Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


End Nigh?
May 22, 2008 9:11 AM   Subscribe

After a comprehensive study of 400 oil fields, the International Energy Agency has concluded that, barring a substantial decrease in demand, the world faces an oil supply shortfall of 12.5 million barrels a day by 2015--15% of current production. [via]
posted by nasreddin (137 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
peak Peak Oil
posted by tachikaze at 9:14 AM on May 22, 2008


Supply fears send oil past record $135 a barrel.
posted by ericb at 9:22 AM on May 22, 2008


Time to invade Canada.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:22 AM on May 22, 2008


<gir>Yay we're DOOOOMED!!!</gir>
posted by Skorgu at 9:23 AM on May 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


So if we can manage to become 15% more efficient in 7 years we'll be on par with today (or simply move our energy dependence to another source). This doesn't seem like the catastrophic collapse that some predicted. Am I wrong?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2008


Communist bullshit. What do you expect from the "International" energy agency? A bunch of anti-American sissy-wristed foreigners, is what. Its a well known fact that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is pumping oil into the ground beneath our feet as we speak. Everything is fine, everything is great, everything is super. Buy more Chinese products and all will be well.

In all seriousness, T. Boone Pickens, legendary Texas oilman, says that world oil production has already peaked at 85 million barrels/day. If thats correct, then the shortfall by 2015 will be almost 40 million barrels a day instead of 12.5 million, or a little under 50% of current production.

So, according to Mr. Die-Hard Capitalist Oilman, we have about 7 years to adjust to a 50% shortfall in oil supply, or else.

He's probably going long on canned food and shotguns.
posted by Avenger at 9:27 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder how that growing-food-without-fertiliser research is coming on...
posted by greytape at 9:31 AM on May 22, 2008


This doesn't seem like the catastrophic collapse that some predicted. Am I wrong?

I think your assumption is that we (global we) consume at the same level over that time period. We would need better efficiency rates. In any case, I suspect these efficiency increases and consumption decreases will be coming, easily or painfully, due to the price on the market.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:31 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm going to Las Vegas in a week and I'm guessing this to the be the last time that I get to visit Las Vegas As We Know It.

Maybe, maybe not. But I'm going to enjoy it like it's going out of style, because... well, it kind of is.
posted by unixrat at 9:33 AM on May 22, 2008


So if we can manage to become 15% more efficient in 7 years we'll be on par with today (or simply move our energy dependence to another source). This doesn't seem like the catastrophic collapse that some predicted. Am I wrong?

The US government's predictions are banking on ethanol making up the shortfall, which would be catastrophic for the world food supply. (Because of course we're going to keep using good old corn, not sustainable alternatives like Brazilian sugarcane.)
posted by nasreddin at 9:34 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think your assumption is that we (global we) consume at the same level over that time period. We would need better efficiency rates. In any case, I suspect these efficiency increases and consumption decreases will be coming, easily or painfully, due to the price on the market.

On the plus side, I think there's a lot of energy saving to be currently had in cutting waste and improving efficiency. We've still got a lot of proverbial 'Energy Fat' that can be cut. A whole lot.

Battery storage has not kept up with increases in computer technology, yet they've show a remarkable to squeeze more with less. It's led to some really lean, mean computing machines.
posted by unixrat at 9:36 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meetup in Bartertown?
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:37 AM on May 22, 2008 [14 favorites]


This makes the skateboard I've been keeping around for the past decade or so seem a whole lot less silly (less'n, of course, I want to grease my bearings or replace my plastic bushings...). In a few years I'll be able to laugh while riding it past all the SUVs stranded on the road into the local Armored Food Depository. Lucky me!
posted by Pecinpah at 9:39 AM on May 22, 2008


anyone see "A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash"?

good times.
posted by MeatLightning at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Time to invade Canada.

OBJECTION
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'll be able to laugh while riding it past all the SUVs stranded on the road into the local Armored Food Depository.

You can't live in a skateboard after the bank siezes your house.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:46 AM on May 22, 2008


What does the world look like after it shakes out? And where, really is the best place to be living? How many people here feel like they could truly grow all of their own food using only organic fertilizer? Is it best to move CLOSER to an urban area? Stuff moves around on diesel fuel, is it best to be close to a rail hub (which also currently burns diesel, but could probably be changed to coal, since it was once already).

Are we looking at shotguns-n-canned-food, or just the first-world looking like the second-world - two-stroke scooters and less to eat?

What if fusion was feasible tomorrow? Would that save our butts?

You'll notice that prices are finally encouraging efficiency. From buying old Geo Metros to actually using the train, 3.50 a gallon appears to have been the magic price.

All of the above questions are serious - I've been reading about peak oil since forever, so my fear fatigue is high, I really just want to discuss what we think might happen.
posted by rhys at 9:47 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Co-incidentally, I'm going to be getting my motorcycle certification this weekend (assuming I haven't forgotten how to ride one after a 20-year hiatus) so I can get one of those 80-100 mpg scooters to ride around town on. Apparently a lot of people are doing that right now. One of the places I checked into last weekend was sold out of the things.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:49 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool...let's not plan for that day but instead reap as much profit as we can between now and 2015 and then all of us Americans can just fly a space ship to the moon with the last couple million barrells and we can live up there on solar energy while all the poor saps who didn't invest properly can burn on earth. WOOOOOOO!
posted by spicynuts at 9:55 AM on May 22, 2008


The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Oh wait...

The findings won't be definitive. Big producers including Venezuela, Iran and China aren't cooperating, and others like Saudi Arabia typically treat the detailed production data of individual fields as closely guarded state secrets, so it's not clear how specific their contributions will be.

Of course, we could all go nuclear, too.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to talking to you all in 20 years, when you're all far more wealthier and happier than you are today, and "Bartertown" will still be a half-remembered movie set.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2008


You can't live in a skateboard after the bank siezes your house.

Ah, so that was their plan all along; deplete the world's oil supply so they could live stylishly in their SUVs. Cunning soccer moms - who knew?

posted by Pecinpah at 9:58 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


We can't just be 15% for efficient because the world's population is growing. And the places it's growing in are using more energy as they industrialize. The population in 2015 will be about 7.2 billion, whereas it is currently about 6.7 billion. So that's about 7.5% more people, yet we need to consume 15% less oil, and it'll only get worse as head towards the peak of about 9 billion by 2050.

It's possible that the market and technology will adapt, but I am concerned that things may start moving faster than they can handle, especially given the fundamental physical constraints on energy efficiency that a lot of technologies are starting to run into. The internal combustion engine is basically already there, for instance.
posted by jedicus at 9:59 AM on May 22, 2008


*more efficient, not for efficient
posted by jedicus at 10:00 AM on May 22, 2008


The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Oh wait...

The findings won't be definitive. Big producers including Venezuela, Iran and China aren't cooperating, and others like Saudi Arabia typically treat the detailed production data of individual fields as closely guarded state secrets, so it's not clear how specific their contributions will be.


LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU, OIL SUPPLIES ARE INFINITE

As far as the Saudis are concerned, it's pretty clear that they've been way overestimating their spare production capacity for a long time, but aren't admitting it because it deprives them of international leverage. That ridiculous 300,000 bpd hike they just made is probably the best they could do at this point.
posted by nasreddin at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regardless, I'm looking forward to talking to you all in 20 years, when you're all far more wealthier and happier than you are today

some of what you are smoking, please. STAT!
posted by Hat Maui at 10:10 AM on May 22, 2008


CPB, I want to be optimistic too. The sense I get is that we really are at the peak, though, here's a good article:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/06/world-oil/roberts-text/1

Even peak oil debunking sites acknowledge that the supply is finite, and a peak will occur - they just postulate that it won't be as bad as all that. I do think for electricity, etc, we're all set - we'll build out nuclear, we'll burn up more coal. (though ironically we still need diesel to run the trains to bring the coal to the plants to be burned).

Fertilizer is made mostly using natural gas as the energy source, so even that might be ok.

Plastics are made from oil: http://www.teachingtools.com/Slinky/petrol.html

See anything around you made of plastic?

We can electrify our cars and motorcycles, but it's doubtful that we'll electrify our trucks. Not without hellaciously good batteries and a much better grid than we possess today.
posted by rhys at 10:15 AM on May 22, 2008


How exactly does this impact the outcome of American Idol?
posted by davejay at 10:17 AM on May 22, 2008


Disclaimer: I am the child of nuclear engineers and have always been pronuclear. Nuclear doesn't exactly fix this. Oil is used mostly (70% in the US, less dominance elsewhere) for transportation. A small (4-5%?) fraction is used to generate electricity. A fair amount (~20%) goes to industrial use, some of which may be fungible to other energy sources.

For any direct electrical generation (nuclear, solar, wind, etc) to make a significant difference on oil use, the prerequisite is development of suitable passenger vehicles using electricity (or an intermediate like hydrogen). There are of course plenty of non-technological things to do, like increase rail freight vs trucks, decrease auto commuting etc.

The other problem is that nuclear economics stink right now. Capitalization is expensive (credit crunch) and construction is expensive (cement, steel, etc are at record highs) and the supply chain has atrophied for 25-30 years. We should have been building them in the 80s and 90s if we were going to do that. Capital and construction are your major costs for nuclear, and they multiply, which makes a pretty crappy picture. You also aren't going to build big nuclear plants in smaller developing countries. The requirement for political/economic stability is high.

The other problem is waste. There are several viable technical solutions for waste, but there is no viable political solution.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:19 AM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm looking forward to talking to you all in 20 years, when you're all far more wealthier and happier than you are today

No, thanks, you'll be that happy, cheerful guy in the lab coat at the end of Soylent Green, helping Sol "go home".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not 15% more efficient, the fpp says levels will be at 15% of what we have now... that's an 85% drop, so we'll need to be 85% more efficient (plus population growth, etc).
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2008


The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Oh wait...
Let me continue this sentence for you: Oh wait, I've read this 3-paragraph article talking about something completely different than the point of the thread, so hang on while I reach deep into my ass and pull out some unsubstantiated bullshit. There, all better now. We're all gonna be rich and happy in 20 years.
posted by c13 at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2008


here's a good article:

That's a great piece, thanks--I wish I'd found it and put it in my post.


Even peak oil debunking sites acknowledge that the supply is finite, and a peak will occur - they just postulate that it won't be as bad as all that. I do think for electricity, etc, we're all set - we'll build out nuclear, we'll burn up more coal. (though ironically we still need diesel to run the trains to bring the coal to the plants to be burned).


The problem is, if that much demand suddenly switches to different energy sources, they will be exhausted quicker and quicker. For nuclear, that's not yet a problem--but the most efficient and quasi-renewable ways of building nuclear powerplants are being blocked by NIMBY or non-proliferation concerns. Natural gas is also facing an imminent peak, and as I've said before on this site, the Americans will do almost anything to avoid large-scale natural gas adoption, because that gives the Russians too much leverage.
posted by nasreddin at 10:25 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much uranium can be mined and how long it will last based on current and projected energy demand...
posted by c13 at 10:27 AM on May 22, 2008




It's not 15% more efficient, the fpp says levels will be at 15% of what we have now... that's an 85% drop, so we'll need to be 85% more efficient (plus population growth, etc).


No, sorry, my phrasing must have been unclear. In 7 years demand will be about 115 million bpd and production will be just over 100 million bpd--a shortfall of 12.5 million bpd. Current production is 85 million bpd, hence the 15% figure.
posted by nasreddin at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2008


There are two trul prophetic presidential speeches in the second half of the 20th century that really matter, and both of them have been ignored: with disasterous consequences.

The first was Eisenhower's famous 1/17/61 "military industrial complex" speech (see here), and the other is less well remembered: it is Carter's 4/18/77 speech on his energy policy (you can read the full transcript here). Here are some excerpts from that speech that would seem to apply to this discussion:

The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. Our nation's independence of economic and political action is becoming increasingly constrained. Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil that it can produce.

(snip)

The world has not prepared for the future. During the 1950s, people used twice as much oil as during the 1940s. During the 1960s, we used twice as much as during the 1950s. And in each of those decades, more oil was consumed than in all of mankind's previous history.

World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970s and 1980s by 5 percent a year as it has in the past, we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.

(snip)

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.


So there you have it: 30 years ago Carter was sounding the alarm about Peak Oil.
posted by ornate insect at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2008 [14 favorites]


Oil: this expert says that gas will be going (a0-15 ywears) at ten bucks per gallon. Wosrse: it might not always be available at the pumps at that price--as in the shortage in the 70s

http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B000007NCY.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg
4 bucks a gallon, in the near future will be called "the good old days."
posted by Postroad at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2008


There's practically no one left in the Dakotas these days. Can't we turn those prairies into giant windfarms? (Oh, and let the First Peoples have the Black Hills back?
posted by etaoin at 10:38 AM on May 22, 2008


We can only hope that demand drives the price of oil high enough for real, deep changes to take place as soon as possible.
posted by ssg at 10:39 AM on May 22, 2008


Just looked up natural gas reserves by country - did not realize that Russia has reserves almost twice that of its nearest competitor. That competitor country? Iran.

I don't think the Iraq bases are going anywhere, folks:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15184773

Hence my question about moving closer to population centers - the knee-jerk reaction seems to be to buy land in the country and buy guns - but where's the food coming from? Wouldn't it be better to be closer to transportation hubs that don't necessarily have to run on oil?

Optimistically speaking, could the US possibly end up looking more like a densely populated Western European country (or Japan)? Unusual to live in a single-family home, we stop living in the middle of deserts, cluster more heavily around urban areas in the East and Northwest?
posted by rhys at 10:41 AM on May 22, 2008


Current production is 85 million bpd, hence the 15% figure.

Which has been flat for about 3 years now, if I remember correctly. The discoveries decline year over year, no one is building new rigs, etc, etc. Where do they think extra 15M bpd will come from? Remember, these predictions are coming from IEA, an organization that as little as a year ago was saying that the whole Peak Oil thing is crazy nonsense and that we should be back at 10-20$ per barrel any day now.
posted by c13 at 10:42 AM on May 22, 2008


Wouldn't this trend make anarchists and libertarians happy? Forcing people to stay local, look to private solutions for basic needs, break the back of the state, and all?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:42 AM on May 22, 2008


"Regardless, I'm looking forward to talking to you all in 20 years, when you're all far more wealthier and happier than you are today, and "Bartertown" will still be a half-remembered movie set."


That muffled sound? That's the sound of the rest of the world dealing with steadily declining production and rapidly increasing demand.

What? Why is it so muffled sounding?


Well, that would be because your ears are attached to your head, which is lodged firmly up your ass.
posted by stenseng at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2008


Wouldn't this trend make anarchists and libertarians happy? Forcing people to stay local, look to private solutions for basic needs, break the back of the state, and all?

Living in decaying economy, with declining prospects for the future, declining life expectancy (with much less medical care), being forced to go back to heavy manual labor, going to war over diminishing resources, etc, etc... I don't know, somehow this does not excite me at all.
posted by c13 at 10:49 AM on May 22, 2008


There's practically no one left in the Dakotas these days. Can't we turn those prairies into giant windfarms? (Oh, and let the First Peoples have the Black Hills back?

There's been plenty of talk about converting huge swaths of the Southwest into solar plants.

http://www.inhabitat.com/2008/02/25/world%E2%80%99s-largest-solar-power-plant-coming-to-arizona-in-2011/

The problem as I see it is the wide distribution that oil allows, transportation wise. Nothing even approaches the energy density of gasoline for transportation. One gallon weighing a few pounds will carry you 40 miles in air conditioned comfort in a very small car. That's the limit of current electric cars, and they carry hundreds of pounds of batteries.

The other worry, as I stated before, is the materials end of things (plastics). I hold out hope that genetic engineering will be able to engineer microorganisms which manufacture useful polymers while running on sunlight and C02.
posted by rhys at 10:50 AM on May 22, 2008


Wouldn't this trend make anarchists and libertarians happy? Forcing people to stay local, look to private solutions for basic needs, break the back of the state, and all?

Another way to look at this is that the military is dependent upon oil to keep its operations going. It takes diesel to move supply trucks, JP-4 to move planes, etc. In the interest of self-preservation, they would be compelled to take control of the resources of the populace in order to secure the supplies they need to keep going. Counterintuitively, libertarians and anarchists taking the long view would work with the system, however it is, to build a trend of energy independence, through promotion of global energy efficiency and reduced consumption, before the yoke of military rule is put down.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:53 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't this trend make anarchists and libertarians happy? Forcing people to stay local, look to private solutions for basic needs, break the back of the state, and all?

As an anarchist, I can't help feeling just a little hopeful that this is what will happen. Unfortunately, I don't think localism or peak oil alone will get rid of the state or global capitalism. And I recognize that the downsizing of the world economy will carry with it suffering and death on a maybe unprecedented scale, which will most likely trump any anarchism-related beneficial effects.
posted by nasreddin at 10:56 AM on May 22, 2008


We should really be drilling off our coasts and in ANWR, and maybe in North Dakota. And build some new nuclear power plants. And some new refineries. There are no impact-free ways to get oil out of the ground, but the harms feared are being greatly exaggerated. It's really time for everyone to be serious, realistic, and do something.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 10:58 AM on May 22, 2008


Any place that relies on routine long-distance tourism = screwed. If your skyline is dominated by huge hotels, you're in trouble.
posted by aramaic at 11:00 AM on May 22, 2008


You know pisses me off. Every time the very important subject comes people have to start with the Road Warrior jokes or worse label anybody who does care about the subject as apocalypse junkies.

If you recall a scant five or ten years ago when people were attempting to raise awareness of Global Warming and Climate change the same bullshit distractions and derails would pop up. Attempting to marginalize or label this as a fringe subject only betrays our collective ignorance and lack of foresight. Peak is going to happen. There is compelling evidence it IS happening. While tales of the demise of civilization may be exaggerated or at least premature the fact is Peak is going to effect you. It is effecting you.

In 1999 I first became interested in the topic becuase one of my clients was an energy futures business. We were fdoing a bg website for him. This was a guy who had spent the last 42 years working in the Oil and Gas business. For Shell, Exxon, and BP. He said there was not a single executive worth a shit in the energy business who didn't take Peak seriously. Who didn't lay awake nights trying to figure out what to do.

Back then the data curve was pretty clear and it's holding true today. Nearly everything he told me in 1999 has come to pass. The world moving away from the petro-dollar. Invading Iraq. Including when oil hit $110+ a barrel there would be food riots.

Anyway.

To people like Cool Pappa Bell. Great that your optimistic. But the only people that should be are the ones preparing for this colossal shift in our energy and economic reality. They are the ones who are going to be happier in 20 years. And wealth will only be achieved when it no longer is assumed to be related to how much shit you own.
posted by tkchrist at 11:00 AM on May 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


Ok Doomsayers if the end is nigh give me some timelines:

--How many years before commercial aviation drops to less than 200 million passengers per year in the US? Last year there were 769 million domestic passengers?
--How long before per capita food consumption in the US drops to less than 2500 calories per day (currently almost 3900)? Bonus what will per capita calorie consumption be in 5 years for the US?
--How long before personal car ownership becomes rare (less than 50 cars per thousand people, currently 478 / thousand)?
posted by humanfont at 11:02 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


BrooklynCouch--drilling in ANWR does next to nothing to stem the tide. We need to lower consumption, not expect miracles. When oil hits $300 a barrel it will be evident to everyone the magnitude of the problem. Alternative, clean, sustainable energy sources is what has to be achieved.
posted by ornate insect at 11:03 AM on May 22, 2008


Get used to the following phrase: "demand destruction".

Anecdotally, I've been seeing a lot of Priuses on the road lately, most with those cardboard temporary tags. I've also seen a few smartcars. I didn't even know they were selling them here.

We will make a lot of progress toward not having to worry about this here if we (a) stop buying things is disposable plastic packaging, and (b) if fuel efficiency standards are mandated to be at least 40 mpg.

For the latter, the move would be to mandate a sudden jump in efficiency, so that the only way to do it is with hybrid electric/gas engines. The purpose of this is to change the prejudice in the market against electric cars. And the long term purpose of this is to give the solar industry time to boost panel efficiency, so we can cover the roofs and hoods of cars with solar panels.

The solar industry has made incredible progress over the last year, without any government support. Ultimately, the future in mobile electricity generation (i.e. cars) lies in solar, and in wind for electricity. But there's a rather noticeable fusion reaction that we have for free, it is stupid of us not to take advantage of it.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ok Doomsayers if the end is nigh give me some timelines:

Um what? How can any of us know these things? And, more importantly, how does our inability to answer in any way relate to the fact that an oil crisis is happening?
posted by nasreddin at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2008


tkchrist, I don't think anyone in this thread yet except maybe CPB, is not taking the topic seriously. I think peak oil is fairly broadly accepted among anyone who's done the barest amount of research. It's not a fringe subject. I just want to talk about, what's the reality of the situation? To me there's no point in just sitting being scared shitless of living a Road Warrior existence, but really think about what will happen if some advances are made, if we hold out a little optimism and if we resist just making apocalypse jokes.

Does it look like... Mexico? Brooklyn? Amsterdam? Sub-Saharan Africa? How do we prepare without simply stockpiling food and ammo? How have you prepared?
posted by rhys at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2008


Ok Doomsayers if the end is nigh give me some timelines:

Really? Just like that? Would you like some fries with that, sir?
posted by c13 at 11:10 AM on May 22, 2008


Ok Doomsayers if the end is nigh give me some timelines:

It's impossible to say -- but not for the reasons that you think.

Firstly, some demands (like food, and perhaps for Americans, air travel and definitely car ownership) are inelastic. So, 10 years from now, the average per capita calorie intake may very well be 3900 -- but in order to afford those 3900 calories, the average American will need to forgo cable TV, long distance telephone service and non-emergency medical care. Also, a big chunk of that 3900 calories might be ramen noodles and nutrition shakes instead of T-bone steaks and baked potatoes.

Or, gas may be $10 a gallon in 10 years, while car ownership remains relatively stable -- the average American will just have to work a second or third job to pay for his car.

So, you see, its perfectly possible to have the same calorie intake, the same amount of car ownership and even a steady amount of air travel as we have now while simultaneously being an impoverished nation.
posted by Avenger at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2008


ornate insect, I agree that ANWR isn't a panacea, but no single place is. But ANWRs isn't nothing, and multiple supplies of ANWR's yield can equal a lot more oil; it adds up. But I am as concerned with the politics that puts ANWR out of reach as I am with its yield potential. The proposal was to drill in a small portion of what is, in effect, an arctic swamp. It's not, as John McCain stated, as significant as the Grand Canyon. Come on!
posted by BrooklynCouch at 11:15 AM on May 22, 2008


Timelines are probably estimable, but I doubt anyone here has all the relevant figures or the time to provide them. I think the general answer is "faster than you think". It seems to me that we are firmly in the realm of the exponential function. How long did it take gas to double from $1 to $2? Now, how long from $2 to $4? Any takers on when we will see $8 gas? (sorry, non USians, just applying the figures I'm familiar with).

Read this (or watch it), it's an illuminating look at the exponential function as regards population and fossil fuel:

http://globalpublicmedia.com/transcripts/645
posted by rhys at 11:18 AM on May 22, 2008


Airlines: In April, American Airlines had 8.4 percent fewer domestic passenger miles flown on 5.9 percent fewer seats than April 2007. United Airlines had 9.5 percent fewer domestic passengers in 6.5 percent fewer seats. Current best-case that I'm aware of, Southwest, had a 3.9% increase in passengers (which is below what they were expecting, based on the capacity they'd added).

Thirty US cities lost their air connections this year.
posted by aramaic at 11:20 AM on May 22, 2008


Living in decaying economy, with declining prospects for the future, declining life expectancy (with much less medical care), being forced to go back to heavy manual labor, going to war over diminishing resources, etc, etc... I don't know, somehow this does not excite me at all.

Oh, come on. Declining life expectancy? Heavy manual labour? Oil is not our only source of energy and there are many gains to be made in efficiency. Will we need to make some changes to our lives? Absolutely. Are we all going to become subsistence farmers? No.
posted by ssg at 11:23 AM on May 22, 2008


tkchrist, I don't think anyone in this thread yet except maybe CPB, is not taking the topic seriously.

Oh, bite me. I argue I'm more serious and realistic than all of you put together, and the reasons for my optimistic predictions are quite well documented, as I've posted before.

Oil is finite. There will indeed be a peak, and we may already be there. Drilling in ANWR would be stupid. Oil will get more expensive for a variety of reasons. Yet life will still get better for most over the short run and for all over the long run. And it will not require colossal, earthshaking changes in everyday lifestyle. I believe this because I have faith in humanity and ingenuity, not sky gods, localvores or scary tactic press releases quoting data that is clearly, obviously flawed.

I think I'm older than most of you, but not as old as many of you may think I am. Twenty years ago, we were all afraid of war with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Fucking Union. Who were so upside down they didn't realize (or care, or understand) that there was oil in them there steppes. Now the Soviets are gone, Europe is buying oil from its former enemies, and I live in the Seattle area, surrounded by smarty-smart Russian programmers whose children play soccer with my children.

Things get better.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:24 AM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


So, you see, its perfectly possible to have the same calorie intake, the same amount of car ownership and even a steady amount of air travel as we have now while simultaneously being an impoverished nation.

That's a laughably ridiculous definition of an impoverished nation. Are you even aware that there are impoverished nations in the world right now?
posted by ssg at 11:27 AM on May 22, 2008


One gallon weighing a few pounds will carry you 40 miles in air conditioned comfort in a very small car. That's the limit of current electric cars, and they carry hundreds of pounds of batteries.

Um, don't engines and transmissions weigh hundreds of pounds too?
posted by msalt at 11:29 AM on May 22, 2008


Declining life expectancy?

Actually, there are signs that life expectancy is already in decline in the US for those on the middle and lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, though for seemingly unrelated reasons.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on May 22, 2008


brooklyncouch--naturally the oil companies want to drain every last drop out of the earth, and that is who McCain speaks for.

I'm not sure continuing to let the profit motive of Big Oil dictate both our energy policy, and to a large extent our foreign policy (see Cheney's spring 2001 secret Energy Task Force meeting's maps of Iraqi fields), is such a good idea. According to wiki, and assuming $120 a barrel, there may be well over a trillion dollars worth of oil in ANWR. That black gold is what's motivating folks, and not long-term strategies to deal with energy consumption.

You seem to be missing the fact that the math is not on our side. More drilling only encourages the systematic maintanence of a status quo that cannot be sustained. It's like a crack addict tearing apart her own house to find a vial hidden somewhere.
posted by ornate insect at 11:34 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]



Oh, bite me. I argue I'm more serious and realistic than all of you put together, and the reasons for my optimistic predictions are quite well documented, as I've posted before.


You do realize that this method of arguing is more or less the same thing as saying "America didn't declare independence when the Stamp Act passed, so why should we worry, Your Majesty?" or "The Revolution of 1905 failed, so the Revolution of 1917 will fail too, Your Majesty!" or "We've managed to avoid civil war for decades, President Lincoln!"? The fact that people were wrong once doesn't mean they're always wrong, that's a logical fallacy.

Not to mention that if you actually read the article about the Simon-Ehrlich wager, it notes that Simon has refused to do a rerun of the bet based on shoddy reasoning.

I believe this because I have faith in humanity and ingenuity, not sky gods, localvores or scary tactic press releases quoting data that is clearly, obviously flawed.


You're not living in a Bruce Willis movie, no matter how much you want to believe you are.
posted by nasreddin at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oh, bite me. I argue I'm more serious and realistic than all of you put together, and the reasons for my optimistic predictions are quite well documented, as I've posted before.

My only argument would be that past performance does not guarantee future results. I too think it's human nature to take just a little bit of relish in being apocalyptic. Sometimes things get better, sometimes things do get worse. My whole angle in this thread is trying to be optimistic while being realistic about the tools we have to work with. Your faith in ingenuity is great - how can we take action on that, rather than sit around waiting for the ingenious to save us?

The only reason I suggested you were being unrealistic is because you made an assertion that "things will be better in 20 years" with no supporting evidence. Your link to the Simon-Ehrlich wager only takes into consideration the price of a few metals over a 10 year period.
posted by rhys at 11:37 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, there are signs that life expectancy is already in decline in the US for those on the middle and lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, though for seemingly unrelated reasons.

I think it has much more to do with obesity and obesity has a whole lot to do with cheap oil.
posted by ssg at 11:38 AM on May 22, 2008


In 1999 I first became interested in the topic becuase one of my clients was an energy futures business. We were fdoing a bg website for him. This was a guy who had spent the last 42 years working in the Oil and Gas business. For Shell, Exxon, and BP. He said there was not a single executive worth a shit in the energy business who didn't take Peak seriously. Who didn't lay awake nights trying to figure out what to do.

Repeated for emphasis. I don't know who you're talking about, but Matthew Simmons's book Twilight in the Desert has been dead on. He even predicted $100/bbl oil and a final resting point of $200.

The problem is that peak oil has become married to the collapse movement, and that has been my objection all along. There is no reason we can't generate a tremendous amount of electricity from renewable sources like the sun and wind. Once that happens, then energy availability for transportation becomes a function of battery technology.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:39 AM on May 22, 2008


Once that happens, then energy availability for transportation becomes a function of battery technology.

We actually have a very good transportation technology called the electric train that is fast, efficient, comfortable, and requires no batteries.
posted by ssg at 11:42 AM on May 22, 2008



Um, don't engines and transmissions weigh hundreds of pounds too?


Yes. The engine is the energy conversion device, converting the energy stored in the carbon-carbon bonds in the gas into kinetic energy to drive the car forward.

In an electric car, the electric motor, also weighing a couple hundred pounds, converts the energy stored in the battery into kinetic energy to drive the car forward.

Both cars require some kind of transmission to couple the motor to the wheels, although an electric car can sometimes get away without a tranny due to the stronger torque at low rpms of an electric motor.

The energy stored in a given volume and weight of gas vastly outstrips the amount of energy that you can store in a battery, given the same volume and weight. Of course, you can put energy back into the battery, but once the gas turns into CO2 and water, it's effectively gone.
posted by rhys at 11:43 AM on May 22, 2008


The proposal was to drill in a small portion of what is, in effect, an arctic swamp.

Yeah, but how long does it take for those supplies to come online? What fields have peaked/crashed in the interim? At best, drilling in ANWR buys some time - but not much. And rather than merely delaying in the inevitable - shouldn't we maybe be preparing to meet it head-on?
posted by kgasmart at 11:43 AM on May 22, 2008


We actually have a very good transportation technology called the electric train that is fast, efficient, comfortable, and requires no batteries.

Preee-cisely. So, in a utopian future (for the US), to me it looks like higher population densities connected by electric rail, powered by hundreds of square miles of solar, wind and tidal energy plants. I mean, hell, reinstate the CCC and put everyone with no other job to work on this.

(global demand for copper, concrete, steel etc, is still likely to be a problem)
posted by rhys at 11:47 AM on May 22, 2008


Martin Wolf on rising oil prices. He argues that because demand is increasing and supply is tight, we can expect continued high oil prices; we're just going to have to adapt.
Against this background, it seems far more likely that such speculation as there is has been stabilising, rather than destabilising: in other words, it is moving prices in the right direction, in order to reduce demand.

Will the high prices succeed in doing this? Certainly. Demand has to match supply for a simple reason: we cannot burn oil that does not exist.

The price spikes of the 1970s were followed by big absolute falls in demand and output. This was partly because of the recessions and partly because of rising efficiency. Both forces should work again this time, but to a much smaller extent. The slowdown in the US economy is indeed likely to be significant. Slowdowns will also occur in western Europe and Japan and even in the emerging world. But the latter will still grow rapidly. Overall, the world economy – and so world oil demand – is likely to continue to grow reasonably briskly. Similarly, the improved efficiency of use of petroleum, as people switch to more efficient vehicles, notably in North America (where the room for doing so is so large), will be offset by the rising tide of demand for motorised transport in the world’s fast-growing emerging countries.

On balance, it is quite unlikely that aggregate demand for oil will collapse, as it did after the two previous price spikes, just as it is unlikely that massive net new oil supplies will come on stream in the near future. This does not mean that prices will remain as high as they are today for the indefinite future: such stability is improbable. But it means we should expect a sustained period of relatively high prices even if “peak oil” theorists are proved wrong. If proved right, this would be true in spades.
Avenger: Firstly, some demands (like food, and perhaps for Americans, air travel and definitely car ownership) are inelastic.

Regarding transportation, Paul Krugman had some interesting blog posts a couple weeks ago about rising gas prices and public transit. Price elasticity:
In the long run, the best estimate of the price elasticity of demand for auto fuel seems to be minus 0.7. That is, a 10 percent rise in prices will reduce gas consumption by 7 percent. Of this, 4 points come from shifting to cars with better mileage, 3 points from driving less.

Of course, you go into an energy crisis with the auto fleet you have, not the auto fleet you want. So right there is a reason for a much lower short-run demand response. Plus, a good part of the reduction in miles driven involves long-term choices too — where you choose to live and/or work, how you arrange your life. So the short-run elasticity of demand is fairly small.

Given time, however, higher prices could lead to a repeat of the 70s-80s experience, when the US auto fleet became a lot more fuel efficient.
Another big issue is suburban sprawl. Krugman suggests that this is more of a problem for the US than low population density per se (most people live in metro areas). Of course, this makes it more difficult to run a useful public transport system; to be useful, public transport requires compact neighborhoods. A comparison of public transit use in Atlanta, Boston, and Toronto.

A picture of what this looks like in western Sydney, Australia.

There's some price elasticity even when it comes to food.
Burt Flickinger, a longtime retail consultant, said the last time he saw such significant changes in consumer buying patterns was the late 1970s, when runaway inflation prompted Americans to “switch from red meat to pork to poultry to pasta — then to peanut butter and jelly.”
BrooklynCouch: The proposal was to drill in a small portion of what is, in effect, an arctic swamp.

Peter Matthiessen, Inside the Endangered Arctic Refuge:
Despite all the oil industry's talk about "safe drilling" with environmental safeguards (less than credible at a time when, at corporate behest, a primitively pro-business administration is dismantling many decades' worth of hard-won protections), mining fossil fuels from a fragile, treeless plain will permanently deface, contaminate, and gut it, while accomplishing almost nothing to offset the so-called oil crisis.

Even if Congress should succeed today in bestowing the refuge on the corporations, the first leases could not be issued before 2008, after seismic exploration, test wells, permits, and the truncated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required for the lease sale are completed. Next would come seven more years of construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines and hundreds of acres of infrastructure, from flow stations to cesspools—all this to be done during eight or nine dark months of ice and blizzard, followed by a brief summer season when roads and installations sink and shift in the endless swamps of water-logged tundra.

Not before 2015 could the oil extracted from the Wildlife Refuge affect energy supplies, and even then it would represent an inconsequential fraction of our gluttonous US consumption. (A Department of Energy report of September 2005 predicted that ANWR oil production, peaking in 2025, would slash the gas price at the pump by no more than one penny per gallon.) As most of our legislators know well, to flog this questionable source as a solution to our wasteful habits is not only dishonest but a long-term disservice to the nation. ...

Ted Stevens, the Republican senator from Alaska who with Murkowski has battled for decades to allow drilling in the 1002, still dismisses the Wildlife Refuge as "a wasteland." But unfortunately for his argument, his Republican colleague Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island has traveled there and seen it for himself.

"I will have to say, Senator Stevens," Chafee protested a few years ago during a debate, "[that] I have been to forty-nine of the fifty states [and] this is the most beautiful place I have ever been."
posted by russilwvong at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


rhys: What does the world look like after it shakes out? And where, really is the best place to be living? How many people here feel like they could truly grow all of their own food using only organic fertilizer?

I can grow my own food, sure. I can make soap, too, using modern methods, but I know how to do it using the old-fashioned way too. Fertilizer isn't made from oil, by the way. So those who use the manmade stuff can keep using it for a while yet. I can use organic: just about anything plant (or dung) that decomposes can be enrich the soil through composting, so that's not hard, it just takes time.

I probably wouldn't be able to can/preserve without a gas or electric stove, tho' (without poisoning myself, I mean). I know zip about hunting and skinning so that's out too. But I can fish.

People are very resourceful; I honestly think they'd grumble, but they'd adapt. As others have said, there are lots more choices now than there were several years ago. It might inspire innovation. I don't think oil is going to just stop overnight, it will be hoarded and price will make it less and less desireable, so other things will come to the forefront (biodiesel? should we all be investing in corn now? Fuel cells? Nuclear?).

Obviously in a city you have more options for shelter and community. But the country offers food, so it would probably be the same as it is now. Worker bees in the city, farmers in the country.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:57 AM on May 22, 2008


Actually, T. Boone Pickens is going long on wind farms. Billions of dollars long. When a guy like that makes an investment like that, y'all should pay more attention.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:58 AM on May 22, 2008


You're not living in a Bruce Willis movie, no matter how much you want to believe you are.

Yippie-kay-yay, mofo. I believe in you more than you believe in yourself. Think of me when you buy your next car. Because you will buy one, trust me. And it will get better mileage than whatever you have now. Or perhaps you'll just use mass transit powered by clean energy of one form or another, brought to you by one of your faceless megacorporations.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2008


Nicely done, russilwvong.
posted by rhys at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2008


Time to invade Canada.
posted by Blazecock Pileon


Where have you been? Something like 75% of Alberta's oil is controlled by Americans.
Check out the number of direct flights per day from Calgary to Texas.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2008


Okay, rhys... you asked. These are notes that I made mid-2007. You'll note that some of the predictions I made have come to pass (with the usual proviso that I am no Nostradamus - past performance is not an indicator of future success). Where appropriate, I've added further comments to bring it up to speed. I apologize in advance for the length.

----

From my personal perspective the long-term prognosis for "high energy, high culture" human survival is poor. Part of this, inevitably, is a projection of my own misanthropic and pessimistic nature onto the world. But I do regard the basic facts as backing me up. I also need to be aware of the perennial human obsessions with cataclysm, seen through the prism of the cultural obsessions of the time (Rapture, "race wars" in the 60's and 70's, etc). So, let's roll out the assumptions.

* Maximum oil (peak production, from all sources) has likely been reached, probably last year: 85 million barrels per day. Alternative sources (oil sands, tar shale, extra-deep wells, biofuels, new detection, exploitation and extraction technologies) will extend the slope of the decline, but not reverse it.
* Changes to infrastructure - more fuel-efficient cars, emphasis on car pooling, enhancement of public transit - will again help ease the slope, but not stop the decline.
* There is no serious (Manhattan or Apollo project level) attempt by any major nation to seek an alternative. Less populous, more adaptable nations with a relatively small manufacturing base and blessed with natural energy resources (geothermal, wind and water) may be able to weather the transition better: New Zealand, Scotland, some of Northern Europe (Greenland, Norway). The others will largely continue to do what they have been doing (think: Easter Island, on a global scale).
* Population will continue to rise, due to improving health conditions in the developing world that are relatively cheap and energy-independent. 6.5 billion now, projected to 9 billion by 2030. Energy demand from the developing nations will rise sharply, particularly China and India.
* Competition over oil will rise. Strategies will grow less subtle. Overt militarism, backing of oil-supplying regimes, becomes more open. Think the Cold War, but rather than Communism vs. Capitalism, think energy importers trying to influence and dominate energy exporters.
* Oil hits $100 per barrel by early 2008. Aside from small dips (not more than 10%), it continues to climb. We never see $80 per barrel again. (ADDITION: I'm going to place an open Metafilter bet (metabet?) on the spot price of sweet light crude reaching $200 a barrel in a year's time. It's my guesstimate that we're looking at a declining rate of production of 2.5 - 5% per year from now on.)
* Climate change continues to make itself felt. More energy in the system means greater unpredictability. Emergency evacuations become larger and more frequent. Weather patterns - droughts, floods, heat waves and cold snaps - become more pronounced. Broad patterns begin to become discernible, matched against predictions over decades. Broadly speaking, the amount of change in natural systems is underestimated.
* Other natural resources begin to peak. Natural gas, fresh water, coal (in that order).
* First serious signs of a problem: population shifts. Moving to escape increasingly inhospitable climates coupled with energy shortages. (Heatwaves || cold snaps + electrical brownouts = deaths). Cities shrink, condense, and cluster, to escape higher energy prices. Real estate prices in cities rise tremendously, closer to warm cores surrounded by arable land. Cities that are wealthy, compact, have a mild climate and high agricultural yeilds nearby with a strong, diverse transit system survive, even thrive, for a time. Riverine port cities would also do well. And, needless to say, any city close by oil plays.( ADDITION: The hollowing out of the suburbs that you're seeing now, due to the credit crunch, continues. )
* Food prices rise, especially imported goods ("imported" now meaning "out of state"). Other imported goods slowly follow the trend. Food becomes increasingly local, because it has to. Fresh green salads in New York city in winter become increasingly expensive.
* Credit terms come due. There is a period of global economic arm wrestling, as nations try to be the survivors. Oil bourses move to euros. China takes a gamble and decouples the yuan from the US dollar before 2012, cashing in held debt. Few dare to default. Massive amounts of money slosh back and forth in the system, trying to stabilize the world economy. The UN and IMF become used as financial arbiters for increasingly desperate countries.
* Economies tighten further. Many nations without the wherewithal to be global influencers become isolationist. Canada invokes the six-month warning proviso on NAFTA to withold gas and oil from the US. Mexico does the same, probably earlier. Xenophobia and racism rises. "Taking from us" becomes the by-word for strengthened and militarized borders. Political and military "strongmen" become more acceptable to "set the country right". Energy companies are nationalized : "for the country's best interests" and/or because of (perceived or real) egregious profits.
* Population overshoot, relative to energy, reached. Government infrastructure cutbacks, particularly in healthcare, most especially in international aid, begin to have ramifications. Something escapes: either because of natural environmental degradation, closer human habitation, over-use of antibacterials / antibiotics. (Think multi-resistant TB, human-vectored H5N1B). No world-wide plagues, yet. Not at the level of the epidemic of 1918. But something nasty, that does kill a few million people. If that disease originates "overseas", or can be traced to an immigrant, borders tighten further.
* Carless days. Crash programs to find energy. Quick, short term: coal. CO2 sequestration ignored: too expensive, need energy now, as cheaply as possible. Increasing, swirling rumors of "miracle" energy sources: perpetual motion motions, cars that run on water, batteries that last and last.
* Depression. Decreasing standard of living for the majority. High energy, high status goods and services: flower delivery, long-haul aircraft travel, RVs, heated pools - become a province of the very wealthy.
* Supply chains shrink further. Local, organic "oil free" food gardens and collectives become common, as do community soup kitchens. Families cluster closer together.
* Religious attendance rises, as does anger at a lack of perceived solutions.
* Energy wars. Low-level or precisely targeted conflict, as massive damage to infrastructure means no-one gets the energy, unless someone chooses a spoiling tactic (see: Saddam, end of Gulf War I and the Kuwait oil feilds) or does the unthinkable (neutron bombs).
* Famine hits the third world first, and grows. I don't believe North Americans are going to be starving in this period, but I do think there's going to be a lot of belt tightening and increasing malnutrition. Diets will narrow to what can be grown locally, in season, or stored long-term.


NEXUS

All the above is felt certain to happen. Two possible paths from this:

1. A "long emergency" situation, lasting 20+ years. World population stabilizes or even slowly declines. The transition is harrowing, but slowly alternative energy sources come on-stream. Oil-dependent civilization diagnosed, correctly, as ridiculously fragile. Wind, water, solar, biofuels, all come into play. Civilization becomes high-efficient, low-energy. Fusion comes to fruition, finally. Social organization is restructured - low birth-rate, long mortality, long-view. Climate change is unavoidable, but populations move and centralize to take advantage of it.
2. "Crash". No alternative is found, at least not one that can supply the high-energy lifestyle billions crave. Choices move to the extreme, as does climate. The "green revolution" withers and dies. At least three of the four horsemen: plague, pestilence, starvation: make a global appearance. "Global die-off" begins, until equilibrium is restored.


-----

To answer some of your other questions...

> Are we looking at shotguns-n-canned-food, or just the first-world looking like the second-world - two-stroke scooters and less to eat?

The latter, at least for the next 10 - 15 years. After that, bets are off.

> What if fusion was feasible tomorrow? Would that save our butts?

No. Even with lowered building restrictions and public opinion steamrolled, it would still take 20 years to build enough plants, let alone change the infrastructure. We don't have the time.


So what am I doing? Here's my to-do list, written as a companion piece to the notes above.

----

* have resilience: multiple options. Depending on one solution is a license for failure - indeed, it is repeating the mistake the oil-dependent civilization has made. So. Multiple locations (BC, Calgary, Auckland). Multiple energy sources (wood, gas, solar (for water, possibly electricity))
* any transition is going to be made easier if you already use less than average. So. Less water (already accomplished, although it can be improved). Less electricity (turn the damn computer off at night! Watch for light use!). Less dependence on luxuries (Coca-Cola), more dependence on practicalities (water).
* plant a garden this spring. No more excuses. Learn how. Get growing lights, plant tomatoes, at least. Mark out garden area, get drip-feed hose. Do raised-bed, with lowered troughs for water collection. Herbs on the side.
* get out of debt (bank debt removed by December 2008 (ADDITION: this will be achieved by July). Double payments on the house mortgage, if possible.
* again, transition will be easier if prepared. Getting physically healthy costs little except time. Get to the gym. Get shoes, and start running again. Later, extend physical traning. Learn to box. Ideally, learn Krav Maga.
* Find and attend local growers (farmer's markets, etc).
* continue to work on the workshop. Use power tools, but also have a mind for hand-tools. Have fun while it lasts, but think for the future.
* growing season in Calgary will remain short. Need to look at canning, preseving, cold frames.
* build a larder. Have a bug-out kit (three days survival, no matter what the conditions). But also plan for staying. Invest in canned, preseved food and water now. "One for the kitchen, one for the larder". Aim for a month's food and water by July 2008, three months by December, six months by July 2009. All non-perishable - so canned milk, peaches, corn, etc.
* learn to fish, clean and cook. Get a wrist-rocket. At least practice on targets and killing varmint game (squirrels).
* yes, weapons will be useful. But they will not, short term, provide food. So. learn target shooting: Kimber 22 rifle. Long term, learn to hunt, clean, preserve wild game.
* learn to heal. Basic medical training, medical kits on-hand.


It's not all doom and gloom. Attitude should be: "The worst may not come, but in the meantime this is fun. Don't dwell on it, but put aside a little of each day for it, just in case. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:19 PM on May 22, 2008 [46 favorites]


Since we've brought ANWR up, here are the numbers:

As of 2006, the US consumed 7.55 billion barrels of oil (BBO) per year.

Technically recoverable oil in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) is, at the high end, estimated to be 15 BBO. This will be used up in 2 years of 2006 US consumption.

Technically recoverable oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), 1002 Area is, at the high end, estimated to be 16 BBO. This would also be used up in around 2 years of 2006 US consumption.

Sources for both reserve estimates. Note that I am using the most optimistic, 5%-interval projections here.

Now, these both add significantly to the United States' proven reserves of 21 BBO (gone in 3 years of current consumption). But it isn't all that much. Of course, it all assumes that the US could produce them at anywhere near consumption, which it can't. So they would in reality last a lot longer. But the point is, there just isn't that much there compared to our level of consumption. Even if we were to discover 10 more ANWRs on the North Slope and on the ocean shelves, it doesn't buy us that much time -- at most a generation.
posted by moonbiter at 12:25 PM on May 22, 2008


Does it look like... Mexico? Brooklyn? Amsterdam? Sub-Saharan Africa? How do we prepare without simply stockpiling food and ammo? How have you prepared?

This is the problem with prognostication, rhys. You keep asking what the future is going to look like: no one knows. I personally think that, without cheap transport enforcing and reinforcing the cultural homogeneity of America, the future will look different in different parts of the country. Some parts of America may look like modern Mexico, while others may look like Amsterdam. Other parts may be abandoned altogether.

I honestly think that the best solution would be one that democratizes the energy production. Small production of biodiesel for things that absolutely need the sheer kinetic energy of internal combustion (transport, construction, etc). For almost all other needs, standard renewables would be preferable, and those can be tailored to the location of the need: wave farms and tidal pumps for the coastal regions, solar farms in the southwest, windfarms in the Badlands, hydropower, geothermal, etc. The solution is twofold: ramping up production of renewable, sustainable power sources is just one plexus. The other solution is mentioned by Pastabagel, above: we must destroy this reckless, rampant consumption; we must reduce demand. Simply taking away the possibility (ie-make it so expensive that it's simply not an option to live as extravagantly), but a brutal and massively disruptive one. But this is a cultural issue, which brings us to your other question.

You ask what people have done - for a great majority, nothing. For a tiny minority, what they think is best, to safeguard those things which are most important to them, and that changes from person to person. I personally bought a house within walking distance to a major University, because (eternal optimist that I am), I'd like to think that education will always be a valuable commodity, regardless of other factors - or in other words, if monks crossed the Pyrenees to learn hebrew, I think proximity to a good library will ensure a vital trading network, regardless of the price of oil. I also work for this University, so my personal dependence on oil is somewhat muted with this decision: I gave up my car. But I did not buy the house just because of this. As the price of gas goes up and people look to cut corners, prices of properties within city limits will rise. When that has reached a pre-set point, I'll probably sell, or start renting it out.

What will I do then? I don't know, which leads me back to the first sentence in this post - we just can't tell what will happen. If I need to buy a house further out, I will. If I need to buy a ticket out of Fortress America, I will. If I need to barter proximal residence for canned tomatoes and shotgun shells, I will. But until that comes upon me, I'm getting up, going to work, coming back home, and trying to live my life. It's not that I'm ignoring what's happening - I'm making small decisions daily in my own consumptive habits, and I'm making larger decisions(giving up my car, who I'll vote for) with these realities more in mind than ever. But to obsess over these questions leads to a paralysis that is more crippling than Peak Oil, The Collapse of the Economy, and Global Warming altogether - it leads to a death of the spirit, of hope for the future, where everyone starts living for canned tomatoes and shotgun shells. That way lies madness. And, Bartertown.

What are people doing? We're keeping our wits about us, paying attention to what's going on in the world, and adjusting our lives' courses as we get new information.
posted by eclectist at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Damn. Bora said it better, though.
posted by eclectist at 12:34 PM on May 22, 2008


I can't stand it when people say they "believe in human ingenuity". I know a lot of engineers, and not a whole lot of them are optimistic about replacing oil with what we've got now, or with ideas we can conceive of right now. Read some IEEE publications, or the Tech Review, or the latest issue of Mother Jones. This is not to say it's impossible, but the panacea has not even been though of, let alone started along the path of implementation, yet. Unless you are personally developing some new advance, you can't play the "innovation will save us" card. Innovation isn't some dependable renewable resource we can count on to bail us out.

We should try as hard as we can. Pump money in to research. But don't count on it. Abandon hope, embrace the uncertainty, and strive to find solutions now.
posted by phrontist at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


And remember, kids...no matter how bad things get, you will still be expected to pay-off those school loans.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:37 PM on May 22, 2008


Bora Horza Gubuchul -

Please consider me subscribed to your newsletter. I will print that out and peruse it. Thank you for putting that up here! Also, checking your history, I see you were also the one that posted that exponential growth lecture here in the first place, so thanks for that as well. I'll use the latter section as a template for my own thoughts on preparations and actions to be taken. thanks again!
posted by rhys at 12:37 PM on May 22, 2008


Herm. So I've gotten the belt tightening thing done, no car, limited lifestyle.

But I'm in finland. i don't think we grow anything here except for potatos and some trees. We have the ocean but I think it's all gummed up or something.

How will I deal with the fall of mankind if I don't speak the language?
posted by Lord_Pall at 12:46 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks to you as well, eclectist. I'm turning over the house-closer-in plan in my mind as well, and trying to steer clear of the paralyzing fear. Hadn't thought about the University as commodity - since I work for one as well, that's interesting. Ok, I feel like I've turned this thread into my own personal AskMe question, so I will bow out now. For myself, yes, I garden, but not nearly enough to support myself or even realistically supplement a purchased diet. (family of 4). I live in an edge city. Public transport to my workplace is 7 miles away. There are plenty of positive changes to my life that I could make right now without hardship.

phrontist- yes I agree. My evaluation of buying an electric vehicle conversion really hit home to me just how incredible this oil stuff really is, and how far we are from matching it. On the plus side, I really am a believer in market forces - everything from scooters being sold out everywhere to the recent advances in solar tech, now that it's economically competitive with oil.
posted by rhys at 12:48 PM on May 22, 2008


Wouldn't this trend make anarchists and libertarians happy? Forcing people to stay local, look to private solutions for basic needs, break the back of the state, and all?

In the short term we will see... well,,, what we are seeing now. Only more of it. The state will step in hand help the wealthy with bail-outs. And to pay for that they will inflate currency and goods, tax the shit out of you, and seize your assets. Assets most people don't truly own anyway. We will see more wars. Not less. Wars that will get increasingly difficult and expensive to fight until we just can't anymore.

The long term? I don't know. One thing is sure. Is there a silver lining? Global warming may not be as big of an issue with most of the planet no longer burning huge and growing amounts of fossil fuels.

Does it look like... Mexico? Brooklyn? Amsterdam? Sub-Saharan Africa? How do we prepare without simply stockpiling food and ammo? How have you prepared?

How did "prepare." I moved from a 6000 square foot living space located 15 miles from where I worked to a 2000 square foot living space with in walking distance to where I work. I change my expectations and perceptions of what the 'good" life is. I eliminated as much non-business related debt as I could. I buy all my food locally produced and organic. I don't buy a bunch of bullshit stuff.

Selfishly? I also bought oil futures and switched very fund I had over to Euro based funds. I made a bunch of money. Too late for that for most of you.


Twenty years ago, we were all afraid of war with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Fucking Union. Who were so upside down they didn't realize (or care, or understand) that there was oil in them there steppes. Now the Soviets are gone, Europe is buying oil from its former enemies, and I live in the Seattle area, surrounded by smarty-smart Russian programmers whose children play soccer with my children.


CPB. THINK about that. Think about what you just wrote. You're defeating your own point.

Who was the collapse of the Soviet Union good for? Certainly not the Russian people. Millions are now thrust into extreme poverty with no social umbrella. Their system is now almost completely corrupt and run by crime syndicates and oligarchs. Sure. The Soviet system was not exactly warm fuzzy by any stretch. But LOOK what happened to them. The country broke up. And do you know why? It's not just becuase of the failure of the centralized economy. It was also because of the failure of energy growth competing with the west. They hit PEAK until the discovery of their new reserves after the break up . And even with that, even with Moscow having more billionaires per capital than any other city a growing swath of the population in falling into greater poverty and a greater rate than ever.

If any of that happened here how is that a cause for celebration or optimism? Why are we so immune to history? We are not special. Just hoping for the best won't do shit my friend.

The point I'm making is you don't have go very far back in history to see things DON'T always work out. You're theory omits tremendous upheavals in human history that have caused million to die and civilizations to fall. We don't have to go back to the Inca or Aztec. I am 45 years old. I remember stuff too.

Things DON'T always get better.
posted by tkchrist at 12:53 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


cool papa bell & tkchrist--the USSR also broke up b/c it spent too much money on its overextended military, let its infrastructure rot, did not invest in its long-term technological, educational, economic well-being, and was ruled by a group of hyper-secretive, reactionary insiders who felt the country was immune to collapse: sound familiar?
posted by ornate insect at 1:13 PM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


cool papa bell & tkchrist--the USSR also broke up b/c it spent too much money on its overextended military, let its infrastructure rot, did not invest in its long-term technological, educational, economic well-being, and was ruled by a group of hyper-secretive, reactionary insiders who felt the country was immune to collapse: sound familiar?

Don't worry. Some how OUR secretive wasteful plundering insiders will help everything work out for the best.

BTW. Those same people are still in charge of Russia.

It kills me that people who always see things as "just getting better" only use the the rather narrow framework and timespan of their own extraordinarily privileged life spans as the metric. Like the average American is frigg'n immune from history.

Will things "get better" in the LONG long long run. Okay. Sure. I can go there. Yes I believe in humanity. In a three to four hundred years things will be better than they are today. I really believe that.

But in terms of our life spans, the life times of our children and thier grand children... there are no guarantees. In fact ALL signs point to things in a steady decline if we don't change.

Crossing your fingers and hoping some other person, or some future society, will work out the waste and selfish destruction YOUR way of life has wrought is just cognitive dissonance.
posted by tkchrist at 1:25 PM on May 22, 2008


Cool Papa Bell-

Yes, human ingenuity is a cool thing that has gotten us out of lots of jams before. It will probably get us out of this one somehow, with some amount of discomfort (Who suffers? HOw much?). The ironic thing is, though, human ingenuity only works when people care about problems enough to try solving them. So go ahead and cavalierly dismiss the issues in front of us, and feel smug about it. The people who (using their own ingenuity! Your favorite!) solve the problems will be the ones who are concerned and active about these issues. They won't be the ones who are using lazy logic and fuzzy optimism to rationalize their apathy. So be lazy if you want, but cut the sense of smug self superiority when you talk to people who are at least concerned about solving problem.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:26 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Firstly, some demands (like food, and perhaps for Americans, air travel and definitely car ownership) are inelastic. So, 10 years from now, the average per capita calorie intake may very well be 3900 -- but in order to afford those 3900 calories, the average American will need to forgo cable TV, long distance telephone service and non-emergency medical care. Also, a big chunk of that 3900 calories might be ramen noodles and nutrition shakes instead of T-bone steaks and baked potatoes.

The demands I mention are actually highly elastic. Just as one example, sure people have a floor of calories / day which they require and as you approach that point elasticity declines; but at our current consumption rate of 3900 calories / day we are far from that. 3000 would be the closer to the floor where elasticity of demand would decline, before that you are cutting out snacks and moving to lower calorie foods (less meat).

Returning to my request to give a timeline. 25 years? 10 years? 5 years? there must be some certaintly point at which our oil supply is exhausted, no substitutes are available, and the luxuries of the low energy world (air travel, cars, and plentiful food) decline. This is the doomsday scenario.

I disagree with the doomsday analysis. I believe that the market will generate subsitutes for petrolium and fossil fuels and the price of oil will ultimately retreat to 90-100/barrel. General economic growth will be lower over the next 10-15 years as we adjust; but not negative other than some recessions along the way. We may see a collapse of oil prices towards the end of this adjustment as supply outstrips demand.
posted by humanfont at 1:26 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have an official estimate of how many barrels of oil are burned each day by cars idling in traffic or at traffic signals? My guess is that it's in the tens of thousands, but I'd love to see an official estimate.

Meanwhile, yeah. If only there was a massive, inexhaustible clean energy source sitting ten kilometers under our feet.

If only there was another one in the form of a small planet orbiting the earth and dragging epic quantities of water around the globe every day which could be harnessed with underwater turbines.

Humans are really lazy, and pathetically short-sighted. Using up fossil fuel in the way we have is akin to tearing down your house for firewood in the first snowstorm of winter.
posted by mullingitover at 1:32 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Basically, while continuing to use lots of oil (gas etc) for our American selves, we have globalized, and that has meant that China and India have become wealthy enough to so that they too want and are building and buying cars (and of course filling the sky with emissions)...though there cars are not going to be SUVs, they will still be in the millions, given the demographics. thus, you can buy a Prius here; build more public transport, etc but the need for oil keeps growing, not just here but elsewhere in developing nations. They are not going to stay on their bikes because America tells them that we must save our reserves. The makers of the new very inexpensive car in India said recently that he expects to sell one million per year! that is a lot of gallons of fuel, no matter what MPG the cars get. ...and then, China
posted by Postroad at 1:38 PM on May 22, 2008


humanfront--ah, the invisible hand of the market! The market will correct itself, global capitalism will reign supreme, and all will be well in the land of nod. This unwavering faith in the "natural" order of the market that one sees expressed by many people, both explicitly and implictly, never ceases to amaze me. I'm no Cassandra, but I'm no Pollyanna either. The trouble with America is that it has subsidized the petro-industrial complex at the expense of future generations. The long-term economic viability of the current American model is very tenuous. The entire neocon doctrine, as played out in the mideast, in the Enron affair, in the recent tremors on Wall Street and in the housing market, and as spelled out by the PNAC, can be seen as a last-gasp effort to shore up global oil resources, and the result of eight years of Bushonomics is that we now face the very real prospect of something like bankruptcy. Given this instability, consider what another Katrina-style hurricane might do. The real problem is that the neocon nightmare of the past eight years was predicated on a implied notion of infinite economic elasticity and exceptionalism: i.e. on the ability of the American economy to bounce-back every time. We shall see, we shall see.
posted by ornate insect at 1:41 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


@humanfont: I disagree with the doomsday analysis. I believe that the market will generate subsitutes for petrolium and fossil fuels and the price of oil will ultimately retreat to 90-100/barrel. General economic growth will be lower over the next 10-15 years as we adjust; but not negative other than some recessions along the way. We may see a collapse of oil prices towards the end of this adjustment as supply outstrips demand.

I'm with you. And not with Bora's plans, among other things, to learn how to shoot and clean squirrels and whatnot. We Westerners are pushing the panic button because China, India and other third-world countries are finally managing to improve their standard of living. That's putting us into an oil crunch, and as the world finds a new balancing point, we might not see much growth in the West.

But, half the oil there was to begin with is still in the ground. It will last a long, long time. As it gets scarcer and perhaps even more expensive, it will eventually be used only for "higher" uses like plastics rather than fuel. Much, much faster than building more nuclear plants, developing ANWR, or other attempt to maintain the status quo in energy consumption, market forces will encourage a rapid switch to more rapid transit usage, more carpooling, more efficient vehicles, much more energy efficiency at home (changed all those lightbulbs yet?), etc. There's money to be made in all of that, which is why it will happen, faster than you think.
posted by beagle at 1:51 PM on May 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


I disagree with the doomsday analysis. I believe that the market will generate subsitutes for petrolium and fossil fuels and the price of oil will ultimately retreat to 90-100/barrel.

Absurd, psuedo-religious faith in the power of the market and SCIENCE! wasn't a good argument when Julian Simon was offering it, and it isn't now, either.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


We shall see, we shall see.

I don't sense that the outcome will be as dire as the media would have us believe, but I do feel that some smart people in the energy and finance sectors who have pointed to the problem ahead of time have had interestingly accurate things to say about the scope and nature of the effects of this problem. Those people bear paying attention to.

I also believe that eight years of awfully foolish and inept leadership has not given the public much reason to be as blindly optimistic as some of the naysayers in this thread. Psychologically, I can see why it is difficult to disassociate a pessimistic long-term view from the stupid people currently in charge, who are openly damaging the country's long-term survival prospects.

Perhaps a change in leadership that brings in competent, humane, non-secretive, non-corrupt visionaries will go a long way to not only help make the necessary policy changes, but also — and perhaps more importantly — help inspire optimism in the public, to inspire us to make the necessary lifestyle changes to come.

Only seven more months to go, thank God.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2008


Economic Toll Mounts From High Oil Prices
posted by ornate insect at 2:06 PM on May 22, 2008


Hope.
posted by 517 at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2008


One of the reasons for optimism is the huge inefficiencies in our transportation system.

Look at all the one-passenger daily commuting.

If the price of gasoline ticks high enough, we'd at least get some of these inefficiencies squeezed out of the system.

In a perfectly efficient car pooling system where each car has four passengers, we'd reduce gasoline usage by what? 50%?

And if we're talking $300/barrel, this will more than make the economic case for tar sand development and shale oil. How many bbls of oil would these sources produce?
posted by storybored at 2:39 PM on May 22, 2008


ornate insect: "There are two trul prophetic presidential speeches in the second half of the 20th century that really matter, and both of them have been ignored: with disasterous consequences.

The first was Eisenhower's famous 1/17/61 "military industrial complex" speech (see here ), and the other is less well remembered: it is Carter's 4/18/77 speech on his energy policy (you can read the full transcript here).

So there you have it: 30 years ago Carter was sounding the alarm about Peak Oil.
"

And yet the RNC's newest web video against Obama says this:

VO: As American families face higher prices at the pump, Barack Obama opposes immediate relief and lower taxes on fuel. What Obama has proposed are new tax increases that reduce oil production, increase dependence on foreign oil and hurt consumers.

Obama: "I think it is appropriate for us to impose a windfall profit tax on our oil companies."

VO: Obama's proposals have been tried before...

Carter: "Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay."

VO: Sound familiar? The last time this was tried, domestic oil production dropped by 5% and US reliance on foreign oil increased by 10%. Is this the kind of change America needs? Barack Obama... Out of touch.... And not ready to be President.


Of course, what they conveniently fail to mention is that Carter was elected just after American domestic oil production peaked circa 1970. The United States was fated to produce less oil and depend more on foreign reserves because our home reserves were literally running dry. His conservationist policies and alternative energy goals were farsighted and prescient, and yet the RNC is twisting it into the cause of our oil shocks and using that lie to tar Obama's policies.

Oh, and I tried leaving a comment to this effect on the video, but all comments are moderated (read: only anti-Obama comments are allowed through the filter).
posted by Rhaomi at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2008


Rhaomi--the RNC is twisting the facts? Color me shocked.

The problem is that the Bush administration, as has been noted many times by many people, is more in the pocket of the oil industry than any administration in history. Anyone expecting a proactive energy policy from Republicans at this point, after eight years of failed Bush policy, is deluded. Will Obama do everything that is needed to really get us on the road to a viable and sustainable long-term energy policy? The answer is "maybe, maybe not," but that's a hell of a lot more promising than "definitely not" (as would be the answer in the case of McCain). And I'm not trying to score political points here either, btw, but rather just being realistic.
posted by ornate insect at 3:19 PM on May 22, 2008


Absurd, psuedo-religious faith in the power of the market and SCIENCE! wasn't a good argument when Julian Simon was offering it, and it isn't now, either.

No just simple facts. We will consume less oil as the price rises. There is a price point at which an alternative to oil is possible despite the lower energy density. The math I've seen is that it is about $90-$100/barrel. This is without any fancy breakthroughs in technology. You just calculate the cost per watt of solar, geothermal, wind, nuclear, biofuels, etc; and the costs of saving a watt of usage and you get a price. At some price of oil the alternatives are cost effective and we all adjust. If the natural price of oil is 10,000 / barrel, then we will have nothing left over for basic survival and we're looking at doomsday. However in the business plans I've read most alternative engergy schemes are profitable at $100/ barrel. So it seems to me that this is the natural price point. We just have to go out and build it. Having seen investors throw trillions at building houses in farm fields in the middle of nowhere, and dot com companies with no real revenues; I'm quite confident the capital will be there to build out the new energy infrastructure. It is already happening, T. Boone Pickens, a legendary oil man is building the largest windfarm in the world.
posted by humanfont at 3:24 PM on May 22, 2008


Oh Market Forces! Are there any problems you can't solve!?!

When you begin examining the scope and scale of our energy and related economic problems the last thing you want to do is rely on the same market forces that CREATED these problems. Sure it's fine for the people on the top of the economic ladder. They have the real assets to wait the thing out. Their hard assets will inflate in value while our cash based savings become deflated. You and I don't have the luxury of waiting for market corrections. Not unless you are rich.

The problem is this: expensive energy and our consumer economy that completely relied on cheap energy.

Drill this in to your heads: When we stopped backing our dollar with gold we then began essentially backing our dollar on oil - the petrodollar. Now that nobody is interested in the dollar and now that WE don't export oil and all the cheap imported oil is drying up the US has nothing left to offer the word but more worthless paper with dead presidents and this protection racket called US military intervention.


Our market created the collusion ( and collision) of all these forces and the market only fixes things AFTER they become problems. Some of these problems it can't fix. Not before people, most of whom you won't know and you won't care bout fucking DIE. THIS is the problem with the market. the market has ZERO foresight. Many times it's cures are WORSE than the disease.

The market won't care if you have health care. It won't care if your children can't find good jobs or have clean water. Oil companies and global corporations have no national allegiances. In a world of seven billion people, human labor is not worth anything anymore . There are too many people for corporations to give a shit about what happens to you, American. There is always somebody else.

Putting all your faith in the systems that have created this mess is idiotic. You don't rate. Your welfare does not matter as long as there are a couple other billion people out there more desperate than you. hey. That's a market force!
posted by tkchrist at 3:28 PM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Our market created the collusion ( and collision) of all these forces and the market only fixes things AFTER they become problems. Some of these problems it can't fix.

Tautological, and stupid.

Absurd, psuedo-religious faith in the power of the market and SCIENCE! wasn't a good argument when Julian Simon was offering it, and it isn't now, either.

Ha! Every year (excepting a few hiccups) solar and wind get closer to grid parity. Every year unconventional liquids production increases, and now, thanks to triple-digit-oil (and good seismic), it's economical to find and develop a deposit that's buried beneath 7,000 meters of brine, salt, and sand. It's not "pseudo-religious faith," it's nothing more than high prices turning the uneconomical into the economical.

Anyone expecting a proactive energy policy from Republicans at this point, after eight years of failed Bush policy, is deluded.


True, but given that festering atrocity of a "farm bill" that just bulleted right through Bush's veto, well, the rank-and-file democrats are living in glass houses on this one.

3000 would be the closer to the floor where elasticity of demand would decline, before that you are cutting out snacks and moving to lower calorie foods

Yeah, but I hope we don't have to bike or walk too much when we run out of oil!

yet the RNC is twisting it into the cause of our oil shocks and using that lie to tar Obama's policies.

Clearly the shock itself is not the fault of high prices but a windfall tax is political theater and a gruesome idea that won't solve any problems, Hugo.

The discoveries decline year over year, no one is building new rigs, etc, etc.

Wha? Plenty of people are building new rigs, and day rates are sky-high because E&P is profitable again.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:13 PM on May 22, 2008


One gallon weighing a few pounds will carry you 40 miles in air conditioned comfort in a very small car. That's the limit of current electric cars, and they carry hundreds of pounds of batteries.

I blame Toyota for a lot of our problems. They should have waited until gas hit $4/gal to introduce their new fangled ideas. But, Nooooo. They had to be far sighted and do it when gas was under $2/gal. and everyone made fun of them and their kinky little trailer. Which by the way would charge your batteries with gas, diesel, propane or even compressed air. I just love short term thinking.
Link
posted by notreally at 4:15 PM on May 22, 2008


So. Kwanstar. Are you claiming the Market will fix all?
posted by tkchrist at 4:46 PM on May 22, 2008


Are you claiming the Market will fix all?

As is often said, the free market will for any problem always find a solution that is in some sense economically optimal. Sometimes the solution thus arrived at involves millions of people starving to death. Ah well, it's not like many governments can do better. A recession is when your neighbour loses his job, and a depression is when you and your neighbour both lose your jobs. I'm expecting the next few years to be more like the former.

Horza: "plant a garden this spring. No more excuses. Learn how."

While I'm not so pessimistic as to think this will confer any meaningful survival advantage, I planted some seeds anyway. Little green plants are growing up just like they're supposed to. I don't think the end of anything is particularly nigh, even though peak oil is, but it is nonetheless reassuring to see this delicious evidence of the bounteous nature of the earth.
posted by sfenders at 5:15 PM on May 22, 2008


Oil Price Spike Has Wide Economic Impact -- "If oil prices go much higher, damage to the U.S. economy will be worse than fallout from the run-up so far."
posted by ericb at 5:25 PM on May 22, 2008


Their hard assets will inflate in value while our cash based savings become deflated. You and I don't have the luxury of waiting for market corrections. Not unless you are rich.

Well you could have gotten a home equity loan at a fixed rate, and then poured it into a portfolio based on commodities positions like the rest of us. Now you savings would be growing because your debt would be shrinking in value every month; because of inflation. Shit, they gave Casey Serin 2 million dollars. Wern't you paying attention? For heavens sake, you are a gold bug, the the last 4 years with commodities is your broken clock moment. If after all that has transpired you are poor; then I think you demonstrate why we shouldn't trust your instincts with monotary policy.

Our market created the collusion ( and collision) of all these forces and the market only fixes things AFTER they become problems. Some of these problems it can't fix. Not before people, most of whom you won't know and you won't care bout fucking DIE. THIS is the problem with the market. the market has ZERO foresight. Many times it's cures are WORSE than the disease.

Or we could have big government programs to try solve the 1970s energy crisis which had pretty much resolved itself through market forces by 1983-1984. All that money that went to develop the computer and consumer electronics industries could have been taxed and diverted by the government into a government run alternative energy program. Of course because it is a massive government program instead of a investor driven market billions would have ended up at Billy Carter's ethanol refinery; or Cheney's Haliburton while actual innovators got left in the cold. Just like the moon program funded the defense companies and left us with a failed manned space program. In your scenario more people still starve and no one has an iPhone or the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. As evidence I present China's great leap forward.


I blame Toyota for a lot of our problems. They should have waited until gas hit $4/gal to introduce their new fangled ideas. But, Nooooo. They had to be far sighted and do it when gas was under $2/gal. and everyone made fun of them and their kinky little trailer.

And now the market is rewarding Toyota by making them the largest automaker in the world. The smart people at Toyota who were forward thinking will have loads of cash they can use to start new companies, or bring new products to market. God I love capitalism.
posted by humanfont at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2008


the market has ZERO foresight

....if this is the case then why have the stocks of home builders and mortgage companies been falling recently?
posted by storybored at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2008


the market has ZERO foresight
>>....if this is the case then why have the stocks of home builders and mortgage companies been falling recently?

That's hindsight.
posted by msalt at 6:12 PM on May 22, 2008


Heh, I suppose you could argue that is in fact hindsight. I would say the reason why the prices *remain* low is because people don't expect a rally in the housing market any time soon.

Doesn't this make sense? People who buy stocks are thinking about what's likely going to happen in the future. They don't see an easy road ahead, hence the price of these stocks remain low.

The market has foresight because the market participants are weighing the possible futures.
posted by storybored at 7:22 PM on May 22, 2008


So. Kwanstar. Are you claiming the Market will fix all?

Eventually, yes, depending on how one defines "fix". I'm not sure we're at peak production, but we probably are or will be soon, and the market will continue to ration by willingness and ability to pay. That means:
1. Pain for consumers.
2. Some unsavory people and regimes will get even richer off of Western money.
3. Pain for the environment.
4. A lot of bad, ethanol-type Washington stupidity that makes things worse than they need to be.

On the other hand:
1. Pressure on China to float its currency and discontinue subsidizing petrol will intensify, mitigating at least two problems.
2. Pemex and PDVSA (among others), dollar signs in their eyes, will re-engage IOCs as contractors, bringing some supply back on to the market, and buying the world some more time to adjust.
3. Unconventional production will be accelerated.
4. Thrifting will continue in obvious ways (carpools, etc) and less obvious ways (consumer goods moving over rails, rather than roads).

Essentially, global resources (land, labor, and capital) will leave other industries and gravitate toward the energy industry, meaning that more of man's productive efforts will be spent fighting to stay even, rather than get ahead.

All this sucks, but given our (global and US) coal reserves, I'm not worried about everyone freezing to death. I'm worried about a long and difficult adjustment period where we all (except for the energy-rich nations) get poorer.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2008


Can one rearrange the letters of 'Bora Horza Gobuchul' to spell 'James Howard Kunstler'?
posted by Wash Jones at 8:08 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


...the free market will for any problem always find a solution that is in some sense economically optimal. Sometimes the solution thus arrived at involves millions of people starving to death.

That's refreshingly honest.
posted by Avenger at 8:17 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can one rearrange the letters of 'Bora Horza Gobuchul' to spell 'James Howard Kunstler'?
posted by Wash Jones at 10:08 PM


James Howard Kunstler
posted by jaronson at 8:39 PM on May 22, 2008


Bora's comment is excellent. See also: Collapse Preparedness - lessons from the USSR, linked on Metafilter some time ago.
posted by BinGregory at 8:41 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'm so sorry. Meant to give you the direct link, not my blog. Here it is.
posted by BinGregory at 8:46 PM on May 22, 2008


Hah! No insult taken, Wash... I do read JHK (and am looking forward to his new book). To me, he's a little too acerbic... and he's tended to say some questionable things about the Middle East. But I've very much enjoyed his work on New Urbanism, and The Long Emergency was a good read. So I think I'm going to take the comparison as a measured compliment. :-)

I think... I hope, at least... that the impression that I give is that I do wish for things turn out for the best. I don't have much optimism for that, but I do hope that I'm wrong. We've talked about "doomer porn" in the past, and there is a temptation to be excessively gleeful about shit-canning human civilization. For all their downsides, I'd rather have a (sustainably populated) world with a (environmentally responsible) Phoenix Cola and Burger Fuel than a world without them.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:01 PM on May 22, 2008


No just simple facts. We will consume less oil as the price rises. There is a price point at which an alternative to oil is possible despite the lower energy density. The math I've seen is that it is about $90-$100/barrel. This is without any fancy breakthroughs in technology. You just calculate the cost per watt of solar, geothermal, wind, nuclear, biofuels, etc; and the costs of saving a watt of usage and you get a price.

ARGGGHHHH!

This is flawed thinking on so many levels, and is exactly the kind of thing economics as a "science" is rightly mocked for.

Okay, lets say you have some cost per watt at small scales. You can generate an equivalent number of joules of energy for the same capital investment at some existing scale in, say, wind. Okay, great, until you realize that there are only so many parts of the planet for which wind is feasible. Solar has the same issue. As does geothermal. Or hydroelectric. Pretty much the only thing that can generate power anywhere (physically speaking) is nuclear (good luck selling the locals on it though).

Lets just say, for the sake of argument, your happy market forces start pushing us to exploit all of these vigorously. They have to do so very quickly, because they all (at the moment) are using a great deal of oil to be set up. Just producing the copper and aluminum to build solar panels and wind turbines consumes a great deal of oil. All of these alternatives require, at the moment, a great deal of the stuff they're aiming to replace. We need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it's getting. Thanks free market!

Lets just say that the market vigorously pursues these. So now we've got Arizona and New Mexico carpeted in solar installations, and wind turbines off much of the coasts, geothermal where possible, hydro on the rivers that hippies were stalling us on. How are you going to get this electrical potential in the middle of nowhere powering trains across the midwest, propelling ships across the sea, or even keeping the lights on in New York. All joules are not created equal, and oil was convenient in a way we are never going to see again.

The fact is that a lot of things need to change for this incredible crossover to take place. I think it's possible, but I seriously doubt the free market will find it's way here. The longer we wait, the harder that transition will be. I think this is an excellent example of regulation's place in government. Lets get the visible hand moving.
posted by phrontist at 10:21 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


As is often said, the free market will for any problem always find a solution that is in some sense economically optimal.

It may be often said, but it's not often thought through--as it is at best a misleading and jingoistic sentiment, and at worst patently untrue. The phrase "free market," if it is to be something other than an empty buzzword for eager initiates into the Heritage Foundation or Libertarianism 101, has to refer to something. What does it refer to? Presumably, if there are "free" markets, there are unfree ones. One might further assume unfree ones to be those in which meddlesome governments interfered with, altered, manipulated or profoundly shaped the markets, which is exactly what we have in the good old US of A. This was made especially clear in the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout, and is also clear if one sees the degree to which the Pentagon's obscene budgets are so thoroughly enmeshed with contractors, munitions makers, and other plutocratic interests as to be a veritable war profiteering complex. If being a "free" market means corporate welfare, manipulating the California energy market through Enron, bailing out Wall Street, subsidizing the boys at KBR and Blackwater, and conspiring between Big Oil and Detroit automakers to kill the electric car, I want no part of it. The current system plays more like one in which large corporations are routinely both explicitly and implicitly favored, and feed from the a collective trough supplied to them by the court along the Potomac. This is no free market, it's as rigged as an election at Tamany Hall.
posted by ornate insect at 10:41 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe oil is renewable. Although at a much, much slower rate than we use it.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:18 PM on May 22, 2008


Of course, we could all go nuclear, too.
Funny you would say that, CPB, since, well, Iran has been trying to do that since, well, the early 70s, and everybody seems to think it's a baaaad idea. And i'm not talking about green activists here.
posted by vivelame at 1:13 AM on May 23, 2008


Even peak oil debunking sites acknowledge that the supply is finite, and a peak will occur

If only that was always the case - abiogenic theory of oil.
posted by nfg at 4:12 AM on May 23, 2008


Ok guys I'm getting to this late (We saw Einstürzende Neubauten at The London Forum last night ... didn't get home until 3AM so ...) and I don't have a definitive view on the IEA report (other than great post nasreddin) but I'd like to make a few points on this from a Capital Markets perspective.

Many believe we're seeing a classic asset bubble with oil prices now. There are two key drivers of this price surge that seem to be largely responsible for the price spike observed in the market - retail money and the ole' boogeyman, Hedge Funds. When I say 'key' I mean factors that are driving volatility in this market, not longer term, demand increases (i.e., China, India demand) which would cause an smoother increase in the demand side.

First of all retail: there are several ETFs ( Exchange Traded Funds) that are allow retail money to take a view on oil. Just a few (tickers in parenthesis): There are others, and undoubtedly several more being formed & launched.

Every newspaper article you read talking about the increase in oil prices drives money to these funds. They typically assume positions in Oil by purchasing nearby (i.e., shortest time to maturity) NYMEX Futures contracts, with the exception of USL which is active in One year (12 month) contracts.

That's the first driver - lots and lots of retail money being poured into this sector.

Second driver - Hedge Funds.

While futures contracts traded on NYMEX and other exchanges are (heavily) regulated and tracked, there are a large number of OTC contracts traded by Hedge Funds and other Institutional class investors. These are exempt from Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) regulation, but are written so they are economically identical to the NYMEX futures contracts.

The FPP I made recently about "dark pools of liquidity" is almost applicable here, but substitute "Commodity Futures" for "US Equities". There is a fair amount of trading going on that CFTC doesn't see and can't regulate.

The current situation isn't a surprise to lots of people, the US Government included.

During the Summer of 2006 Senators Levin & Coleman (at that time Ranking Minority Member and Chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations) released a report [.pdf] which found "that market speculation has contributed to rising oil and gasoline prices, and that too many energy trades are occurring without regulatory oversight.".

Key findings (Levin/Coleman 2006): I'll leave it to you folks to peruse the pdf for their recommendations (all fair and well balanced IMHO).

So there you go - this spike shouldn't be a surpised. The US Government most certainly knew about this issue. Many folks in finance did as well. I also remember Levin expressing some frustration that the media hadn't picked up on this report, maybe September 2006.


Ok, but now my interest - asset bubbles.

I've seen some research (unfortunately dead tree so I can't link) recently from Lehman Brothers where they're siding towards asset bubble. Some of the numbers are compelling - commodity index funds have grown from $70B in 2006 to roughly $235B today, with some $90B of money being added in past six months.

That's a serious amount of cash to chase a limited commodity.

I've read some industry research hypothesizing oil is currently overpriced by 60% or so, but this isn't my area of research so I don't have a view which doesn't reflect personal opinion.

Finally, earlier this week a bunch of guys were short July delivery and got nailed, big time. Classic short squeeze, and their buying activity (to cover the short side) also contributed to the push abover $135.

A funny thing about bubbles is it's difficult to predict when they'll deflate. But they always do. This one might get bigger before it bursts, but it will deflate at some point.

I'm not going to speculate on fair value - I'm not active in this asset class, and don't really know this market - but I do know there are some professional commodity traders here on MeFi, and I'm hoping they'll join in (I'm mailed a couple to let them know about this thread).
posted by Mutant at 5:08 AM on May 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


A funny thing about bubbles is it's difficult to predict when they'll deflate. But they always do. This one might get bigger before it bursts, but it will deflate at some point.

If this is really a bubble, it's hard to guess exactly how far it might continue. No doubt the speculative flows into the commodity index funds have contributed to the price rise, but $235 billion is still small change compared to the money that's gone into some other recent asset price bubbles. Still, commodities are by their nature at least a bit less susceptible to this than most things, so it seems unlikely that things will go all that far. The physical reality of demand and supply must catch up pretty quickly to long futures speculators. Of course it is still rather unclear to what extent the future balance of consumption and production will turn out to validate the rise in prices; it might be that Boone Pickens is right after all, in which case the bubble might come to a temporary end without any big decline in prices.

I suspect that the oil price decline of 2006 was the result of another case of speculation pushing prices ahead of where they should've been, and that decline turned out to be relatively short-lived. Same thing could happen again, perhaps on a larger scale with the changes since then. The recent move to contango is often pointed to as one sign of excessive speculative demand; it's happened only over the past couple of weeks, and the curve in the near months is still nowhere near as steep as it was in late 2005 iirc. So, if this be a bubble, it may have some more room to grow, and I think almost everyone would concede the possibility that it is a bubble on top of a longer-term price trend that is already rising for other reasons. We will have to wait and see if production can step up to put a slightly more permanent end to it, as it well might even if it's the still relatively optimistic IEA that turns out to be closest to correct.
posted by sfenders at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2008


Ah thanks for posting the blog sfenders, interesting read.

I realise that I posted some ETFs retail folks can use to go long (i.e., buy hoping for prices to increase), but if anyone is looking to short this market there is, of course, an ETF for you - UltraShort Oil & Gas ProShares.

I like this fund as they non diversified, expenses are reasonable (about 0.95%) and, best of all, assets are leveraged two to one; in other words, the folks managing the fund are not only short, but they've borrowed to magnify the funds profits, should oil indeed decline in price.

Leverage, of course, works both ways, so it would be far easier to lose money to the upside; caveat emptor and all. In fact the fund has performed very badly, losing about 46% of value YOY.

Finally, if you're long this market and don't want the volatility that goes along with holding the commodity, there are vehicles that let you buy & sell the firms building & maintaining the infrastructure.

Oil Services Holders (OIH) is an ETF with each share holding an interest in an basket of firms providing services to oil companies.

I've been watching it with much the same interest as we looked at the performance of shares in commercial property (a canary if there ever was one, this sector almost always collapses before the market itself) to gauge the overall health of the real estate sector.

Seems like once OIH starts to tank the party will soon be over, at least that's my own, idiosyncratic view.

Ah disclaimer time: I don't trade nor do I hold any of the ETFs I've listed. I'm a cash flow investor, not only do I prefer the security and regularity of monthly dividend cheques, I'm currently earning about 11.75% current yield and that's enough for me. I learned long ago the folks that get greedy in this business lose money (yah, I got greedy, learned my lesson). Besides, this way I can sit back and watch all the excitement. I expect there to be a fair amount of emotion surrounding this commodity sooner rather than later. That being said, I am opportunistic, and if I spot a sure thing I don't hesitate to deploy capital ... that's why I track these ETFs.
posted by Mutant at 8:16 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


re: alternatives for oil at the $90-100 range

Sigh. Is this kinda like how the Canadian Tar Sands would be profitable at $30 oil? Oh, wait, a lot of electricity generators have turbines for oil or natural gas, so if one's locally expensive they can substitute for the other. And as a result, natural gas and oil are somewhat linked in price. Oh, and steel has been going up in price too, and the same with rubber. Plus, it takes fuel to run those monster mining machines. It's difficult finding decent links, as news articles disappear all the time, but there's an expansion for the Athabasa tar sands - 150,000 barrels per day. Originally in 2003 it was supposed to cost 4.5billion. Then in 2005 the costs soared to 7.4 billions, and in 2006 I had seen articles about it topping 10 billion.

In order to make steel, one needs high quality coal. Steel making coal in 2004 was $51 per tonne. In 2008, april 1, a contract for coal was signed at $305 per tonne. That's just shy of 600% in 4.4 years. Oh, price for ore has also gone up. Most energy projects are going to require non-trivial amounts of steel.

Ok, let's just assume that it's up and working, and everything's hunky dory and they're profitable at $41.85 (wikipedia noted an estimated profitability at 27.85 and included an (no longer around) url that said since 2005 continued production costs went up 55%). Do you think they're selling it for 41.85 for the good of their hearts? No, they're selling it for a slight discount of standard crude prices. The same for oil shale - it's always been around the corner as soon as Oil hit's $35 per barrel. Shell still claims it can do shale at $35 per barrel. But where's the large scale build up?

1 bbl is 42 us gallons. the world right now produces about $85million bbl of liquid fuels (sigh, ethanol included, (with the ramp up of ethanol, one might wonder why this number has pretty much stayed the same for 3 years). That's 3.5 billion gallons. A day. That is an enormous scale.

And yes, we don't need one bullet to take up all oil usage, but whyTF aren't all of these viable sources of oil-equivalent at $35/bbl not showing up/starting? Heck, OPEC says that they're now planning on supporting the $60-80 price range; so in theory they'll pull oil off the market if the price drops below $60 . That means $35 is a really safe bet. However, if the "sure things" don't scale up past 10 gallons in the laboratory, or they have assumptions which are related to the costs of energy (see above for steel).

It's all going to be a self feeding cycle that slowly works through the economy. The price for sources of energy is going up, and that's driving up costs for everything. Something that might have been viable at $35/bbl might now only be viable at $140/bbl oil plus initial investment costs. And when oil is at $180 making the $140 look good, the project might now need $200/bbl plus larger initial investment costs.

Maybe look at it from the typical supply/demand nature. Energy is somewhat fungible. There's only so much available each day, and the price will behave for supply/demand. That much makes sense to most people. But for any source of energy, one has to consider how much energy is needed to initially start it up, and to continue to keep making it. Initially oil returned about 100 energy units per 1 invested. Right now, it returns between 30 and 10, depending on the well. Tar sands do about 3, and corn-based ethanol depending on who's doing the calcs provides between 0.7 and 1.4 . Unless these new sources of energy are providing more energy returned per amount invested than oil, they will just continue to follow an increasing horizon of almost being affordable comparable to oil. Also, as oil continues to get harder to find/extract the last bits of it, expect it to start paying off 5-15 units of energy per amount invested. Which either means same total end energy, but more used to produce the energy in the first place, and thus less for consumers, or less output and same inputs, and again less for consumers. Oil was a great ride, but unless we can find something new which a huge energy reward the system's going to start winding down.

The only thing which will really help, is if there's more energy than is needed, and the supply/demand curve starts to work for consumers. But at that point we start looking at scale. Again, Canadian tar sands aren't ramping up with any speed necessary. And so far aren't any other energy sources. Even if we removed permitting issues, and commisioned 1000 new nuclear power plants in the US and Canada, how long would it take to build them? They use lots of concrete and steel, and it takes a lot of energy to build concrete and steel.

The short version of this, is if there's viable sources of energy that would be viable with oil staying above $35/bbl where is it. OPEC has pledged a floor of $60 (altho they've done a crap job that ceiling of $80) per barrel, so the alternatives *should* be flooding the market.

... any day now ... hmmm, I don't think I'll cross my fingers for luck rather than holding my breath.
posted by nobeagle at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm currently earning about 11.75% current yield...

Not at my bank you aren't! Where are you finding this nice number without substantial risk?
posted by IndigoJones at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2008


IndigoJones -- "Not at my bank you aren't! Where are you finding this nice number without substantial risk?"

Ha I'd hate to (again) see the day when a bank pays that much! Although during the last bought we had with inflation bank CD rates were approaching 20%.

No, I'm active in high yield myself, sure lots of risk but if you track holdings and hold multiple positions you'll be diversified enough and shouldn't see significant losses.

I got interested in this style of investing back when Drexel was still around, read a Forbes article - the cover story was "Michael Miliken's marvelous money machine" and sorta segued into doing this after a disastrous bout with stock picking. So now I trade solely for cash flow.

Less than 12% yield is actually sorta conservative compared to some folks I know. The entire high yield sector got whacked big time last summer, everyone fled to US Treasuries, yields on junk bonds (what we're talking about here) spiked, lots of retail money got scared off the entire idea of high yield. Well, like as I've said before, the time to buy something is when nobody else wants it. So 12% is relatively low, by comparison to what you could get if one were very reckless - for example, some of those RMK funds are paying almost 40% (RHY) or about 35% (RMA) current yield.

But you've got to track NAV (net asset value) carefully in an ETF; RHY is currently trading at about 14% premium to NAV (meaning you're paying $1.14 for $1.00 worth of income producing assets), while RMA is trading at a slight discount.

So sorta a long answer to your query; no, that current yield I quoted isn't on a bank deposit. It's on high yield. I've mentioned being active in that sector several times On MeFi before and I still think there is some value there. Munis look good as well, but again you've got to be very, very very selective in this market (usually just very, very but this is a strange market) .

please don't buy anything I mentioned in this post. It was purely for illustrative purposes, I don't own either of those funds nor do I intend to purchase...not all high yield was created the same ...
posted by Mutant at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2008


Where would one learn more about these bond etfs?
posted by IronLizard at 10:10 AM on May 23, 2008


IronLizard -- "Where would one learn more about these bond etfs?"

ETF Connect has an on-line learning centre, it's actually pretty good. And they track a few other fairly decent resources as well.


They also provide daily pricing and track, by fund, lots of stats, one of the more important numbers being premium / discount to net asset value. Very important to watch that.

Overall, its an excellent resource.
posted by Mutant at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't tell whether my smugness over never having owned a car is overshadowed by my fury about all of those SUVs.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2008


Thank you again, Mutant, always enlightening. I actually remember that article. Thought the whole thing sounded interesting at the time, but requiring a larger stake than I had at the time. (The bank line was a joke of course. But these days, frankly, I could use some good yield. Mmmmmmmm, yield.

Strange times, very nervous making.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:14 AM on May 25, 2008


« Older BestFriendsAgain.com...   |   Fly high, little fish!... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments