember politicians like crises, in that it gives them a reason for hanging around and doing stuff.

The Hubbert curve, despite a cursory similarity to the Laffer Curve because it's, well, a curve, is based on hard data and decent mathematical extrapolation. Nobody who digs for oil or is working currently to find oil, including the USGA, doesn't believe that we're drying up.

Of course, we are drying up. That started as soon as people started digging pits and filling them with water to skim off the oil. I'm not denying that we are running out, just that running out doesn't have to be a crisis. Further, that if there is going to be a crisis government will probably be the actual catalyzing agent.

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