Peak Oil and the Lunatic Fringe

I have been posting at The Oil Drum as a contributor for about a year now. Yesterday, I announced that I would be taking a break for a while. (I will continue to post at least one new essay a week here). As I am getting quite a few e-mails about this, I wanted to document what has precipitated this for those who may not know the history.

The Oil Drum receives a great many visitors each day (currently over 12,000 a day). While the vast majority are interested in intelligent discourse on energy issues, there is a very vocal lunatic fringe who accept Peak Oil RIGHT NOW with a religious fervor. They lash out at any viewpoints that challenge this notion. To be clear, not all who believe Peak Oil is now fall into the lunatic fringe category. In fact, most don’t. There are many very serious posters who argue that peak is now, and they use data and logic to argue their point. However, the lunatic fringe will tend to associate themselves with posters espousing these views, and legitimate challenges of the data are sometimes met with bitter ad hominem attacks. Add to that the fringe who think that because I work for an oil company, they are entitled to pile on with ad hominem attacks, and I have found myself increasingly on the receiving end of some very nasty comments and e-mails.

I have recently written two articles examining a technique that is claimed to be able to predict a peak in a country’s oil production. I reproduced the first one (Predicting the Past) here on my blog, but the second one had far too many graphics. Here are the links to both essays, as well as to an essay I wrote in which I made my argument that Saudi Arabian oil production has not yet peaked:

Does the Hubbert Linearization Ever Work?

Predicting the Past: The Hubbert Linearization

A Debate on the Substance and Timing of the Peak of Oil Production and Consumption, Part II

My conclusions, supported by a number of other modelers, is that the Hubbert Linearization (HL) technique does not in fact work well enough for one to call a peak in oil production with any sort of precision. The error range can span decades, as I documented in those posts. In fact, it is a very good example of an ad hoc model. And while I certainly believe that we should be preparing right now for Peak Oil (this is a position that my opponents consistently misrepresent), I also want to understand more about when Peak Oil will occur. If we “cry wolf” this year, and oil production rises next year because we didn’t do a good enough job forecasting, I believe this will diminish our ability to influence policy-makers that we must take action.

In response to my latest essay, in which I compared some of the arguments in favor of the HL as “faith-based”, many posters bitterly lashed out. As I documented at TOD, here is a sampling of the comments (without corrections for spelling errors) I received in response to my essay. Again, this is a minority, but a very vocal one:

“basically garbage”, “dangerous”, “keep being unreasonable or start thinking”, “not that interesting”, “not even close to being the right way to critique HL”, “assumption you childischly refuse to mention”, “sad, silly, egotistical”, “pissing contest”, “disingenuous”, “arrogance, pigheadedness and perhaps even childishness”, “waste of time”, “absurd”, “clumsy and actually self-defeating”, “gross”, “way off base”, “contrived examples”, “get off your high horse”, “re-inventing the wheel”, “junk”, “deceitful”, “unrealistic scenarios”, “let me hand you a clue”, “over the top”, “not very useful”, “cheating”, “vindictive, and spiteful”, “constructed cases where it does not work”, “diatribe”, “obnoxious attempt”, “a guy with an aganda and a axe to grind”, and “quite revealing in an unflatering way”

It was after reading some of those comments (and the posters attempted justifications of them) that I finally decided to take a break. However, in response to my note about taking a break, one poster provided a shining example of – in addition to the sort of insulting comments above – the kind of misrepresentation I have to deal with on a daily basis. It is absolutely comical, except for all of the slander.

But I think you have to see this for yourself, if you are unfamiliar with the sort of lunatic fringe I am talking about. Following my note, a poster decided to waste everyone’s time with this gem:

I read through it, and I couldn’t make anything of that gibberish. I had to study it, and go back to the comments following my essay to even figure out what he was talking about. Here were some of the things this poster attributed to me (along with a very long personal attack):

“because you did post these words yesterday didn’t you Robert. paraphrased: I can make 2+2=5 if I want to also.

I am sure you can Robert, for a while, so if you make such a statement why should we believe that you haven’t found a way to fudge the numbers and data in your post yesterday.”

Of course I had written no such thing, but it got worse:

“With your time off Robert why don’t you examine Mary’s paper. I am sure she would love for you to tell her why she is incorrectly interpreting the statistical data. You have nothing to do now since your not posting here. I might even send Mary your post that said she was intentionally manipulating the data to fit the outcome. Pretty strong words Robert, and in the scientific community that is a real no no. Are you saying Mary is a charlatan with the credentials she has to back up her abilities. You must be pretty smart to take her on. Whoops, wait, you just made a statement, but didn’t back it up. You will not do it though will you Robert. As Mary asks, why why why, is this showing up in the data.”

I couldn’t make heads or tails of what this person was saying. So, I went back to the comments following my essay, and I found that he had posted a link to some mystical gibberish in which a scientist had claimed to have found a relationship between the alignment of the stars and NASA missions. So this person was accusing me of saying things about this scientist, when I had never even acknowledged his post. Furthermore, he demanded that I show that she is incorrectly interpreting statistical data. Now, to cut to the chase, I clicked on the link to see what it is this person was yammering on about. You know what was displayed at the top of the page in which the scientist had laid out this mystical “relationship”?

“AUTHOR’S NOTE THERE ARE ERRORS IN THIS STATISTICS PAPER THAT I HAVE NOT HAD THE CHANCE TO CORRECT. They do undermine the conclusions of this paper. In order to determine how seriously my math errors affect the results, it would be necessary to redo the paper. Since I do not currently have time for that, I am posting this addendum.

On March 24, 2003, I entered into a debate regarding the merits of this statistics paper I wrote in 1999. It is at this time in 2003 that I reviewed my paper again, only much more thoroughly for the purposes of debating with my paper’s detractors — and I then decided that the errors I made in the paper definitely do undermine at least some of its conclusions.”

Anyway, sorry for the long story but I thought it provided an exclamation point on my decision to take a break. This person had just provided a clear example of why I end up wasting a good portion of my time. I am being slandered, and this person is attributing to me things that I did not say, while demanding that I address a paper that the author has already acknowledged to be in error. And while I am completely sympathetic to the need for anonymity in many cases, this clearly drives some people to behave in these sorts of inappropriate ways. Therefore, to lower my stress level a bit, I have decided to remove the bulls eye from my chest. As I mentioned in the opening, I will continue to post at least 1 essay a week here.

33 thoughts on “Peak Oil and the Lunatic Fringe”

  1. Good for you.

    The problem with slander from “anonymous” posters is that you cannot respond in kind. It’s pointless and not going to change their mind and any response to this “flamebait” type of behaviour will make the whole discussion slide into uselessness.

    This is fundamentally a software problem with using blogware like drupal or wordpress for discussions. As soon as it isn’t a small group of people trying to rationally discuss the issue, it falls apart.

    Slashdot saw this with increased site traffic 10 years ago and the whole moderation system was developed around trying to deal with the issue. High traffic sites like TOD shouldn’t be attempting to hold calm rational discussions without some means of dealing with “Trolls” and “Flamebait” like Slashcode on Slashdot does.

    On the other hand, no amount of moderator code can deal with slander from the contributors and associate editors.

  2. On the other hand, no amount of moderator code can deal with slander from the contributors and associate editors.

    I did not realize you guys continued to go at it. I have to take some time to make sure I very clearly understand the issues there. I have a bit of extra time now. 🙂

    Cheers, Robert

  3. Mr. Rapier:

    Thank you for your efforts over at the Oil Drum. I’ve followed that blog on and off for the past few years, and have found your contributions there to be thoughtful, balanced, and deliberative. I especially enjoyed your recent post on Hubbert Linearization.

    The Oil Drum still has value, but I long ago stopped reading the comments.

    I look forward to your continuing posts, wherever you choose to put them.

    C Hirst

  4. I did not realize you guys continued to go at it.
    I actually find a severe close-mindedness and vocal critic like that a positive experience. I try and look past the name calling and I usually learn a lot about how to present an idea when I might not know the correct terminology.

    Some people have a prejudice and believe that training in a specific field is a prerequisite to innovation not a tool for innovation.

    It’s like saying “There is no way Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton can play guitar, because they are self taught and don’t have a degree in music.” or “You can’t have anything positive to say about improving society, because you work for an oil company.”

  5. I hope you enjoy your respite and can return recharged with more of the analysis that, so far, only you seem to be able to provide consistently. The “we’ve peaked riGHT NOW, NOW, NOW!” types are annoying, but then, so too are the ethanomaniacs and all others who insist that it’s not enough for THEM to believe something unless they can force OTHERS to believe it as well.

    Thank you for all that you have done to shed light on these critical issues.

  6. One final thought–

    Your argument that HL is not (yet, anyway) good enough for use in predicting peak is, of course, fully defensible.

    However, along the lines of “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” I think it insufficient, as a matter of how the web and humans work, to simply say that HL can’t be relied on.

    Rather than just remaining silent in the absence of a better technique, I would invite you to consider instead assigning confidence levels to various HL predictions.

    That is, you can pick any year you like as the year by which you are certain (prob = 1.0) peak will have occurred—whether that be 2200 or 2100 or 2050 or 2030 or …? Then assign a “probability of peaking in this year” to each year from now until then, with the probabilities summing to 1.0. Obviously the mode of this distribution should be in the year in which you think peak is most likely to occur.

    Prof. Ken Deffeyes whimsical “Thanksgiving Day” peak (adjusted to Dec. 16, 2005, IIRC) is the kind of thing that leaves many old-school scientists aghast but it was (and remains) brilliant pedagogy and public relations: he took a stand, put a big fat X on the calendar (and a big target on his back) as a way of saying that he had very high confidence in his method. I think that one act alone did more to bring attention to Peak Oil than any of his books had, or that tireless sites like The Oil Drum or (or R-Squared) have–which is not to take anything away from you or them.

    If nothing else, pick your date-certain for “past peak” and divide the probabilities uniformly in each year until then, which would say that, in your opinion HL is of NO VALUE whatsoever in narrowing it down further (and nothing else is either).

    But, if I understand your points, it’s not that HL is of ZERO value, it’s that it is of less value than its proponents claim. OK, fine, put the error bars on their predictions, and we can move on to more fruitful things.

    I, for one, would greatly value discussions that recognized the vast uncertainties, and I would love it if every time a future year is mentioned in connection with peaking, the confidence level was also stated. Such as “I am confident that we will have seen the global peak by 2014 at the latest (0.9)” or “There’s a good chance that we have already peaked (0.5) or will before the end of 2008 (0.5).”

  7. I’ve preferred to read you here, Robert, than at TOD where every post seems quickly to get buried in hundreds of comments. Keep up the good writing!

  8. Robert, I regretted your departure from Billings and, much more, now your pullback from blogging. But I understand both.

    IMO the blog world needs its equivalent of Bob Sutton’s “No A**hole rule”

    Our collective inability to have a civil dialog on these critical issues has, is and will continue to hugely retard our progress toward sustainable solutions, much to our peril. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts. Interpretations of facts may differ; only civil dialog between those arriving at those interpretations can resolve them.

    An entry point besides Sutton’s book is “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” listed in this post

    The authors point out that when attacked physically or verbally, our brains are “hard wired” to respond with either violence or silence. When a cherished position is challenged, even by ugly, unemotional facts, to defend our emotional investment in that position we are wired to respond with an emotional attack. This book is about how to get around these hard-wired, almost automatic responses.

    Your silence means that TOD readers miss the huge benefits on your well informed input on issues such as fermentation-based ethanol and industry processes. Silencing you may be the goal of some posters for precisely this reason.

  9. First they came for the Pornucopians, and no one spoke …

    Classic comment Odo.

    I, for one, thought Robert’s HL post was well done.

    As for comment threads, there are few high traffic sites which haven’t succumbed to the sort of commentary that often appears at TOD…

  10. Sorry to see you stop posting.

    I understand the decision, although I feel you are giving too much credence to the vocal (and probably) minor negative doom camp.

    Let me try to explain.

    I for one learn from your postings and some of the more intelligent responds to them (the real discussion). I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels like this.

    Still, you do what’s best for you.

    I just hope you also consider the possibility that there are plenty of us silent viewers who really appreciate your input and skip over the countless ad hominems, straw men and non sequiturs from the faith based naysayers.

    Of course, it would be fair (in an ideal world) to support reasoned voices openly amidst the heated discussion, but what I’ve personally learned in 20 years of bbs+netnews time: don’t feed the trolls 🙂

    So, there are plenty of us who appreciate your input and dislike the non-constructive attacks, but feel that there is not much we can do about it (except complain to the moderators).

    FWIW, I agree with Rohar1: too high volume, too strictly divided camps and inability to comply to basic rules of argumentation are currently detrimental to TOD discussion.

    I have privately proposed TOD move either to:

    – score file (e.g.slashdot style)
    – kill file (e.g. by person by keyword)
    – distributed moderation (combination of the two above in real-time)

    based filtering, but currently they have not implemented anything.

    I hope this decision will change, because I’m afraid that if things move on their current course, RR’s departure(temporary, I hope) will not be the last one.

    Most of us have seen that happen to too many good forums to count…

  11. Thanks Gav, and I also valued Robert’s Hubbert posts. I’m still sort of thinking them over … but the part I’m trying to puzzle out relates to all this. That is, even as I try to maintain a rational worldview, how much have I been swayed by the emotion of my peers?

    And what sort of peers gather for peak oil? Sometimes I worry that people gather for an insular and self-reinforcing pessimism.

    I find this post at TOD, and the unanimity of response, to be emblematic of that:

    Humans are social creatures, with social belief systems. And as I’ve said, I think when you build a sub-culture those views often reinforce and diverge from the mainstream.

    (Heck, “mainstream” is practically a cuss-word in peak oil.)

  12. Robert,

    Come back to TOD!

    You cannot let the local schoolyard bully push you around.

    This doomers thing has been going on for far too long.

  13. ^^^What Richard said.

    Ultimately TOD is a platform for you to express your views and get across a rational, defensible case for peak oil that will convince the scientific community, policy makers and the wider public at large. If you exile yourself from TOD then it will sway even more than it currently is towards the extreme doomer fringe.

    In short, if you’re serious about what you’ve been doing for the past year or so on TOD, then hold your nose and wade back in. Either that or find a platform with a reach as great or greater than TOD, because i-r-squared – fine blog though it is – isn’t it.


  14. Martin,

    The “extreme doomer fringe” owns peak oil.

    It’s too late.

    Peter Tertzakian was smarter than a lot of us. He wrote a whole book about “peak oil” but … clever guy …. he did not used the words “peak oil” even once. Instead he talks about resource constraints, infrastructure limits, and supply chain evolution.

    Maybe that’s the answer Robert, find (or make) a nice site about “energy” and “oil production” rather than one about “peak oil.” It works for Geoffrey Styles at Energy Outlook, right?

  15. Maybe that’s the answer Robert, find (or make) a nice site about “energy” and “oil production” rather than one about “peak oil.”

    My good friend Nate Hagens has suggested the same; that he is going to stop using “peak oil” and start talking about resource depletion. Probably not a bad idea.

    Cheers, RR

  16. If you’re using Firefox, you can install the greasemonkey add-on and then use the todban script to block insane abusive trolls like the guy who was ranting about NASA. I’ve added him to my blocked users list and now I never have to see his posts again.

  17. Robert – very troubling, especially since you believe in peak oil. TOD has become an echo chamber where only one side of the argument is tolerated. The same is true of the debate on man’s influence on climate change. One side declares the debate is over and then attempts to drown out all dissension.

    Before getting into a debate with these folks I usually ask about the track record of matlhusians and apocolyptics and ask them why they believe they are right NOW when so many people have been spectacularly wrong in the PAST.

    Just in my lifetime, here is a list of just some of the threats to LAWKI (life as we know it):

    Extraterrestrials (1950’s)
    Global Nuclear War (1960’s)
    Population explosion (1970’s)
    Second Coming (1970-Late Great Planet Earth)
    Population Bomb (1970s – Paul Ehrlich)
    Industrial Pollution (1970s – Rachel Carson)
    Coming Ice Age (1970s)
    Nuclear Energy (1979+ – China Syndrome)
    Ronald Reagan starts WWIII (1980s)
    Killer Bees
    Year 2000
    Bird Flu
    Global Warming
    Genetics run amok (Jeremy Rifkin & others)
    Artificial Intellegence

    I don’t think the world is running out of oil or global warming is going to get us any time soon, if ever. But hey, I could be wrong.

  18. If you want a fun excercise, go to the wikipedia article for the “Population Bomb”.

    Now read the text and menally make the following substitutions:

    “An Inconvenient Truth” for “Population Bomb”

    “Al Gore” for “Paul R. Ehrlich”

    “global warming” for “population explosion” or “population growth”

    “polar ice caps melt” or “global sea levels rise” for “life expectancy decreases”

    “Sierra Club” for “Sierra Club” (it seems they were big advocates of Ehrlich as well!)

    “the debate over global warming is over” for “the battle to feed all of humanity is over”

    In fact peak oil and global warming warnings sound JUST LIKE every other Malthusian, apocolyptic argument probably going back through all of human existence.

    But again, I could be wrong – maybe some day one of these world ending predictions might come true.

  19. Seems like a well-justified decision. I’ve always preferred reading your posts here where the comments are more civil, intelligent, and ordered. I can’t stand the flurry of schlock that ends up burying a post at the Oil Drum and while I enjoy some of the posts there, I hardly ever spend the time to dig through all the crap in the comments for the few gems of intelligent discussion in there.

    I hope you keep up posting at R-Squared. Looking forward to more posts. Cheers,

    Jesse Jenkins

  20. Robert,

    Grow a set you big crybaby.

    Hope you have fun blogging in anonymity. In three months when you realize you are a big nobody you will go crying back to TOD. Wuss.

  21. Mr. Rohatensky, you mistake my relationship with The Oil Drum.  I am not an editor.  I cannot edit anything except my own posts.  I am a contributor, which means I can put stories in the queue for Professor Goose and SuperG to review.  They’ll decide when and if they appear.  That is the only thing I can do that you cannot.

    I didn’t say you had to have an engineering degree to reach correct conclusions or make useful contributions.  However, you do need to know the subject matter.  Having some grasp of the work that’s already been done in the field isn’t essential, but it sure can help.

    In your case, you don’t seem to be doing so well.  I may have jumped on you too soon, but your web-page design didn’t lead me to figures like your 4% efficiency claim without having to skim the whole thing (which I was in no hurry to do after the first time).  You could have mentioned it a lot earlier in the discussion, too.

    Regardless, it barely affects the conclusion.  Luz used to run a number of trough-collector solar thermal plants in California, achieving about 20% efficiency (some 5 times your claim).  Despite this, they went bankrupt when subsidies ended because their system just cost too much for the output.

    Even without the expense of ammonia and massive tankage, you’d have the same problem times five.  You really do need to revisit that drawing board.

  22. Grow a set you big crybaby.

    Hope you have fun blogging in anonymity. In three months when you realize you are a big nobody you will go crying back to TOD. Wuss.

    Let’s clear a couple of things up. First of all, I needed a break. I have a lot of things going on at work that are taking up 10-12 hours of my days. I don’t have the time right now to address 20 critics at TOD and another 20 via e-mail. Yet that’s exactly what’s been going on. I remind you that Stuart Staniford took a long break from TOD last year. He never said what his reasons were, but he took a leave for at least 6 months.

    Second, while I am completely sympathetic to the needs of some people to post anonymously (apologies if your name actually happens to be ColonelDrake), those who post under our real identities have a bit more at stake. My friends and family read TOD. I am known in the real world. If I write an essay, and 20 people pile on with the kind of epithets that have been directed my way lately, I feel more compelled to defend myself than if I was posting anonymously. If I say that ColonelDrake is a stupid jerk, are your kids going to read that? Are your coworkers? Of course not, unless that’s how they know you in the real world.

    The debate with Saudi is at a standstill at the moment. I think some key questions will be resolved by summer, and I may post some new material at TOD then. I don’t know. A lot depends on other things. My family will join me in Scotland this summer, and I am committed to not let these debates consume all my time.

    If you don’t understand, then to hell with you.


  23. Robert,

    It might be worthwhile simply ignoring troll comments and plain, unvarnished abuse.

    People reading that stuff are unlikely to think it reflects poorly on you (I certainly never take it very seriously unless I’m in the mood for some sport) – they’ll just think the offender is a nut – and there’s no shortage of nuts about.

    The fact that you use your own name just adds more credibility to what you say.

    Errr – and on that note, I might add everyone who knows me personally knows exactly who “Big Gav” is – its not a psuedonym, its what people actually call me…


  24. KingofKaty

    You are reasoning by false analogy.

    Consider CFCs and the ozone layer.

    The ozone layer *is* threatened. There are large holes in it at Arctic and Antarctic latitudes.

    The impacts of these are very real, and include:

    – higher risk of skin cancer and cataracts amongst inhabitants of Tiera Del Fuego and South Island of New Zealand

    – fall in phytoplankton levels of 40% beneath the holes. This could, if it worsened, threaten the entire food chain of the planet. Just about everything eats plankton.

    – other unknown effects, eg increased eye damage amongst migratory birds (which would lead to larger insect populations)

    Now the reality is we didn’t destroy the ozone layer *because* we took action. At the Montreal convention in 1988, agreements were struck which will reduce the production of ozone damaging chemicals by 90%. It’s likely the ozone layer will stabilise around 2020, and recover fully by the late 21st century.

    Or consider another example: nuclear war. On at least 3 occasions, the US and Soviet Union were within hours, if not minutes, of a nuclear exchange.

    Most prominently in 1983, Exercise Able Archer, when the Soviet Union went to full nuclear alert, convinced that Ronald Reagan and NATO were about to attack them.

    And in 1963, when President Kennedy was advised to attack Cuba by his advisors, and assured the Russians had not deployed nuclear warheads. In fact, they had, and the local commanders were under orders to ‘use it, not lose it’ if they came under attack.

    But by dint of a long series of international negotiations, and many false steps, the US and Soviet Union found a way to reduce tension.

    Global Warming is like the above 2 cases.

    The IPCC is sketching out a scenario that if we do nothing, human action could lead to a rise of temperatures of 5 degrees centigrade. That would inflict more damage on the ecosystem, and human civilisation, than a fair-sized nuclear war.

    However the IPCC is also deliberately discounting evidence that things are worse than we think:

    – historic evidence of very rapid climate change. Flips between hot and cold periods within *10 years* (into and out of Ice Age) have taken place on the geologic record. Such a flip would cripple world food production, overnight.

    – possibility of accelerated melting of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Caps. The possibility of either is not included in the IPCC forecast. This could lead to sea level rises of 20 to over 100 feet, which would be disastrous for billions of people. The data suggesting, for example, that the Antarctic is heating up much faster than we forecast was deliberately excluded from the report.

    – possibility of tripping over various ‘tipping points’ which meaningfully accelerate the pace of global warming, and may make it irreversible by human action.

    Other less severe consequences which we are almost certain will happen, if we continue on our current track, include the extinction of up to 50% of all species now in existence. We don’t know what that will do to the ecosystem, however.

    It is this complex interaction between human action, and the natural environment, that makes global warming such a difficult problem.

    It’s not like we can carry on as we are carrying on, doubling our carbon emissions every 50 years, and rely on having lots of warning in advance that we have destabilised the climate completely, that world crops are about to fail, that Australia is about to have the ‘one in 1000 year drought’ (which it has now) which turns out to be permanent.

    CO2 is a very long lasting pollutant. What we emit now into the atmosphere, will have an impact on climate 100 years from now. If we don’t take tangible steps now, then the world we will live in could be a far less hospitable one to human life and certainly to our current civilisation.

    I commend Mark Lynas’ book ‘Six Degrees’ to you, for a nontechnical description of what the literature says about temperature rises at each degree centigrade.


  25. Robert

    I am sorry events have come to this place, but I am well aware of the ‘millenarian’ aspect of the extremes of the Peak Oil crowd.

    For what it’s worth, I have always found you to be a thoughtful, informed and polite poster, and a gentleman. It was a pleasure to interact with you there.

    Your thoughts on ethanol, in particular, are beginning to be mirrored in the likes of The Economist and Business Week. In fact, George Monbiot, the environmentalist, had a very strong column this week in the Guardian and there is now a ‘bio fuels watch’ to lobby the EU not to destroy the rainforest, creating biofuels.

    I am hopeful you have made a meaningful and influential contribution to the debate. You certainly have influenced my opinion!

    My own view is that yes, conventional oil production will peak, although I don’t know when or at what level. And yes, rising prices will cause us to find alternative supplies (primarily tar sands, oil shale, and coal-to-oil technology) and to make economies.

    The danger is if peak oil comes upon us, unawares, we won’t have made the necessary preparations. The resulting disruption would be very severe. And that many of the ‘peak oil’ technologies accelerate the problems of global warming.

    The more immediate danger lying out there is global warming. We do know, from all the evidence and scientific reasoning that we can muster, that the world is heating up, that atmospheric CO2 accumulation is the largest single cause of that, and that CO2 is rising because of human action.

    GW is a bit like Peak Oil, in that if we have a long time to adapt, we can. And there is a lot we can do to reduce the problem. But the geological and other evidence is that the earth’s climate is an unstable beast, and conditions can change radically in very short periods of time.

    There are no previous periods in history, I believe, (other than the great Permian Extinction) where any force has so rapidly increased the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

    With the earth’s climate, we are conducting the autobahn equivalent of painting our Mercedes windscreen black, putting our foot to the floor, and driving.


  26. I’m with the folks who analogize this to the Y2K problem:  no big difficulty if you deal with it in time, but woe betide those who ignore the snarling dog until it bites!

  27. Valuethinker –

    I’ve read your posts on TOD and elsewhere. You seem to be a thoughtful person.

    Do you even hold out the possibility that global climate alarmists could be totally wrong?

    If the internet and blogs had existed in the 1800’s I imagine that I could be having a similar discussion with Thomas Malthus. Or in the 1960’s I’m sure that Paul Ehrlich would come armed with his facts and figures.

    It may be that humans believing their very existence will lead to their own destruction is somehow hard-wired into our brains. But it appears that this argument comes along every generation. And so far everyone has been wrong.

    But I could also be wrong about global warming. But if what you say is right then it is too late already. So party on! (I’m joking here.)

  28. KingofKaty

    1. I think Malthus would have been shocked at our ‘solution’.

    The effective complete deforestation of the UK, the industrialisation of UK agriculture, the creation of cities of millions of people, the extinction of innumerable animal and plant species worldwide. The outright massacre of the aboriginal inhabitants of 3 continents. The mass movement of millions of Africans to the new world, as slaves.

    And the reality is that Malthus’ warning has triggered human action. Most notably the one-child policy in China, but a general awareness of issues of overpopulation and soil deprivation and exhaustion.

    On Paul Ehrlich, what changed is that the birth rate dropped. Again, *human action*. It looks like the world will stabilise between 9 and 12 billion people, sometime this century. Which is still a lot of people. I don’t think Ehrlich was wrong forecasting disaster if population growth continued unabated.

    “It may be that humans believing their very existence will lead to their own destruction is somehow hard-wired into our brains. But it appears that this argument comes along every generation. And so far everyone has been wrong.”

    Quite the opposite. The prevalent human belief is God gave us the natural world, and we can do what we like with it, without consequence.

    The notion that our activities might have an impact, is relatively recent. Think The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1960).

    And indeed, we have faced a series of crises, *and done something about them*:

    – Los Angeles had over 200 smog days a year in the late 60s. Tokyo traffic cops had little oxygen bottles to keep them going on shifts. The Cincinatti River actually caught fire, due to industrial pollution.

    New environmental restrictions were brought in. SO2 emissions in the US, for example, are over 60% reduced from their peak. Emissions of auto pollutants are 90% down.

    – there really was a threat of nuclear war, and we did something about it

    – there really is a hole in the ozone layer, and we did something about the industrial pollution that was causing it

    If I am wrong?

    Well, one easy way for me to be wrong, which is at least as likely as the ‘it really wasn’t a threat’ case, is that we are massively too conservative about the damage that we are causing to the world’s climate.

    There is plenty of evidence for that, more than there is of the ‘nothing really bad is going to happen’ case.

    And if we do ‘overreact’, then that means we have cheated ourselves of perhaps 1% of GDP in 2050– not an impossible price for the insurance policy we have bought.

    But what really haunts me is James Lovelock’s comment about 1938– he is old enough to remember it. Everyone sat around, knowing another war was coming, but hoping that it wouldn’t affect them, or peace would somehow break out. It was all too horrible to contemplate, the last war had cost 20 million lives (this one would cost nearer 100 million).

    The Germans offered exit visas for the remaining 130,000 or so Jews in their country. All that had to happen was some country had to take them.

    In Canada, it was decided that this would risk an anti-semitic backlash in Montreal, which would lose the government seats in Parliament. The civil servants’ decision is well documented. In the end, Canada took a few hundreds, fewer than South Africa.

    The Dominican Republic finally offered them residency. But it was too late.

    Those Jews died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

    I don’t want to be that Canadian civil servant, making that decision.

    If this is 1938 on the world climate, and I fear it is, and I think there is an overwhelming consensus of good, peer reviewed science that it is, then what will we say to our grandchildren, if we had the chance to act, and we did not?


  29. My position is similar:
    * If any of the GW scenarios are possible, it is morally incumbent upon us to prevent it if we can.  (And we certainly can.)
    * Even if neither GW nor PO are likely anytime soon, we have plenty of social, political and health reasons to replace our current energy systems.

    I don’t subscribe to the victimology of “environmental racism”, but if powerplants and the like stop emitting anything disagreeable, their location will become irrelevant to property values and everything else.

  30. I support and respect your decision. i suspect your next presence on the web will be better for the break.


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