Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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20 Jun 2007

Monbiot Reassesses Peak Oil.

mThis is slightly old hat now, but I haven’t got round to it yet, so here we go. In the light of the recent coverage here of George Monbiot’s recent assertion in Lampeter that the oil peak is sufficiently far enough away for it not to be a cause for concern, and Chris Vernon’s subsequent response which went through each of his points in considerable detail, it was intriguing to read his column in the Guardian a couple of weeks back now. In it, he takes as his starting point the Government’s recent Energy Review and its belief that “the majority (66%) of UK oil demand is derived from demand for transport fuels which is expected to increase modestly over the medium term. George’s question is “OK… powered by what exactly?”, and in the piece he goes back to the various departments making the assertions and looks at what that complacency is based on. It turns out not very much.

The article offers for me another reason why George is one of the key journalists writing at the moment, that he is prepared to go back and investigate and reassess positions he previously held, something some other leading journalists wouldn’t be caught dead doing. His conclusions are that there is little room for complacency, and that the complacency that underpins the Review is based on one out-of-date, widely discredited report by the IEA. Not only does the piece show a humility to reassess ideas, but also offers a great insight for those who argue that there is some huge Government conspiracy to keep peak oil from the public, or, as some argue (far more ridiculously in my opinion) that peak oil is somehow a conspiracy cooked up by the Government and their oil industry cronies, that basically their thinking on this is in chaos, that there really are very few people at that level taking a long term strategic view and looking for the real data as regards peak oil. A very illuminating read.


Categories: Peak Oil, Transport

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21 Jun 11:22am

There are lot of ways we can be “greener” in our lives and I’d like to see industrial societies move that way.

But, having been through the peak oil wringer I can’t call it our biggest threat. It is no longer my biggest driver.

My experience might be different than Monbiot’s. I’ve always tried to use fuzzy logic on an area (a threat) with so few certainties. It has always been a question of “if” oil peaks soon, “if” there is a steep decline, and “if” society is too slow to adapt.

If we set certain values for those “ifs” it looks pretty dire … but I’ve tried to remind myself that they are not grounded by a heck of a lot of math. As Monbiot says, this is where peak oil differs from global warming.

(Note that Hubbert’s method is a different kind of math than climate modeling. Hubbert’s is like stock market technical analysis. It works, when it works, because it works. Like ratios of 30/60 day moving averages, there is no reason it has to work, it’s just useful when it does.)

The interesting thing is that while I kept a recognition that PO rested on “ifs” in the rational part of my brain, I was really swept along on an emotional level. Even as I told hoarders (peak oilers stocking a year’s supply of food) that they were silly, I started to think about where I could get that food “if” things turned.

We humans are a funny social species. We believe the things our peer groups do. It probably makes sense to leverage off the knowledge of others, and not try to figure everything out for yourself, but it also aids community building. A tribe that believes the same thing is stronger. When we fall in to something like peak oil, and the associated community, I think the ideas might insinuate themselves on some non-cognitive level … beliefs soak in, for better or worse.

I’ve stepped back, and stopped hanging around with the real doomers. That has allowed a little more introspection on what I believe and how much I should trust it.

  • A short term peak is possible but not proven
  • A steep production decline is dire, but even less proven

If those things start to look more likely, I’ll adapt.

In the meantime I do see a great (messy, inefficient) mobilization around the world for looming “energy problems.”

Will messy response fail to meet possible problems?

We can only say time will tell – and in the meantime, things like the oceans are clearly in bad shape in the here and now.

… so this summer I’m supporting ocean reserves and trolling bans. YMMV.

21 Jun 12:21pm

From what George wrote it really feels like you got through some important points to him at that meeting – nice job! and it is definitely refreshing to see a journalist who is willing to review their own assumptions.

One of the greatest strengths in the peak oil awareness campaign is that the facts speak fot themselves. We do not need to be emotional about it and roll the facts up with predisposed anti-capatalist anti-consumption solutions.

Global Warming creates complex consequences and often there is a need to educate on the consequences, such as exstinctions, thirt, migration, starvation. Peal Oil is complex but the implications are ovious as oil is so intimately linked to our daily lives in all parts of society.

I recently attended Paul Mobbs presentation on energy and i thought his approach to introducing the problem is excellent – keep it simple, just show the facts and figures and the consequences will then speak very loud and clear to the average person.

Here it seems like presented with the basic indisputable facts, George has come to the only logical perspective – a global oil crisis is on our door step. Now following on from this with an obvious interest in effective crisis responses i expect he’ll be more interested in the transition town approach.

21 Jun 1:03pm

Mark, I’m afraid I see both of Monbiot’s pieces as consistent, and not as a reversal.

In one he says he doesn’t see an immediate problem, and in the other he says that doesn’t mean there is no problem.

As I tried to say above, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. It is the proper way, in my opinion, to deal with risks involving uncertainty.

[…] Any one who knows about Peak oil can see that this is impossible. Peak oil will end the past 150-year period of growth and lead to a shrinking economy. But Monbiot has never really satisfactorily bitten the Peak oil bullet, although more recently he has been coming closer. […]