21 Feb 2006
‘Cancel That Apocalypse’ – Delusional peak oil nonsense from Bloomberg.
I wrote last week about peak oil denial, and the many forms it takes. **Bloomberg.com** recently published a staggeringly ill-informed piece by Matthew Lynn called Cancel That Apocalypse – The Oil Crisis Is Over which begins *”forget that order for a funny- looking electric car. Take the solar panels off the roof. Don’t worry about hoarding tinned food for the long economic slump that is about to engulf the world. Why? Because the oil crisis we were all concerned about less than a year ago is quietly going away”*. Hmmm. I sense a case of peak oil denial…
Bloomberg really ought to know better. After all it does describe itself as;
>the leading global provider of data, news and analytics. The BLOOMBERG TERMINAL and Bloomberg’s media services provide real-time and archived financial and market data, pricing, trading, news and communications tools in a single, integrated package to corporations, news organizations, financial and legal professionals and individuals around the world.
In other words people actually read their stuff and take it seriously. Lynn’s argument is, on closer analysis, flimsy to say the least. His first point is that “everyone want to cut back on what they are using”. He cites the example of Sweden proposing to go oil free by 2020 and Governments around the world putting energy efficiency on the agenda. ” That’s enough to have Saudi sheikhs checking their savings accounts” he adds. Well, hardly. This is an issue of scale. Sweden’s share of world oil consumption is a miniscule percentage of the world total. Yes Governments are starting to realise the scale of the challenge, but wishing that we used less is somewhat different to actually moving a whole society in that direction, and they are waking up about 15 years too late for business as usual to be any kind of an option.
He also cites the fact that Toyota now sell a Prius as a reason to relax. This is just ridiculous. Yes, these cars do exist, but there are millions and millions of cars on the road, that the Prius will take many many years to make any serious dent into. Byron King points out, in a response to Lynn’s piece called Gentlemen Start Your Engines that the problem is not just cars but our lorry transport infrastructure. He writes;
>And many of the world’s motor vehicles are over-the-road trucks that get about four miles per gallon. Shall we replace them with Priuses as well? I suppose it will make for lots of new jobs for people to haul lettuce from the San Joaquin valley, cross country to the ristorantes of New York, with the boxes of fresh produce stuffed in the back of the humble Prius.
Lynn’s argument is a bit like a man rushing up to a house on fire with a teacup of water shouting “make way, make way, I’ll put it out!”. Peak oil is a huge problem, and wishful thinking and even conservation measures alone will not remedy the situation. King sums up the true picture when he writes;
>Within the next 20 years we need to find the petroleum or other energy-equivalent of another Saudi Arabia, plus another Kuwait, plus another Iran, plus another Russia. And this is just to keep even with the present requirement to run the global economy at current energy prices, not allowing for future increases in demand. And this also does not even get into the increasing global demand for natural gas, the numbers for which are worse than those for the oil supply.
Lynn may well come to rue his piece. It is so staggeringly misinformed that you’d wonder why Bloomberg let him loose on their website. If you want to find things that you can paint as the solution to this issue you will find them. However, if I have learnt one thing from my time exploring this whole peak oil question, it is that anything that claims to have ‘the solution’ needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and anyone who claims that there simply isn’t a problem is generally looking in the completely wrong direction. I remember once hearing a great quote that ran something along the lines of “anyone who claims to have the solution to the complex and pressing problems of the world is very wise, and very wrong” (if anyone knows that actual quote I’d love to hear it!). The only way we will ‘cancel the apocalypse’ is by being realistic and truthful about the challenge, and designing solutions that are actually appropriate to this new reality. This will require a profound realigning of priorities, but is a far more desirable option than such wilful denial as Lynn has to offer.