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A High School Senior Asks About Peak Oil

I tend to get a lot of e-mails, and I try to make a point to answer them all. Sometimes, the e-mail is a question that I can quickly answer. Sometimes it is a request for comments on a specific technology. But sometimes I get one that someone put a considerable amount of time in, and it warrants a very detailed and thoughtful response. I just received one like that that I felt was worth sharing with readers. I asked the writer for permission to publish it, and she agreed in the hopes that it can help others struggling with these questions, and hopefully spawn some fruitful discussion.

This letter was written by a high school senior, and it is the sort of letter that makes me hopeful for the future. The letter resonated strongly with me, because I have been through some of the same thought processes as I worked my way through the implications of peak oil. I will insert my comments in the text as [RR: Comment].

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Dear Mr. Rapier:

Thank you for posting your email address at TOD! I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but I just can’t seem to express my thoughts succinctly on this topic. I know you are a busy man, but I would greatly appreciate it if you could read and respond to my message and help put my mind at ease.

I am writing to you to ask you some questions about peak oil. I am in my last year of high school and discovered peak oil by accident a few months ago. Like many people, I found Savinar’s site first, and of course my first reaction was one of terror. I stopped reading about the subject immediately to preserve my sanity. However, I knew I had to be honest with myself and keep investigating. Thankfully I found you and Stuart Staniford and all the others who believe that while some trouble may be coming, doom is not.

[RR: There are a couple of things bound to frighten many people new to peak oil. One is is you find Matt Savinar’s site and read through it before you have read through anything else. Another is if – like me – the first book you read on Peak Oil is Jim Kunstler’s The Long Emergency. I read it and thought “Can things really get that bad?” My wife read it and concluded “There is no hope.” What I told her is that this is one view of how things might play out. Nobody knows the future, and I see my job as working to change the future so it doesn’t play out according to worst case scenarios. Incidentally, I have since met Jim Kunstler, and he doesn’t come across like a doomer in person. He is very charming and witty, and is generally a fun guy to be around. But his writings have scared a lot of people.

On the other hand, if your introduction to peak oil is Peak Oil Debunked (which I often recommend to people who have become depressed over peak oil), you may come away with the impression that the post-peak world will be smooth sailing all the way. I don’t believe that (and I don’t think JD at Peak Oil Debunked does either). What I believe is that peak oil will present some upheavals and personal hardship for many people. Even if we have lots of coal and natural gas, the transition will be costly. I think what you are seeing in the economy right now is a taste of what a post-peak world will initially look like: Spiking energy prices that put a burden on people and keep us flirting with recession for many years.]

However, I still have some concerns. Though I do not want to believe in doom, the doomers’ arguments tend to keep resurfacing in my mind and bothering me. On my good days I think, “We can pull through. It won’t be fun, but we can do it.” But on my bad days I think, “What if we can’t?”

[RR: Over the years, I have gone through the same thought process. My undergraduate training is as a scientist, and one thing you learn as a scientist is to continually challenge your conclusions. In other words, conclusions are tentative. You have to be willing to ask yourself what kind of data it would take to cause you to change your position. If you find yourself fitting the data to the conclusion, or rationalizing away evidence that doesn’t seem to fit the conclusion, you have slipped from serious inquiry into dogma. In my view, many doomers are guilty of the latter.]

In other words, I sound like you in your article “My Worst Fears”: doom is my worst fear, but not my expectation. Scenarios, like oil production, fall on a bell curve, with heaven on earth at one end and hell on earth at the other, and in a world in which many factors play into any given situation, it seems simplistic to me to just say, “Well, it’s absolutely gonna be the worst-case and we’re all gonna die.” In real life, the worst-case scenario almost never plays out and reality lands somewhere in the middle. However, that worst-case scenario has a habit of captivating the mind, especially when you’re like me and have no real ability to prepare for it. So I thought I’d write to someone who knows a lot more than me to get my questions answered. (I’m also including, at the bottom, a few of the reasons why I think the doomers are most likely wrong.)

Who exactly are the doomers? Obviously, Kunstler, Heinberg, and Savinar are doomers. However, I had questions mainly about TOD in general and Simmons and Hagens specifically. Simmons, in most places, is called a doomer. However, I have heard him quoted as saying that humanity will “muddle through” peak oil. Does this mean that he is just a super-negative non-doomer? Or is he a doomer trying to tone down his position for the public?

[RR: I am going to be quite critical of Simmons here. Fans of his shouldn’t consider this Simmons-bashing; I just think this needs to be said. I definitely consider Simmons a doomer. I also consider him to be alarmist much of the time. I understand very clearly his desire to have people take this issue seriously, but lately he has latched onto some pretty skimpy evidence and run with it. (I thought it extremely ironic that he recently accused others of running off on a tangent based on skimpy data). The problem is that he takes a little bit of information – which he sometimes doesn’t understand very well – and then draws sweeping conclusions. Many – even some of his allies – acknowledge the contribution of Twilight in the Desert, but they question whether he isn’t doing more harm than good at this point.

An example of that – which I have discussed before – was his talk at last year’s ASPO conference. He claimed in his presentation that we don’t have a good idea of our gasoline inventories, and were just beginning a gasoline crisis that could bring the entire country to a halt. He spun quite a frightening tale, and I could see the shock on some people’s faces. Such shock tactics may work to get people’s attention, but if you cry wolf a few times they backfire.

Contrary to Matt’s argument, the evidence was just the opposite. Even as he was speaking, refineries were coming back online from hurricane outages and inventories were recovering. I was asked about Matt’s comments on a later panel session, and I said I thought gasoline inventories were beginning to recover and that they would be higher in a month. They were. Further, I noted that I was previously in the group that submitted weekly gasoline inventories from our refinery to the Department of Energy, and that we actually have a pretty clear idea of what gasoline inventories looked like from week to week.

Another example is his argument about the $100 trillion corrosion issue in the oil industry. The gist is that he argues that the oil industry is full of rusting infrastructure, and he questions whether we have the money or even the iron resources to fix the problem. Further, he questions aloud how it is that he – Matt Simmons, investment banker – has ‘discovered’ this problem that the oil industry has missed. I won’t go into all of the reasons that Matt is way off the mark on this, as that would be an essay in itself. A corrosion engineer at The Oil Drum has weighed in on this issue, and explains that corrosion is well-understood, and not actually something that Simmons just discovered. Oil companies are full of corrosion engineers who work to replace corroded equipment as needed. There was actually a lot of behind the scenes discussion on how hard to rebut Matt on this, as many felt like this warranted a sharp rebuttal. In the end – because he is considered to be a friend of TOD – he was treated much more gently in public than he was in private.

I did not attend this year’s ASPO conference, but I did get an e-mail from someone who saw his presentation. This from a friend and long time acquaintance of Matt: “Matt Simmons was NOT worth seeing. he seemed a bit crazy – not much new.”]

Obviously you and Staniford are not doomers. I have also seen Kjell Aleklett and Robert Hirsch distance themselves from the doomers. You mentioned that Nate Hagens was not a doomer, and that he wanted to use the term “resource depletion” rather than “peak oil” because peak oil was virtually copyrighted by doomers. However, when I read some of Nate Hagens’ articles at TOD, they sounded remarkably doomerish! I thought, since you know the man, you could tell me what his position was (since, as a student, I have no time to sit on my computer all day and read nothing but peak oil articles).

[RR: Nate is a friend of mine, and I feel like I know him fairly well. His big interest is in human psychology as it relates to peak oil – and I have suggested to him that he distance himself from the phrase “peak oil” because of some of the connotations it has taken on. Nate doesn’t expect people to collectively do the right thing, and as such he is more doomerish than I am. Funny story about Nate is that his original moniker at TOD was “The Last Sasquatch.” I liked a lot of his writing, and talked him into posting under his real name. I told him that he would be taken more seriously that way. He ultimately did start posting under his real name, and gained a lot of credibility as he continued to write. Nate talks about that decision here. But on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being extreme doomer, I would consider Nate to be about a 3 or 4. I consider myself to be about a 6 or 7 – fairly optimistic, but also realistic that it won’t be a piece of cake. Five years ago I was a 5.

By the way, I got to spend some time with Bob Hirsch at last year’s ASPO. I can definitely relate to his thinking. He considers the problem very serious, but something we can painfully work our way through if we get busy. That pretty much reflects my own thoughts.]

TOD in general seems to be a semi-doomer site. It sounds as though it used to be balanced, but shifted at some point. Consequently I only read a few contributors, and rarely touch the comments, which usually degenerate into debate about very fine points that I don’t understand or turn into “when you’re starving to death you’ll see that I’m right.” Which of the main contributors over there are doomers? Because sometimes it’s hard to tell. (By the way, I define “doom” to basically mean “die-off and/or Industrial Revolution reversal scenario.”)

[RR: I don’t want to name names, but very few of the ‘staff’ there are doomers. But two of the most frequent contributors are, and that may make TOD staff seem more doomerish than we really are on average. The readership, I think, does tend toward the doomerish end of the scale, but you have people all over the spectrum. And I can tell you through my own experiences that some doomers feel personally affronted if you challenge some of their views, and are vocal about it. This was also Stuart’s experience right before he stopped posting. He posted some articles forecasting that the future might not be complete doom and gloom, and he got some venom thrown his way. That is why I post there infrequently.]

Source of Aleklett/Hirsch/Simmons statements (dated May 2005, from attendee at Uppsala peak oil conference): [Simmons, Aleklett, and Hirsch] think Peak Oil is a very grave issue, but they also think the doomers are wrong. On a specific question they said Richard Heinberg was very much too pessimistic. They meant Heinberg was too pessimistic on technology and society. They didn’t believe that the end of the world was near, but that we would, and I quote, “muddle through.” They said we might have a few rough decades but that world will not end. For example, Aleklett was asked if he believed airborne mass tourism would continue in the future. He answered that sailing boats are very nice.

Is there any mathematical possibility of world decline rates approaching 8-12%? Doomers seem to throw these numbers around as though they are gospel truth. However, I have never seen a doomer actually lay out the math behind their enormous decline rates. I have only ever seen people in comments confuse field decline rates with world decline rates. Also, I have never heard any leading peak oil expert (except Simmons) predict anything worse than maybe a 6% decline rate. In fact, JD worked out Aleklett’s latest release and found that he was predicting a .5% annual world decline rate!

[RR: As you mention, individual fields can decline at those rates, but as prices rise different technologies can come into play that allow more oil to be extracted and so observed decline rates may be less than what would be observed in a constant oil price environment. But this may also accelerate the decline when it really begins in earnest. I was at the annual Energy Information Administration conference last April and in one of the presentations a slide was presented that showed that decline rates are climbing. See Slide 6 here.]

There is also a more specific question I want to ask you on this same topic. Freddy Hutter (at the Trendlines website) posts innumerable graphs and checks peak predictions and such. While I disagree with his “superabundant” scenario, his site is useful for getting the lastest predictions from leading people. He stated this (on the right side of the page under “worst-case scenario”):

Using the lowest recognized estimate of All Liquids (2021-Gb by EWG/LBST 2008), and assuming 2008 (85.4-mbd) as Peak Year, this projection depicts the Avg Decline Rate of 4.6% required mathematically to exhaust this conservative URR. The significance is that half of this year’s volume will still be available in 2035, and flow won’t dip below 10-mbd until 2055. Finally, All Liquids exhausts in 2083. A post-peak production decline rate higher than 4.6% “strands URR”…and that phrase is an oxymoron. Ignore all pundits that suggest a post-peak average extraction decline rate of over 4.6% in their musings. And please read their alarmist TEOTWAWKI forecasts with these hard numbers in mind.

Is this anywhere close to true? What is “stranding” URR and why is it an oxymoron? Since I agree with Staniford’s assessment that the decline rate is largely what determines the severity of the scenario, I would much rather side with Hutter and the “cornucopians” (a word I hate due to its pejorative application to anyone who is not a doomer), but I need to know if this is really true or not before I do that.

[RR: I think what he means is this. URR is the amount of oil that is ultimately recoverable with current technology. Assume for a moment that URR is estimated to be 100 units. Assume what has been produced is 50 units, and 10 units are being produced in the current year. Now assume for the purpose of illustration that the presumed decline rate is 50%. So then your cumulative recovery based on that decline rate might be something like 50 at the beginning of Year 1, 60 in Year 2, 65 in Year 3, 67.5 in Year 4… We already said that URR was 100, but it doesn’t look like we can get there with that presumed decline rate. So what has happened is too high of a decline rate was presumed which results in a cumulative production rate that will ultimately fall short of present URR estimates. Hence, the oxymoron.]

What is Hubbert Linearization and what is it good for? Some people seem to hold up HL as though it can work miracles, and some people seem to throw it in the trash heap. However, I have noticed that it seems to be used two different ways: to either predict a region’s peak, or predict the post-peak decline rate. You have come out against its use to predict a peak, but Staniford’s article on a slow world decline rate was based entirely on the second usage of HL. Since JD linked to this article as one of the main arguments in favor of a slow decline, I’d like to know if HL can be properly used this way, or if it useless here too.

[RR: And I can tell you that Stuart definitely agrees with me on the issue of using it to predict peak. He has stated this publicly and we have corresponded about it a great deal privately. What has happened here is something I often see. Someone has a theory. They think their logic is impeccable. They start using the theory to make predictions. But they never bothered to validate that theory by plugging in known data to see if it gives the right answer. In the case of HL, I did that and showed that it gave wrong answers more often than not. Hence, using HL to predict a peak is akin to astrology as far as I am concerned.

I have seen this before with relatively inexperienced engineers. They build a model, and start to use it without validating it. But models must be validated. That’s the only way you can have some confidence in the model predictions. (Then there are those who hear the word “model” and they immediately discount the results. That is also the wrong approach).

Because that article by Stuart was written very early on – and Stuart did modify his views on HL as time went by – I can’t really say whether HL gives reasonable and consistent answers on decline rates. I can’t say I have done those checks.]

Vis-à-vis Staniford’s article, how will world economic troubles affect peak scenarios? I am of the opinion that it is very possible that a major depression is looming sometime in the next decade, what with the credit contraction and stock market losses. Obviously a depression would kill oil demand, which might soften peak initially. However, it would also kill funding for alternative energy projects and other mitigation efforts. While I am still not convinced this necessarily spells doom, it could make the transition much more painful. I wonder if the initial depression (economically-induced and having nothing to do with energy or oil) would kill the demand and funding, and we would then stumble our way through recession after recession as peak “ripples through” until suitable alternative technology is developed. Does this sound even remotely accurate? Because the “worst fears” part of me is deathly afraid that a depression now, at the “critical moment,” could trigger the doom scenario. Staniford did not seem to think this, and neither did any of the commenters (early on, at least; I didn’t read the whole thread).

[RR: I think it all ties together. A sharp peak will cause an initial supply shortfall that will result in spiking prices which can cause recession/depression – as well as a drop in funding for renewables. This will cause demand to fall, which will cause prices to fall. Demand then picks back up, and we repeat the cycle. Due to reduced funding for alternatives in troubled economic times, the longer term mitigation options are endangered. This is how I foresee peak oil. It will cause economic troubles, which will feed back into demand. The ultimate impact is that oil will last longer than had the peak not resulted in economic difficulties. This was my premise in The Long Recession.]

Reasons I think the doomers are wrong/suspicions about doomers (in no particular order):

1) The track record/statistics of doom. People have always made doomsday predictions. Since civilization still exists, they obviously did not come true. First it was a global ice age earlier this century, then it was nuclear holocaust, then it was Y2K, etc. Now it is peak oil, or by extension resource depletion. While I understand the gravity of the concerns behind this latest doomsday “fad,” I am just not convinced that doom will play out, due to both their track record and to the mere probability of the event. The bigger and more severe the event, the probability necessarily goes down (like the probability of a major Gulf Coast hurricane vs. the probability of a meteor hitting the earth tomorrow). And doomsday is of necessity a very large and very severe event, pushing the chances down into the realm of the highly improbable. However, I do understand that statistics must be weighed against reality.

2) The lack of presented mathematical evidence for huge world decline rates.

3) The strange distribution of professions amongst the major voices of peak oil. Most of the more optimistic voices in the community seem to have been connected to energy at some point. They are either geologists or in some oil- or energy-related profession. However, the major doomers seem to be either journalists or lawyers, neither of which are energy-related jobs. I question the expertise of these people, especially when their predictions seem to flop so often and so spectacularly. They strike me, overall, as the sort of “annual prophets” who make negative predictions like clockwork, and whose followers seem to get yearly amnesia when their hero’s predictions are totally off the mark.

[RR: Geologists are pretty well-represented in the doomer camp. Think of people like Ken Deffeyes and Collin Campbell. And of course many doomers gain strength in their convictions from Hubbert himself, who was also a geologist.]

4) The “dark side” of peak oil. You don’t have to dig too far into any issue related to resource depletion before you find these people. The people who post things like “only the fit in our society should be allowed to have children” and “we should euthanize the handicapped” and “it’s cruel to be altruistic because it props up the weak,” etc. Obviously these people are all doomers, though not all doomers fall into this category.

[RR: While I view those people as a tiny minority, it has always bothered me that so many doomers can casually talk about billions of people worldwide dieing off as a result of peak oil. My mind can’t even comprehend such a horror, yet people toss that around as casually as if they were debating whether to have a second helping of lunch.]

5) Large amounts of other fossil fuels to “ease us into” the transition. There have now been huge natural gas discoveries under Texas and Louisiana, and if they turn out to be anywhere near as big as they say, it is, as one of your commenters put it, “nearly unalloyed good news.” Coal is even more abundant. From the EIA Coal Reserves page:

As of January 1, 2008, the DRB (Demonstrated Reserve Base) was estimated to contain 489 billion short tons [of coal]. In the United States, coal resources are larger than remaining natural gas and oil resources … Worldwide, compared to all other fossil fuels, coal is most abundant and widely distributed across the continents. Estimates of the world’s total recoverable reserves of coal in 2004 were about 998 billion short tons. The resulting ratio of coal reserves to production is approximately 164 years, meaning that at current rates of production (and no change in reserves), coal reserves could in theory last more than one and one-half centuries.

From Wikipedia’s coal article (not sure if this information is reliable – it’s Wikipedia):

At the end of 2006 the recoverable coal reserves amounted 800 or 900 gigatons. The United States Energy Information Administration gives world reserves as 930 billion short tons. At the current extraction rate, this would last 132 years. However, the rate of coal consumption is annually increasing at 2-3% per year and, setting the growth rate to 2.5% yields an exponential depletion time of 56 years (in 2065). At the current global energy consumption of 15.7 terawatts, there is enough coal to provide the entire planet with all of its energy for 37 years (assuming 0% growth in demand and ignoring transportation’s need for liquid fuels).

Of course, I do recognize that burning that much coal would result in a very bad spike in pollution (I am not yet convinced of the science behind global warming). However, it seems like more than enough to help us “limp along.” (One question about the coal, though: on my first and only visit to the Energy Bulletin website, I saw Richard Heinberg saying that a new study said that we only have 15 years of coal. I wonder if this is true – it is Richard Heinberg, after all. Have you heard of this?)

[RR: I had not heard Heinberg say this, but if he did I think he is wrong. I think one thing that is really going to help us transition away from oil is that we do seem to have substantial natural gas reserves. Natural gas is far more fungible as a transportation fuel than are things like coal, biomass, wind, or solar power, so it should buy us time. Hopefully we don’t squander that time. Of course if our coal reserves are as significant as is often claimed, CTL is a longer-term option for producing liquid fuels, albeit at a higher price point than we are accustomed to.]

6) All major doomers seem to be Americans. Now I am an American, so this is not American-bashing. However, it does make me wonder if, by living in this country, these doomers have a slightly lopsided view of the world (as regards usage and perceived “needs”), since no doomers seem to be coming out of “emerging” countries like China or India or even out of Europe. Notice also how almost all peak oil discussions seem to degenerate, often unknowingly, into “Americo-centric” scenarios (“the U.S. economy will implode,” “the U.S. dollar needs oil,” etc.).

[RR: I had never made this observation, but that does seem to be generally correct (although I do know of doomers who are European or Australian). Maybe this is because we Americans use so much oil, and our way of life is more dependent on oil than is much of the rest of the world. I have always felt like this makes us more vulnerable to oil shortages and oil price shocks. So perhaps it is just that we see the implications of peak oil as being more serious, because for us they may very well be more serious.]

Sorry again for the length of this message. I hope you can help me sort through my confusion. By the way, I love R-squared Energy Blog. It is a voice of moderation in a corner of the interent gone mostly mad, and it is nice to hear that not everyone is a doomer.

[RR: Thank you for your e-mail. As I said, it gives me hope for the future that you are so thoughtfully weighing these issues. Good luck on your quest for the truth. Just keep in mind that ultimately none of us know how the future is going to play out. Personally, I consider a number of possible scenarios, and I plan accordingly. Some of those scenarios including asking questions like “What if Matt Savinar is right?” Ultimately, I think you have to plan for some of the scenarios you think are low probability in the same way that you buy homeowner’s insurance for a house that you don’t believe will ever burn down. You do have to draw a line somewhere, though.]

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October 18, 2009 - Posted by | Jim Kunstler, Matt Simmons, Peak Oil, reader submission

47 Comments

  1. Good questions, thoughtful answers. Only addition I would make is that student should read "What's the Worst That Could Happen" by Greg Craven, an Oregon HS science teacher, a book not about climate change per se, but about how to think about complex issues where the layperson really doesn't have the ability to assess the data independently and must, therefore, rely on others.Craven's book uses climate change as his example throughout (because that's what motivated him — see gregcraven.org for more info) but his method or approach is perfectly transferable to nearly all the questions surrounding peak oil.I really can't recommend it enough.

    Comment by Walker | October 18, 2009

  2. Hi Robert.That e-mail seems almost too good to be true. If there are more high school students like this, then there is plenty of hope for the world.Some random thoughts:The thing I have learned – or rather, had reinforced – in my experience learning about peak oil, is that the devil is in the details, the simple questions are irrelevant and the simple answers are wrong. This has always been the case with every hotly debated question, so there are no surprises here.Secondly, the technical issues are easily solvable. Yes, we can transition away from oil (and coal) – not comfortably, but without huge disruption and with a functioning world social and economic system. Technically, it can be done; it can even be done while the world is coping with the effects of hyper-rapid climate change and ocean acidification, an economic revolution (caused by new technologies), and a shift in the global balance of power. (I recommend Thomas Homer-Dixon's "The Upside of Down" as an introduction to the multiple facets of our situation.)Whether or not you are a doomer depends on your view of human nature. Those that see people as fundamentally short-sighted, selfish and competitive tend to come down on the side of doom. American culture seems to privilege the short term, individualism and competition more than most other cultures do; perhaps this is why doomers are mostly American.Fourth, some comments about "doom."The apocalyptic tradition is much older than the examples your correspondent gives. Probably it goes all the way back to the first great civilization, Sumeria. More recently, there were outbreaks of mass hysteria in Christendom around 1000 AD (the Millenium); and during and after the repeated Plagues three hundred years later, many believed they were living in "the end of times".The media trades on our tendency to believe the worst, as in the case of the "ice age" scare of the 1970s, which basically took hold because of selective mis-reporting (for sensational effect) of scientific studies.Having said that, one can't dismiss predictions (or warnings) of doom out of hand. Y2K is a case in point. Prior to the year 2000, large companies spent a great deal of money testing and upgrading their computer systems to make sure they would work. I did some of this work, and I can attest that had my employer ignored the problem, it would not have been able to take sales orders, produce invoices, or carry out bank transactions. No cashflow pretty soon means no company. Repeat that for *every* company with more than 10,000 employees, and there is a problem.Meanwhile, the media translated this problem into "your TV and washing machine are going to melt down".In the case of Y2K, economic "doom" was averted. This happened because enough people believed in the (real) problem — and the solutions — early enough to take action, and they took it. The warning worked.Will the peak oil and climate change warnings work? I don't know.

    Comment by Greg | October 18, 2009

  3. Good letter and a good response.Speaking of coal-to-liquid…given the nat gas discoveries, I'm wondering how the cost of making liquid fuel from nat gas compares with the cost of making it from coal?

    Comment by David | October 18, 2009

  4. RR said…"it has always bothered me that so many doomers can casually talk about billions of people worldwide dieing off as a result of peak oil. My mind can't even comprehend such a horror, yet people toss that around as casually as if they were debating whether to have a second helping of lunch"I suspect that concepts of "die-off" are tossed around so easily just because — as you admit for yourself — those that do so are also unable get their minds (and hearts) to comprehend such a horror. Although, a little reading of the literature on the Black Plague can increase one's capacity for such comprehension.Also, I don't think most of us have a fixed position on the "1-to-10 doomer scale". My own position is quite fluid . . . even oily. For example, when I visit Phoenix, AZ I'm closer to a '1', or when I visit Vegas I begin to hope for a quick end to it all. When I am at an ecovillage, I'm closer to a '10'. One's immediate community certainly influences one's outlook in this matter.

    Comment by Rate Crimes | October 18, 2009

  5. Mr. Rapier,Thank you so much for posting this letter. That HS student sounds a lot like me, though I would say I am slightly past the stage of asking all the experts I can get ahold of whether Matt Savinar is right. I'm also a bit more optimistic than you are about the 'smoothness' of the years ahead as the world struggles with climate change, energy security, water and food shortages, etc. But both the letter and the response were fascinating and are indeed a basis for hoping that people will get their act together.

    Comment by JD Walters | October 18, 2009

  6. The high school student seemed mainly to be asking — Who should I believe?The answer is — No-one. It is useful to listen to all reasoned points of view. But the important thing is to learn the science & study the data. Then make up your own mind.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 18, 2009

  7. This is a terrific post, and I feel for the highly intelligent student in question–in 1979, as a freshly minted grad schooler (and not as smart as our high schooler in question, evidently), I was sure the world was doomed, and we would run out of oil by 2000. A well-written book of the time was "The Limits to Growth."Besides making me pessimistic, the book and the doom belief led to me not really planning for the future. Why build up assets, become a solid figure in some community, if it was all going kaput in a few years? Add to that the rampant inflation of the 1970s, the spiraling crime rates, the sick economy–it was a ugly picture, and it seemed the US was falling off a cliff.Instead, the next 20 years were a long boom in most regards, and crime rates plummeted.The doomer mindset at best is unproductive, and at worst dangerous. TOD consistently spreads more fear than light (not to mention hatred). Fearmongering is not leadership. Personally, I think the globe is set for its next 20-year boom in GDP. Asia will pass us by in this generation of growth. Already, my brother-in-law, who teaches English to Chinese immigrants in the SF Bay Area, say he is running out of customers. They see the future is there.The USA has many advantages, and will also do well in the boom–but with a huge parasitic military, and a huge system of rural subsidies in place, and who knows how many lawyers seeking the life out of everything, it is doubtful we can compete with the Chinese. Crushing our industrial base is not the path to glory. Still, we will be able to import high-quality lithium batteries and make our own CNG vehicles, if need be. It will be a cleaner and more-prosperous future. It may be that a "weak" dollar helps us in the future (it is unfortunate that the terms "weak" and "strong" are attached to exchange rate. The Chinese has maintained a "weak" currency for decades, and they are plowing right past us. Give to me "weak").

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 18, 2009

  8. Great example, GregThe role of prophets is to predict the future. The fate of prophets is to be stoned to death when their prediction nullifies itself, as is the case with the Ehrlichs. I have paid little attention to the peak oil debate, assuming humanity would cushion the fall with wind, solar, natural gas, coal, cogeneration, nuclear, hybrid, plug-in hybrids, and electric transport. It all comes down to how fast oil prices will rise and I have always taken the view that the market would hold things in check–doubling efficiency allows you to double the price without impact.My family reduced oil for transport by roughly 80% by simply swapping an Outback for a Prius, and using my hybrid electric bike for single person around town errands instead of my SUV. It was effortless. We saved money, maintained or possibly enhanced social stature, and I spend a lot less time in a car. My personal experiment supported my contention that peak oil might not be such a big deal. Witness the sales of high mileage cars when gas hit its peak last summer.Peak oil does not have the potential of nonlinear change.Here is the youtube link to the high school teacher linked to above:

    Comment by Russ Finley | October 18, 2009

  9. I agree with most of what you say, but I'm not sure about the whole recession/depression line of thinking. I've always thought, how are high oil prices bad for the economy while high house prices were good for the economy? If I rent and work in the oil industry, the opposite is true for my personal economy. Why does the economy care either way?The economy is made up of billions of economic transactions which take place every day. In good times, money changes hands faster than inflation, creating more production. The opposite is true in bad times, as people hold on to money, but people are reluctant to bring down prices and wages to bring back up production. From a pure unemployment point of view, the oil price should not matter as it simply shifts production from one sector to another. The amount of money flowing in the economy relative to the inflation rate is what matters.I do realize though that two caveats to this argument exist. First, sudden shocks like 1973 are bad and do trigger recessions. The sudden rise in gas prices/gas lines made the economy much less efficient overnight and forced people to cut back consumption everywhere. However, a long rise in gas prices should transition people over more smoothly, provided the level of money in the economy stays constant through government intervention.Second, I do NOT have a blissful attitude that we could keep our energy consumption the same. Energy will come from more complex, capital-intensive and labor-intensive processes and our standard of living will suffer as a result. Less time and resources will go towards, say, building SUV's and more towards getting/storing energy in the first place.However, a general decline in the standard of living does not translate to a recession. A recession is something specific to a high-unemployment and underproducing economy which can be abated through effective intervention by the government, as it was for most of the post-war years in America.The real key is shocks. Shocks can have very adverse effects, especially if we respond with dumb things like Nixon's price caps. But without massive shocks, the economy should have a more gentle transition to producing goods which make energy without oil, store energy, or consume less energy.

    Comment by Matthew | October 18, 2009

  10. Matthew-High energy prices per se do not effect the size of the economy. It only means we have more labor and capital devoted to energy, and less for other sectors. It does mean a lower overall standard of living.Imagine an island with 10 workers. One worker is enough to gather tar and build necessary canoes. The nine others build houses, gather food, sing songs and dance with island girls. Let us say the tar becomes more scarce. Now they have to devote two workers, leaving only eight workers in other sectors. There is slightly less housing, ;less singing and dancing. We can assume the food gathering stays constant.Now, happily, in the modern economy, there are many, many ways to adjust, as seen by Russ Finley's brilliant example. It is obvious we can all but maintain the same standard of living, even raise it, while using less energy or oil. The high mpg car, less driving, moving closer to work, using mass transit, car-pooling all come to mind. I like the example of a worker who lives 20 miles from work, and drives a 20 mpg car. In response to higher oil prices, he moves to 10 miles form work, and drives a 40 mpg car. Now, his gasoline consumption falls from two gallons a day to 1/2 gallon a 75 percent collapse. He may have a lower standard of living–a new car costs money, although it feels nice. Likely, he savs money on gasoline, even at higher prices, and he will gain free time from shorter commutes. His city's air will be cleaner, and his city's roads will be less congested (minutely in both regards, but still). All in all, it is hard to say this example has suffered a decline in living standards, and yet he has reduced gasoline consumption by 75 percent.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 18, 2009

  11. "A recession is something specific to a high-unemployment and underproducing economy which can be abated through effective intervention by the government"Them's fighting words.You are aware, Matthew, that there are schools of economic thought which argue that government intervention is actually the cause of the problem, not the solution? If you are not aware of that, then you should do some research.Certainly, having a government that drives business overseas, deindustrializes the nation, prohibits development of natural resources, and undermines the educational system is not a help. If a government in the US did those kinds of things, we would end up with 20 million unemployed & under-employed fellow citizens. Perish the thought!

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 19, 2009

  12. Benny, I think we're on the same page. I meant "lower standards of living" in a sense that we wouldn't drive SUV's and big trucks just because we felt like it. I have a small apartment with low heating bills and a fuel-efficient car, so high energy costs hardly affect me.Kinuachdrach, not sure if you really read through my post. The "government intervention" I spoke was the federal reserve printing money. Despite the conspiracy theories, the Fed was formed after numerous banking panics, culminating in the panic of 1907. It screwed up leading to the depression, but a mix of good bank regulations and monetary policies did a good job of ensuring post-war prosperity until we had another panic last year brought on by loose banking regulation.However, I am a libertarian against most forms of government intervention. CAFE standards were a dumb idea which killed the station wagon, pushing families into minivans and SUV's. I'm for killing about 95% of the tax code, with all its dumb market-distorting loopholes. Not the least of which include the mortgage-interest deduction, which put WAY too much of this country's money into sprawl-inducing housing.I used to be hardcore libertarian when it came to banking regulation as well, but the crisis made me rethink my stance. As I read more into it, I found out that the country's growth was much more uneven and recessions were much more painful before the banking regulations of the 1930's. I couldn't get around the fact that the banking system deals with people's money and that it will be subject to panics without the government setting regulations and insuring people's deposits are safe.

    Comment by Matthew | October 19, 2009

  13. Matthew wrote: I'm not sure about the whole recession/depression line of thinking. I've always thought, how are high oil prices bad for the economy while high house prices were good for the economy? Unsustainable irrational exuberance creating high house price bubbles was not good for the economy. Boom and bust cycles hurt. What caused Lehman Brothers and AIG to implode and the recession/depression was not high oil prices, but too many Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO) on toxic assets homes that weren't worth the amounts of their exploding adjustable rate mortgages that homeowners couldn't afford to pay off when their rates adjusted up.http://blog.mint.com/blog/finance-core/a-visual-guide-to-the-financial-crisis/I've been hearing the housing doomers warn since 2005 that the housing bubble would burst and cause the next Great Depression, or World Depression II. We got hit by the Subprime rests in 2007. The Option ARMs and Alt-A loans are set to explode in the next two years according to Credit Suissehttp://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2007/10/imf-mortgage-reset-chart.htmlCredit Suisse's updated chart shows the mortgage pain may continue into 2012.http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/05/new-mortgage-loan-reset-recast-chart.htmlThough, if the economy remains bad and interest rates remain low, the ARMs might not adjust up. The economy is not just about energy prices, but by your last post, you understand that, which makes your claim that high house prices was good, all the stranger. (Unless that was a straw man that RR didn't propose.)

    Comment by Clee | October 19, 2009

  14. Robert I enjoyed this article – you've clearly got not only bright, but conscientious, students in the US.I was glad to see you write: "While I view those people as a tiny minority, it has always bothered me that so many doomers can casually talk about billions of people worldwide dieing off as a result of peak oil. My mind can't even comprehend such a horror, yet people toss that around as casually as if they were debating whether to have a second helping of lunch."In recent comments on TOD I saw a flurry of comments about how it was ok to consider that billions of "abstract" people might die. I suspect the commenters were convinced that relatively few people in developed countries would number among the abstract billions. Made me shudder!On a totally unrelated tangent — do you have control over the formatting on either blogspot.com or blogger.com? Wider columns for both articles and comments would make for more comfortable reading and a lot less scrolling.

    Comment by PeteS | October 19, 2009

  15. Matthew-I enjoyed your post about the Fed, government taxes and regs, and I much concur.I never thought I would hear anyone (besides myself) bash the homeowner mortgage interest tax credit. When I get really crazy, I point out to people we subsidize rural economies to the tune of $200 billion a year, and that the US military is so big and spread out that even conservatives like George Will, Pat Buchanan and John McLaughlin are asking aloud if it is helping demagogues get us into foreign entanglements. (PS I generally dislike government welfare too).There are places for government–pollution comes to mind (your rights do not extend to polluting the air I breathe). A reasonable military deterrent. Trickier is the current circumstance–oil, a critical commodity, yet controlled by erratic and often hostile thug states, who do not respond to market incentives. A free market response leaves us vulnerable, at worst to blackmail. An oil embargo would harm us far more than all the terrorists in the world. Yet market mechanisms are the best to spurring alternatives and altering consumption.A fascinating topic. PS there is an interesting article in a recent issue of The New Yorker regarding financial institutions, and the sometime tendency for free markets not to absorb disturbances, but exacerbate them–feedbacks and panics. The story was mostly about Lawrence Summers. As for me, I am for whatever works. I changed my dogmas around a few times already.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | October 19, 2009

  16. RR: Maybe this is because we Americans use so much oil, and our way of life is more dependent on oil than is much of the rest of the world. I have always felt like this makes us more vulnerable to oil shortages and oil price shocks."It may seem counterintuitive,but I think countries that use the least oil are most vulnerable to high oil prices. A Cambodian factory worker felt a lot more pain than the worker in Detroit when oil hit $140 a barrel. The Cambodian is lucky to feed himself,much less a family, on the $45 monthly minimum wage. When rice prices quadrupled,he was stuck like Chuck. That's why we saw food riots across the developing world in '07 and '08. Americans spend less than 10% of income on food. Indians spend more than 50% of their income on food. High oil prices and oil shortages might crimp our lifestyle,but it can literally cause mass starvation in poorer countries.

    Comment by Maury | October 19, 2009

  17. it has always bothered me that so many doomers can casually talk about billions of people worldwide dieing off as a result of peak oil.Why? It's pretty much inevitable at some point, whether caused by Peak Oil or not.The earth is probably now carrying about 3X it's sustainable capacity of humans. We can only do that because for the last 120 years we have been dipping into a huge reserve of stored energy accumulated over 300 million years or so in the form of petroleum, coal, and natural gas.But unless the earth is magically regenerating that energy bank faster than we are consuming it, it will eventually get to the point where demand exceeds supply and becomes too dear for most people to buy. When that happens, the population will start to recede to the earth's natural carrying point.Also looming out there are natural events such as a comet or asteroid strike that will do to us what the Chicxulub meteorite strike did to the dinosaurs ~65 million years ago. Another Chicxulub (and it's inevitable), and there will be a die off of billions of people.When you think about it, does anyone really think there will still be humans on earth 50,000 years from now? 500,000 years? 5,000,000 years?It's impossible to predict with any precision, but at some date in the future, humans will be extinct, and for that to happen there will have to have been a massive die off.To paraphrase Rick Blaine in Casablanca, "In the course of geological and astronomical times, the span of humans on this crazy earth doesn't amount to a hill of beans."

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  18. Wendell-Au contraire. If we nuke up, we have power, and we can build PHEVs. Japan and France are quite far down this road already. Plus, solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biofuels, and, of course, conservation. The price signal works miracles.BTW, every 450,000 years or so, the Earth shoots off a mega-volcano, dusting up a continent or two. And then we are due for an Ice Age too. And inter-stellar space travel is out as we cannot exceed the speed of light. Eventually, in another 10-12 billion years, the universe collapses again into the next Big Boom. But, we can still make it nice here for succeeding generations.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 19, 2009

  19. Kinu and Everyone:India can do it. The USA can do it.Forecast: 17M Natural Gas Vehicles Worldwide by 201519 October 2009Cleantech research firm Pike Research forecasts growth in natural gas vehicles (NGV) on the road worldwide to 17 million units by 2015, up from 9.7 million in 2008. Pike Research forecasts that the NGV market will grow globally at a CAGR of 5.5% to reach just over 3 million vehicles (including conversions) by 2015.The top five markets for NGVs are currently Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and India. Pike Research anticipates India will be the fastest-growing NGV market with a CAGR of 18.4% between 2008 and 2015. This rapid expansion will largely be due to the availability of refueling stations and the growth of government emissions rules in large cities in India.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 19, 2009

  20. Why? It's pretty much inevitable at some point, whether caused by Peak Oil or not.Death is inevitable. That doesn't mean it isn't a personal tragedy for someone each time it happens. Now multiply that times a billion. As someone else said, the Black Death puts those sorts of things in perspective. If you have ever read any personal histories of that period of time, it is horrifying. If you can speak of it in the abstract, maybe not so much.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 19, 2009

  21. On a totally unrelated tangent — do you have control over the formatting on either blogspot.com or blogger.com?I don't think so, Pete. I keep thinking I need to go to a dedicated server and different format, but I can never quite dedicate the time to taking that leap.Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | October 19, 2009

  22. …every 450,000 years or so, the Earth shoots off a mega-volcano, dusting up a continent or two. And then we are due for an Ice Age too.Benny,Yup, they are looming out there too. I just didn't mention them. In the long run, we are all doomed. 🙂 I'd like to see what Al Gore would be doing if several large glaciers were headed this way from Canada. Would he think humans have the power to alter such a major cooling event* by passing a few laws to change our behavior?By the way: Every once in a while you read of some scheme for people to settle on Mars and through some kind of magic and tweaking, change the Martian atmosphere so it will support humans. Haven't you ever wondered why people think we could so easily change the atmosphere of Mars to support life, while at the same time we have so little power to control our own atmosphere?__________________* A major cooling event that is inevitable and part of the earth's natural cycle.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  23. …the Black Death puts those sorts of things in perspective. If you have ever read any personal histories of that period of time, it is horrifying.Yup, horrifying and certainly not something I'd want to face. But at the same time, it was probably necessary in order for society to evolve to where it is today. The Black Death led to religious, social and economic upheavals which profoundly affected the rest of human history.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  24. "The earth is probably now carrying about 3X it's sustainable capacity of humans. We can only do that because for the last 120 years we have been dipping into a huge reserve of stored energy accumulated over 300 million years or so in the form of petroleum, coal, and natural gas".Wendell,This is the whole idea behind "the re-newables"With re-newable sources, we don't have to wait 300 million years forfor solar power to make plants that will be compressed by time and pressure into finite resources.John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 19, 2009

  25. “which put WAY too much of this country's money into sprawl-inducing housing.”Another made up problem. “subsidize rural economies to the tune of $200 billion a year”Somebody will have to explain this to me. Clean air, no crime, good schools, low housing costs, and low local taxes are result of not living in the big city. I am not sure my living choice takes anything from city dwellers.

    Comment by Kit P | October 19, 2009

  26. Kit P-Depending on how rural you are, you are benefitting from subsidized roads, electricity, postal service, water systems, phone systems and more.Rural phone systems are subsidized this year alone to the tune of $8 billion. Additionally, we funnel roughly $60 billion annually into farm economies through the Department of Agriculture.Much of rural America would depopulate in a free market society. We have created knock-kneed, subsidized weakling socialist economies in our rural areas, that take more money each year to prop up.Even Defense spending is suspiciously skewed to Southern, rural areas. If you live in rural America, the free enteprise and market system is an anathema–you could never survive in a true free market, without urban residents paying your freight.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 19, 2009

  27. With re-newable sources, we don't have to wait 300 million years for solar power to make plants that will be compressed by time and pressure into finite resources.John,In geologic terms, 300 million years is a mere blink of the eye and is renewable. In fact, those ancient fossil fuels are the original bio-fuels.What you really mean is a short renewing cycle versus a long (to humans) renewing cycle.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  28. Clean air, no crime, good schools, low housing costs, and low local taxes are result of not living in the big city.Kit P.Another result of living where you live is an utter dependence on motor transportation. Don't try and tell me you've never burned a half gallon of fuel to go pick up a half gallon of milk.You may not like the lifestyle on Manhattan (neither do I), but the people who can stand to live there get along quite nicely without needing to own a car.Population density does lead to a critical point where mass transportation becomes both possible and more efficient than the personal transportation needed in areas of rural and suburban sprawl.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  29. Personally, I'm glad people live in rural areas and grow the food that I eat. I don't think the manhattanites could grow enough food for themselves in the windows and roofs of their apartments.

    Comment by Clee | October 19, 2009

  30. The earth is probably now carrying about 3X it's sustainable capacity of humans.Excuse me, Wendell, but just how did you calculate that earth can only support 2 billion people? Did you use a model? How was said model calibrated? Or are you just quoting a number that somebody else pulled out of thin air?In reality, earth's carrying capacity is a function of technology: earth cannot support 6 billion hunter-gatherers as they each require too much land to support them. For 6 billion to survive, you need a means of supplying food and water, as well as ways to protect the environment, aka handle the wastes. Sure, we could do a better job, and in future we will.With regard to energy: it all comes back to having a (relatively) free market. At high energy prices, we will find ways to use energy more efficiently, as 2008 proved. High energy prices also makes (real) alternatives more competitive. In other words: we'll be OK as long as the prostitutians stay out of it.The main threat to the free market taking care of our problems would be volatility in energy prices: $150/bbl in August, $30/bbl in November. If you believe that high oil prices cause recessions, you have a lot to worry about.OTOH, if you realize that at $150/bbl the market just reward different players than it does at $30/bbl, you're close to realizing that the market is our best hope for beating resource depletion.

    Comment by Optimist | October 19, 2009

  31. Somebody will have to explain this to me. Clean air, no crime, good schools, low housing costs, and low local taxes are result of not living in the big city. I am not sure my living choice takes anything from city dwellers.Kit, you mean other than the federal tax dollars used to subsidise your idilic country living?

    Comment by Optimist | October 19, 2009

  32. Clee-And we don't grow enough food in Los Angeles either. The free market system usually solves such problems quite well. You see, we manufacture goods, and trade them for food. A lot of what I see in America reminds me of a job I took decades ago in the Savings and Loand industry. They had a saying, "We believe in two tings: Free enterprise and Reg Q."Back in thos days. Reg Q alloweds S&L's to pay more than banks fro passbook deposits.Accordingly, you believe in free enterprise, and rural subsidies.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | October 19, 2009

  33. I'm with Clee. Everyone wants to find fault with farm policies,but someone's obviously doing something right. Americans spend far less of their income on food than other countries. Less than half the average,in fact. At the same time,the US provides about 60% of the world's food aid.

    Comment by Maury | October 19, 2009

  34. In reality, earth's carrying capacity is a function of technology: earth cannot support 6 billion hunter-gatherers as they each require too much land to support them.The earth is is not doing a very good job of supporting the almost 7 billion that live here now. Only about a billion of those seven billion live at a standard of living comparable to ours. Those one billion represent about 85% of the world's energy consumption. The other six billion, or roughly 85% of the world's population has to get by on the remaining 15% of the energy used.Carrying capacity may be a function of technology, but that technology is not much helping the the bottom six billion._______________________Earth's carrying capacity: A rough model. Add up all the resources being used in the world, and divide by the amount that a typical American uses. That comes to roughly two billion people.If we accept a lower standard of living, the carrying capacity obviously goes up. But gee, then we might have to go without grapes flown in from Chile during the winter months.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 19, 2009

  35. Maury,In some places the topsoil in the Midwest was originally 18 feet thick. Not eighteen inches, but 18 feet. This is our "Great American Birthright" (that we stole from the Native Americans).Of course, unsustainable "modern" farming practices have washed a lot of this "freebie" we obtained at the point of a gun (or small-pox infected trade blanket) into the Gulf of Mexico.Despite recent no till farming practices and a small movement to return to organic farming techniques, we are still sending the "World's Breadbasket" loaded with nutrients and fertilizer chemicals into the "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.Civilization does not run on the latest I-phone innovations. Civilization runs on its belly.Take away the abundant, relatively cheap food sources and civilization collapses as it has done many times in history and pre-history. No need for some hypothetical fossil fuel short fall. Everybody thinks our civilization is based on fossil fuels. Wrong………. John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 19, 2009

  36. Okay,I'll buy that civilization rests on the back of relatively abundant,cheap food sources John. But,that food wouldn't be very cheap or available without fossil fuels. We could try growing the fuel,of course. But,that's a sore subject around here.

    Comment by Maury | October 19, 2009

  37. Earth's carrying capacity: A rough model. Add up all the resources being used in the world, and divide by the amount that a typical American uses. That comes to roughly two billion people.If we accept a lower standard of living, the carrying capacity obviously goes up. But gee, then we might have to go without grapes flown in from Chile during the winter months.October 19, 2009 11:30 AMWendell,Thanks for posting this. I have also seen figures similar to yours. John

    Comment by Anonymous | October 19, 2009

  38. "The main threat to the free market taking care of our problems would be volatility in energy prices"An intriguing solution to that volatility would be the old-fashioned way to get rich — buy low, sell high.Build a giant storage facility somewhere. When oil is at $30/Bbl, buy all you can. When it gets to $150/Bbl, selll like the dickens. As well as making a fortune, you would be moderating the volatility in oil price. If enough people did enough of it, the price of oil would become relatively stable, chnaing moderately over the long term.Of course, like any good idea, other people thought of it long ago. The Saudis to be precise. At one stage, they wanted to build a huge storage facility in the US (in part to provide themselves with a source of income if the Iranians screw up the Straits of Hormuz). The US government and State governments love to tax imports, and to tax inventory, and to impose ridiculously over-reaching regulations. The Saudis dropped the idea.Prostitutians. The Political Class. The Enemy Class. Those guys really are the source of all that is wrong in this world. At some point, the rest of us will have to deal with them.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | October 19, 2009

  39. BennyThanks for explain how rural life is subsidized. I was afraid it was another crackpot idea out of California.

    Comment by Kit P | October 20, 2009

  40. RR: and assuming 2008 (85.4-mbd) as Peak Year, this projection depicts the Avg Decline Rate of 4.6% required mathematically to exhaust this conservative URR. The significance is that half of this year’s volume will still be available in 2035, and flow won’t dip below 10-mbd until 2055. Finally, All Liquids exhausts in 2083."As a worse case scenario,that doesn't sound so bad Robert. At least not for developed economies. At some point,we've got to assume electric and PHEV's become more economical than ICE's. Most of the East and West can probably afford the switch. It's the undeveloped countries that will be royally screwed imo. Suppose the price point that motivates folks to switch is $200 per barrel. Energy inputs being 40% of farm costs,we've got to assume food prices will at least double. Not the biggest problem for Americans. We'd be paying what the average country pays for food today. Sure,it might tack another $75 per month onto the average car note….but we'd manage somehow. But,what about the several billion people already spending 50% of their disposable income on food? It's hard to spend more than 100% of your income,no matter how hungry you get. The next 25 years won't be easy ones for the world's poorest.

    Comment by Maury | October 20, 2009

  41. Benny BND Cole wrote "Depending on how rural you are, you are benefitting from subsidized roads, electricity, postal service, water systems, phone systems and more".There is a widespread misunderstanding here. Those people are receiving those things – but those things are often only "benefits" in the sense of putting back underlying stuff that was taken away, i.e. addressing underlying needs with substitute methods. I'll try to clarify further down."Rural phone systems are subsidized this year alone to the tune of $8 billion. Additionally, we funnel roughly $60 billion annually into farm economies through the Department of Agriculture."These only meet (underlying) needs because the needs aren't met locally, i.e. rurally."Much of rural America would depopulate in a free market society".Based on historical experiences, including settlement patterns in North America and the way English settlers in mediaeval Ireland went native in droves, that is probably incorrect. Cities have historically prospered on the back of a number of things, including being places where tax revenues went to die. People definitely head for cities in "free market but with taxes" conditions – and fled when those failed for various reasons. But there were so many other factors that it is hard to be definitive."If you live in rural America, the free enteprise and market system is an anathema–you could never survive in a true free market, without urban residents paying your freight".By that reasoning, North American settlement patterns were logically impossible. There is probably an assumption there about being rural and having dependencies on and connections with urban resources. But it was only artificial action that created those originally – the history shows it. Whether that could or should be wound back, either gracefully or at all, are other questions. It could well be that the artificial historical stuff pushed things past a tipping point/point of no return. But we cannot infer a separate and inherent dependency of rural life on urban resources and on subsidies from the mere fact that they are in place; they started out as part of a mesh of things that created that dependency. I have heard subsidies etc. of this sort described as "breaking someone's legs and then offering him a crutch".There is much discussion of these issues at Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog and in his other material.

    Comment by P.M.Lawrence | October 20, 2009

  42. In some places the topsoil in the Midwest was originally 18 feet thick. Not eighteen inches, but 18 feet. John,Much of that enormous resource of deep, fertile soil that took tens of thousands of years to develop in the Midwest has now been sucked of its nutrients. Many industrial farms are not good stewards of the soil, and will plant corn-on-corn year after year.A lot of that soil is now nothing more than a sterile matrix that does nothing more than hold the seed in place as farmers dump on fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. If not for the chemicals, there would hardly be a crop at all.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | October 20, 2009

  43. Odograph here, how long have I been gone? Six months? Or by some definitions of "gone" a year or two?My advice to any possible peaker is to take some time off. Come back and look at the question and community in six months.Here's where I'm at … while I can still explain and defend the potential risks to newbies, the community is looking weirder and weirder to me.The short observation is that they seem more about "doom" than about "oil."I see that there is a "short or long crash" argument? Bargaining.They didn't get the short crash and are trying to deal with it.

    Comment by odograph | October 20, 2009

  44. BTW, when I changed my attention (two years ago) from oil to economy, I think I showed some flexibility.Maybe I showed I was not the hedgehog after all. So funny when doomers at TOD saw themselves as nimble foxes. They are still there, with their same focussed worldview.Those people who stuck on peak oil missed the economic bubbles, but people who saw the bubbles "as a consequence of high oil prices" missed it by the diameter of Jupiter's orbit.It's a bad thing to see the world just one way.

    Comment by odograph | October 20, 2009

  45. Very nice exchange, Robert.I am interested to see you delving so deeply into biofuels, despite your pessimism about their prospects.Are people depressed because they are doomers, or are they doomers because they are depressed? Which came first.Regardless, if they think the planet is over its carrying capacity, the obvious thing for them to do is to either sterilise themselves and all their family, or to step off the moving train.

    Comment by Wanda | October 21, 2009

  46. Start with sterilizing those who believe euthanasia is necessary.

    Comment by Anonymous | October 21, 2009

  47. When you take his entire body of work into account, it's amazing to me that people consider Jim Kunstler to be a doomer."The Long Emergency" is actually an exception in his work in terms of its heavy-handedness. His non-fiction books are somewhat hopeful and imagine and aspire toward solutions, and his most recent fiction book is also quite hopeful. This man has also written childrens' books and has done some beautiful paintings of natural and urban environments.In fact, I think the only people to which Kunstler should be considered a doomer is those that think that the only way to live is as we are living today — in a car-dependent, "live large" society where everyone is a consumer.It's really unfair to put him in the same bag as people like Savinar, who are mainly profiteers.If you still don't believe me about Kunstler, read the final chapter of "Home From Nowhere".

    Comment by mattbg | November 6, 2009


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