Monday, December 19, 2011

Weasels of Peak Oil Cults Scramble to Explain Absence of Doom

When the prophecies of doom cults fail to come true, some of the doomers wise up and drop out. Others tend to rationalise the absence of doom with increasingly far-fetched explanations. Eventually, they are apt to resort to suicide or the asylum for the terminally deluded.

A case in point is the peak oil cult, which predicted the onset of peak oil in 2005. Peak oil was supposed to be followed rapidly by a total collapse of civilisation, and a massive human But as the New Year's Eve parties come and go, and doom continues to fail to meet its appointment, these slippery weasels of the peak oil doom cult are forced to contrive the oddest explanations:
The point that has to be grasped just now, it seems to me, is that this is what peak oil looks like. Get past the fantasies of sudden collapse on the one hand, and the fantasies of limitless progress on the other, and what you get is what we're getting - a long ragged slope of rising energy prices, economic contraction, and political failure, punctuated with a crisis here, a local or regional catastrophe there, a war somewhere else - all against a backdrop of disintegrating infrastructure, declining living standards, decreasing access to health care and similar services, and the like, which of course has been happening here in the United States for some years already. ... those of us who still have jobs will be struggling to hang onto them, those who have lost their jobs will be struggling to stay fed and clothed and housed, and those crises and catastrophes and wars, not to mention the human cost of the broader background of decline, will throw enough smoke in the air to make a clear view of the situation uncommonly difficult to obtain. _Doom Is Normal Quoted in
Got that? The global recession has nothing to do with chronic debt, demographic decline, a dumbed down educational system, or incredibly bad governance. No, everything bad is due to peak oil -- and should now be called doom.

Sure, cults typically attract a high-strung, excitable type of person. But the peak oil cultists seem particularly narcissistic -- as if it is all about them and their cult.

Remember in the summer of 2008, as oil prices inexorably rose against all odds? Peak oil cultists were ecstatic, certain that their doom was on its way to redeem them from laughingstock status. But no, commodity prices collapsed -- as they have through numerous prior boom-bust cycles -- and economies tried to find their way back into growth territory.

But even as prices were dropping, some clever cultists began weaving an argument that the global recession was centered on peak oil. This chorus is being sung more widely and loudly as the recession drags on, and general economic conditions in Europe, the US, and many other nations, have failed to fully recover. Cultists claim that it is all about peak oil, and therefore dub it doom.

The central theme of the argument revolves around "high oil prices" and the demand destruction and generally depressive effect that "high oil prices" have on an economy. This substitution of "high oil prices" for disappearing oil supplies, was done quite deftly. And the substitution of "doom is normal" for a total collapse of civilisation, is also very cleverly done. Especially if it keeps the rubes on the reservation.

There is something about "doom" which is irreplaceable in a doom cult. But doom is also quite useful for other causes and enterprises.
"The apocalypse," wrote the German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 1978, "is aphrodisiac, nightmare, a commodity like any other ... warning finger and scientific forecast ... rallying cry ... superstition ... a joke ... an incessant production of our fantasy ... one of the oldest ideas of the human species. Its periodic ebb and flow ... has accompanied utopian thought like a shadow."

...In July, the word "apocalypse" appeared 60 times in British national newspapers. In August, 70 times. In September, 92 times. In November, 100 times.

...Enzensberger mocked the doom-mongers for their paranoia. "The apocalyptic metaphor promises relief from analytical thought," he wrote in 1978. "Everything is conceived of as a hidden sign ... of catastrophe." In previous eras, he wrote, people had imagined armageddon coming "as a bolt from the blue" – an act of God – but to the pessimists of the 70s, the end of the world "seems only to be a matter of time". Such foreboding also suggested a kind of vanity. "We all [like to] believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species," argued Michael Moyer, editor of Scientific American, in a special apocalypse-themed issue of the magazine last year. "Imagining the end of the world is nigh makes us feel special" – a last generation, rather than one of many to come. _Guardian
Indeed. If you are someone sharp enough to join the one true cult of doom, then you must be quite special. Pay no attention to the fact that your cult's prophecies have an unfortunate tendency to fail every time. Instead, focus on the workarounds and revisions of the prophecies, that allow you to continue believing.

Peak oil now has dozens of definitions, suitable for any type of economic occasion or event. It has become the chameleon of cults, the disguise-master of dooms. An unfalsifiable tautology now, there is no way to prove it wrong. So it must be right, right? The stronger you believe, the more correct it must be.

These are truly unprecedented times. ;-)



Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Should add Mike Ruppert to the doomer list. "Infinite growth this peak oil is responsible: for everything". I think a lot of these doomers have fantasies of this stuff happening, collapse and the like.

6:08 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

A number of people are making money off the fears of the madding crowd. Ruppert has been an opportunist all his life, and understands how to push the right buttons to cash in on a craze. Everyone has to make a living somehow. Such natural born pportunists rarely actually believe the hogwash they feed the commoners.

True believers, on the other hand, tend to go down hard when they run out of excuses. Matt Simmons is not the only example of that, but he is a particularly sad example.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

I really love the headline on this blog post.

With luck we may see fossil fuel gluts in five to 10 years. If we don't. it will be politics not geology at work.

Sheesh, imagine all the oil we could get out of Iraq, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria, if there were rule of low and free enterprise.

5:58 PM  
Blogger al fin said...


If the oilfields of the world were opened to modern methods of oil production -- instead of being under the thumbs of corrupt dictatorships that let oilfield maintenance slide -- production could potentially be a lot higher.

But remember that before the OPEC cartel put the squeeze on global production, the world oil markets were subject to frequent boom and bust. This was very hard on nations which based their budgets on profits from oil production.

Things are more stable now, but artificially inflated prices lead to corruption and breakdown of infrastructure via neglect. From Iraq to Iran to Venezuela to Russia to Mexico, oilfield infrastructure was allowed to break down.

Africa is an entirely different world in terms of corruption and neglect of maintenance. Best not to start on that topic.

7:46 PM  

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