Thursday, May 2, 2013

Has Peak Oil Been Cancelled?

That seems to be the subject of a few recent articles:

What If We Never Run Out of Oil (The Atlantic)

The Deluge: We Are Entering a New Era of Fossil Fuels (Pacific Standard)

And Matt Yglesias, of all people, supplies a useful corrective:

Long story short, we're in nothing like the peak oil nightmare that a naive forward projection of the 2003-08 hockey stick would have led you to expect. But we've hardly conquered oil scarcity either. New discoveries are having trouble keeping pace with rising car ownership in Asia and declining production from many established oil sources. Meanwhile, unconventional oil is coming onto the market in part because oil is scarce and expensive, which makes it profitable to extract hard-to-extract oil. That's better for the economy than if we didn't find any, but it also means we haven't returned to the 1990s oil bounty and most likely never will.

Natural Resource Scarcity Is A Real Thing (Slate) See also - Oil Supply and Demand to 2025 (Early Warning). I'm a little wary of listening to some of the major Peak Oil pundits as they have invested so much into the concept that they will defend it at all costs to avoid looking foolish. I think the reality is, we really do have a serious situation on our hands. The very fact that we are fracking and planning tar sands pipelines seems to me incontrovertible proof that Peak Oil is real and happening. The major questions are, is there enough "nonconventional oil" to offset the loss of conventional fields and keep growth going, and what effects will this have on the climate.

I think two things are hurting the optimists, though. We need to continue growing exponentially in the developing world as well to keep the capitalism Ponzi scheme running, and the new sources of fuel are more expensive (remember EROEI). But I don't think the shelves will be empty of food and taps running dry of water anytime soon. It seems like economic disintegration means we'll be living sub-third world lifestyles even if there is plenty of oil and natural gas for the time being. And besides, even if there are enough futile dodges to put off the day of reckoning, that day will still come.


  1. Kunstler pitched a fit about the Atlantic article. He could have dismissed it more calmly, by noting that peak conventional oil happened right on schedule and that unconventional oil will peak in a couple of decades, but then he wouldn't be Kunstler. He's an impatient pessimist; he can't wait for things to go wrong.

    1. Well, it's his gig. Prophets of doom crave to be right... else who will buy their books?

    2. Remember this: Ran Prieur Expands Upon Disheartened Doomerism
      March 15. Ten days ago Paula made a post, On Canceling Collapse[link], about my developing no-crash position, arguing that I've collapse-proofed my own life to the extent that collapse is invisible to me.

      I think the word "collapse" is confusing us by blurring several different issues. One of them is poverty, and my position on that has not changed: for all the usual doomer reasons, there will be a lot more desperately poor people, and we should all try to change our lives to need less money.

      The issue on which I've changed my mind is the stability of big systems, and it's strange that everyone thinks I've become more optimistic, when really I've become more pessimistic. Go back and read stuff like The Coming Expansion[link] or How to Survive the Crash and Save the Earth[link]. I was a doomer optimist. For my entire life the world has been getting tighter and tighter, and I was hopeful that I would see it crack open into freedom and possibility. I'm too young to remember the 1960's, but I remember as a kid roaming the neighborhood unsupervised, I remember when small airports had no security at all, when surveillance cameras were rare, when there were no seat belt laws, when you could share information without having to overcome DRM, when only young people had to show ID to buy alcohol.

      My fear now is that it will never again get looser, that a tech crash is almost impossible, and that technology will make the control systems more airtight while channeling our urge for freedom into artificial worlds. You could even argue that this is part of the "collapse": increasing poverty causes increasing crime causes increasing fear causes increasing popular consent for strong central control. links at link


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