free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 205. IS PEAK OIL SOMETHING THAT THE LAYMAN NEEDS TO WORRY ABOUT?

Friday, January 06, 2006


This question has been nagging me lately. The general vibe from the peak oil community is that peak oil is imminent, and even ordinary people need to take it very seriously, right now. Note that I'm not saying that scientists, engineers, investors, economists and other specialists shouldn't be concerned about it. They are and should be. It's a tough technical problem, and it's interesting in its own right. What I'm asking is: why do lay people need to know about it?

The usual answer is: it's going to shake up your life. It's going to get you whether you pay attention or not. But I look at my own life, and nothing much is really happening. Despite the ongoing energy crisis, and oil rising by as much as 7 times in 7 years, peak oil has had no noticeable impact whatsoever on my life. I wouldn't be any worse off if I didn't know about it. Yes, it's a fun topic, and I like to follow it, but that's just my own personal quirk. On the scale of problems which directly affect my daily life, peak oil ranks near the bottom. I wouldn't even notice it if I wasn't looking for it. Even for heavy energy users in the U.S., the problem has been fairly marginal. All they really need to know, as lay people, is: "Hmm... Fuel's getting more expensive these days, better conserve."

Do they really need to obsessively follow the news in the peak oil community? It's like a hungry mouth that needs to be fed. It's one spooky headline after another: the die-off in Niger, Katrina, bird flu, storage depot explosion in the UK, the Russia gas crisis, the latest UK fuel oil crisis etc. etc. But, oddly enough, all these problems get resolved and forgotten, and then the chase is on for the next one. I was thinking about this "news cycle", and remembering that even Laherrere (a peak oil pessimist from ASPO) forecasts an all liquids peak in the year 2015. That's about 10 years from now, and I imagined all these peak burn-outs turning gray, going from headline to headline for the next 10 years. It's kind of a sad thought.

It's actually even worse than that. In the late 70s and early 80s, world oil production dropped by 15% over 5 years, and nothing particularly doomy happened then either. I was driving at that time, and I never even noticed that an oil crisis was happening. There was a recession, but it's not like you really need to "prepare" or educate yourself for a recession. Generally, everybody goes into a recession unprepared, and still muddles through. I didn't know anything about the 1979 peak, and it didn't do me any harm.

So how much does a person really need to know about peak oil?
-- JD


At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 4:22:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I think it is something people should know about, but that doesn't mean it has to take over your life. Like bird flu, terrorism, global warming, and othe issues on the public radar, it has the potential to affect us and havins some awareness of it is important.

It's can also be an important variable in life/economic decisions - for example, I would strongly advise people not to buy a house far from shops or public transport, as these will quickly lose value. If you had no idea about future oil scarcity you would have bought it and ended up financially ruined.

The reason why tiny oil prices make the market so jittery is because most people don't have any wider knowledge about oil and have little idea what's making the price go up and down.

I also think teaching some basics of the Hubbert curve in school would be a good idea. You don't have to go into the possible economic consequences or whatever else, but when you're talking about such an important resource I think it's important that people have more than some vague idea that oil will eventually "run out".

I also think that for Peak Oil to get on the public radar like Global Warming it needs to jettison the extremists and the weird far-left and far-right agendas. JD's right, the phrase "Peak Oil" is so tainted now for anyone except geologists, that we should just call it "Oil Depletion". That's a much more self-explanatory name anyway.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 4:25:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Oh, and politicians should know a good deal about it. The lack of attention from governments so far is just ridiculous (although that's changing). Unacceptable, as Australian politicians like to say. I've been writing to all the MPs I can.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 4:50:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

the phrase "Peak Oil" is so tainted now for anyone except geologists, that we should just call it "Oil Depletion". That's a much more self-explanatory name anyway.

Funny you should say that. I was thinking of calling it "the transition". That way it doesn't have such a loaded, terminal sound to it. Also, I think the focus on oil is retrogressive. It's like focusing on the horse during the horse->car transition.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 8:05:00 AM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

Definitely, widespread Peak Oil awareness (or oil depletion awareness) would be a very constructive if is was coupled with education of energy in general. This, IMO, would lead the public into understanding our predicament without doomerism or panic. Once you learn about oil depletion it can seem hopeless, but when you learn that we are wasting a tremendous amount of energy-- particularly in cars-- the situation seams less terminal. Yes, PO is doom for the car culture but civilization and even our economy has a lot of wiggle-room to fix itself. There is life after the oil crash.

We absolutely need to get a grip of this energy issue so we can steer our investments and business models away from the car culture dead end, ASAP. As an architect in So Cal I am constantly confronted with projects where huge investments in resources are for the accommodation of on-site car parking. Because oil depletion and energy issues are kept in the dark, developers, buyers, banks and City Hall insist that is the case with the expectation that cars will rule the day in the future of city life. This is what Kunstler would correctly identify as the greatest misinvestment in history. But because most don't seam to know that oil depletes nobody can bring reason to the consensus that insist on making these investments.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 8:48:00 AM PST, Blogger al fin said...

Why not just call it what it means to most people--higher oil prices? People can adjust to higher oil prices, or higher prices for any commodity.

People have adjusted to higher prices for as long as people have been trading with each other.

For doomers, peak oil is code for their very own fantasy of retribution. It's part of their religion, a ritualistic phrase.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 9:11:00 AM PST, Blogger eltonwilson said...

I would say that its a good thing for the average person to understand how much oil touches their life. Regardless of how peak oil plays out and how we confront it, we should each have an understanding of the energy we consume and use. That, at least, is what I have taken away from my Peak Oil research. Along with a more fundamental understanding of how energy works in a society.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 10:07:00 AM PST, Blogger Albertus Magnus said...

As Roland pointed out, politicians need to deal with this and it is our job, as the electorate, to install politicians who can/will deal with it.

Beyond that, there really isn't a lot the average person can do which is unique to peak oil. Many of the recommendations from folks advocating preparedness are fine ideas, peak or no.

Get out of debt.
Get in shape.
Start a garden.
Learn to live more simply.

Look, these are all things I've heard since I was a tot. A good friend of my parents had a bumper sticker that read "Live simply so others may simply live." She was motivated by humanitarianism, not peak anything. My parents were children of the depression, and have, for most of their lives, maintained a garden of varying size. Sometimes it was big enough to provide a significant portion of our vegetable intake, other times it just provided fresh herbs...but peak or no, it was always a good idea.

I've been replacing all my lights with CF bulbs or LED's just a good idea. I've been aquiring hand crank/solar emergency gear. They're useful for plain old mundane ice storm or tornado emergencies also. I've even bought my first bicycle since I was a boy. It's good exercise.

I don't drive much. I don't like driving, it's wasteful, poluting, boring, and dangerous. Peak oil or no, sensible transportation is...well...sensible.

Yet, it seems most folks don't do it. I drive the speed limit nearly religiously. I've also been rear-ended more often than anyone I know and one time it broke my back and nearly killed me. Suddenly gasoline prices go up and I'm not the only one driving 55.

Perhaps Peak Oil awareness will be a motivation for folks to do things they really ought to do anyway. That' wouldn't be a bad thing.

Now, "Culling the Herd," on the other hand, is psychotic, peak oil or not.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:54:00 PM PST, Blogger Freak said...

I really like the turn everything here is taking.

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 1:58:00 PM PST, Blogger The Masked Lemming said...


There's been a few stories in the news lately tending to show Peak Oil IS having an effect.

For instance, there is this little thing called "the war in Iraq." Also, another little thing called "the war on terror" that just happens to be where the majority of the oil is.

Your logic that "well I haven't noticed anything yet" is akin to a sexually promiscious gay man saying, "well gee my penis doesn't have any bumps on it so far as I can tell" when the reality is he has HIV. BTW, it's sad that you were at least 16 in 1980. That puts you at least 42 years old right now but your writing style made me think you were a mid 20's Wired Magazine reading punk.

My bad,

The Masked Lemming

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 2:53:00 PM PST, Blogger Thomas said...

Albertus Magnus:

"A good friend of my parents had a bumper sticker that read "Live simply so others may simply live."

I bet Richard Heinberg had the same bumper sticker when he was young in the 70's :-)

In response to the topic: I think knowing about PO can be valuable when you're considering whether to buy a Hummer or an Acura for commuting to/from work.

Other than that, I believe energy issues in general ought to be placed in the hands of responsible professionals (scientists and engineers, such as myself) and politicians.

PO seems like a huge issue to me, but I recognize the fact that it might turn out to be a non-issue. It seems that we are living quite comfortably with oil prices in the $ 50-60 range. At that price, as the CEO of BP, Lord Browne, said, "...every energy technology is feasible"

Consequently, viable alternatives to gas guzzling could creap up on us without anyone really noticing. (at which point economists will yell: "Look, market forces solved the problem, just as we said they would". Peak Oilers, on the other hand, will claim that changes would never have been made without their turning attention to the problem. They'll probably argue for all eternity...)

JD; I found what you said about PO being like focusing on horses in the horse -> car transition very interesting... Very true indeed!


PS, it seems a bit wasteful to have to set up a bogus blog just to leave a comment in this blog. I might want to create a blog some day, but here at the spur of the moment, I don't have a great idea just ready...

At Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:42:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

I feel like there is a big disconnect between the amount of time people spend studying peak oil, and the actual benefit they derive from doing so. It has a low "EROEI", so to speak. It would be nice if there was a simple, upbeat, one page FAQ that told the layperson all he/she really needed to know about peak oil, so they could get back to enjoying their regular life. Peak oil is my hobby, so I enjoy looking into the details, but it seems to be overkill for ordinary people to be checking the peak oil sites daily, worrying about specialist topics like USGS stats and reservoir engineering in Saudi Arabia.

At Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 2:13:00 AM PST, Blogger Freak said...

"(at which point economists will yell: "Look, market forces solved the problem, just as we said they would". Peak Oilers, on the other hand, will claim that changes would never have been made without their turning attention to the problem. They'll probably argue for all eternity...)"

But, remember the important thing is they are arguing...... :) J/K

seriously though any new info on where battery tech., and PV/solar is going these days??

At Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 4:24:00 PM PST, Blogger The Masked Lemming said...

There are credible people saying the decline rate will be as high as 8%/per year. At 8/year, the total supply would be cut in half within 8 years.

A 15% drop in 5 years is one thing.

A 50% drop in 8 years is another, particularly in an economy as leveraged as ours.

That 50% drop doesn't account for further drops because of terrorist attacks or insane climate conditions.

There, debunk that you fool

The Masked Lemming

At Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 5:05:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

There are credible people saying the decline rate will be as high as 8%/per year.

Analysis based on Hubbert theory shows that the world decline rate will be less than 2% for 20 years after the peak, increasing to about 4% by 40 years after the peak.
Hubbert Theory says Peak is Slow Squeeze

Colin Campbell's current forecast shows liquids+NG production declining from 50Gboe to 38Gboe in the period from 2010 to 2045. That's an annual decline rate of 0.8%.

I'll take another look at your 8% when your "credible people" have names.

At Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 8:32:00 PM PST, Blogger Wildwell said...

Can the average person do anything about it?

No. Just adjust certain habits, get out of debt, and use your car sensibly.

Should you worry about it?

No more than you should worry about a sudden heart attack, accidental nuclear war, asteroid strike. Sounds series huh? No, life is not and cannot be trouble free, we are here to learn and experience things. Make negatives into positives.

So it’s the government’s job?

Yes, in the main. But some political parties are more favourable to the situation than others, read their policies and make your own mind.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve decided to do.

At Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 11:02:00 PM PST, Blogger Override367 said...

"There are credible people saying the decline rate will be as high as 8%/per year. At 8/year, the total supply would be cut in half within 8 years."

Even the doomer project something more on the order of what we faced in the 70s oil crisis, and most people involved with peak oil project the *start* to involve a FLATTENING of oil production before a drop off - you see oil comes from many hundreds of thousands of fields, and they don't all peak at once, even Ghawar is only a small percentage. I think it's widely accepted we won't know we've peaked until the following year or possibly later - even LATOC references a 3% annual decline and I think you're hard pressed to find a much more abysmal outlook.

If you look at just the situation with oil fields you may start to feel a bit overwhelmed, but take into the complete picture including alternative fuels (which now account for a noticable amount of all "oil", unless I'm mistaken *real* oil has already peaked), none of the alternatives are peaking or even close to it, add in G2L and all that fun stuff into your hubbert curve and it turns into a rise -> flattening -> decline that takes many years indeed.

This is far from a "situation normal, burn away!" outlook, I'm merely stating we're more likely to face eating less expensive food and driving less, and learning to live without a car at all if possible, rather than eating our neighbors and driving around in a tricked out SUV with a gun stealing gasoline from people Road Warrior style. It's not a pleasant outlook for sure, but countries and the world have been through hard times (WW2, *massive* die offs due to viral infections, etc) and gotten out of it for the better. Oil is no different.

My brother has talked me down from my oil frenzy, you see he lost his license 10 years ago to drunk driving and after the mandatory period he never got it back - sure he lost his job etc but once he got back on his feet *with no car* he decided he was better off without one and decided to never get it back. Oddly enough he sees car culture as wasteful and replaceable, and before he lost his license he was the biggest car nut I knew. Situations change attitudes, a country can go from wasteful and decadant to poor, to industrious, to an economic powerhouse in the blink of an eye. Don't believe me? Grab a history book and read U.S. history from 1920 to 1950. Don't believe the US can conserve oil? Grab some history on the oil crisis and pay special attention to the part where the US had a massive decrease in oil consumption with a much smaller decrease in GDP - and that was a shock, but they expected it to be a permanant PO decline type scenario that didn't pan out). The fact is we could have continued to use less and less gas if the shock hadn't ended, but it did.

At Monday, January 9, 2006 at 3:57:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Monday, January 9, 2006 at 3:58:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 3:04:00 PM PST, Blogger Nick said...

Do energy issues have much to do with daily life? In certain sense the anwer is no. On the other hand, what effect did 9/11 have on most people's daily lives? None, on a practical level, and yet most people care about it very much. How many people are affected by the war in Iraq on a practical, daily basis? Very few, and yet most of us care. People want to understand their word. Big issues affect our daily lives emotionally.

More importantly, the decisions our society makes are based on the consensus of the population. This administration can ignore energy issues, because the population allows it to.

An important example of the effect of energy issues is the "war on terror". The war on terror is deeply affected by US foreign policy: Islamic terrorists wouldn't have nearly as much popular support in the Middle East if the US hadn't been supporting dictatorships like the Saudi's, and the Shah of Iran, for the last 50 years in the hope of maintaining a stable oil supply.

If you care about the "war on terror", then you should care about oil supply security, which is related to peak oil/oil depletion.

At Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 1:38:00 AM PST, Blogger Oilguy1 said...

I would say YES. Being a petroleum engineer I can tell you that this is no illusion. There is a problem over the horizon.

What to do? I would say start to modify how you use energy. Place in your house that are not used, no one is in them for extended time, Close and shut them from heating and airconditioning. Ulness you have some good reasons not to.

Insulate, insulate, insulate your house. Check windows, doors anything in your house construction where air could be infiltrating from the outside and driving your heating/cooling bills up.

If you have this choice than live in a more compact house. Who needs 5 rooms if only 2 people live in it.

THINK "How can I reduce my electric/gas bill?"

Same goes for your car.

Plant more trees around your property. Or if you buy a house look for one with them for additional cooling.


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