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Harper’s Magazine covers peak oil movement

Colorado-Valley, peakoil-dot-com
Bryant Urstadt writes about the Peak Oil phenomenon in the cover story of the new Harper’s Magazine that I just got in the mail.

He does a pretty good job, traveling to the Yellow Springs conference and hanging out with the New York Peak Oil group. He obviously read a lot of the books that have come out in the last couple of years on the subject.

He also outlines the American history of end-of-the-world movements, and talks about how the p-o movement resembles some of these. He discusses the idea of lifeboats and of ecotopian survival communities. He “gets it” on how hard this would be on any kind of scale.

But he does not ridicule the movement, because he thinks they might be right this time. The facts do seem difficult to ignore.

Anyway, this article is well written and should be on the newstands within the next few days. Harper’s, of course, does not have a Web presence, so I guess you’ll have to buy it, or go to the library.
(21 July 2006)
Actually Harper’s does have a website, but the article is not online. The article is “Imagine There’s No Oil: Scenes from a liberal apocalypse” by Bryant Urstadt.

Urstadt has just published on article in the MIT Technology Review (July 18), The Oil Frontier (“Don’t expect the scarcity of fossil fuels to drive us toward alternative energy sources anytime soon: we’re getting smarter about finding and extracting oil”). He concludes:

As the oil companies get better at finding the oil, though, the oil is getting harder to find. Optimists believe that the march of technology, embodied by Deep Seas, will enable companies to extract more and more oil from previously “depleted” fields while continuing to get better at finding and developing new fields. My visit to Deep Seas, and the time I spent with Chevron’s geologists, seemed to give credence to the optimists’ view of things. A shortage of oil, it appeared, was only a shortage of ships, computers, and other drilling technology.

But while it is true that a lot of good oil is left in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico — the Minerals Management Service estimates that about 44.5 billion barrels of oil remain to be discovered — deepwater drilling is only a small part of the solution to the oil shortage. Although Chevron considers the 500-million-barrel Tahiti field an “elephant” of a find, for example, elephants aren’t what they used to be. Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field, which was tapped in 1951, has already yielded some 54 billion barrels and may have 70 billion more. The United States alone, meanwhile, consumes roughly 20 million barrels of oil every day.

Money will help, though. The higher prices go, the more oil companies can do. While discussing other projects, Siegele mentioned that the economic “breakover” point for mining the tar sands of Alberta was north of $60 a barrel; oil had reached $75 that day. There may be 150 to 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil in those sands. As for Issen, he is looking forward to mapping new territory and using better seismic imaging. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, yes,” he says. “But clearly, we think there’s real potential.”


Peak Oil and Michigan’s Energy Future

Local Future Network
Grand Rapids, Michigan — Peak Oil sobered participants at “A Community Forum on Michigan’s Energy Future” held in Grand Rapids. People from around the state gathered to learn about the future of Michigan’s energy.

Speakers included Aaron Wissner, founder of the Local Future Network; David Gard, Energy Program Director for the Michigan Environmental Council; Dana Deley, Energy Program Advisor to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm; and George Heartwell, Mayor of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Two new documentary films screened: “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream” and “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”.

Aaron Wissner’s multimedia presentation described Peak Oil, the extensive evidence that it is happening now, and stategies for addressing the consequences. Peak Oil represents an unexpected and difficult transition from the current global, oil-based economy to a future of local sustainable economies. This change is due to the world reaching all time maximum oil production or Peak Oil, and the results of the following slow but inevitable decline in petroleum production.
(22 July 2006)
The original has more reportage, plus multi-media links for Wissner’s presentation. Contributor Aaron Wissner writes:

This event woke up quite a few to the urgency of developing compassionate, sustainable, community-based local systems for avoiding the consequences of Peak Oil and ending our dependance on the failed global economic system. There is interest in improving and repeating this event so more people can hear the message, in setting up community groups, and hosting more speakers on Peak Oil, sustainability, and local economies.

The Local Future Network website also has a report on the Michigan Renewable Energy Fair held June 16-28. The report contains multi-media links for the presentations. -BA

Why It’s Hard to Debate a Cornucopian

Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights
It’s much easier to tell people what they want to hear than to tell them what they need to hear. This is the first and most important advantage a cornucopian thinker has when arguing before any audience. No one really wants to hear that the future may be filled with turbulent change and personal insecurity.

Perhaps more difficult to overcome is the argument that the future will be like the recent past–meaning the last couple of fossil-fueled centuries–only better. By definition there can be no proof of such an assertion. But the human tendency to extrapolate the recent past (meaning my lifetime of experiences) into the future is almost universal. When the ecological truthteller offers a different scenario, the burden of explanation is on him or her to show why the future will be different; the cornucopian is not required to mount a case other than to say something vague such as, “Everything has worked out fine so far, even though the pessimists predicted catastrophe.”
(23 July 2006)

Jay Hanson and
thelastsasquatch, The Oil Drum
There are many layers of the Peak Oil onion. One man who has peeled away most of them, largely out of the public eye, is Jay Hanson. Jay is the quintessential Peak Oil autodidact. After a successful career in engineering, his ongoing quest for knowledge about energy, evolution and the environment culminated in a massive internet reference hub for these topics called DIEOFF.ORG. In 1997 he predicted we would invade and occupy Iraq for their oil. (link). Jay has been intensely studying and researching topics central to energy and evolution nearly full time for 15 years, (4 of which spent solo on a yacht in the Pacific). I know many of the readers of theoildrum got their first exposure to the concept of Peak Oil through Jays writings and research and were active readers of his dieoff listserv( GreyZone, Darwinian, Angry Chimp and Totoneila, to name a few).

As such, I feel privileged that Jay will be visiting me in August to discuss and document his latest ideas, research and predictions regarding society in the face of peak oil. He is particularly interested in working out a ‘logic’ framework on the human behavioral aspects of everyday life, and believes we can parse much of our behaviour into a simple set of ‘if-then’ analog algorithms, evolutionarily designed, context dependent.
(24 July 2006)

Power for the people: what sort of energy?

Ian Lowe, Green Left Weekly (Australia)
…We now face two serious problems. Experts disagree about whether we are approaching the peak of world oil production, or have actually passed it. Either way, we are near the end of the age of cheap petroleum fuels. The second problem is that the present use of “fossil fuels” — coal, oil and gas — is seriously changing the global climate.

Both problems are compounded by huge inequalities. Australians use about half as much energy as US citizens, but about five times as much as Chinese and 50 times as much as people in the poorest parts of the world. This is unfair and creating tension.

We have known about the problems of peak oil and climate change for decades. I gave public lectures in Brisbane and regional centres in 1977, warning that oil production would peak at about 2010. Science was telling us in 1987 that climate change was a real threat to civilised society, demanding a new approach to energy supply and use. But we still have no overall energy policy to plan the transitions from cheap oil and large-scale coal use.

[Ian Lowe, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, is president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He is also the Energy Champion ambassador for Earth Dialogues Brisbane 2006, a part of the Brisbane Festival.]
(26 July 2006 issue)

How Cuba survived its oil shock

Barry Healy, Green Left Weekly
(Review of the recently released documentary, “The Power of Community, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”)

“Peak oil”, the notion that the world’s supply of oil is entering a period of ever dwindling sources, is gaining greater acceptance, especially since the documentary The End of Suburbia was widely shown around Australia in 2005.

The End of Suburbia makes a powerful case for the seriousness of the issue, but is touched by a liberal Malthusianism that essentially communicates a bleak view of the future. This new production, from The Community Solution, a US alternative social education project with roots going back to 1940, looks instead at a positive example of coping with the oil crisis: revolutionary Cuba.
(26 July 2006 issue)

People may have to pick eating over heating

Charles Mandell, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Energy shortages and rising prices will force Atlantic Canadians to leave their homes in cold weather and seek out “heating shelters” for warmth and will cause imported food to become expensive and scarce, contends a professor of electrical and computing engineering at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“Anyone heating with fuel oil will be directly affected by the rising cost of oil,” Larry Hughes warns in his recent paper titled Preparing for the peak: Energy security and Atlantic Canada. He adds that peak oil – the term for the current idea that demand for the commodity will outstrip supply – will force people to choose between “heating and eating.”

Hughes writes that once government subsidies prove unsustainable authorities will have to open emergency heating shelters in schools and other public buildings to assist people through the coldest part of the winter.

Nor will people be able to travel freely as oil reserves dry up, writes Hughes, noting many people in the region live rurally and rely on private transportation, while markets for goods produced in Atlantic Canada are about 1,000 kilometres away in Ontario and New England.

Hughes argues this scenario will result from a dramatic rise in crude oil prices coupled with poor energy policies on the part of the Atlantic provinces.

According to Hughes, the region relies largely on Venezuela and the North Sea for its oil supply, but both sources are believed to be nearing or have reached their peak output. “This reliance on imported refined petroleum products makes the region vulnerable to both rises in the cost of crude oil and the possibility of oil shortages,” Hughes writes.

Provincial government energy policies are compounding the problem, Hughes believes. He says low-income fuel assistance such as New Brunswick’s energy rebate and gas-price regulation do little to discourage energy consumption and forces governments into carrying an increasing burden of subsidies.

“As fuel prices continue to climb, the level of assistance must increase,” Hughes writes, “while simultaneously, more consumers become eligible for assistance as their energy burdens increase. Governments become trapped in a never-ending cycle of assistance.”
(25 July 2006)
Contributor Hudson Shotwell writes: To read the full article on their site, you may need to sign up, but not necessary to pay a fee.

Update July 27: Larry Hughes’ paper is available at

See also Nova Scotia’s energy future: addiction vs. security by Larry Hughes.