394. CONSERVATION STIMULATES THE ECONOMY
Many newcomers are confused about what we stand for here at Peak Oil Debunked. So today I'd like to describe our basic position, and how we differ from the more pessimistic mainstream of the peak oil community.
The main difference is that the pessimists focus obsessively on the supply side. They are committed to the idea of societal breakdown or collapse, so they constantly fret about supply, like Dave Cohen:
Here's the main point: Can anyone, anywhere, point to a large new secure supply of crude coming online anywhere in the next few (5) years that solves the supply and demand equation in that time frame and beyond? I think not.When the IEA draws some crazy curve which says world demand is going to be 121mbd in 2030, pessimists like Dave really take it to heart. They genuinely think that the world is going to need that much oil. That is why they are pessimistic. The world will need 121mbd, but it's unlikely that amount will be forthcoming, so the system is going to breakdown.
That's the doomer view in a nutshell, and it's nicely captured in a recent graph from the Oil Drum, which Gail Tverberg uses to terrorize the wide-eyed newbies in her presentations on peak oil:
Note that Gail and her fellow pessimists are very careful to never question the unexamined doomer assumption, i.e. to ask: "Is all that oil really necessary?"
I, on the other hand, am an optimist. I believe that most oil is wasted and conservation is actually quite easy. I don't believe we need most of the oil we are using today, so the failure to meet the 121mbd target is not really a big deal. Like I wrote back to Dave:
The error in your ways is that you are thinking only in terms of supply side solutions. You think that the failure to meet demand is a terrible problem. It's not. Most oil demand is for frivolous, wasteful uses (like single person commuting in the U.S.) It's a form of addiction, and demand destruction isn't a bad thing, it's "healing" or "getting better".It is patently obvious that vast amounts of oil are being wasted, particularly in first world countries. The Hirsch Report itself admits (P. 24) that "67 percent of personal automobile travel, and 50 percent of airplane travel are discretionary". This means that 6.3 million barrels per day (roughly equal to the oil production of Iran+Iraq) are used in discretionary auto/air travel in the US alone. That's huge: 30% of US oil consumption, and 50% of US oil imports. And it's being wasted on non-mission-critical, optional travel. Or consider commuting. The average commute in the US is 16 miles Source. Which means that, in a pinch, half the population could easily commute to work by bicycle. Those with longer commutes can conserve, while still maintaining functionality as usual, by car pooling, or driving a hyper-efficient vehicle, like the Veken hybrid scooter, which is available today for less than $3000, and gets 180mpg (you can see a video here. More info here). On top of that, you can count numerous other demand-side measures, like telecommuting, telepresence, or even gasoline rationing with tradeable credits. You could very easily draft a plan to eliminate half of US oil consumption (10mbd, or 1 Saudi Arabia) simply by trimming waste and lifestyle.
To answer your question: The large new supply of secure crude is going to come from conservation, i.e. U.S. commuters riding two-to-a-car instead of one-to-a-car etc.
Of course my point here is true, and it carries a lot of force. In fact, I've never met a doomer who didn't immediately acknowledge the validity of this point. There is no genuine "need" for people to commute to computerized desk jobs 100 miles away in 6000 lb. single-occupant SUVs. You don't even have to think about it; it's patently ridiculous. We waste staggering volumes of oil on frivolous lifestyle bullshit.
So the optimist solution is to gradually (or quickly, if need be) eliminate all this waste, and switch over the remaining essential part to alternate power sources. For example, the classic case would be a commuter who switches from a single-occupant 12mpg SUV to a 180mpg hybrid scooter, and then to an ∞ mpg electric scooter driven by solar or nuclear. Radically reduce oil use to the minimum necessary, and then substitute. That's the optimist solution in a nutshell.
Of course, the doomers are fully committed to horror and mayhem, and have a pre-packaged rebuttal to this solution too. They say that conservation and efficiency are poison to our economy because the economy is based on waste, and eliminating waste will send the economy into a death spiral. It sounds plausible the first time you hear it, but if you think about it carefully, you'll see the fallacy.
Consider the classic example: Jane was driving an SUV that got 12mpg. Then she purchased a hybrid scooter for $3000, which gets 180mpg. Assuming $5/gallon gas (due to post-peak conditions), car travel costs $.42/mile and scooter travel costs $0.03/mile. So when she rides her scooter, she's saving about $0.39/mile. At the scooter's top speed of 40mph, she's saving $15.60/hour. She's making as much money driving her scooter as she would working a well-paying second job. She'll pay off the moped in a few months, and after that it's all gravy. Lots of extra money in her pocket is hardly a negative for the economy. That money will get spent somewhere, and the people providing those goods and services will benefit.
This is the key point: Whenever you conserve oil, you also save money, and that money gets spent or invested, stimulating the economy. Unlike money spent on oil, which generally flows out of the country, money saved by conserving oil is far more likely to be spent in a way which stimulates the domestic economy and employment.
A recent study of efficiency efforts in California bears this out:
• Energy efficiency measures have enabled California households to redirect their expenditure toward other goods and services, creating about 1.5 million FTE (Full Time Equivalent) jobs with a total payroll of over $45 billion, driven by well-documented household energy savings of $56 billion from 1972-2006.So there you have it. Conservation is the easiest and best solution to peak oil, and it's highly beneficial to the economy. Careful examination shows the pessimist argument to be based on a series of fallacies.
• As a result of energy efficiency, California reduced its energy import dependence and directed a greater percentage of its consumption to in-state, employment-intensive goods and services, whose supply chains also largely reside within the state, creating a “multiplier” effect of job generation.
• The same efficiency measures resulted in slower growth in energy supply chains, including oil, gas, and electric power. For every new job foregone in these sectors, however, more than 50 new jobs have been created across the state’s diverse economy.
• Sectoral examination of these results indicates that job creation is in less energy intensive services and other categories, further compounding California’s aggregate efficiency improvements and facilitating the economy’s transition to a low carbon future.