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How to Address Contrarian Arguments – part I

Luís de Sousa, The Oil Drum: Europe
When the Oil Exports article was published here at TOD, profG was kind enough to disseminate it through out the blog-sphere, posting it at places such as SlashDot. I was very curious and went there to see the folks’ comments.

Most commentators simply dismissed Peak Oil as a possibility. My first reaction was of nausea, I just couldn’t believe it; these people are completely delusional. With so many people thinking like this, will we ever be able to change something, to have some kind of impact?

Then I thought I could make something good of it, because that thread had the value of being a collection of the main contrarian arguments against our message.

This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll analyze the kind of contrarian arguments seen there and how to address them.
(23 Nov 2006)
Glad to see The Oil Drum addressing the peak oil skeptics. -BA

Friendly fire

David Ehrenfeld, Resurgence
Most of those advocating the new energy technologies are not suggesting any reduction in overall energy consumption.

…What does the idea of friendly fire have to do with the problems, especially the environmental problems, related to the energy crisis in the US? This becomes clear if we look at possible solutions to the energy crisis. I group them in two categories.

The first category includes all technological solutions. There is no need to describe them in detail: nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, efficiency gains in transforming, transporting and using energy, non-biological renewable energy, and others. Each has major advantages and serious limitations. Most have the same drawback: they are much more expensive than sticking a pipe in the ground and letting the oil flow out of a tap. Nevertheless, it is clear that some combination of these technologies will allow us to stretch our energy supply a good deal farther than current practice allows.

The second category of proposed solutions to the energy crisis includes the various methods of conservation of energy based on a simple lifestyle. It means, for North Americans, consuming less and reusing more.

The US has opted for the first category: technology. It’s easy to see why. Our present economy is geared to constantly increasing consumption, and dependence on goods and services we no longer provide for ourselves. There is a deadly combination of a sense that we are entitled to all these goods and services, and a fear that we need them and that we can’t survive without them. We don’t worry about the ultimate cost, because we haven’t the faintest idea what it is. In fact, we act as if there will be no cost. Thus, in the US most of those advocating the new energy technologies are not suggesting any reduction in overall energy consumption.

Indeed, the opposite is likely to be true – continuing low prices encourage us to use still more energy. But there are two hitches: first, even taken together, all of the new energy technologies will probably not be up to the job of replacing cheap oil in running a high-consumption, high-waste society (although – and you can see where I’m heading – they will be critically important in running a responsible-consumption, low-waste society).

The second hitch is more serious, and here is where the friendly fire idea comes into play. If we use the gains from our new energy technologies to continue to increase our consumption and waste, we will find ourselves in a vicious spiral that decreases resources and increases environmental damage – even as our energy technology improves.

This article is based on the third annual Khoshoo Memorial Lecture, ‘Energy and Conservation’, delivered by David Ehrenfeld in June 2006 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

David Ehrenfeld is Professor of Biology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Jersey. He is the author of Swimming Lessons: Keeping Afloat in the Age of Technology.
(Nov-Dec 2006)
Ehrenfeld is one of my favorite authors, and Resurgence has some of the most intelligent and creative writings on ecology. The recent issue has a long article by poet Gary Snyder: Writers and the War Against Nature. -BA

Investment in Oil Exploration and Production — An “Above Ground” Factor

Dave Cohen, The Oil Drum
…CERA’s underlying assumption, shared by the [Internation Energy Agency (IEA)], is that above ground factors curtailing upstream investments supporting new E&P activity will be the real cause of a peak in global conventional oil production flows. This argument is tantamount to saying that were it not for those nasty human political realities, you could throw enough money at the peak oil problem -a problem explicitly acknowledged by both CERA and the IEA but posed differently- and all would be well, at least out to circa 2030. About this faith-based free market approach, Ken Duffeyes said that The economists all think that if you show up at the cashier’s cage with enough currency, God will put more oil in ground. Ken neglected to add that God put a lot of that existing recoverable oil in some pretty geopolitically & geographically inconvenient places as far as the OECD consumers represented by the IEA are concerned, which is, one supposes, their main point.


The IEA’s investment argument contradicts the position that petroleum geologists have left no stone unturned looking for oil all over the world. Surely it is the case that some onshore oil remains to be discovered -how much oil is really the question. Outer continental shelf exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, Brazil, Malaysia etc. has proceeded apace. The melting Arctic is the final frontier. On the whole, oil discoveries peaked in the 1960’s. This fact alone hardly inspires confidence that there will ever be another renaissance of new conventional oil discoveries that supplements continuing reserves growth in existing fields.

Above ground issues play an important role in current and future oil supply but they are not paramount. When the peak of oil production arrives sometime before 2015, so-called peakists will say “I told you so”. The IEA or CERA will say it was due to lack of investment – this is their fall back position as some commenters have pointed out here at The Oil Drum -a CYA stance meant to preemptively deflect future blame. But, does it matter who is right in the end? No, not after the keen hindsight we get from seeing the peak in the rear view mirror. However, it still matters now as we struggle to get the world to pay attention to a crisis which may still be down the road.
(24 Nov 2006)

How to Prepare for Peak Oil and Climate Change

Tim Winton, Permaculture Institute
Declining energy availability and changes to global climate patterns are now starting to be felt around the world. Preventing the effects of these two trends and a host of related challenges is no longer entirely possible: your approach to sustainability must now include preparations for life in a fundamentally different world. The good news is that great crisis can lead to great change. In this article you will learn seven important factors that you can use personally in transforming global challenges into the emergence of an ecologically stable and economically sound planetary society.
(17 Nov 2006)