Thursday, December 02, 2010

Religious Cults and Peak Oil: Contriving Doom

Unless we believe, preposterously, that human inventiveness and adaptability will cease the year the world reaches the peak annual output of
conventional crude oil, we should see that milestone (whenever it comes) as a challenging opportunity rather than as a reason for cult-like worries and paralyzing concerns. _Vaclav Smil "Peak Oil a Catastrophic Cult" 2006
Humans have invented all types of religions, from the Church of Satan to the Church of Holy Rollers to the Church of Global Conquest and Jihad. There is a religion for all tastes, but an uncommon number of religions contain the seeds of apocalypse and catastrophic doom.
Hubbert himself put the peak of global oil extraction between 1993 and 2000. In 1977 the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies forecast the global oil peak as early as 1990 and most likely between 1994 and 1997. In 1979 the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency believed that global output must fall within a decade. In the same year British Petroleum, the world’s second largest oil company, predicted the world production peak in 1985 and the total output in the year 2000 nearly 25 percent below that maximum. In reality, global oil output in the year 2000 was nearly 25 percent above the 1985 level! Some of the latest peak-oil proponents have already seen their forecasts fail:
Campbell’s first peak was to be in 1989, Ivanhoe’s peak was in 2000, Deffeyes had it in 2003 (and now, ridiculously, on Thanksgiving 2005). But they would argue that this makes no difference as that inevitable event will take place within months or years.Moreover, they claim that matters are now entirely different. _Vaclav Smil
The dates may change, but the dogma stays the same. Every jump in oil futures ratchets their faith upward. Every drop in price is a pitfall for the unwary.

Religions that are based upon doom should be careful about predicting dates. All of the prophets of peak oil and resource scarcity who have been so foolish as to set dates, have made themselves fools. As long as the doom is "out there" in a nebulous cloud of uncertainty, the prophet is safe to collect his alms from the faithful without anxiety of being found out as a fraud.

We are due for a number of economic shocks and collapses within the not-so-distant future. That is a safe prediction, judging from current trends in debt and demography for the developed world. Some developed nations which now exist may fail to exist in ten years time. Also a safe bet, when considering the current non-existence of Czechoslovakia, the USSR, East Germany, South Vietnam, etc.

Change is inevitable. Try to invest for a range of possible future changes which are either likely or somewhat probable. Otherwise you will have spent too much of your life amusing yourself in the circular jerkular world of mutually reinforced doom cult.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Some of the problem with simple predictions becoming cults is when an engineer describes a phenomenon, he uses certain language that doesn't translate over when a journalist with an agenda (i.e., hysteria or energy starvation) writes a book or article about it. For example, peak oil in Hubbert's description means a peak in production of conventional oil, but that is often made to sound like we're running out of oil when a more accurate description is that at the peak we're pumping more oil than ever before. Also, it says nothing for alternatives which are bound to appear when the price gets high enough for other opportunities. As you frequently report on, biomass/algae/seaweed/etc. all have potential to serve the same energy function in the future at the price oil has been at for the last several years.

2:16 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

True, and a lot of geologists and possibly engineers, seem to be willing to take advantage of public gullibility and ignorance to acquire a cult following, and lucrative second careers.

2:56 PM  

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