18. NINE DELAYS FOR PEAK OIL
A lot of people in the peak oil community seem to be rooting for an early collapse of modern society. Here, briefly, are nine factors which will delay that outcome.
1. The delayed peak
Deffeyes, Campbell, Ruppert, Richard "Olduvai" Duncan and Boone Pickens may be wrong in calling for an early peak. For instance, Campbell is calling for a peak in 2006, but he's made a number of incorrect predictions before. None of these people have any exact data on ultimate recoverable reserves (URR), and that uncertainty may cause the actual peak to occur 5, 10, 15 or 20 years later than they predict.
Even if we hit peak, it may be possible to extend a flat plateau for another 5 or 10 years.
Even if oil peaks, this does not mean that other forms of energy will peak. The loss of oil can be compensated by boosting forms of energy which aren't peaking, such as natural gas, coal, sugar cane ethanol, biodiesel, solar etc.
Crude oil prices rise sufficiently to cause global recession, as occurred in the late 1970s. This causes oil consumption to drop dramatically, and stalls off peak oil for another 10 years.
5. Demand destruction
Even if world petroleum production peaks, this does not mean that consumption by wealthy nations will decline. They will keep their flow steady or growing by outbidding poorer nations for the limited supply. The wealthy, powerful nations will hog the oil, and thereby maintain their growth for some time.
6. The slow slope
Common wisdom amongst peak oilers is that world oil production will drop by 3% or more a year post peak, but that's not cast in stone. It may be possible, using technology, substitutes and other delaying tactics, to reduce the decline rate to something more manageable, like 1%. If that can be achieved, the "collapse" will occur at a glacial pace; it would take an entire human lifespan for standards of living to drop to 50% of their previous level. I would imagine that standards of living in the US could drop by 50%, and people could still live quite comfortably. And this does not take into account nations with declining population (like Russia, Japan, Italy, Ukraine, Germany etc.) which can reduce consumption without lowering their standard of living.
Clearly nations like the US are wasting massive volumes of oil everyday. The effects of the peak can be delayed by another 5 to 15 years by squeezing out all this waste.
It does sound kind of silly to have "faith" in technology. On the other hand, it is just as silly to have no faith whatsoever in technology. We simply can't rule out the possibility that someone will discover a solution (partial or whole) to our energy problems. Many peak oilers seem to think that we have come to the end of energy-related technology breakthroughs, but I find that extremely unlikely. Bizarre and previously unthought of discoveries have always occurred (X-rays, fission, quantum effects, bucky balls, quantum teleportation etc.), why would they stop now? Because we've gotten to the bottom of it?? I doubt it.
Honestly, someone needs to explain that: Why would technological breakthroughs just stop one day? Did the universe run out of secrets? We understand everything now? I find that incredible.
Exporters like Russia can stall off peak oil effects in their own countries by not selling their oil. They have more than enough oil to satisfy their own needs (including growth) for decades. If peak oil gets tough, they can stop selling oil, and the peak won't affect them.
You can combine the above factors in the obvious way, and next thing you know, we've pushed any serious effects of peak oil out 35 years into the future. There's a very good chance that we will adapt and develop new approaches to energy/transportation during that time. There is no reason to run for the hills or hoard food and guns in preparation for an imminent peak oil famine.