Monday, May 29, 2006

5 demands from the Federal Government of the United States

1. Public Acknowledgements of peak oil through Presidential statements, governmental statements, commercials etc.
2. Set up a legislature that would make any conflict of interest between politicians and industries illegal, and is retroactive.
3. Develop and implement a plan to become at least 50% more energy sufficient by 2016.
4. Offer reduced price car engine conversions from gasoline to ethanol power and incentives for those who make the conversion nationwide.
5. Enact huge incentives for anyone involved in the research, production, market for: renewable energy resources, energy sustainability etc.

The first step that our class seemed to agree with unanimously was a direct governmental response to peak oil. If people would believe peak oil with out governmental acknowledgement, this step could be entirely eliminated but the influence of the U.S. government on national media, public opinion, industry is indisputable. The government dictates all these things, so the only way to get public cooperation is through the government.

A problem now that will undoubtedly manifest and grow like cancerous tissue is the intertwining of our democratically elected officials and industry interests. How can our government be for and by the people when industries (through lobbies) have a more direct outlet in legislation and policy than regular people? Will our government be able serve our best interests when peak oil comes if our politicians are so entrenched with big oil industry priorities? Most people in our class believed that the government can not “serve two masters” so to speak, and we should be the exclusive recipients of the benefits of governmental policy.

I want more from the government than just acknowledgement of peak oil and the elimination of officials with conflicts of interest. Our government should be responsible for figuring out (the same way their responsible for other public programs and policies) how to become at least 50% more energy sustainable by 2016. They have all the means: the researchers, structure, organizational influence, manpower etc necessary to think up and implement a plan.

One of the most inefficient uses of energy today is American cars. The most popular mode of transportation is by car (thanks to the lobbying of the automobile industry who diminished public transportation systems, railroads and tram systems throughout the country in favor of endless, humongous highways and freeways), and we are near completely reliant on oil for gasoline The longevity of most cars is 10-15 years. We can not afford to wait 10-15 years for consumers to buy more fuel efficient or ethanol powered cars. We need change as soon as possible, and the only way to entice the public to convert their cars is if there were incentives and it was not costly.

The last demand is the most broad and probably vague. I wanted to condense this demand into these terms so that I would have exactly 5 demands and not more. Basically, I want to or the government to create incentives (in the form of tax subsidies etc) for the companies that research environmental technologies that will alleviate peak oil, companies that currently produce systems for alternate sources of energy (such as companies that install solar panels), companies that decide to incorporate more energy smart techniques and technologies into their places of work (offices, factories, etc). Simultaneously, this means incentives for the individuals who decide to incorporate these energy smart technologies into their personal lives, properties etc.

One demand that I noticed from another group was the demand that we completely terminate any U.S. involvement in other countries. At first, I sympathized with this demand. Our tax dollars are going towards numerous foreign causes that Americans in general do not condone. The conflict in Iraq has consumed huge sums of public funding that could have otherwise gone towards public healthcare, free university education, better public education, sexual education etc. A third of Israel’s economy comes from U.S. funding. Egypt is also a huge recipient of U.S. aid. Colombia’s fruitless and harmful Plan Colombia, the plan for preventing and destroying the production and distribution of illegal drugs, is funded by U.S. funding. There are U.S. involvements I wouldn’t mind seeing cut off etc.

However, we need global partners in our efforts to mitigate and cope with peak oil. We have a lot to gain from partnerships with Sweden, who has already begun steps towards fuel suffiency. We can not expect help and give nothing in return. The United States can not afford to cut off engagements with the rest of the world. Not only is it not in our own interest to end U.S. involvement around the world, it is also not ethically or morally acceptable. The U.S., by being more developed and prosperous, and by developing and acquiring that prosperity at the expense of other less developed and prosperous countries, has a responsibility to help and guide the rest of the world.

Sweden and Peak Oil : REVISED!

Reading this article really opened my eyes. When we watched the Cuba film, it was refreshing to see possible actions to an energy crisis actually in practice, but these initiatives were not a government acknowledgement or response to the imminent Peak oil, but a reaction to Cuba’s micro energy crisis. The acknowledgement by the government of Sweden that peak oil will occur, soon enough definitely gave me some hope. I was convinced that every government was going to follow the United States’ lead and ignore and avoid the peak oil issue. Thank something that Sweden isn’t.

They identified six measures towards becoming energy sustainable. The first measure was to broaden and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. Sweden hardly oil dependent for its energy demands, according to the article, their energy is generated half by nuclear power and half by hydropower. This is a good start, but Uranium, which is refined and used for generate nuclear power, is a finite resource, maintaining nuclear plants is costly and storing the spent nuclear fuel is risky. Development in the alternative renewable sources of energy is necessary for the least oil dependent countries too.

The next measure is to focus this development and increased use of alternative renewable sources of energy on wind power. This sounds harmless but what kind of impact will many wind mills have on migratory birds?

The third measure is to make Sweden heating sustainable, instead of using oil, which is pretty widespread throughout the country. Heating is an especially necessary consumption of energy for Sweden, because they are at a very high latitude, with really long winters. Heating is not a luxury in Sweden, it’s essential.

The fourth measure was to become energy sustainable concerning cars. The fuel for transportation issue is not exclusive to Sweden, its relevant all around the world. Sweden hopes to become transportation sustainable using a combination of converting cars to ethanol and biofuels. Brazil has proven that ethanol is a very feasible alternative to petrol, most if not all their cars have been converted to that system already.

The fifth measure was to increase efficiency of energy, which is necessary when generating energy from any source, even the most ideal. Within the same argument, they say that efficiency of energy is crucial for economic growth and sustainable development. I agree with the sustainable development, but economic growth will be an issue. The world market relies heavily on oil. When oil production peaks and then decreases, economies will also peak and decrease, because trade will be limited by the need for oil use in transportation, the diminished quantity of agricultural products (which require oil) etc. While Sweden can remain self sufficient with their measures, in terms of energy, I doubt the economy can grow independently of the rest of the world.

The sixth and last of Sweden’s measures to become energy sufficient is to increase research into renewable and alternate sources of energy and harnesses of energy. Learning that a large portion of Sweden’s export trade (the eight largest) is environmental technology was really interesting. Instead of ignoring and avoiding, even outright lying, about environmental issues, Sweden has been trying to address these issues, on a large enough scale that they can say that environmental technologies are their eight largest export. It is really eye opening to see.

How feasible is it for the United States to imitate Sweden’s decisions, measures and head toward energy sufficiency? I’m not sure, but there are some differences between Sweden and United States.

Sweden has a little over 9 million inhabitants, and is “slightly larger than California”. In comparison, the United States is about “half the size of Russia” and has the third largest population in the world, with 298,444,215 people. Sweden is also many steps ahead of the United States and probably the world in terms of energy sustainability. As I mentioned and the author Mona Sahlin mentioned, half of Sweden’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, and the other half by hyrdropower. The other needs for energy in Sweden are transportation and heating. I do not know the elements of electricity generation in the United States but I’m sure it’s a safe bet to say that a huge sector of our energy comes from non-renewable resources, otherwise why would the United States engage in so many conflicts over those resources? Our president even acknowledged it when he said we need to “quit our addiction to oil”.

What may work on a relatively small scale in Sweden may not be suitable for the massive scale of the United States.

Aside from the difference in scale between the populations and area of the two countries, there is a difference between mentality. Sweden is a socio-democratic country, where people pay huge portions of their income to taxes. They receive many benefits in return, with free healthcare, higher learning, elderly care etc. It seems like people are more willing to cooperate and contribute for the collective. In contrast, in the United States, we pay relatively smaller amounts of taxes, receive lousy quality public programs which do not include health care or free college education. Everyone has a tantrum and vows to vote republican whenever someone raises taxes (to cope with all our foreign spending and deficiets) or implements shopping tax. Everyone wants to pay as little taxes as possible, and then some wonder why our public programs crumble. As was summarized in the Cuba film on the American reaction would be to a suggestion to turn off unused lights “Why should I if I pay for it?” The concept of collective prosperity is lost on the people of the United States.

Basically, Sweden has the public support and funding to implement these six measures of energy sustainability, while in the United States, public funding has been squandered on the war in Iraq and people are more likely to suspect the government of cheating and try to prepare for an energy crisis alone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

sweden and peak oil

Peak Oil & Sweden: what a small country can do
Reading this article really opened my eyes. When we watched the Cuba film, it was refreshing to see possible actions to an energy crisis actually in practice, but these initiatives were not a government acknowledgement or response to the imminent Peak oil, but a reaction to Cuba’s micro energy crisis. The acknowledgement by the government of Sweden that peak oil will occur, soon enough definitely gave me some hope. I was convinced that every government was going to follow the United States’ lead and ignore and avoid the peak oil issue. Thank something that Sweden isn’t.
They identified six measures towards becoming energy sustainable. The first measure was to broaden and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. Sweden hardly oil dependent for its energy demands, according to the article, their energy is generated half by nuclear power and half by hydropower. This is a good start, but Uranium, which is refined and used for generate nuclear power, is a finite resource, maintaining nuclear plants is costly and storing the spent nuclear fuel is risky. Development in the alternative renewable sources of energy is necessary for the least oil dependent countries too.
The next measure is to focus this development and increased use of alternative renewable sources of energy on wind power. This sounds harmless but what kind of impact will many wind mills have on migratory birds?
The third measure is to make Sweden heating sustainable, instead of using oil, which is pretty widespread throughout the country. Heating is an especially necessary consumption of energy for Sweden, because they are at a very high latitude, with really long winters. Heating is not a luxury in Sweden, it’s essential.
The fourth measure was to become energy sustainable concerning cars. The fuel for transportation issue is not exclusive to Sweden, its relevant all around the world. Sweden hopes to become transportation sustainable using a combination of converting cars to ethanol and biofuels. Brazil has proven that ethanol is a very feasible alternative to petrol, most if not all their cars have been converted to that system already.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

to be revised!!!!

When considering likely Governmental responses to peak oil, one needs to keep in mind governmental responses to other situations. For instance, when Hurricane Katrina occurred, the federal government did not respond for days, and when they did intervene, it was quite ineffective. Essentially, they were keeping up appearances; they didn’t follow up their procedures for the people who were displaced. They repaired the levees because the job had to be done, but they didn’t make a huge effort to improve the original design, or find a new one. They sheltered the displaced, but they did not do it well. If the government can not adequately or satisfactorily react to somewhat less catastrophic situations (in comparison to peak oil), how will they respond on a larger scale? The federal government will react to peak oil, and initially, their actions will be perceived as well intentioned, but I predict that their responses will be ineffective and even harmful.
In a maximum 8 year term for presidents in the United States, it is clear that the agenda of every president is relatively short term. U.S. domestic and foreign issues begin and end when a president starts or ends his term. What I mean by this is, no one envisions or implements long term long lasting plans for U.S. issues, because those in power will not be responsible after 4-8 years. This is to explain why most government initiatives are hasty, ineffective and short sighted, and why they have avoided peak oil.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cheery Scenario Analysis

The author of this story basically illustrates or describes, in the most optimistic tone, what life would be like for the fortunate people who manage to relocate or establish themselves in co-ops when oil production peaks and falls. The author describes an energy sustainable co-op where everyone is required to farm and work on the co-op to grow all the produce and make all the supplies that are necessary to be sustainable. They use solar paneling and bio-fuels for their energy demands. They grow all their food and most people are vegan. They scrupulously document how efficient their co-op projects are. Apparently, they have the optimal combination of highly skilled researchers, engineers, and scientists, along with regular people.
What about all the people who do not have any knowledge on farming, energy efficiency, biology, engineering etc? How will the people who do have that kind of knowledge be evenly dispersed throughout the world? Will they be evenly dispersed? The unskilled people all over the world will undoubtedly be the first to perish when the energy crisis of peak oil occurs.
How will people manage to cope with an energy crisis (which will lead to a trade crisis and a halt of production in nearly every other outlet of the market) when their metal tools and supplies break, rust, get lost etc? How will people manage if there are no metal resources available near by, or if no one is willing to work in the mines? The story does not address the fact that modern life styles are not just reliant on fuel, but on metals, which will peak as well, and are produced by using fuel and other energy. So far, no scenario I’ve come across has mentioned the problem for acquiring metal, or at least, given a decent solution.

What would be two grass root responses to peak oil in New York ( with References to the Cuba model)?

What would be two grass root responses to peak oil in New York ( with References to the Cuba model)?
While the Soviet Union existed, Cuba was able to trade its domestic goods and strategic location (90 miles from the U.S. is somewhat of an asset) in return for grossly under priced oil. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba lost 70% or more of their energy supplies. In addition, they lost a lot of trade with other countries because a stricter embargo was enforced by the U.S. Essentially, Cuba’s energy and trade crisis was very much a pre-peak oil scenario, on the “small” scale of just one country.
In the best possible situation, we would face the relatively “gentle” hardships that Cubans faced in their energy and trade crisis. Some of these hardships included malnourishment, a severe scarcity of medical supplies and medicine, lack of electricity, lack of air conditioning, lack of public transportation, and the inability to do construction. When I say gentle, I do not mean that it was easy to overcome these problems, or that they were much less serious than they seem. But they pale in comparison to the situations I envisioned when I thought about New York and peak oil. Mass starvation, pollution and disease due to the high population density made up most of my thoughts about New Yorkers and peak oil. People were able to cope and move on; they were not crippled on a large scale by the sudden reduction in energy. Seeing how Cubans dealt with a situation similar to peak oil in both urban areas and rural areas gave me some hope that New York may be able to survive the struggle. Are the grass roots methods that Cubans used to cope with their energy crisis and compensate when the government couldn’t applicable to New York City?
When Cubans realized that the government implementation of food rationing and subsidized meals was not sufficient for survival, they began urban gardening. This mean utilizing every empty lot and all the available space to grow food. Eventually, cities 80% of their vegetable demands, using techniques like perma-culture. This is a response that seems very likely to take place in New York City. New York City is thankfully a city filled with many recreational parks, which could be utilized for farmland. We also have huge Cemeteries, and as morbid as it might sound, if the available land is not enough to support the 8 million plus residents of New York City, cemeteries will be the next resort for farming. To be as sustainable and efficient as possible, New Yorkers will definitely have to harness perma-culture knowledge and incorporate that into their urban gardening the way Cubans did.
Urban gardening may not suffice for New York. The city is undoubtedly much denser then any city in Cuba, so there may not be enough space for all the food we need. The number of parks and other available land is not evenly distributed throughout the city, so food and farming may be more or less accessible depending on where one is located. Staten Island has a lot of green space, but one can almost go for miles in Manhattan without encountering any open space. Cuban cities were only 80% sustainable when it came to supplying enough produce, but they had the rural areas to rely on to make up the difference. New York is surrounded by other towns and cities which may or may not be able to help make up some difference, some with more or less green space available for farming, and some forest, but not a lot of farm land. Who will make up the difference of demand for food and food available? Where will we raise animals and get our animal products from? Will New Yorkers make a mass transition towards veganism?
In addition, the number of crops that can grow at our altitude is probably smaller, because we are not a tropical climate. Our winters are longer, and harsher. There are much fewer people in New York City who are knowledgeable in farming then there probably were in Cuba, which was previously a peasant economy, before it was heavily industrialized. What's more, our diets are much less uniform then they are in Cuba, where there is one homogenous culture, so farming for crops could be a lot more difficult to coordinate throughout the city, because different peoples eat different foods, not everyone would be able to eat everything. On the cultural implications of peak oil: Would peak oil force us to revoke our colorful diversity and multiculturalism? Would that bring solidarity or resentment? Would a loss of multiculturalism bring about less racism?
A second possible grass-roots response to a peak oil situation in New York City would be to endorse and improve efficiency on every level of life. If mandatory composting was implemented and enforced, our waste management demands would go down dramatically. If all our organic waste was composted and used for urban gardening, there would be less need for garbage pick up, and storage. That would mean less use of trucks powered by oil to transport the waste, less electric power originating from oil used in sanitation plants to clean our water, less oil powered machinery and oil fueled cement production for land fills etc. Compost toilets would be essential. Another way to improve efficiency and decrease dependency on oil would be using bicycles to get around our relatively small city. We could also use rooftops to create more green spaces or roofs to grow crops and help insulate buildings in the winter and decrease the “urban heat island” during the summer. Rain water catching devices would have to be installed and implemented throughout the city, to distribute water when electric powered pumps can’t bring water. How will New Yorkers cope with heating problems, a problem that tropical Cuba did not have to deal with? Will we burn some of our organic waste for heat?

Comment to Katrina

Katrina:
Your exploration of Jared Diamond’s insight as to why the government does not make revisions and provisions to halt and reverse the imminent energy crisis due to peak oil was interesting, because no one has yet explored the motivations of the U.S. government, or any other government, to withhold information or avoid discussion concerning peak oil.
The first argument you restated was that some societies do not anticipate or react to an oncoming problem because they had no previous experience with the problem, so they did not see the warning signs. Then you mentioned that it is obvious that the U.S. government knows.
The second argument you make is that past experience with an issue may have taken place too long ago to be recalled collectively and powerfully. People probably don’t remember the hardships of higher priced oil, and long waiting lines, they can’t feel the sharpness. Memory has a tendency to dull and blur the past, so that people can’t feel what life was like during the 1973 oil crisis. People might remember also that the crisis was not permanent, and thus, peak oil will take care of itself.
When discussing the second argument, you make a separate one, which is that people are reassured by the “unsinkable economy”. That is a very important point to make. Our economy is not unsinkable; this is especially evident if we look back to the great depression, or even the economic collapse of the previously solid Argentina. We are so dependent on oil, and economic growth, that when those two things cease to exist/occur, our society will have to make serious revisions.
I am unclear about your next restatement from Collapse. You say that Diamond claims that sometimes societies do not anticipate a problem because they are reasoning through an analogy, but I am somewhat unclear by what the analogy is.
Lastly, you summarize Diamond’s next point, which is that societies can’t anticipate or deal with problems once they already occur, because until it has fully impacted, there can still be some debate as to the severity of the situation.
I’ve been thinking about why the U.S. government has been reacting to peak oil the way it has been so far, since Mergim hypothesized that they want hype if up to raise prices for oil. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it did spark some thoughts.
You say that politicians do not bring it up because they are afraid of scaring the public and losing support. We need one politician to be brave enough to break the silence or even the media, and then politicians will scaffold their policies on how other politicians will react. Society as a whole needs to be informed first, and make peak oil a priority issue, everything will follow once people are informed.
If the people are so easily led, the government could easily lead society in any direction (politically speaking) they please, in regards to peak oil, until it hits and the government falls out of favor. The only motivation the government has is power (money). I suppose that’s the simplest way to express the way our government works, or even our society.
I’m not sure if I wrote this to give you some of my insight on your insight, or if I wrote this to make sure I understood your post, and to think out loud a bit.
Eugenia

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy (to be revised after exhibitions)

The average person does not understand what 7% growth a year means. 7% sounds benign enough, not large enough to induce panic, or even worry. If our energy consumption or reliance is growing by 7%, that means that we will have consumed double what we ever consumed before in those 10 years. Suddenly, 7% growth doesn’t sound so harmless anymore.
When Dr. Bartlett explains, this means that in 10 years, the initial quantity of whatever has been growing has increased. We find this by multiplying 100 by the ln2 (natural log of two) and we get 70. Then, we divide 70 by 7 percent and get 10 years which is the doubling time.
Know that some average people know what 7% growth means exactly, how do we use this knowledge for preparation or correcting any unwanted situation involving 7% growth? Do we stop when we realize that the doubling time is just ten years away, even though we have only used half of all the energy? But halting or even reforming at half full seems so premature, so preemptive, so Cassandra-esque. So, when do we stop? We will have stop, but how we do so, depends on when.
These are the logical, linear (no pun intended) and clear claims that Dr. Albert Bartlett makes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Sheep Look Up

The air is so thick with toxins that every breath is followed by a series of deep, burning coughs. Oxygen is a paid-for commodity. Food is so saturated with antibiotics that you have to pay extra to obtain non-contaminated sustenance. The land is so exhausted by harsh chemicals that it no longer yields any produce. Entire seas have been polluted and contaminated to the point of extermination of all sea life. Roaches, rats, ants and other pests are immune to DDT and any other pesticide. The smallest cut can lead to a resistant infection. Children are born with respiratory syndromes, allergies, developmental disabilities, deformations etc due to the noxious chemicals that surround them. The most common disease after measles is gonorrhea. The United States is still the richest country on Earth, and is still the largest consumer of raw materials and natural resources. The people who are trying to fight for an alternative to the destruction are misunderstood, feared and shunned by society and persecuted by the government, even though they have everyone’s best interests in mind. The earth is being raped, in the name of profit and “the American way of life”. Does this sound familiar? Is this merely a work of science fiction, or does it have some value to our present day situation?
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner is deemed as a simple science fiction novel, but the meaning it possesses is more relevant today then any novel involving Martians invading from outer space. Instead, it seems to be a narrative prediction of the ramifications of the current apathy that developing countries, more specifically America, embrace.
There are many parallels between the time-period when The Sheep Look Up and today. Written in the early 70’s, the United States was trying to find an escape strategy to their endless and bloody war in Vietnam. The civil rights movement had just taken place and integration of society was making very slow progress. There were mass-demonstrations involving college students and activists, but no body paid them any mind. There were extremist movements that were publicly discredited and later crushed by the U.S. government. Predictions and warnings of global warming were beginning to catch the attention of the media, but no one was alarmed, the first researchers to discover the warming trend were discredited as raving Cassandra’s instead. DDT was still being used, until its ban sometime during the same decade.
Similarly, today, we are involved in a Vietnamesque war in Iraq, where we went in for the benefit of the huge industries in the U.S., with little benefit for the people there. We have no plan for withdrawal, even though public opinion is overwhelmingly against the war. We have huge demonstrations on a regular basis, which politicians ignore while making any policies, but use to demonstrate that “freedom of expression is alive and well in the U.S.” Mass movements are destroyed before they have a chance to proliferate. Racism is still rampant, but publicly frowned upon. Predictions of peak oil are ridiculed in mainstream media, with most people oblivious to or apathetic to the issue.
A lot of the scenarios that Brunner creates are quite true today. The air is heavily polluted, especially around urban centers, and as a result, the number of respiratory ailments among children has risen tremendously in the last few decades. Pollution in the air is also the reason for the sharp increase in breast cancer. Animal products are manufactured using antibiotics, which has provoked quite a few cases of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections that resulted in death. Environmental regulations are avoided at any cost, and thus pollution is still an issue. Entire habitats have been wiped out; coral reefs are on a world wide decrease. The country is overwhelmingly responsible for the developed world’s pollution and consumption remains the most wealth and powerful.
The most notable point the book makes is how apathetic people are to any situation that is unpleasant and threatens their way of life. An example of this apathy towards environmental damage and social change is the way some of the characters in the book regard their own daily routines. “’It’s going to cost the earth!’ Denise worried, making up her shopping list.” P182 Food is so expensive that it would “cost the earth”, and the manufacturing process of the food she needs to purchase probably did extract some price from the earth.
In the book, some characters will sympathize with the Trainites from a distance, but they are too comfortable, ignorant, and self involved to do anything about situation that is impossible to ignore. The Earth is falling apart, there is no sanctuary, no corner which has remained pristine, but people are willing to deny the problem regardless. When people do dissent, it is only after they have made some kind of connection between industrial deceit and a personal tragedy.
Today, apathy has spread and intensified. “Peak oil won’t affect me. Stop being such a hippie.” People really do not know the extent to which our society, way of life, economy, you name it, depends on oil production. Plastics, which have a semi-omnipresence, are made out of oil. Every product we consume and every service we demand requires the expending of energy, which overwhelmingly comes from oil.
Admittedly, it was more difficult to do any research or inform one’s self before the internet age, but today the same no longer holds true. We have all the information at the push of a few key board buttons and people still choose to ignore the facts, and refuse to inform themselves. Along with all the information that is available to anyone is also the masses of useless mass entertainment and “informative” distractions.
This book is similar to the scenarios for peak oil that our class has been predicting. Our class is predicting environmental damage, famine, disease, massive die-off, economic collapse etc. The outcomes seem to be the same, but the cause is different. Brunner addresses climate change and pollution, but the ultimate source of those woes is not self-producing, they are the result of industrialization and energy dependence on non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, such as petroleum, coal and tar-sands.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

comment to solomon

Solomon:
I really appreciated this post. It was a spin on our focus of peak oil that no body else has really closed in on. You shared some thoughts about peak oil and how it will affect your future, and I have similar questions all the time. You also illustrated some common reactions to peak oil theory. It was refreshing to read a post about something besides the numbers and figures of peak oil, however useful they are.
The assignments we are given does not allow for subjective contemplation. The last time most people in our class discussed how they felt, it was for the Personal Collapse assignment. To me, the most crucial element of society, the most important thing, is people, people’s lives. I am interested to know how people are reacting to the peak-oil as we immerse ourselves further in the unpleasantness.
Do you remember what Andy told us at the beginning of the college schedule? Of course I don’t recall word for word what he told us, but essentially he told us that although we will be studying how to utilize current trends to make predictions on the future in an objective manner, using peak-oil as our outlet, we should not forget the implications that peak-oil and other current trends have on our own lives. On the Social Science class website, Andy put as a reminder “This course is like a dress rehearsal except that the topic (our collective future) really matters and if you blunder badly personally your opening night might be called off.” This has a double meaning, if we blunder personally, we might not graduate, or we might not survive peak oil.
You wrote about your reaction to how other people react to peak oil. People don’t seem to comprehend the ramifications of peak oil on their day to day lives. There is that other saying that goes “Deal with reality, or reality will deal with you”. Many people do not even know how much oil is integral in their lives. Plastics are made of oil, transportation is fueled by oil, and food is transported by oil.
How do you think we should go about informing or encouraging other people to informing themselves about peak oil?
-Eugenia

Comment to Ying Min

Ying Min:
I really liked the question that you put at the beginning of your blog. According to the peak oil-scenarios that the class has been reading and elaborating upon, the wide-spread availability of transportation will be dramatically reduced and reserved for the extremely wealth. This has been a revelation to me, because I didn’t until recently realize that plane transportation has not yet found any alternative source of fuel. Hypothetically I could bear to live without electricity 24/7, and heating etc, but not being able to visit my family because we are all so scattered around the world? It doesn’t bear thinking.
Peak oil, as you outline it in your serious of scenarious, would mean huge economic hardships for everyone involved in the automobile industry. Isn’t it in their best interest to support, stimulate and contribute to the “race” to find alternative sources of energy and fuel which are comparable in convenience to oil? Furthermore, the automobile industry is too heavily invested in oil to ignore the problem; most if not all cars’ exteriors are no longer made out of metals, but plastics, which are products of petroleum.
You focus a lot on the economic crisis of approaching and reaching a peak in oil production, but when you reach the estimated time period when peak oil would be in effect, you don’t really describe the situation.
In your paragraph about 2010 you say “Change in the ‘democratic’ practice of the government.” This is interesting, but a little vague. Richard Heinberg says in Powerdown (chapter The Last One Standing) that as peak approaches and arrives, countries will be more hostile towards one another, and that’s how I always imagined the reaction of the U.S. government. But you seem to be implying something different, a change in attitude towards the citizens. Do you mean that under an economic crisis, the government would start campaigns of totalitarianism? Would that be for the benefit of the people, or for self-preservation (of the government)? I always figured due to localization efforts, government would just get smaller and smaller, but they probably wouldn’t go without a fight. I would be interested to hear what you meant.
I also noticed while you put a lot of emphasis on more objective effects of peak oil, like economic crisis, needing new technology, provisional plans for mitigation etc, you don’t touch on what day to day life would be like for people, which is more important and tangible then a crashing economy.
Overall, your break down of future scenarios was concise and clear, and very though provoking.
-Eugenia

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Cornucopian Argument # 9 from The Economist

“Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard professor and the former chief economist of the IMF, thinks concerns about peak oil are greatly overblown: ‘The oil market is highly developed, with worldwide trading and long-dated futures going out five to seven years. As oil production slows, prices will rise up and down the futures curve, stimulating new technology and conservation. We might be running low on $20 oil, but for $60 we have adequate oils supplies for decades to come.’” (P3 Paragraph 7)
Essentially, this means that the oil market is “highly developed”, thus it has built in provisions and precautions that would compensate for any peak in production, to prevent economic crisis. “Long-dated futures” means that there are agreements to purchase or sell oil for delivery in the future, thus securing any risk of price shift. “We might be running low on $20 oil, but for $60 we have adequate oil supplies for decades to come”. Twenty dollar and sixty dollar oil refers to the cost that oil companies expend to extract and refine per barrel of oil. This means that we are running out of oil that is easier and cheaper to extract and refine, due to the oil’s properties. This “light and sweet oil” is closer to the surface, and contains less sulfur content. For these two reasons, it is easy to utilize for the world economy. Oil companies have waited till they near exhaust the supplies of cheaper oil before resorting to the sixty dollars per barrel oil. This quality of oil is more expensive (in terms of energy and money) to produce because it is more difficult to reach, requiring different equipment and extraction methods and/or it has a larger content of sulfur, thus it costs more to refine.
This argument is a combination of evidential, logical and interpretive. It is evidential because Kenneth Rogoff claims that there are these long-dated futures, providing a material concept to back up his statement. It is also evidential because he is using a known pattern or trend for the behavior of oil in the market for support. It is interpretive because he is using this trend of oil to define a future event. It is a logical argument because it is a fact that more expensive oil supplies are available and abundant throughout the oil. It is also logical because micro-economics states that when there is less produced, there will be higher prices, according to the demand and supply curve.
My research plan is:
Consult my notes from microeconomics and related websites about the relationship between an increase in price and how that affects the price and demand for substitutes.
Research CERA + Peter Jackson’s work about peak oil
Consult Powerdown and Heinberg’s sources concerning oil’s market
Research the change of prices in relation with investments in alternative sources of energy, oil production and discovery.
Research Jerry Taylor + Peter Van Doren Of Cato Institute
Research Kenneth Rogoff
Findings:
The Law of Demand states “Other things remaining the same, if the price of a good rises, the quantity demanded of that good increases, likewise, if the price of a good falls, the quantity demanded of the good increases.” So, using this information, we can infer that the years where oil demanded went down (according to the World Oil Demand Curve from the Oil Market Report) are the years that price went up. If the price of oil went up, according to the law of supply which states “Other things remaining the same, if the price of a good rises, the quantity supplied of that good increases, and if the price of a good falls, the quantity supplied of that good decreases”, more oil was supplied, which would mean a stimulation in extraction and refining. This may suggest the improvement of technologies and improved efficiency. It might also mean that there would be more investments into alternative energies, because when the price of a good rises, the demand for a substitute rises. When the demand for a substitute rises, the quantity supplied goes up as well. So, Kenneth Rogoff seems to be within reason with his claims that as production slows, prices will rise, stimulating new technology. But does this mean more conservation?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

cornucopian arguements tentative

The Economists’ Steady as she goes April 20th 2006
For the last week (or longer for some) we have been researching, analyzing and evaluating the Peak Oil Theory or the Hubbert Peak Theory. We have been trying to identify the main arguments of Peak Oil, while keeping in mind the accepted implications for our society. Thus far, we have been taking the Peak Oil for face value, and accepting its claims to be true, but are they? Not everyone agrees that oil will peak, that the peak is imminent, or even that oil is a finite non-renewable source of energy. Some cynics argue that even when oil production peaks, there will be other sources of energy that we can and will rely on. The only way to decide for ourselves whether or not the peak oil theory is plausible and accurate is to read the opponents to peak oil theory, or cornucopian’s, arguments and become as intimately familiar with them as we are currently with peak oil.
The source I focused on was the Economist, who had a feature titled “Steady as she goes” which I found by searching for “peak oil” on the main page. In the search query, the first item was this, and below the link was one line “why the world is not about to run out of oil”. Wow, I thought to myself, this website doesn’t waste any time getting down to the heart of the matter.
The article employs 6 principle arguments to disprove the peak oil theory, which is not reviewed at all. To make a strong claim against a theory, it is essential that you restate the arguments in question, so that the public arena will know the premises at stake. But that is only the procedure for making a strong claim, which I would argue this article does not come close to achieving.

Steady as she goes arguments against peak oil:

The first argument up the Economist’s sleeve is the argument that a peak in oil production would not result in economic ruin, because we are not dependent on oil itself, but on energy in general. Once we find another source of energy, oil will not be a problem. They are arguing that cheap “sweet” oil is not the basis of our economy, that our economy would be just as profitable if our primary source of energy were an affordable renewable resource. “…what really matters to the world economy is not when conventional oil production peaks, but whether we have enough affordable and convenient fuel from any source to power our current fleet of cars, buses and aeroplanes.”
The second argument that the Economist wields against the Hubbert Peak theory is that the world oil companies and others are racing towards developing and manufacturing alternate forms of energy. General Electric and Shell, among others, are already investing money and research in the pursuit of blends of petroleum and diesel with biodiesels and other fuels that can prolong the current supplies of oil, and “may even result in a breakthrough that replaces oil altogether.” “The race is on to manufacture such fuels for blending into petrol and diesel today, thus extending the useful life of the world's remaining oil reserves.”
Thirdly The Economist refers to the United States Geological Survey and International Energy Agency who estimate that the peak will not be for decades. The USGS estimates the peak will come after 2025, and the IEA estimates as late as 2030. If these specialized governmental and international organizations have such late estimates, The Economist argues, we do not need to panic, prepare, or even give much thought to peak oil, because the oil companies will resolve the matter. “But if the peak were to come after 2020 or 2030, as the International Energy Agency and other mainstream forecasters predict, then the rising tide of alternative fuels will help transform it into a plateau and ease the transition to life after oil.”
The next argument is other abundant sources of energy are available, affordable and convenient to transition to. Tar sands, shale oil and natural gas are still abundant, and are available outside of the turbulent Middle East. There is more natural gas today than oil, so if we just convert some systems to these alternate forms of fuel, we can delay and alleviate the peak of oil. “And if ‘unconventional’ hydrocarbons such as tar sands and shale oil (which can be converted with greater effort to petrol) are included, the resource base grows dramatically—and the peak recedes much further into the future.”
The economist maintains that oil discovery has not even peaked yet, so oil production will not peak for many years. According to the article, there are many places around the world that have not been evaluated using current systems of assessing oil resources. The premise of this argument is that these technologies are more accurate at estimating the quantity of oil available at these locations. In addition, they assert that new technology has afforded the oil production process new methods of extracting on difficult and formerly inconvenient terrain, tapping into sources of oil that were neglected before out of practicality. “Using ever fancier technologies, the oil business is drilling in deeper waters, more difficult terrain and even in the Arctic (which, as global warming melts the polar ice cap, will perversely become the next great prize in oil). Large parts of Siberia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have not even been explored with modern kit.”
The last main claim that the Economist makes is when oil peaks, it will not be a collapse in production, because we will have price indicators which will signal when we need to taper off our dependency on oil. Not only, but the author of this article claims that a supposed “peak” would in fact promote the investment in alternative sources of energy, efficiency of current oil production and more discoveries. “Experts say a decline would probably be gentler and prolonged. That would allow, indeed encourage, the Saudis to develop new fields to replace lost output.”
The biggest criticism any one (peak oil advocate or not) can draw of this feature is that it does not restate or introduce the peak oil theory. For readers who have never been exposed to the peak oil theory, this makes things very confusing, and or misleading. The absence of a formal introduction to the peak oil theory effectively eliminates any premise that a reader can refer to throughout the course of the article. If you haven’t read about peak oil, of course the idea that the peak of oil production does not mean a complete collapse of oil supplies makes sense. Even if you have read about peak oil prior to this article that makes sense, because the peak oil theory does not argue that. The Hubbert Peak theory states that the peak of oil extraction will coincide with the consumption of half of all our oil supplies, meaning that half of all our oil supplies will be left. How could our supply of oil suddenly crash if we have the same amount of oil we have previously consumed left? If the author wanted to avoid these kinds of issues, she/he would have outlined the main arguments, so that she/he would argue against some real claim about peak oil.
The next criticism of this article is that all the arguments are spread throughout its entirety, which significantly weakens the integrity of the writing. If the author had a clear and concise skeleton that the article would follow, the composition would be stronger.

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