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Monday, February 27, 2006

The Devil's Advocate II

Sure oil production will peak... so what?
by Aaron Dunlap

There are two basic reasons why peak oil is quite irrelevant... & here they are:

I'm a big fan of deductive reasoning... For those of you who don't know about deductive reasoning, it's that "scientific method" stuff you missed while flirting with during science class in school.

Here's how it works...

All pregnancies end. You are pregnant. Therefore: Your pregnancy will end. I don't need to know about your specific pregnancy, to know yours will end.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from William of Occam, many years ago. Willy said: "All things being equal, the simplest explanation, tends to be the right one."

Sounds reasonable... So...

Reason #1 - The GrandPa Factor

My grandfather was born in 1902 in Indian Territory, Oklahoma. He taught me many things during our time together... how to fish the lake with a cane pole... how to bet the inside straight... & how to live a fulfilling life.

But he taught me something even more important than the tiny treasures of a 6 year old boy... without even knowing he did it.

Through listening to his stories, & seeing his long life in a complete arch, one thing seems obvious... That for all our faults... people can be clever little buggers. Imagine watching your world go from horse, to steam, to cars... to the moon! Who could have predicted, back in ole '02, that men would play golf on the moon one day... the very idea would get you laughed right out the door back then.

And yet that is exactly what happened...

In fact, if I look back on our collective human history, I can see the same pattern... over & over again.

What seemed fantasy at the time, eventually came to pass. So let's go back & see what our friend Willy might say about this.

What seems more reasonable?

1) Humanity will hit a brick wall called peak oil, and suffer terrible, if not permanent destruction, because there isn't any viable energy alternative?


2) Humanity will repeat the same pattern it has for countless generations. Innovating in the face of crisis beyond the imagination of current thinking.

My own grandfather's life demonstrates this concept nicely.

While I can't tell you specifically what will replace oil... logic says I don't need to.

I only need to understand that if humanity fails to innovate our way out from under oil depletion, it would be the first such human failure in our history!

It's more reasonable to project that unforeseen developments, spurred by the pressure of rising energy prices, will meet our energy challenge in unpredictable ways... solved!

#2 - The M. Lynch Equation

The more complex any issue has become, the more difficult it is to predict the outcome. It's because the initial conditions are all but impossible to quantify accurately, and these specifics vastly affect the outcome. A tiny difference in beginning conditions, will radically alter the equation and how things play out.

This makes efforts at predicting peak oil, an exercise in futility. Given the vastly complex nature of the energy issue, efforts in prediction are of little use... the crystal ball has a crack in it.

So you can live in peak oil fantasy-land as long as you like, but given my two observations, you will be waiting a very long time indeed. In fact you may need to pass on your myopic belief to your descendants to carry on the charade.

The facts speak for themselves. Peak Oil simply cannot be predicted with any accuracy. So you might as well predict it will rain beer tomorrow.

And my grandfather's wisdom shows that all things being equal... we will innovate and prosper...

Always have...


Thinking Again said...

Aaron, the critical feature of deductive reasoning that is often ignored is that this reasoning is based on a set of assumptions. We must first accept the assumptions and then proceed from there.

In the service of clarifying the situation, I wish you had identified your assumptions but since you haven't done so explicitly, I'd like to make a stab at what they might be:

1) The past is a guide to the future. We can expect the future to be similar to what's happened in the recent past.
2) The history of human civilization is a triumphant march of success upon success.

The problem I have with assumption #2 is that history is written by the winners, and most people's understanding of human history is weak. It's important to recognize that there have been many spectacular failures of powerful civilizations. You should remember that the fall of Rome was succeeded by a millennium of "dark ages". There was a brilliant civilization in the Yucatan that disappeared a long time ago and left only relics and language fragments. If you want to use the past as a guide to the future, you should keep in mind that civilizations generally fail at some point.

The problem with using the past as a guide to the future is that you can pick whichever aspect of the past supports your argument, and ignore the other parts. This is called "cherrypicking".

The people predicting oil depletion and the ensuing economic hardships are engaging in inductive reasoning. This involves taking known things, such as known oil reserves, patterns in oil discovery and consumption, and the laws of thermodynamics, and using this information to project from the present into the future. Some of these people know what they are talking about.

I don't think it's a good idea to trustingly sit around and faithfully hope that "they" (whoever they are) will invent a fix for our current - uh - fix. The best projections for the peak of oil production range from "right now" to ten years from now. As soon as production starts declining, the troubles will expand. Meanwhile, the best guess for a fusion reactor is about 40 years in the future. The Hirsch Report pointed out that developing infrastructure to partially mitigate the loss of oil and replace it with alternatives will take on the order of 10 or 20 years.

Will someone invent a miracle energy source in the next ten years, and find a way to scale it up tremendously in only a few years, in the face of possibly crashing economies and resource wars? Personally, I think it would be much better if we all parked our cars and started using public transportation.

Andrew said...

I suggest you read "Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", by Jared Diamond. There is ample evidence that humanity has not always "innovated" out of an poulation overshoot/resource depletion scenario.

tkn said...

when I read your first argument what popped into my head is that going from "...steam to...the moon." all happened at the same time (roughly) as the rise in oil production. Your view of history must be expanded as the previous two respondents have pointed out.

to ignore the reality that population overshoot has occurred and that it will take a massive collective consciousness and effort to achieve a soft landing (best case scenario) is imho, foolhardy.

be well

Craig said...

Here is one way to pay for all that inovation:

Many say we will see $3.50/gal this summer. If you factor in Iran, who knows how high it could go. Everyone knows America MUST get off the oil. After September 11, 2001 I expected our President to call on Americans to GET OFF THE OIL. I was expecting a speech like the one JFK gave that motivated us to reach for the moon. As you know, this never happened. Eventually I realized that the only way this is going to happen is for us to do it ourselves. To that end I created this idea and have been trying to make it a reality..

The EPA is offering a research grant opportunity that I believe is a perfect fit for this idea. I have sent an e-mail to a hand picked list of university professors who have experience with government research projects. I’m looking to form a research team to apply for the EPA grant, conduct a social-economic experiment and surveys to determine to what extent the American public will support it, project the economic potential of WPH, and identify logistical, social and political obstacles as well as opportunities.

All government grants are awarded based on merit of the proposed research. I believe WPH has merit but your help is needed to verify it. You can help by posting your feedback. Let the professors and the EPA know what you think about WPH. Do you think this idea is worth pursuing? We need to know if Americans will support a plan like this.

Do you have any ideas to improve the plan?

Share any and all of your thoughts.

Tell your friends and family about this Blog post and ask them to post their thoughts on WPH

Thank you


Giordano said...

Peak Oil troubles will usually be described as something else. eg Zimbabwe, Harere, the city is lawless and barely functioning. A major reason is the price of oil, but common explanations will be either: personal, ie blame the dictator, historical; blame the English colonists, or racist; blame the black population.
Every thing will be alright in the long run, "They" will fix it. Right now millions are suffering.

lorax2012 said...

I keep waiting to find a good argument against the growing consensus that oil production will peak in the next 0 - 15 years, creating serious economic and social difficulties for human society. However, the anti-peak oil arguments seem to be:
1. there is a global conspiracy to keep us from drilling for plentiful oil which is magically produced near the center of the earth
2. There is an oil industry conspiracy to give the impression of shortages and drive up prices
3. Human innovation will magically overcome all our problems

This third argument is at least less foolish than the first two but it still falls far short of being "logical". No one denies that humans have a great capacity for innovation. Innovation has never fully protected us from recurrent famines, shortages, and associated suffering. The coming shortage of oil will probably run the same course as previous shortages of critical resources (only on a larger scale and with modern weapons in the mix). Some people will starve and a lot of people will have their standard of living drastically reduced. The people who were most intelligent and prepared will fare best. Many of those who said, "someone else will fix it" will be taken out of the gene pool - thus assuring that humanity continues as an innovative species.