24 Sep 2007
ASPO 6. In Praise of … #2. “We Are All Peakists Now”.
In theory this should be “In Praise of Dr. James Schlesinger”, but I can’t quite bring myself to praise someone who used to be the head of the CIA and was the former US Energy Secretary who allegedly proposed the invasion of Saudi Arabia in order to protect US oil interests. Rather it was what he had to say that was praiseworthy and rather fascinating. Schlesinger’s message to the conference was summed up in his statement was “we are all peakists now. Conceptually the battle is over, the peakists have won”.
He talked about how the peak oil case is now self-evident, as the large, old oil fields play out, and discoveries continue to fall. To meet the latest EIA forecasts, we will need 4-5 new Saudi Arabias, which, he told the delegates, struck him as being very much against the odds. It is very difficult, he said, for politicians to break this news to the people. “To have real movement the public has to be hit over the head with a 2 by 4”.
He went through possible options, stating that although high oil prices will incentivise new technologies and research, the scale of the change needed is extraordinary. Carbon capture and storage is a long way off, and the enzymes required to break down agricultural wastes to make cellulosic ethanol have still not been reproduced. He said that for him, the nuclear option is a realistic one, and that although at the moment in the US the talk is about climate change, it will prove to be a passing passion, and that the huge growth in emissions in India and China will mean the it will take at least 20 years before anything meaningful starts to happen about climate change.
I was shocked when he made this statement, not because the former head of the CIA was dismissive about solving climate change, but because of the number of people in the audience who laughed (it wasn’t until Jeremy Leggett’s incendiary presentation which set out the climate change argument on the second day that the severity of climate change was actually addressed).
However, it was hugely significant, I think, for someone so immersed in US energy interests for so long to make such a public and unequivocal statement of affirmation of the peak oil argument. It is often said that new ideas are initially ridiculed, then ignored and then treated as having always been self-evident. As the reality of peak oil begins to become glaringly obvious, more and more people in positions of power will echo Schlesinger’s “we are all peakists now”, and will present their argument as though it had always been entirely self-evident. Where caution and mindfulness need to be exercised though is in realistic appraisals of what they then go on to promote as their ‘solution’ to the crisis that the oil peak will undoubtedly usher in.