Why I Sat Out the Feeding Frenzy

I have gotten several e-mails about Cyclone Gonu in which I was asked to comment. Some asked why I haven’t written about it, or why I haven’t participated in the discussions about it. I was content to let this episode fade into history, because addressing it will offend some people who are friends of mine. But I have gotten enough e-mails about it that I will address the issue. The fact is, I feel that there is a lesson to be learned here.

I have been criticized by some for my cautious approach toward Saudi Arabian and world oil production. For the record, I don’t believe that their oil production has peaked. (However, I want to emphasize that I don’t think U.S. energy policy should be based on trusting the Saudis to always supply the oil that we need.) I believe they are managing their production to meet demand. When I look at the moves they have made, I believe they are consistent with what the market dictated. And the bottom line is that despite their cuts over the past year, oil prices are right where they were a year ago. That screams to me that they are making the cuts to maintain prices, because some demand destruction has occurred at current oil prices. But there are many who have gone out on a limb and stated emphatically that Saudi Arabian oil production has peaked.

Which brings us back to Cyclone Gonu. To me, this was Peak Oil forecasting with immediate feedback. The approach was the same that many take toward Peak Oil. Some are careless or selective with data interpretation, and they make conclusions based on that (not to say that everyone is careless). It has been a waiting game to actually validate or negate their predictions on Saudi, for instance. But we didn’t have to wait so long with Cyclone Gonu.

I agree that a cyclone threatening that part of the world is an incredible story. The mainstream media was very slow to respond to the story. The potential for devastating consequences was there. The potential for some consequences to oil and gas supplies was fairly high. But, there was also data suggesting that the storm could peter out. Some were warning that the dry air the storm would encounter as it moved north could weaken it. So, I saw a serious danger of wiping out my credibility by joining the feeding frenzy. It was a high risk, high rewards issue. If the cyclone had dropped a Katrina-like surprise on the region, those who were beating the drum that the consequences would be devastating would have been “rewarded” by calling this event correctly. Suddenly, their forecasts of other devastating events are taken more seriously. Credibility increases.

Yet the risks are high. For anonymous posters, the concern about credibility is probably not great – but even they can marginalize an argument by being wrong en masse. And if you are out there posting under your real name, forecasting horrifying consequences, only to see the consequences turn out to be much less than anticipated, you are going to take a credibility hit in the eyes of many people. Your position on other issues will come into immediate question by some, and others will use the event to discredit you. In this case, the risk did not pay off. The consequences were less than advertised (although it is still too early to say that the impact on oil deliveries will be negligible). I would have advised caution. In fact, I did advise caution to some via e-mail. But I ultimately just backed away from it. I considered stepping into the fray and saying “let’s slow down here”, but I didn’t feel like dealing with some responses that would have certainly been hostile. In fact, some who did suggest a cautious approach were shouted down.

If you look at how I have approached gasoline inventory numbers, I have been cautious. I have not suggested that we will run out of gas. I have pointed out facts: Gasoline inventories are low – even at record lows – but the consequences are not clear. Absolutely, the risks go up as the inventory levels go down. And we could see a hurricane this summer that disrupts production and literally causes the tanks to run dry. It could happen. But it is important to point out the things that might prevent it from happening (like strong imports). If I had said that we were going to run out of gas on Memorial Day, and Memorial Day came and went without incident (except for high gas prices), then critics could use that to discredit every forecast I make. Forever. And that’s why I approach things in the way I do: Here are the facts, here is my interpretation of those facts, and here is what I think will happen. But also, here is what could change that, and nothing is certain. Some call that being wishy-washy. I call it being practical, and making sure that all of the relevant information is being presented – even information that is contradictory to the point I am making.

If You Like Credibility So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It?

Some have said that my burden of proof is so high that we will only know long after the fact that oil production has peaked. My response to this is that we need to be prepared – today – and that we need to warn people right now that resource depletion has the potential to be an incredibly disruptive event.

Some will say “This is too important to worry about your stupid credibility. People are going to die because they took a cautious approach like you do.” And there is the lesson from Cyclone Gonu. Look at what’s happening. Those who went over the top on the issue are now having fingers pointed in their direction. Some subtle, some not so subtle (and some over the top as well). So the issue here is not maintaining my credibility for the sake of my ego, or because I don’t like to be wrong (even though I don’t like to be wrong), it is maintaining credibility so that I don’t marginalize my arguments.

If I had started sounding the “Peak is Now and the End is Nigh” alarm in 2005 – as some did – and over time it became clear that oil production had not gone into free fall and we were not yet living in caves, how likely are people to listen to me the next time I sound the alarm? This is exactly why I am cautious on the data and the news coming out of Saudi. If history shows that Saudi is still capable of ramping up production, you are out of the prognostication business if you have declared that they have peaked. Your credibility is shot, even as we need you talking to people about the consequences of resource depletion.

In conclusion, even if you think you are absolutely certain that we are facing utter devastation, you should take a fact-based approach, and make it clear exactly where the data are subject to interpretation or speculation. Caution was thrown to the wind by too many in this case, and I fear that the damage will linger for a long time. The boy cried wolf – not because he was making things up, but because he was careless in identifying the wolf. Next time, not as many people will believe him. Even if the wolf is real.

And that’s why I sat out Cyclone Gonu.

42 thoughts on “Why I Sat Out the Feeding Frenzy”

  1. I didn’t comment on TOD, but it was interesting to watch. I read a lot of epic fantasy and TOD explains why LOTR and similar authors like David Eddings and Terry Brooks are so popular. I have a very high-tech career, but I am bored. It’s tough to get excited about how many cores they can stuff into a CPU and the massive volume of text messaging by 8th graders. I don’t think the TOD group-think is actually “doomer”, but it’s probably do to being unsatisfied with modern life that they want to see a major energy crisis and have the world turn into a combination of The Stand, Mad Max and LOTR. The last of the V8 Interceptors, Tina Turner running the pig manure methane party, Flagg in Vegas and everyone scrambling to get the lights back on and trying to grow enough vegetables to survive the winter.

    Mad Max Rockatansky
    Robert J. Rohatensky


  2. Your post made me realize that when reading threads at TOD, I have conditioned myself to look for certain members who tend to present more facts and less opinion. The absence of specific members on the Gonu threads, including yourself, made me more critical of the opinions I was reading and less concerned with the issue.

  3. I always cringe when I see both pro- and anti-peak oilers make short term oil price predictions.

    But does a track record of consistent error really destroy one’s credibility in the Peak Oil community? Colin Campbell hasn’t exactly been voted off the island.


  4. You can’t argue with the doomers.

    I tried to read TOD but it is like some kind of alternative reality that doesn’t square with what I know. Unlike 99.99% of the posters, I have traveled to the KSA. You are right, they are managing their production and exploration to meet demand. There is no reason for them to spend money on exploration now as long as Gahwar keeps pumping away light sweet crude. Some day they will need to move on, most of the KSA remains unexplored.

    Gonu will be a non-event because the thousands of traders and shippers around the world have become very good at logistics. When crude is loaded on a ship it might change hands 3 or 4 times and have several different destinations before it finally discharges. The crude and refined products systems are capable of adjusting to weather, wars, and other events.

  5. But does a track record of consistent error really destroy one’s credibility in the Peak Oil community? Colin Campbell hasn’t exactly been voted off the island.

    But how seriously does anyone take his predictions at this point? Is the mainstream media paying any attention?

  6. It’s not the opinion of the “PO community” that matters, because it’s too small. The opinion of policy makers (who almost certainly have staffers reading this and other blogs) and the opinion of the general public are what really matter.

    Energy policy debates on-line (and, it seems, in Washington) are dominated by people with a political/activist mindset: closed minds, information fit to their world view, inconvenient facts are ignored, and public image matters more than correctness. As opposed to an engineer’s approach: careful, open-minded, fact-oriented, striving for correctness.

  7. Robert – You know that yours and my views are in general sympatico. I hear what you are saying, but if you notice, on-the-ground facts and science-based predictions were also
    posted. At no point were any predictions presented as “fact”. Alot of good information was shared about Oman, general shipping in the Strait, and who wears the darkest doom cloaks.

    I think this was a rare event that ended up not being too impactful (to the energy market). Peak Oil aware people are just on high alert because they understand the implications if this would have been a significant story – i.e. that the cushion we once had in the global delivery system is smaller than it used to be (New England has gasoline stocks currently of 11 gallons per person!?)

    I think what was most telling about this event, is that clearly some in the Peak Oil community shape news events to fit their beliefs, and that these beliefs are central to their daily perception of life. These people now look foolish, not theoildrum itself. TOD is a free forum for information concerning our energy future – in such a community, how should its editors, who all have full time jobs and none of whom are meteorologists, treated this news event differently?

  8. Note that I did not name names. I never said TOD at all in my post. But since you brought it up, I agree that some kept their sanity. But some went completely over the top. We are going to use this even as cover to attack Iran? Towns have been wiped out, facilities are destroyed, and the government is lying about the whole thing. Some just took complete leave of their senses.

    It was sad to see some of the rational voices there – like Alan Drake – insulted for presenting a rational view. That’s the whole reason I took a holiday for a while. As someone said, much of the commentary was doomer porn. Although I do think your comments were spot on.

    Cheers, Robert

  9. As far as the OPEC production, my layman opinion is that this isn’t a new game, it’s 1980 repeated.

    The original training I took was commercial marine radio op with the intent of working offshore oil. By the time I finished school and all of the testing/licensing in 1988, Canadian offshore oil was pretty much dead.

    I had family in Edmonton that had to move out in the late ’80’s and lost substantially on their house. A friend of mine has a brother in Fort McMurray and apparently a house that was built for $280k last year is selling for $700k. The capital investment estimate in Tar Sands projects is suffering the same inflation.

    This is totally a layman opinion, but I would think that supplies will stay managed until oil gets close to the $100/bbl mark and then the light sweet crude will flood the market until the expensive per bbl projects fold. I can’t believe that OPEC would let the price stay high enough that the Tar Sands and similar projects stay feasible. The entities with available easy-to-obtain oil make a huge profit dumping high priced oil while pushing the price down and if they kill the expensive projects with light sweet crude, it’s another decade or two for those projects to get rolling again once the oil price goes back up. If I had a large potential oil field I would be drilling in the low potential areas like mad and leaving the best potential for 2010 or so.

    It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got swing.

  10. I can’t believe that OPEC would let the price stay high enough that the Tar Sands and similar projects stay feasible.
    That may be your belief, but the facts* seem to indicate the opposite. Why flood the market and loose money?

    *Abdalla El-Badri, secretary-general of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said the powerful cartel was considering cutting its investment in new oil production in response to moves by the developed world to use more biofuels. from the Financial Times.

  11. I posted, but it did not show up. A glitch, or am I persona non grata?

  12. A glitch, or am I persona non grata?

    Glitch. I don’t restrict anyone, unless they are seriously spamming me. That has only happened a couple of times in the past year.

  13. Hi Robert,

    As a longtime lurker at the Oil Drum I appreciate your valiant efforts towards objectivity. With that out of the way I’m looking forward to discussion of this week’s inventory report!

  14. Well, I wrote something smart, but now I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, I did sing your praises as a non-abusive member of the TOD crowd, which is a rarity.
    I suspect TOD is really the Long on Oil Society of Eccentrics and RecluseS. The scaremongering on Gonu struck me as a bald attempt to push oil futures up – after long positions had been taken? There is $15-$20 of fear in the price of every barrel of oil. And billions of dollars riding on that fear not going away. Who finances TOD, the editors? Do editors ever take consulting jobs with the fossil crude industry? With WSJ reporters at Energy Round Up, we can assume that the reporters have filled out forms, that their editors review, on financial conflicts of interest. If mistakes are made, they are honest mistakes, and we all make those.
    Unfortunately, TOD and other websites do not have enforceable full disclosure or ethical standards.
    It forces one to be deeply skeptical of TOD, and other Peak Oilers who seem to trade in fearmongering more than much else.
    Try posting on the TOD site the fact that Kuwait is quietly running job ads that it seeks professionals to help it boost oil production to 4.0 mbd from 2.5 mbd. That is a 60 percent hike, in 13 years. How does that fit in with declining capacity? Oh, it is a conspiracy. You will be called an “idiot,” a “moron” and much else for merely asking the question. I suppose it does not matter, and the posters are not the staff of TOD. Yet the staff of TOD has advised me to pipe down explicitly due to my views (which is that we are entering an era of slowly growing fossil crude output, terrific conservation, and rapidly growing biofuels output), while maniacs post constantly w/o any blowback.
    I was the target of abusive posting for merely re-posting a WSJ report that Gonu was no biggie. For hours afterwards, they kept going at it TOD, Oman was to be wiped clean, and maybe still are, for all I know.
    It is wise to ponder the motives and financial foundation of TOD and its editors. I suspect the Energy Round Up editors will be a little more selective in how they re-post TOD scare stories in the future.

  15. ben cole

    based on reading your posts periodically over the past month, I have concluded that you are not an unintelligent person. However, you either have an agenda unknown to me, or you are said same hedge fund employee who is short alot of oil futures and are paid to bash people and information concerned about peak oil. I tend to believe the latter because someone as articulate as yourself could easily look up many of the facts you supposedly throw out there about North America oil production not yet peaking, etc., yet you repeat these incorrect nuggets over and over.

    Not a single TOD contributor is paid for their time and most hold academic positions – I am retired and have become a student again- The tenor and misinformation in your posts makes our efforts at raising public awareness of the broadness and complexity of energy and environmental issues that much harder when you write things we were discussing 18 months ago as if they were news flashes.

    Im not the only one with this opinion. Please join the discussion and ask questions, not blame big oil and hedge funds as the bogeyman each time.

  16. I am going to wait a week and do a post-mortem on my own comments about Gonu on TOD.

    I was definitely concerned and I still have some concerns about oil supply interruptions and the elasticity of the supply chain.

    I certainly participated in the debate but chose to respond mildly to attacks.

    Gonu was a reflection of reality in a broader sense. Some facts, but not a cohesive set. “Wait and see” certainly has it’s place but there are those that need input NOW ! for immediate decisions (some of whom read TOD).

    I think that the same lack of complete facts will repeat itself again and again and I have chosen to give these incomplete sets of facts my best shot in analysis.

    Do you believe that I lost any credibility, especially in the first two days ?

    Best Hopes,


    BTW, I asked my favorite weatherman in New Orleans, Bob Breck, (he is willing to go against the Weather Service, which takes courage) about Gonu. He said that he was watching it with fascination but had not a clue. No history and he was ignorant of local conditions, currents, water temperatures and depths, terrain and that “feel” he has for the Gulf of Mexico.

  17. Do you believe that I lost any credibility, especially in the first two days ?

    Did you see my earlier post? One of the things that prompted me to write this was the way you were treated when you were a rational voice. You reacted as I would have reacted. I think you were discussing the facts, and I think you were treated badly at times for that. And because I feel like this is a microcosm of the Saudi debates I have had – in which I am trying to present data only to be shouted down – I thought it would be good to consider how quickly some people were to jump to conclusions.

    Cheers, Robert

  18. First off, aliases have a fine tradition ;-), and a long-term alias has a many of the same burdens of a more conventional handle.

    As an aside, it’s always amusing to remember that Ben Franklin wrote “sock puppet” mails to his own newspapers! This stuff goes back.

    Anyway, anyone who saw my journey at TOD is probably going to remember my answer to “it’s not the site, it’s free and open.”

    I believe I made a good observation: that communities breed community values, and also shared world views. TOD could have the most neutral bylaws in the world, but it could still create a self-reinforcing dynamic. All it takes is visitors, posts, and iterations.

    If such a place is where people go to get excited about a cyclone … then that is what it has become. It’s that simple.

    I don’t go there anymore so I don’t even know the latest trends and dynamics … but I think in general you need a site leader who argues from Reason – to borrow from Al Gore, on the homage we should pay to Rationality in (and to maintain) Civilization.

    Robert almost always does that ;-), the only weakness I see is his reaction to some rich Democrats.


    – odograph, the long term alias.

  19. Nat-
    Well, thanks for not calling me a “moron.”
    As to North American (not Lower 48) oil production, check out EIA, or IEA figures. In NORTH AMERICA (not the Lower 48) we have been on a rough plateau for a long time, since the early 1970s. Canada is ramping up tar sands production, and the Chevron strike in the Gulf will come on sometime in the next few years. At that point, NORTH AMERICAN fossil crude production will likely hit all-time highs. Not the Lower 48.

    World fossil oil demand, as measured by the EIA rose just 0.9 percent last year, after a 1.8 percent rise in 2005, and a 3.1 percent rise in 2004.
    You can say the EIA is wrong, and that I am wrong to take EIA figs on faith. But just stating I am wrong proves nothing.

    On the basis of these figs, I conclude the higher prices are crimping demand, and rapidly, despite a growing world economy. It is hopeful to expect a flatline in demand for 2007. But not unreasonable.
    I cannot imagine you were discussing world fossil demand figs for 2006 more than 18 months ago. It is fairly recent information.
    Yet I see no posts to the effect that, “You know, at $60 a barrel, annual fossil oil demand increases are getting closer and closer to a negative figure.”
    No one posts about the Kuwaiti job ads, and their plan to ramp up production by 60 percent. You discussed all that 18 months ago? Really?

    If so, how did you explain Kuwait’s plans to up production by 60 percent, in light of Peak Oil?

    Beyond all that, is one expected to review all TOD topics back 18 months before posting?

    I am not employed by a hedge fund, or any other financial institution. I am a lifelong financial reporter. I have been interested (okay, obsessed) with energy markets for the last two years, after considering planting jatropha in Thailand. After a review, I concluded that oil prices would go down from $80 a barrel, and maybe all the way to $30. I wanted to plant jatropha, but due to the uncertainty of oil prices, and jatropha yields, I did not.

    I have a modest stock portfolio, so I have a stake in a good world economy, so that might bias me. In the past, I have sold call options above $90 a barrel, but not in six months. I began to suspect that hedge funds were very very active on the NYMEX. In fact, the CFTC is investigating a manipulation case currently. I made money on my positions, and do not have a case of sour grapes.

    We have your word that no one at TOD is compromised in any way. I would prefer somewhat stronger evidence that ethical and financial conflicts of interest do not exist. Yet, I see no way to verify the veracity of measures taken to avoid conflicts of interest at TOD or other financial and energy websites.

    I am not even sure the CFTC has oversight. It is a fascinating realm. What if (theoretically) someone took long positions and then tried to goose NYMEX prices through the TOD (and succeeded in having the WSJ Energy Round-Up bite on it temporarily) ? Would that even be illegal? (Any securities lawyers out there who can answer this question?)

    I will forward these e-mails to the CFTC to see if I can generate a response, and report back, as to whether they even have oversight in this area.

    At the WSJ, following certain ethical lapses in the past, measures were taken to avoid such lapses in the future. There is a whole culture in place.

    As an outsider, I simply do not know about TOD. The scaremongering around Gonu, and the heavy bias against reporting developments which might bring oil prices down, even way down, is extraordinary, and even hostile.

    I think I am justified in being skeptical about the motives and agenda of TOD. I hope to be proven wrong.

  20. I went and regained my blogger identity, so now you know it is me, with my long term alias.

    Benjamin, I hope you got my drift about iterations and groups. Think of it as an iterated game. Winners in each round are more likely to return and play again.

    “Winning” can be a lot of things though … agreement, or interesting disagreement, or new information and education, or …

  21. Odograph-
    I have seen your byline around, and I understand (I think) about iterations, or people of a feather flocking together. I think we both are appalled at the MTA decision to hike bus fares? Is that you?
    Anyway, my skepticism is not directed at TOD posters – obviously a motley crew, with some oil traders no doubt – but the editors. They seem very biased in favor of scary stories, and hyper-critical of “positive” energy stories. It is a relentless pattern.
    You see with “Nat,” and his posts here. He is wrong about North American crude production, as anyone looking at the BP website will be able to tell you. But he says I am wrong, and concludes I must be in the employ of a hedge fund.
    Perhaps the Peak Oil websites are only a cult, and no financial conflicts are involved. But like a dead mackeral shining in the moonlight, they look pretty, but something smells bad.
    It is fascinating however. The web is the Wild West, free of regulation. There is such a thing as free speech. If someone were using TOD to manipulate NYMEX (or Brent) prices, how would that be illegal?

  22. I agree about the MTA but can’t remember talking about it .. maybe I’m slipping.

    I’ll have to think about ‘organized’ efforts … but my initial reaction is that Occam’s Razor favors the flocking thing. Editors might even flock 😉

    CompSci reference … it’s all boids 😉

  23. “Why I Sat out the feeding frenzy” doesn’t seem significantly different from “Why I said nothing at all.” congratulations.

  24. Here’s my problem with TOD (nothing personal, I know there are worse sites out there): Many of their posters seem to assume the Mad Max/The Postman/Waterworld future is unavoidable. To them it is just a matter of time before the lights go out for good. (Even though everybody always stresses that they know PO does not mean the absolute end of oil, but that’s another story.)

    Try as I might, I cannot see that happening. An inherent assumption of such doomerism is that the federal, state and local government would be the first thing that stops to function due to PO. IMHO, the opposite would happen. Government at all levels would assume more power, not less. The people, disoriented as they are by the crisis, would only be to happy to cede the power. Think of a WWII type dynamic.

    I know it is tempting to think that under this scenario we are really toast. More power to W? OUCH! But somehow, in crisis, the real leaders tend to stand up, while the pretenders quitely shuffle off stage. Again, think WWII.

    Much of the Mad Max future doomerism assumes that what little oil is available will be controlled by local thugs/militias. While it is not impossible, I can see the Feds making such an issue high priority and throwing their considerable resources at it. Any militia that defeats the Feds would need to be highly organized, to the point where it would be much the same thing, with maybe a different name.

    In an absolute worst case scenario, all essential industries can be nationalized. Food and energy production under central command. State reserves, marines and army all used to enforce control, if it comes to that.

    Most likely it won’t. But rest assured, long after we all started cycling to work ($50/gal? $100/gal? $500/gal?), your local sheriff will still be cruiz’n in his cruizer, keeping everyone in check…

  25. Here’s my problem with TOD . . . Many of their posters seem to assume the Mad Max/The Postman/Waterworld future is unavoidable.

    From where I sit, there are a lot of similarity between the Gonu/peak oil doomers and the global warming doomers. Both groups have a “flock mentality”. Utterly convinced they are right, they enforce an orthodoxy that punishes anyone who strays from their accepted wisdom. Look what happened to the NASA administrator this week when he suggested that GW might not be a high priority.

  26. Robert –

    Good points, well put. We need more people like you!

    It was clear that TOD went into feeding frenzy over Gonu, and there were going to be lots of totally wild predictions made.

    Doomers always have a ready justification “it turned out nowhere near as bad as we thought, so that’s really a good thing”.

    Wild predictions are forgotten and forgiven easily by doomers, but the wider public remembers. Credibility may not grab headlines, but it is something worth striving for.

  27. Global warming doomers?

    I don’t think I’ve seen any Mad Max scenarios. Throw some links, they might be fun.

    FWIW, I think the most often seen GW fear is just sea level rise. That isn’t quite on the same scale as destruction “everywhere.”

    Now, I think my rational concern for GW revolves around loss of “environmental services.” That is, there are a lot of things from the natural world that we use and enjoy. When I lose some, I lose some of my quality of life. When I see them foreclosed before my nephews can enjoy them, I see their quality of life diminished.

    It is arguable of course what impact GW will have on environmental services, and therefore quality of life … but that’s the rational argument to make …

    you’re right that if any one is invoking Mad Max it doesn’t sound too rational.

  28. BTW, the Nasa guy’s basic problem was that he made a logically flawed argument.

    He said, “there is no reason GW won’t make things better.”

    That’s true, bit it does not negate that “there is no reason GW won’t make things worse.”

    Strangely, some people took a null argument (no data to prove anything) as a win for “their side.”

    I’m sorry but that is not reasonable or rational. It is only a proof, of say a better world, if you prove a better world.

    And unfortunately other folks do have proofs of worse worlds which could have been discussed, instead of simply ignored. That is not rational or reasonable either.

    It is the Sgt. Shultz school of science (“I see nothing!).

  29. I don’t think I’ve seen any Mad Max scenarios. Throw some links, they might be fun.

    Here you go:
    The Day After Tomorrow

    And: Waterworld

    And there is this: Tim Flannery: The Weathermakers

    The “Earth Commission of Thermostatic Control” and “Geothermia” in Australia sounds a bit Mad Max and Thunderdome to me.

    Remember Mad Max II (Road Warrior)? There was a guy that made fuel – that will be me if I last through the apocolypse!

    Seriously, I think humans will do just fine even in a warmer world. Humans coped with weather extremes in the past, we should be able to do it in the future. The last 100 years of warming and rising sea levels had little effect on wealth creation and human progress.

    Doomerism must be hard wired into our brains. I am more afraid of the “Earth Commission of Thermostatic Control” than I am of the effects of Global Warming. Oppressive government has killed a lot more people than global climate change (Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, the list goes on). I don’t need badly validated global climate change models to be afraid of government, I can just read the history books.

  30. I think doomerism is hardwired, or it is an outgrowth of “sloppy programming.”

    I very much like this Time Magazine article on risk, and point it out every chance this comes up:


    And I was going to say pointing out movies wasn’t really fair … but then I remember something. I’ve often compared doomer scenarios to movie plots. Doomers are writing their own scary movie!

    I think the thing those movies (Day After Tomorrow, in particular) do to heighten fear is to “compress the schedule.” What “might” happen in a century is compressed to a few days.

    And actually this is what doomers do too! Peak Oil means empty gas stations … because that is a better movie! Or, in the sense of the Time article, it is a more easily visualized fear. The nuts and bolts of a slow (decades long) energy transition just aren’t as exciting.

    (On “environmental services,” I agree that “humans” will survive, it’s just a question whether it will be as nice as things are today. IE. will we be able to visit nature, or will we only be able to watch “reruns” from when there was nature on our big screen HDTVs 😉

  31. I meant Mad Max & Waterworld in the apocalyptic sense. But if you want Mad Max deserts – here is one scenario:

    Sahara Jumps Med into Europe

    And another:

    Global Warming and Deserts

    Since Asian & North African muslims are overruning Europe they should feel right at home.

    I just don’t see a future of doom and gloom. We have the tools to fix the problem now, except we lack the political will to do so. We could replace coal with nuclear. (The waste problem is solvable.) Wind and thermal solar aren’t too far away from being price competitive. The FutureGen clean coal unit will begin construction soon. There are many aging power plants which could be repowered more efficiently. I think energy storage technology will make autos more efficient. Higher energy prices will spur all kinds of investment in savings devices (I’m installing a radiant barrier in the attic next week.)

    My view is that GW will turn out mostly to be bust and that technology will solve the problem. But I’m an optimist, though I could be wrong.

  32. What “might” happen in a century is compressed to a few days.

    Or into a 2 hour movie. Your link to the Time article didn’t work.

    In fairness, I will say something nice about Al Gore. He is right about removing prohibitions on solar cells and his ideas for lending or valuing energy savings systems.

    My homeowners association prohibits clothes lines and solar panels. The Fed. needs to handle this similar to the exception for satellite dishes. Gore’s idea about a “Fannie Mae” for energy is good. The current home valuation system doesn’t deal well with energy savings. If I put in a ground effect system like President Bush did for his ranch in Waco, I don’t get much credit for it when I sell my house. Most people don’t live in their house for 20 years. So they don’t want to invest in long payback energy savings. I’d also exempt energy savings improvements from local property taxes.

    We also need to reduce the costs of relocation to encourage people to move closer to their work. One way would be to eliminate the realtors 6% sales commission, let the market set rates and encourage more competition and efficiency in selling homes.

  33. Sorry, I assume that people know the copy trick. If you copy a crimped URL from a blog, and paste it into the address box, it usually works (even if you can’t “see” the end of it). At least in Firefox.

    But, I’ll try not to be so darn lazy next time. Here it is in a nice form.

    Robert, did you ever get a chance to glance at that piece? A skim is all I ask 😉

  34. Rohatensky writes:

    I don’t think the TOD group-think is actually “doomer”, but it’s probably do to being unsatisfied with modern life that they want to see a major energy crisis and have the world turn into a combination of The Stand, Mad Max and LOTR.

    Which TOD “group” are you talking about?  Of the editors and contributors, I am only aware of one with doomer tendencies.  Some of us are so non-doomer, we get accused of being cornucopians.

    And per “Benjamin Cole’s” claims, I haven’t been paid a cent by TOD.  I’ve actually given up money by writing for them, because I could get Google Adsense revenue for stuff posted on my own blog.  But I consider the forum of TOD more important, because it is more widely read and gets more critical analysis.

    As to North American (not Lower 48) oil production, check out EIA, or IEA figures. In NORTH AMERICA (not the Lower 48) we have been on a rough plateau for a long time, since the early 1970s.

    Funny, the EIA says that N. America peaked in 1985 and is now some 20% below that, sliding slowly.  Consumption has completely outpaced it, now running nearly 2.5 times production.

    The tables end in 2006.  The on-going collapse of Cantarell will make matters worse.

    Anyway, my skepticism is not directed at TOD posters – obviously a motley crew, with some oil traders no doubt – but the editors. They seem very biased in favor of scary stories, and hyper-critical of “positive” energy stories.

    Which must be why they ran my “Sustainability” essay and were so positive about it; a route around all the problems of climate change, oil depletion and energy collapse is “scary”.  Riiiiight.

    The proprietor of TOD is not an oil trader but a professor of political science, and “Benjamin” is just as off-base about the rest.

    KingofKaty:  NASA administrators are usually not scientists.  When they speak, they are speaking mostly as political actors.  If a political actor implicitly claims that global warming is not a problem or important research issue when nearly all the scientists say firmly otherwise, they are rightly open to attack as politicos.  This goes double for politicos who re-write the conclusions of scientific research to conform to administration policy.

  35. There was a medium-term peak in North American production in 1985, but current production levels are about the same as in 1972. Moreover, with Canada ramping up to 4 possibly 5 mbd in the next few years, and with the Chevron strike, we should see even the 1985 NA all-time production peak eclipsed in four-to-five years – a good 40 years after Hubbert’s Peak. If HP cannot predict NA crude production, why does it serve as model for an even more diverse world production?
    As for transparency, I cannot even determine your identity. Why don’t you just use your name, like I do?
    We have your word that you have no ethical of financial conflicts. Boy, that is convincing. A guy (woman?) who uses a non de plume.
    As for the tone of TOD, please, don’t make me laugh. Did you read the Gonu coverage?
    Indeed, the whole premise of Peak Oil is based on scaremongering. A rapid plunge in ouput is impoied, with possibly catastrophic consequences. In other TOD seminars, it was darkly hinted that we would run out of gasoline during Memorial Day weekend. When it did not happen, the doomsters back off and say “Oh no, that is not what we were hinting at.” Yes, yes, it was not scaremongering.
    It just felt like it. I was wondering should I gas up before MD weekend.
    Evidently, though the US has 200,000 retail gasoline stations, the closure of one, possibly two gasoline stations in Dallas was enough to warrant this kind of talk. I would call this a predisposition to scaremongering.
    I am not totally surprised that TOD is not run by an oil expert by a politcal scientist, although I have found many geologists who underestimate the effectiveness of the price mechanism as well.
    But, it really doesn’t matter what I think. I suspect however, that after the Gonu episode, and repeated other scaremongering stories, the credibility of TOD is taking a huge hit. The WSJ used the term “to cry wolf” regarding TOD’s Gonu coverage. I think their headline writer missed. TOD did not cry wolf, they said the sky was falling.

  36. So I went and looked at yesterday’s TOD “drumbeat.”

    I didn’t see too much that was overtly doomerish. There was the standard TOD discussion of whether Africa foretells our future. There was some discussion of whether “birth control was the only technology ever beneficial to humans,” and if “we’d be better off with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.”

    That doesn’t sound to me (borrowing from Steve Martin in “The Jerk”), like a “profit thing.” It looks to me like people choosing “alternate worries” in an alternate reality.

    Now some rational thinkers on oil and energy choose TOD as their soapbox, believing I’m sure, that more eyeballs are worth the risk of that association.

    I’m not so sure.

    FWIW, I don’t subscribe to Benjamin’s interpretation of TOD and it’s motives … but I can certainly cite it as an example of the “association” causing trouble.

  37. Odograph – thanks for link to Time. The cut and paste didn’t work on IE.

    I have to deal with risk and perceptions of risk all the time. Opponents to my projects usually lead with the risk argument trying to trigger “old brain” thinking. They scream that oil and gas infrastructure are terrorist targets comparing tankers of fuel to Hiroshima bombs or some other such nonsense. My favorite counter-argument is when we point out how many hundreds of people are killed each year by improper use of space heaters – trying to save money on home heating. When we compare the real demonstratable deaths to imaginary terrorist deaths, the opponents say we are “fear mongering”.

    Back to global warming, I don’t know how you can look at Al Gore’s movie and not think he is overstating the risk. Climate changes happen over decades if not centuries. Man adjusts. Humans crossed from Asia to North American on a land bridge during an ice age. The vikings left Greenland when it got too cold to farm.

    Maybe people can’t live in Miami in a warmer world, so they relocate somewhere else. I admit there is a small chance the earth gets so hot it wipes out humans, or there is a sudden climate shift with catastrophic consequences. It doesn’t really keep me up at night.

  38. Let’s keep a light touch on the GW thing, since we are probably both settled in our 2007 positions ;-). Hopefully we both have room to shift by 2009.

    My take on the Gore movie was that it was a good introduction for non-scientists, and that it only had one “cheat.” That was that when he talked about sea level rise he didn’t talk a lot about timescale. I didn’t lie, but he didn’t say “century” as often as he could have done.

    On the news of possible damage today, there is the drought. Like hurricanes it is impossible to point to GW as the trigger, but like hurricanes increased drought is consistent with the GW models we have.

    If the models say drought as a consequence of GW, and we get drought, it is not a proof … but it more supportive than sudden and abundant rainfall:

    The Cost Of Energy: Drought

  39. So I went and looked at yesterday’s TOD “drumbeat.” I didn’t see too much that was overtly doomerish. There was the standard TOD discussion of whether Africa foretells our future. There was some discussion of whether “birth control was the only technology ever beneficial to humans,” and if “we’d be better off with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.”
    Sorry Odograph,
    but this just proves the point. Africa foretelling our future? Man, I’d love to smoke some of that. How about Africa being about 200 years behind? Consider that Nigeria and Angola are the only major oil exporters that manage to perpetuate poverty while oil is at $60/bbl. Even George’s buddy Hugo (with all his socialist programs) can’t manage that. The mullahs in Iran, likewise are trying to burn through all their cash, to no avail. Even Ubercommie (and W buddy) Putin is making money hand over fist.

    Birth control the only technology that helps humans? How sick is that? Did these guys miss the bit about the ICE saving major cities from getting buried in horse manure (and dead horses)? Think about that for a second, today’s villian as an environmetal saviour.

    Hunter-gatherer? LOL! How many hunter-gatherers can earth support? Certainly not 6 billion. So the doomerism is an implicit part of that one. And just why would anyone willing choose the hunter-gatherer lifestyle? How do you even do that while your neigbor is cruising around in his SUV?

    All three topics are overtly doomerish IMHO.
    PS. Not saying that I agree with Ben Cole’s strange theory. But TOD is destinctly doomer.

  40. My take on the Gore movie was that it was a good introduction for non-scientists, and that it only had one “cheat.” That was that when he talked about sea level rise he didn’t talk a lot about timescale.

    And leaving out nuclear power as one of the “wedges” in the solution to reduced GHGs.

    We can agree that there is a limited supply of cheap energy, so using it efficiently and wisely is the best way to extend supplies and to reduce the load on the environment. We can also agree that it is a bad idea to let people like Hugo Chavez and the nut job running Iran have so much influence over our energy supplies. I would love to see efficiency cut into demand and alternatives put additional supply on the market. Far from being a doomer, the future looks bright, as energy prices rise and alternatives flourish, the GHG issue will take care of itself. In the US energy input per unit of GDP is way down from the 1970s. That trend is likely to continue.

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