Tuesday, September 9, 2014
As the confluence of events churn up into a maelstrom of madness that points to the inevitability of perfect storm developing, Zerohedege warns that "Icahn, Soros, Druckenmiller, and now Zell, billionaires all, are quietly preparing for a market plunge". Well, not that quietly, or I, and now you, certainty wouldn't know about it.
Meanwhile, on the oil front, per Bloomburg News, the God of Crude Oil Trading, Andrew John Hall, is betting that Shale Oil, the Darling of the "Fuck you, there's no such thing as peak-oil-production crowd", is a dud. Yet when Robert Scribbler derides peak oil and documents production data that he believes leaves its theorists in the dust, because he feels that the pursuit of such belief will keep us stumbling down the same path to a world-destroying fossil-fueled future, it proved too much to tacitly sit by and let it go by unchallenged.
In a well-written and extensively documented essay, where Hall argues that the Bakken, the Athabasca tar sands and the Eagle Ford formation, as well as other enormous finds in Russia, are all proof that peak oil is decades, if not centuries, away, he fails to note that these new fields are barely replacing lost production from declining output from existing oilfields, including those in Mexico, Indonesia, Kuwait, the North Sea, and even the US. He also never mentions that, as exemplified by what happened to the US exports in the seventies (they were banned), it is only excess oil production, that is above the needs of the country in which the oil is produced, that matters in terms of supply, and as the rest of the world adopts the extravagant, energy-wasting habits of the OECD countries, it should come as no surprise that the more that excess is viewed as normal, the less likely that there will be any excess oil left to export.
Believing that believing there is any such thing as Peak oil enables the continued search for more and more esoteric sources of supply, he insists that we admit peak oil is fading away so far into the realm of a future that's too distant over the horizon to envision its impacting us any time soon, he suggests that all we need do instead is produce another billions or so cars, this time making them all electric, and then run them all off a 'green' grid comprised of wind-and-solar-generated energy and that will solve our climate-change problem.
Now I admit that simplifies his position a bit much, however it does seem to be what the main thrust of his argument boils, kerogen- like, down to. But I'm not sure I understand where such statements like, "unfortunately, as we will see below, there is more than enough oil, gas, coal, brown coal, fracked oil and gas, gas hydrates, tar sands, kerogen and other fossil fuel stores to continue burning for years", have in an argument about peak oil production. Peak extraction of fossil-fuel and exploitation of all other forms of stored carbon-based energy, is not the same thing as peak-oil production, now is it? In fact, it seems to me, he gives validation to those who claim there's no such thing as Peak oil by claiming that liquid condensates and other forms of natural gas liquids, or equivalents, is the same thing as oil. But they quite clearly are not, if for no other reason, as pointed out in a very well-documented piece by the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas), than that oil extraction, such as conducted in conventional oil fields, and oil production, which is more typical of the unconventional oil-"plays" as they're referred to now, since without the Fed playing fast-and-loose with monetary policy and flooding such plays with credit, despite their being uncreditworthy enterprises, have quite different economic ramifications and sustainability.
Switching to electric power as the main solution to our energy-intensive transportation needs, is not going to solve the problem of global warming, because they can't support the number of miles necessary for modern suburban drivers to cover. According to Michael Klare in a post just published on Resilience, more than a third of new vehicles being purchased in the US are SUV's. So, what Mr. Scribbler's thesis suggests, is that that's perfectly alright, since we can just electrify the grid and juice all them multi-ton conveyances manufactured to carry 150 pound humans around with solar and wind power. This I simply don't believe. And Scribbler provides no technical data, unlike his well-documented production data, to back up this enormous leap in faith, one that flies in the face of everything any other sober-minded analyst has been able to predict so far. (Really? $80,000 Tesla's are the wave of the future? Even Nissan Leafs are heavily subsidized both in their production in Japan, and in their procurement in the US, where they would otherwise be $20,000 more expensive than what their sticker price is currently).
For the one, replacing an entire transit system comprised of a billion units with new vehicles requires a scale of manufacturing that is extremely energy intensive and CO2-production-intensive. For another thing, for every ton of aluminum there is 1.2 tons of carbon produced. And that 's just the vehicles themselves, but the extra power plants and extra-gauge wiring needed to produce the power necessary and transmit it over loss-induced miles to the point where said vehicles will be charged is mind-boggling. That doesn't even take into account the rare earth elements that are needed to build both the wind-generated electricity, the batteries needed to store the charge, nor the amount of oil needed to be used to manufacture not just the autos, but the enormous number of solar panels that'd be needed to generate the staggering volume of electric current necessary to power a fleet of over a billion personal transportation units, all being done to reduce the amount of CO2 and its equivalence of other gases, is just as, if not more so, fantasy-oriented as the mindset that believes there is an infinite amount of oil and all of it can be burned up with no deleterious side-effects in a finite world.
Now perhaps I'm just being a nay-sayer, because I look at scenes in the Middle East, such as the one from Alfred Hitchcock's, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and present day photos of Morocco and other Mid-Eastern locales, and get a feeling of how different it must be to live in a culture where every public space hasn't been given up to the domination of the automobile, where there are actually people sitting and conversing outside, where they aren't surrounded by motorcars zooming by, so have a vision of the electric car future that is more of a nightmare than a dream-come-true, to it than well, really anybody I know, making me more likely to look askance at the future Scribbler scribbles than others would be likely to do, but that doesn't mean that I think he's right, either. Nor that I believe he's either made his point convincingly nor that his strategy of abandoning the concept of peak oil a wise one.
In an episode of "Charmed", after much angst and deliberation and procrastination, they choose to accept an offer that is made to them by a group called the "Avatars" (of what, I have no idea), to create Utopia on earth. What they haven't been advised of, is that anyone who creates conflict in this Brave New World, is simply , unceremoniously, removed, their existence terminated by a wave of the hand, everyone reconciling themselves to their disappearance with the platitude that they're "In a better place now". But upon discovering the true nature of the bargain they have made, the husbands of one of the witches creates conflict in order to demonstrate, via his demise, the horrible mistake they've made. His removal is first met with the same shrug, "He's moved on to a better place", until the children, not aware that they're supposed to just accept their father's sanitized death, keep crying for his return, and his wife is then asked, "But, don't you remember? The whole reason we wanted this Utopia in the first place was so that you and Leo could be together ... and Now they've Taken him?"
In some ways that is the Faustian bargain that we've all made with modernity. All the wonders it's brought us, all the ease it promised, all the plenty it parades before us. But, as the economy of one after the other of its avatars of the Space-age succumbs to the inevitability of decline, we're left with none of its promised boons, as the wastelands we've made of pristine forests and productive grasslands encroaches further and further into our own lives until there's nothing we care to look at in our environment except the TV, computer screen or our I-phones. What's happened?
Before he gets zapped, Leo tells one of the sisters, "Don't forget all the losses", but sometimes, I think that's exactly what we've done. We've forgotten that we had modes of existence that didn't require us to be at War all the time, or to be spied on constantly, or that made people who we've never known and who have never met us, Hate us with a passion so strong they cheer in the streets when thousands of us are killed. The whole reason we embrace modernity is to make our lives happier, and Now we're miserable? Or as we're told ad nauseum, "For Freedom", and yet we live under constant surveillance in cities that are prisons subject to lockdown at any moment, and subject to search and seizure without any warning, placed on 'watchlists' without our knowledge, the government legally able to disappear us, the Police nicknamed "Bigfoot" for their warrant-less intrusion into our living rooms via kicked-in front doors, and subjected to pepper spray and tear gas and tanks in the streets, and This is Liberty?
No one loves the modern world more than I do, I love reading and making art and having a beer or two (OK, maybe three) with friends, but the true costs of it, of everything, especially this newest one, computers and the internet, have all been purposely hidden, so that we're never apprised of what its real costs are us now, but what further costs are to be extracted in the future. And if we don't know the costs, how can we ever answer the question, "Is the price we're being asked to pay worth it?"
When it's firing on all cylinders, it certainly seems it, huh? But as it starts to sputter, as we look to the future and wonder what it holds, it doesn't' help to have one of the people that are the most adamant about climate change being human induced, to say that, "if people are wrongly led to believe that peak oil is a worse event than climate change, then it is unlikely people will make the changes necessary to transition away from fossil fuels" as a reason to simply pretend the concept of peak oil is unfounded, when Jim Hansen, the believer of both, states otherwise, then the same question I raised concerning modernity, and the fictional utopia, becomes relevant. Because, unlike weather events, that no one can ever say this or that weather event is directly related to climate change, changes in economies and energy equations can be directly related to peak oil, so that although peak oil may not be, as Scribbler states, a worse event than climate change, the fact is that in their lives, and how it impacts their lives, peak oil is a much more immediate and dire event than climate change. So now that we've moved electric generation away from oil, unearthed and burned vast quantities of coal, doubling its output since the turn of the century, spent the last generation building coal-burning power plants in India and China, not to mention in the US of A, NOW you say there's no such thing as Peak Oil?
And lastly, it seems to me, that since, in the Arctic, the loss of the albedo effect means that the earth now absorbs ever more solar radiation instead of reflecting it back into space, the fact that solar collectors are specifically designed to do that exact same thing, I would argue, does not bode well. For the earth, which is the basis of many of Scribbler's arguments, is a closed system, so if you're absorbing solar radiation instead of reflecting it back into space via a solar panel, you're still absorbing it and not reflecting it back in to space, that is, in fact, the whole reason to install a solar panel, the net result of which will be to make the temperature of said earth increase, whether it's by loss of albedo effect or a solar panel effect, the only difference being that then, at least, we'll be getting to use that energy to our own advantage, instead of having it melt polar icecaps. My argument being, however, that if you look at said use now, and the enormous, ENORMOUS, amount of it that is simply wasted, by doing things we otherwise would never do in places we would otherwise never do them, then although the resultant warming will, admittedly, not be as concentrated so much in such a fragile place as the Arctic, it will nevertheless still occur, only now it will be not only more widespread, but worse, because the addition of all the CO2, that was created in the production of that vast array of solar arrays, will have been added to the atmosphere beforehand. In other words, like every other so-called attempt to mitigate the problem, such as ethanol and biodiesel, it will accelerate climate change, not ameliorate it.
Therefore, because it supports the same never-ending growth paradigm, in both population and energy production that's gotten us into the conundrum we are now faced with, joining up with the climate change deniers in also denying peak oil will only exacerbate an already intractable problem.
Posted by Robert Lowrey at 8:09 AM