Thursday, July 17, 2008

Peak Oil: My Issue With The Oil Drum

Peak oil never really peaked my interest much, until my x-partner got completely wrapped up in every book and blog about it. Then he began telling me the gasoline was going to run out any moment now, he began stock piling salt & canned goods, he quit school because his major wouldn't matter after peak oil, then we broke up. Although my interest was slightly peaked by the fear in it, I never really could sit down and read his fav blog The Oil Drum, until recently. After discussing this blog with a close friend I was pretty disgusted with the whole theory and community backing peak oil. I found alot of fatalism, gloom, statistics played out repeatedly only to prove itself over and over. Where was the solution? There seemed to be no interest in renewable energy, technology with non gas vehicles, no advice on how to lead a sustainable life, no tips for organic gardening, and literally gave the feeling that no one counts. On one peak oil blog they went so far as to say buying organic barely mattered, and patronized people who buy organic and drive an SUV. Basically the feeling was each individual does not matter/make a difference (which is the complete opposite of what I feel & have observed to be true.)

Now highschool was a long time ago, and I would say that forming a clique, or community that excludes others as they are trying to learn new ways of living, is well, shitty and immature.
So I left a random comment about the fear mongering and lack of solutions, which other commenters gave a resounding 95 thumbs down! What a tight community- and the author Prof. Goose responded right away, including this dramatic scary analogy:

"Let's triage the patient without diagnosing the problem! What would you do if you walked into a hospital near death and was told "Sir, you have blood all over you, here's a band-aid for that itty bitty cut on your forehead." You would likely not recover from your wounds.
If you haven't looked around lately and seen what is going on in the world, that is exactly the approach you are advocating. "


Alright dude, thanks for proving my point on the fatalistic horror show attitude.
But to be fair, here is more of the defense of his peak oil fatalism that was retorted:

"The general attitude here is clinical and empirical with a graceful touch of concern for humanity thrown in for flavor. It is not condescending: it is educated. It is critical. It is academic. And it is certainly not for everyone.
I take no joy in the success of this site, nor do I take joy in the massive resource inflation we are witnessing--other than that it may be the one thing that could spur alternative fuel and method development. I really want the community writ large to be wrong about all of this. I beg for it every single day, sir. ...

Someone has to talk about it, someone needs to do the hard thinking, and someone needs to worry about the effects, especially on those who have less of a voice in our society--the poor, the indigent, the folks who are going to bear the brunt of this first wave of transition. I can't speak for others, but that's why I do this.
I am in a relatively safe seat to watch all of this go down--at least in the early innings. However, ask those increasingly hungry people in Pakistan how they are feeling right about now about ethanol. Ask the people who won't have heat this winter what they think of the resource premium.
This is a human tragedy already."

One commenter dared to go against the grain (16 thumbs down) and kindly agree with me saying this:
"Prof: Congrats on a great site. I realize what the first poster said is very unpopular, however I feel he made a good point. TOD[the oil drum] is unlikely to fix the planet-possibly the focus could shift more towards opportunity rather than defeatism. Still a great site-just a minor suggestion, not a criticism."
(Notice the commenter assumed I was male, since the community is largely male).
I do believe the gas will run out eventually, because any resource that gets all used up can run out. But do I believe it should be compared to bleeding from the head, chaos, tragedy, and clinically driven guilt... no way! With a community so large at The Oil Drum (some posts have over 350 comments) it's too bad for the doom & gloom since taking a positive approach would effect much more change & education- fear will always paralyze the deer in headlights.

I would love to know how you feel about the Peak Oil issue, which has now been coined "the long emergency"? Do you feel panic? Do you feel learning a sustainable lifestyle would help? Or do you think Peak Oil is a crock and we will be inventing things that will take the place of gasoline before it could run out?


Anonymous said...

Two major possibilities come to mind.
1. general slowdown of technological support for the ever-growing human population, leading to earlier crash. Probably what will happen is that everything from squeezing oil out of every cranny + sawing down everything for biofuel production will put off loss of global shipping and techno support for increasingly technologically dependent humans.
In addition, other technologies, such as solar, wind, and those sail rigs already developed for shipping will slow the collapse of technology. this will bring about increased global warming and extinction of more species.
2. Chaotic increased discrepancy among the various human populations will occur. Have-tach will survive and prosper for a time, which have-nots will suffer greater mortality. Destabilization will result AK-47s are cheap and makers will ALWAYS supply eager buyers. More violence will occur.
This too will ignore other life and natural system survival. Generalized extinctions and ecological collapse will follow.

It will be wise to learn and practice gathering and growing one's own food. Other skills widely practiced in pre-technological societies will be advantageous.

The catastrophe will come slowly enough to be only visible over a couple or few generations, and so it will not seem urgent to anyone when compared to a life-span.

The Oko Box said...

I am one to think that these are possibilities but also isn't there a definate possibility that we will adjust - that humans like most animals and bugs will adapt to our situation and make due with what's around?
There is so much technology already out there, techie stuff that reducees the use of resources like this:
These advances are so inventive, it shows the human spirit, the triumph over the ordinary.
Is the real worry that the world will be too overpopulated when there is no gasoline?
Personally speaking- i know many of the native edible plants to eat in the wild, I have lived in the woods for 6 years, I have used an outhouse/a hole in the ground instead of a tiolet, i have lived through more then one winter with almost no heat at all - and i survived, spite of the fact that I was born and raised in a big city where I had scarcely even seen a native anomal plant or bug, and thought food came from the store not farmers.
Many skills, like growing food and trapping animals, collecting fruits, berries, wood for fire etc- come naturally.

Holly said...

A large part of the reason that the world is over-populated is petroleum. Used as fertilizer it has enabled us to feed people on so much less land than before.
Many in the peak oil community have the vision of some kind of post oil paradise where populations are living off the land without hot showers or central heating but this would not be good for environment or the humans.
Large amounts of people chopping down trees for fuel, killing animals for food or defecating where ever they please will bring us more death, disease and hunger.
In this description I am just talking about those who are willing or able to adjust, what do you suppose the other people will do?
Alternative technology such as solar cells and windmills (not to mention nuclear and fuel-cells) require petroleum to constuct and fuel cells do not create energy they merely hold it.
These are some of the reasons why many people don't anticipate a smooth transistion.
Having said that, panic is not useful but I agree with Anonymous that learning some simple pre-oil skills may be.

The Oko Box said...

Hey Holly -
Your point is so true, many of our technological advances have created an opportunity for major world overpopulation...
Maybe worse is the lack of education about our resources throughout the world that makes the problem hard to combat. And education could at least help many people in more developed & high consuming countries learn about conservation and learn the basic skills of human survival - or what you called "pre-oil skills". Learning these skills would benefit us right now too, on multiple levels.

Nicktroleum said...

It seems very difficult to assume exactly what will happen in a situation where all of the worlds oil runs out. Nothing like this has ever happened before and although looking at the worst possible scenarios may be important for alternative planning, I totally agree that assuming, even arguing for the worst is counterproductive.

The worlds oil will run out eventually. That much is obvious. Oil is a finite resource that is being consumed quite quickly.

Humans do have a remarkable ability to survive and band together in a lot of different situations. It seems that general thought in the developed nations is starting to lean towards environmentalism where words like "green" are used in everyday culture. I very rarely watch TV but in the instances I do it seems that 1 out of 3 commercials now advertise environmentally friendly products or modes of living.

Products will eventually be able to run solely on alternative forms of power. The technology is already out there for cars to run without petroleum.

People have it in them to do good. Practice it. Believe it. And you will be surprised at what can happen.

xxancroft said...

The Oil Drum is a very important alternative source of information to the main stream media which are responsible for perpetuating the cluelessness that has got us into the mess in the first place.

The people are generally highly perceptive individuals who collectively can see the kind of chaos that is coming. I see their role as that of the prophet who calls attention to the issue. In this case the issue i
has complex and far-reaching implications and the many fragments of the story need to be spelt out clearly and lucidly.

The maintenance of an informed academic perspective is important to their credibility and to their readers trust. I don't see any reason why they should sweeten their message with naive optimism.

andrea of ffft said...

My personal belief is that the big part of the problem is how many people out there still have their head in the sand. I live in a community where thinking "green" is sort of a way of life and not has been since long before the trend hit. But when I jump on the internet and talk to people from other areas I am reminded constantly of how people are just refusing to adapt. They will change their lightbulbs and wash in cold water, but they are still driving their SUV and flying to Hawaii every year for a vacation and using fabric softner. I just had a conversation with somebody online where she explained that she "needed" her SUV because she had two kids. I have two kids and am a single mom and I do just fine without a vehicle by choice, and when I said so she defended herself by telling me that if she lived the way I "claim to" she would "die". This sort of response is sad because she is setting an example for her children and her neighbours. Instead of simply saying I am not ready for that but I know it is better, or acknowledging that there is a better way. Even with all of the proof out there, people still refuse to believe they are powerful enough as individuals that they can or should make a difference.

The point that really needs to be driven home is that change NEEDS to happen RIGHT NOW, not tiny bits at a time. This is where the hospital analogy probably came from, although you are right about the deer in the headlights. It is still too easy for people to not have to make huge changes in their life and it is the huge changes that are needed. It needs to become absolutely socially unacceptable to eat large amounts of meat, to travel abroad or use products and food that are not produced locally, and to have too much stuff. This is scary for most people because we as a society have learned that having stuff and doing whatever we want is akin to being safe and well off. How many women see it as 'therapy' to go shopping for things they have no use for? It is a mental shift that needs to happen, and unfortunately the band-aid approach is the only one really being touted. People need to realize how desperate the situation is, not to be afraid of it, but to make the mental adjustment to change their lifestyle dramatically. I always tell people that my life is far easier than theirs because: my grocery bills are lower (eating very little meat), I don't have the hassle of maintaining a car and this whole obscenely priced gas thing doesn't stress me out every day, I live in a one bedroom apartment with two kids which is actually the way most of the world lives, although my apartment is decidedly nicer than most of their abodes, I spend far more time with my children and friends because I am not sitting in front of a TV- I don't have one and I don't watch the news or read a newspaper because it is just a stress vessel. I am concerned about the way things are going but I am doing everything I can to make a difference instead of wallowing in self pity or denial. And therefore I feel pretty good about myself and am a pretty happy person. Compared to the general population these days I think I have it easier than they do because of these "evil" changes they would have to make. It ain't so bad actually. Instead of fear mongering, lead by example.

andrea of ffft said...

What we need, is more of this in different forms. I left this post and found this link in my mailbox. What good timing.


The Oko Box said...

XXancroft - while I agree perfectly that people should be analyzing, thinking and not sugar coating everything - I also do not believe that optimism equals being naive/less intelligent. Everything comes with good and bad, and I tend to think balance is naturally what humans strive for, not chaos. I don't think peak oilers are prophets though, by any means- just people crunching numbers and trying to guess the day.

Andrea- I live my lifestyle very similar to yours, I don't own a car anymore, I never had an SUV, I grow food and herbs (inlcuding medicine herbs), I don't shop, or buy excessive amounts of anything - my house barely has a piece of furniture in it. I live quite simple and zen, and i totally agree it makes life more free and easy to not have to worry over "stuff". People are trying though, even those who think they would die without their SUV are learning to take steps away from the brainwash consumerism. How many times have we all thought we would die without something, whether it be a person, car, money, shelter... these are all varying degrees of attachment that we actually won't die without. I think too that change needs to be NOW, and education on this matter needs to start now. We do have it in our power to turn it around- but half the planet isn't really motivated yet. So people like me and you are an example to others that simplifying our lifestyles doesn't 'kill' you!
I still have to say, I don't believe everything has to go down in total freak out chaos.
On that note- thanks for the video- his speech was motivational :)

Simon Tay said...

I lived in Over Populated country "Singapore" and the scary thing is we don't have land to grow food to feed the whole country in the event of global energy crisis.

The serious implication here is not just oil alone. The Oil are feedstock of all things plastic (millions of usage), pesticides for large scale agriculture, material for making roads, electricity, transportation of food and products over thousands of miles to your shopping malls, delivery of products to your hospital/Shops/Supermarket/home at affordable cost.

The implication is super hyper inflation that will cost the world a hand or leg to continue to be a globalized capitalism model.

Localization is paramount...locally manufactured products and locally grown food to feed the local is essential. The shorter the distance the better.

If you check out my blog, I will explain it further. Renewable energy can only help certain people at specific location/condition and not all can afford renewable energy for now.

The worst case scenario is sudden spike in crude oil prices that the economy cannot handle the stress...and breaks down.

If the world cannot afford to invest $ into oil exploration new technology to extract more oil at a faster rate...the oil will remain in the earth totally non-profitable to extract...

Now the world might just left with non-conventional, hard to reach, deep sea, heavy tar sand, high toxic sulfuric mixture, high water percentage oil and solid rock oil shale...and in political unstable countries.

This may mean that the world might not run out of oil but simply too expensive/dangerous/slow to meet the global growing demand.

Research deeper and we shall see sustainability development must be a priority to all individual.

The Oko Box said...

Hey Simon-
you have a very good point, some big cities are so over populated that the thought of low oil reserves and not enough food paints a funked out picture of what the problem is.
Doing things locally is totally of importance - buying from local farmers, shopping at local stores, supporting local everything basically - while moving towards sustainable lifestyles. This is something that would help us all out right now, not just for educational purposes, but for physical and mental health of humanity.
On the note of gasoline technology - i think they shouls scrap it and get on the freaken' ball with all the new technologies that don't require gasoline.
Thanks for sharing your website- i will definitely go visit it now...