Planet Gore

Peak Oil

A reader is disappointed in my ad hoc mission statement’s snarkiness:

For the benefit of both you and your reader who asked what Planet Gore is for, it is possible to believe both the Peak Oil theory and believe that the free market will be pretty darn good at sorting things out as we settle into peak oil.

There may be some pain here and there, and it might be intense at times, particularly for the middle classes here, and for the relatively poor elsewhere, but you can be sure that the world will react with a whole bunch of giddy-up-and-go if the price of oil continues to rise as precipitously as it has recently.
Big changes most often require a big catalyst. Solar power, biomass power, wind power all start to look more and more attractive — all by themselves — as oil reaches $150/barrel, $200/barrel, etc. The funny thing is that this will just be the work of economics as it has always worked. This time, it will be as we reach the apex of the age of oil, rather than because of the action of governments.
So your snarkiness about Peak Oil is no more helpful than your reader’s implication that somehow it is the function of governments to spur changes such as described. You can both be partially right.
P.S.: Do you have any information regarding the counter-arguments to the Peak Oil theories? I find lots & lots of stuff about Peak Oil on the internet — some of it truly compelling and disturbing — but not much really about the counter-arguments. I’d like to read them and decide for myself.

Another reader seems to think I wasn’t snarky enough:

As an anthropogenic-global-warming skeptic, I very much appreciate the work you do at Planet Gore, and sincerely hope you continue with your efforts to inject some reason into the discussion. I was, however, slightly disappointed by your published answer to the question above.

First off, when people try to write as if they are scientifically sophisticated, it really is quite embarrassing to screw up basic concepts. The writer of the e-mail misidentifies the “law of thermodynamics” relevant to his argument as being the second (which even semi-literate readers will instantly recognize as the “entropy” law), when in fact it is the first law of thermodynamics that he should cite (i.e., the “conservation of energy” law). I’m surprised that wasn’t pointed out in your response.
More substantively, the crux of this individual’s argument is the tired, thoroughly discredited notion that, to put it crudely, “we’re going to run out of oil.” There are really just two words necessary in response to that: Julian Simon. Anybody familiar with the concepts of scarcity, substitution, and just basic economic pricing models understands that it is impossible that we will run out of a commodity like oil. While you come close to making that basic statement, I think you make have left something “on the court,” as it were.
I did, however, like very much the quotation from WFB.

As for the arguments against peak oil, besides the chapters 3 and 11 from the Julian Simon book linked above, I’d recommend (once again) Peter Huber and Mark Mills ’s The Bottomless Well: the Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We’ll Never Run Out of Oil. Peter Huber’s debate in Time on peak oil is a quick entrée to his argument, including the concept of “substitution” (i.e., nuclear).

Peak-oil sympathist T. Boone Pickens, in a brief debate with Steve Forbes on Closing Bell last year, made the “scarcity” case on fossil fuels, when he concluded: “The only way to kill demand is with price.” Which is what seems to be happening, judging by the Wall Street Journal’s front-page report today — consumers reacting to market realities, no government action necessary.
Doubtless, we haven’t heard the last on peak oil.
More viewer comments coming . . .

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