Gregor MacDonald has a new post up about the flattened curve of global oil production, and some interesting psychology behind how people are interpreting it. First, check this trend in oil production, which shows that despite oil prices going up, producers are not cranking up the production to take advantage of the new prices as they have in decades past.
Occam’s Razor and Gregor both suggest that the reason that producers aren’t pumping more oil is that they can’t. Because, the desire for profit being what it is and always has been, if they could they would.
Today, in 2012, I observe that many analysts of global oil production—and the interaction between oil prices and the global economy—continue to engage in a guessing game about the future. But, frankly, the future has already arrived. And it is not a random future, but a future that was held to be improbable, if not impossible. For each extra barrel of oil produced over the past seven years from Russia, and Canada, there has been a loss of production from the North Sea, from Mexico, from Indonesia and elsewhere. And in the case of OPEC, there has been a stubborn flatlining of production growth, which, in the true spirit of argumentum ad ignorantium, has been taken as proof of OPEC’s hidden and secret supply.
Thus, we are led to the newest and strangest meme of all: the failure of global oil production to grow over seven years, in the face of a phase transition in oil prices, is not even suggestive of peak oil. But rather, proof of oil’s imminent supply resurrection.
You really have to follow Gregor and Chris Nelder and other analysts willing to describe what they’re seeing as peak oil and check out the comments sections. People with relatively little knowledge about the energy sector becoming viscerally angry when it is suggested that there is a natural limit to consumption. A series of magical assumptions ensue:
- We’ll find an even better energy source! (Such as…?)
- We’re being constrained by regulation! It’s the Democrats! (Uh, they control supply in Mexico, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia?)
- There’s actually 10,000 years of oil in the ground, the government just doesn’t want us to have it! (Walmart is having a sale on tinfoil – you should look into it.)
- So what – we’ve got biofuels and wind power! (Yes, and what percentage of global energy supply does that represent compared to global demand, which is rising?)
- North Dakota has enough natural gas and oil to power us for a century, we just need to invest in its development! (Please explain how this will fulfill the needs of a national automobile/highway/suburb complex that was constructed when oil was $14 a barrel, and when oil field development was sticking a pipe into Texas and seeing if oil would spurt out.)
- LOOK MISTER EXPERYT MAN, YOU THINK YOU KNOW BUT YOU DON’T BECAUSE WE JUST HAVE PLENTY OF OIL EVERYTHING IS FINE GET RID OF OBAMA HE’S A SOCIALISM AND SHUT UP. JUST SHUT UP.
Having seen comments on peak oil articles, I have recognized a pattern. There is an almost religious fervor and blind faith in the denial of what appear to be fairly reasonable, neutral facts:
There’s a certain amount of oil in the Earth’s crust, and we use a ton of it. It’s getting harder and more expensive to exploit. As this gets more expensive, the complexity of our economic system will regress to the simpler, less-energy-intense methods of past centuries – local agriculture, rail travel, etc. We should prepare for this, as it will be vexing.
These conclusions are simple, supported by facts, and uncomfortable.
I suspect that the feeling this engenders is one of betrayal. “How could God bear me up into a universe where I’m born swimming in cheap oil, but in my lifetime it goes away? IT’S NOT FAIR. I DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IT. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME BELIEVE IT. GOD WOULDN’T MAKE ME RETURN TO LOCAL, SEASONAL AGRICULTURE AND STEAM SHIPS. GOD WOULDN’T TAKE MY SUV AND CONDO AND INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AND YEAR-ROUND GRAPES FROM ME.”
To those of Judeo-Christian faith harboring such latent beliefs, I merely suggest that that you re-read the Old Testament. Yanking cheap oil out from underneath you is the least of God’s tricks to those who transgress His rules. And you might notice the pattern in the Old Testament of nations trying desperately to come to a lifestyle which does not invoke God’s Wrath. They try desperately to come to terms with how to keep a house, what food to eat, how to run a family, and how to worship. They get it wrong. They get punished, time and time again – floods, locusts, rivers of blood, pillars of salt. And only in the New Testament do they get some relief as to what is expected and how it Works Out All Right in the End.
It has been some time since I believed that our ability to think about the future was uniquely guided by our powers of reason. I believe much more in the hothouse of the human psyche, our dreams, our fears, our spirit nature. But in the end, we must return to reason to avoid calamity. This is one area where the consequences of self-deception will be very harsh. Old Testament harsh.