Peak oil - Dec 3
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Pentagon and peak oil - then (1957) and now
Jerome a Paris, Daily Kos
Below is an incredibly perceptive speech by one of the best known names of the last 50 years of US military history: Admiral Hyman Rickover, the builder of the "Nuclear Navy". That speech was recently posted on the net via the Energy Bulletin.
...it's quite amazing how all the current debates are summarized in these 3 paragraphs [of Rickover's speech]:
- Admiral Rickover flags the main macro drivers of the debate: population growth, and EROEI (energy return on energy invested). One is the fundamental driver of overall demand, the other is the main determinant of net supply;
- those that scoff at the peak oil crowd typically focus on the short term (the next 10-20 years), whereas the peak oilers are flagging what could happen later - in a timeframe that governments should already think about, espepcially when planning infrastructure;
- the timeframe Admiral Rickover mentions is still valid today. All estimates, including those of the most optimistic critics of peak oil like CERA, see a peak in production before 2050. We've spent the last 50 years worsening our dependence while the problems loomes closer. We have the additional twist of global warming today, something which will make even worse the option of concentrating on burning more coal when oil and gas get scarce;
- the essential argument of those that suggest to do nothing is to rely on hope, or luck, or to say that the worriers are crying wolf. There's no substantial argument beyond "you've been wrong before, so you'll be wrong in the future".
We need to "prefer to face the facts so that [we] can plan intelligently for the needs of (...) posterity." We have 50 more years of facts, including 40 years of decline in oil discoveries, and 20 years of deficit between our oil consumption and our oil discoveries - i.e. the bits of our "capital" that we did not know about have almost all been found, and we're burning the whole set at an increasing speed.
...This was flagged 50 years ago: our infrastructure will largely determine our energy consumption patterns. For the past 50 years, infrastructure has favored car use - thus the comments by many of you in my earlier diaries that there is simply no option but to drive cars in many parts of the USA, and thus that higher gas prices will hurt many Americans who have no alternative. Which is absolutely true, and suggests that it is all the more urgent to move things in another direction, and to start working on infrastructure that creates no requirement to use cars.
Building public transportation and the like will take time, but it would appear most unwise today to continue to authorise unending sprawl to go unchecked: it needs to be stopped, before it can be reversed.
(3 Dec 2006)
Environmentalist Amory Lovins from Rocky Mountain Institute
on Energy Alternatives (transcript)
Charlie Rose Show
... Rose: A couple of questions about [U.S. dependence on oil]. One is, when you go to talk to the - your friends at the Pentagon or at the White House or Commerce or Energy or wherever they are, they - does it resonate with them? Do they say to you, God, it’s great to here - to have you here and let’s get started?
Lovins: Well, in the Pentagon, we do hear that. And I think they’re emerging as the leader in the federal government in leading the nation off oil so we don’t need to fight…
Rose: More so than the Energy Department?
Lovins: …[Yes, the Energy Department] is more captive of - of its energy industry constituencies historically. But the Pentagon is a bunch of war fighters. And they would - they would love the idea of having "nega-missions" in the Persian Gulf: Mission Unnecessary.
...Rose: You used that nice expression about taking away their need to go fight wars for oil in the Persian Gulf. And is it your political belief that we went there for - in the interest of protecting oil sources or trying to guarantee an oil source?
Lovins: I don’t think you can untangle it that neatly, but I think it’s fair to say even going back to the ‘91 operations when Iraq invaded Kuwait that we wouldn’t have put half a million troops there if Kuwait just grew broccoli.
...Lovins: This is also I think relevant to the peak oil argument.... When does production start to go down and price zoom up? Well, nobody knows. 94 percent of the oil you see is owned by governments, which either don’t know or won’t honestly say what they’ve got. ... But it doesn’t matter that you can’t tell who is right, because we ought to do all the same things anyway just to save money.
Rose: Is there any major oil producer nation that has not since owned its oil or taken it over? Most of them have. Saudi Arabia, Iran.
Lovins: I think in the U.S., it’s still largely a private function.
Rose: But how much do we produce in contrast to everybody else?
Lovins: Let’s see. We own two or three percent of the world’s oil. We produce nine percent - and we use - or extract nine percent, and we use about 26 percent. ... So, obviously we can’t drill our way out of this one.
(28 Nov 2006)
Online video of the interview.
Lovins has a gift for the catchy phrase. In the above excerpt, note "[the Pentagon] would love the idea of having "nega-missions" in the Persian Gulf: Mission Unnecessary. For climate change, Lovins apparently uses the phrases "climate weirding," which is actually more appropriate than "global warming."
UPDATE: Reader J writes:
You say that climate weirding is more appropriate than global warming but you are unnecessarily muddying the waters. Is it not because temperatures are rising and that the energy systems are having to work harder to redistribute the energy that the weirding is taking place? They are both appropriate, as is rising CO2 emissions etc., but it depends on the context. It doesn't take much warming to really weird the climate so global warming is just as good a term as any other
Good points. Of course you're right that the root cause of climate change is an overall warming of the planet.
I think what Amory Lovins was emphasizing is that the effects we perceive will be "weird." That is, we will see a whole range of effects: warming in some climates, cooling in others, more rainfall, less rainfall, more intense hurricanes, etc.
Also, I think Lovins finds it hard to pass up a clever phrase. I don't see any harm in it, since it makes us think more deeply.
Closing the Collapse Gap: prospects for the U.S.
Dmitry Orlov, Energy Bulletin (via Club Orlov)
Dmitry Orlov's talk at the Local Solutions to the Energy Dilemma Conference in New York City, in April 2006
(1) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist. I am more of an eye-witness. I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and I have tried to put my observations into a concise message. I will leave it up to you to decide just how urgent a message it is.
My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the "Collapse Gap" - to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War.
(2) The subject of economic collapse is generally a sad one. But I am an optimistic, cheerful sort of person, and I believe that, with a bit of preparation, such events can be taken in stride. As you can probably surmise, I am actually rather keen on observing economic collapses. Perhaps when I am really old, all collapses will start looking the same to me, but I am not at that point yet.
And this next one certainly has me intrigued. From what I've seen and read, it seems that there is a fair chance that the U.S. economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won't be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the U.S. economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act. And so I am eager to put my observations of the Soviet collapse to good use.
(3) I anticipate that some people will react rather badly to having their country compared to the USSR. I would like to assure you that the Soviet people would have reacted similarly, had the United States collapsed first. Feelings aside, here are two 20th century superpowers, who wanted more or less the same things - things like technological progress, economic growth, full employment, and world domination - but they disagreed about the methods. And they obtained similar results - each had a good run, intimidated the whole planet, and kept the other scared. Each eventually went bankrupt.
... (5) Continuing with our list of superpower similarities, many of the problems that sunk the Soviet Union are now endangering the United States as well. Such as a huge, well-equipped, very expensive military, with no clear mission, bogged down in fighting Muslim insurgents. Such as energy shortfalls linked to peaking oil production. Such as a persistently unfavorable trade balance, resulting in runaway foreign debt. Add to that a delusional self-image, an inflexible ideology, and an unresponsive political system.
... (8) When faced with such developments, some people are quick to realize what it is they have to do to survive, and start doing these things, generally without anyone's permission. A sort of economy emerges, completely informal, and often semi-criminal. It revolves around liquidating, and recycling, the remains of the old economy. It is based on direct access to resources, and the threat of force, rather than ownership or legal authority. People who have a problem with this way of doing things, quickly find themselves out of the game.
... (20) One area in which I cannot discern any Collapse Gap is national politics. The ideologies may be different, but the blind adherence to them couldn't be more similar.
It is certainly more fun to watch two Capitalist parties go at each other than just having the one Communist party to vote for. The things they fight over in public are generally symbolic little tokens of social policy, chosen for ease of public posturing. The Communist party offered just one bitter pill. The two Capitalist parties offer a choice of two placebos. The latest innovation is the photo finish election, where each party buys 50% of the vote, and the result is pulled out of statistical noise, like a rabbit out of a hat.
The American way of dealing with dissent and with protest is certainly more advanced: why imprison dissidents when you can just let them shout into the wind to their heart's content?
The American approach to bookkeeping is more subtle and nuanced than the Soviet. Why make a state secret of some statistic, when you can just distort it, in obscure ways? Here's a simple example: inflation is "controlled" by substituting hamburger for steak, in order to minimize increases to Social Security payments.
... (21) Many people expend a lot of energy protesting against their irresponsible, unresponsive government. It seems like a terrible waste of time, considering how ineffectual their protests are. Is it enough of a consolation for them to be able to read about their efforts in the foreign press? I think that they would feel better if they tuned out the politicians, the way the politicians tune them out. It's as easy as turning off the television set. If they try it, they will probably observe that nothing about their lives has changed, nothing at all, except maybe their mood has improved. They might also find that they have more time and energy to devote to more important things.
... (28) I hope that I didn't make it sound as if the Soviet collapse was a walk in the park, because it was really quite awful in many ways. The point that I do want to stress is that when this economy collapses, it is bound to be much worse. Another point I would like to stress is that collapse here is likely to be permanent. The factors that allowed Russia and the other former Soviet republics to recover are not present here.
In spite of all this, I believe that in every age and circumstance, people can sometimes find not just a means and a reason to survive, but enlightenment, fulfillment, and freedom. If we can find them even after the economy collapses, then why not start looking for them now?
UPDATE: With Dmitry's permission, we've posted his talk on Energy Bulletin. So many people were accessing his article, that Dmitry's webserver was overwhelmed. Please access the version on Energy Bulletin rather than on the Club Orlov site. Thank you!
The original is much longer, in a slide and text format.
Orlov has many penetrating insights, couched in his dark humor. Particularly striking is the strong case he makes that the peoples of the USSR were actually better prepared for a collapse because
- they had learned to be more self-reliant
- many crucial functions (like housing and transportation) were taken care of by the state sector which was more stable than a private sector would have been.
Orlov's cynicism about the possibility of intelligent government action was probably justified in the case of the Soviet Union, but I think it would be a tragic mistake to abandon efforts to change the direction of the U.S. The Soviets had little chance to make democratic institutions work. We do have that chance. -BA