280. ANOTHER DEBUNKER EMERGES
Toby Hemenway is a permaculturist who has written a good piece called "Apocalypse, Not" debunking peak oil hysteria. This has been widely discussed, but it certainly deserves a place here:
There is no doubt that oil is running out. But to believe that it will surely bring the end of the world, you must believe that:I'll refer you to the article for specifics on these five points. However, Hemenway does raise an interesting, little-discussed point about the Hubbert curve (click image for a clearer view):
These are the significant beliefs needed to be a Peak Oil catastrophist. Each is false. Let's look at them.
- Our demand for oil is unchangeable and is not significantly affected by price.
- We are so badly addicted to oil that we will watch our civilization collapse rather than change our behavior.
- Significant oil conservation is not possible in the time frame
- Even with conservation, demand will be more than oil plus alternatives can possibly meet.
- Society is so fragile that it cannot withstand large shocks.
Hubbert’s US peak prediction was accurate, and the decline initially followed his curve. It has lately deviated significantly (see Figure 1, above)This is a thought-provoking idea. How much of the U.S. decline after 1970 was due to geological constraints, and how much was due to political constraints, and the easier availability of oil elsewhere?
Let’s engage in a little critical thinking about Hubbert’s curve. Domestic oil production began to fall sharply around 1970. Why the steep drop? If we’re blinded by theory, we’d say “because supply dried up” and leave it at that. But a careful thinker must look for other explanations that may have an effect. There are several: A major oil spill off California in 1969, the first Earth Day in 1970, and many other events spawned a rise in environmental consciousness in the 1970s, and soon, public outcry forced the US to block off-shore drilling and other sources of domestic oil because they damaged our environment. The 1973 Arab oil embargo sent prices skyward, and Americans bought small cars and turned down thermostats, squelching demand and thus domestic production. And, the 1960s and 1970s saw both the rise of the multinational corporation and Britain’s retreat from its Middle-Eastern colonies, a combination that encouraged the oil majors to abandon US oilfields and to enormously boost Mideast operations, where regulations were lax, labor cheap, and supplies huge.
Thus the sharp fall in US production, while affected by the depletion of some easy-to-drill domestic deposits, had many other causes. Today, lapsed US oil leases are being bought back by the oil majors, who are developing these deposits with new techniques. Congress has re-authorized off-shore drilling, and US production has stopped falling. We’re not on Hubbert’s curve any more.
-- by JD