Friday, May 25, 2007

how i became a peak oiler.

i started where most folks in the last couple of years did - with kunstler's long emergency.

my god, were the things he was saying true? it was such a bleak vision of the future, but the way he laid it all out seemed pretty reasonable to me. i had to find out more, get other points of view. specifically, i needed someone to logically defeat the peak oil argument to my satisfaction so i could roll over and go back to "sleepwalking into the future."

so i hit the internets. every day i read whatever google could give me on the subject. soon i had a few new sites added to my favorites, with names that sounded both scary and boring at the same time:,,

most people writing about the subject seemed to think some version of the long emergency was going to happen, it was just a question of when and how bad it would be. opinions ranged from pessimistic to slightly-less-pessimistic.

i found plenty of peak oil "debunkers" too, but couldn't find many reasons to buy their arguments and found lots of reasons not to. the arguments against peak oil came in 3 basic flavors:

1) quibbling over the timing: “you told me i was going to die, but i keep waking up alive every day; therefore, i will never die.”

2) economists who weren’t taught in business school what “finite” means: “you don’t understand supply and demand – shortages of this finite resource will drive up the price, which in turn will pay for new discoveries and extraction methods of this finite resource.”

3) american technology will save us: “we’re the greatest god-blessed country in human history, and when we roll up our sleeves to make cars that run on water, then by gum, we’re gonna do it!”

each of these contain pretty obvious mistakes in reasoning, and it turned out many of the loudest “debunkers” were employed by oil companies or think tanks funded by oil companies.

to be at all persuasive, a writer only has to do 3 things: write well, be logical, and don’t be a paid propagandist / press release writer / think tanker. most writers on peak oil (and related topics) that did this for me tended to be on the bleak end of the scale, even as they offered survival tips and cheerful sarcasm. over time i began recognizing names and knew who i wanted to read - richard heinberg, bill mckibben, dmitry orlov, dale allen pfeiffer, jeffrey brown. there were even “regular” people with blogs & websites that had enough interesting and well written things to say that they became part of my weekly reading diet too -
sharon astyk, john michael greer, matt savinar. i liked kunstler’s clusterfuck nation blog so much that i’d sometimes even skim through the flame-war comments section.

over the next few months i put a whole new world of unhappy concepts into my brain – the olduvai theory, overshoot, die-off. i learned more than i ever thought i would care to about oil discovery and production. i stared at hundreds of graphs on the
oil drum until some of them actually started to make sense.

one day i had read enough to start recognizing the clich├ęs – movies with the word “crude” in the title, oil spokesmen saying “the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” – and i knew something had changed.

i understood the inside jokes. that meant i was “in.”

i kept reading, and i came to my own theory-of-everything which i refine daily.

more about that later…


Bill said...

I am looking forward to your theory of everything. I have walked the same path you have described over the last couple of years so I expect your insights to be frustratingly similar to my own. One difference might be that I am retired so I am hoping that I will expire before I become disposable.

Step Back said...

As a long time "peak oiler" I too would be interested to see your theory of everything.

"Peak Oil" led me personally to a much more confined research project: "Why do their eyes glaze over?"

When you tell a family member or friend about PO, the normal response is that you get a blank stare back. They are sure you have gone stark raving mad and then, their eyes glaze over.

Unfortunately, I did not like the places my search led me to. You hit the nail on the coffin with one of your attacks on sound logic: i.e. I will never die because I've woken up every morning thus far and therefore those who believe in finite life must clearly be wrong. There cannot be, and I refuse to believe in the concept of PL (Peak Life). When you get older, you don't deteriorate and "decline" after having hit a "peak". Oh no. You enter your "Golden Years". You move to a new Paradise called a retirement village where everyone enjoys infinite years of undulating good health, bliss, and a care free life.

And so too must be the case for crude oil. We will never hit a "peak" and then enter into years of "decline". Oh no. The technological "singularity" is not far away. Progress is forever my friend. :-)

Codesuidae said...

I'm curious about your ideas, so I'm subscribing to your blog's feed.

It seems to me that it is a problem of human psychology. Because of what we are we have inevitably developed this shallow and self-destructive culture.