Futurists And Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in

I noticed a pair of futurists talking about peak oil today - first Richard Watson in The Daily Telegraph, as part of a grab bag of predictions - Futurologist Richard Watson's 2050 vision: goodbye Belgium, hello brain transplants.

After a week when it's been impossible to predict which financial giant will still be standing at the end of the day, let alone the year, it would seem like a fool's errand to talk about decades down the line. These days, if you raise your gaze to the horizon, you'll find experts warning of a host of problems: melting ice caps, global pandemics, terrorism, the end of oil, meteor strikes, even robot uprisings.

It's all too easy to become paralysed by such possibilities - and yes, there are ideas, discoveries and events over the horizon that we can't possibly comprehend. But while the future is unknown and unwritten, we can begin to trace its outline, and prepare the first drafts. ...

Wherever you look in society, massive changes will be taking place. If my predictions are accurate, by 2050 there won't be DVDs, or national currencies, or a monarchy, or a unified Belgium, but we might well have a ladder into space, robotic policemen and diets based on our individual genome. I've picked out some of the more important or exotic arrivals and departures in the list below. ...

Second, the environment will remain vitally important, but climate change won't be the only game in town - the approach of peak oil, peak coal, peak gas, peak water, peak uranium and even peak people (a severe shortage of workers in many parts of the world) will also have an impact, and require a profound shift towards sustainability.

In political and economic terms, the shift of power to the east, and the rise of countries such as China and India, will continue - the third factor to remember.

We already know that the world is getting smaller, and the fourth idea - greater connectivity - will continue to change how people live, work and think. One billion of us are already online, and this is expected to double within a decade or so. As a result, privacy will be dead or dying - but we may get smarter at making decisions, because our connectivity will allow instant polling of a crowd whose wisdom is nearly always greater than any single member's.

Next up is Peter Schwartz, who doesn't believe in peak oil (presumably he means he doesn't believe we are at peak oil, rather than believing oil supply will never peak) and told a Cleantech conference so - as well as pointing out that most of them didn't have experience in the energy industry (personally I don't view this as a big deal, as an oil industry background is unlikely to be of much benefit to a cleantech entrepreneur) - Peak oil "wrong," says Schwartz.
"The peak oil people simply don't know what they're talking about," said environmental futurist Peter Schwartz today at the Cleantech Forum in Washington, D.C.

Forget everything you've heard about peak oil as a driver of clean technology, said futurist Peter Schwartz today in a provocative closing session at the Cleantech Forum XVIII in Washington D.C.

"The peak oil people simply don't know what they're talking about, they don't know the facts," claimed Schwartz, co-founder and chairman of the Global Business Network and author of five books.

"Peak oil is wrong. We really don't know how much oil there is in most of the oil reservoirs of the world. Oil reservoirs are complex geological structures, and most of the data is in private hands, or in state governments, and they are not particularly forthcoming about how much is there."

The theory of peak oil, credited to M. King Hubbert, theorized that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970. His model, now referenced as Hubbert's peak, is widely touted to suggest that world oil reserves are now declining and that demand now outstrips humanity's ability to deliver the amount of oil required. The peak oil model is cited by many as a fundamental driver of development of non fossil-based sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

From 1982 to 1986, Schwartz headed scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell group of companies.

"We don't know how much is out there," he said today. "And they tend to be very conservative, these estimates. And technology changes, and that opens up new reserves deep offshore. When I was at Shell, we could only drill into a thousand feet of water. Today, they're drilling into 10,000 feet of water, and 20,000 feet below that."

Peak oil proponents point out that no meaningfully-sized new reserves have been discovered in years, that the oil that is known is relatively finite, and believe it will become too expensive and resource-intensive to produce meaningful amounts of petrochemical products from other known sources of oil like the Canadian tar sands.

"We are not going to run out of oil before the issue of climate change drives change. It'll be costly oil. But it'll be climate change catastrophes [such as sudden, unexpected displacement of large numbers of people, and massive property damage], and more expensive oil, not the fact that we're running out of oil, that will drive change," according to Schwartz.

Schwartz wasn't afraid to directly provoke venture capitalists in the crowd. He drew a pointed comparison with Internet investing.

"Before the dot com bust, there was an enormous amount of money chasing good ideas and stupid ideas ... the fear I have is that we're going to have a similar bust here. How many of you have ever worked in the energy industry? [about ten percent of hands were raised.] That's my concern. That means most of you don't know what you're doing."

"If you've never built a power plant, if you've never run a refinery, if you've never installed solar panels yourself, if you've never worked in a lab, these are the things I worry about."

Schwartz is one of the scenario planners I talked about in "The Limits To Scenario Planning", with a background at both Shell's scenario planning division and GBN. He was also the author of Wired's infamous "long boom" article and a strong proponent of the hydrogen economy (we're still waiting for that one Pete).

While I often agree (or at least sympathise) with his point of view, in this case he seems to be misunderstanding the important aspects of "real world" peak oil, which are based on past discoveries, flow rates and EROI - if you aren't finding (and developing) large quantities of oil (fast enough to replace production lost through depletion of existing fields and to meet new demand growth), then it doesn't matter if there could be a lot of oil under the Atlantic ocean which could be extracted at high cost (and with long lead times). For that matter there is a lot of oil sitting under Iraq which would in theory let us peak around 6 million barrels or so a day higher than current production - if it was being extracted - but the fact remains that this isn't happening.

In the "limits" post I noted the Club of Rome (and, to a much lesser extent, the scenario planners) are the subject of more than a few conspiracy theories, which I've adjudged to be baseless based on my reading of "The Limits To Growth" - something almost no one who comments on the CoR seems to have done (and if they did, they obviously didn't understand it).

One example I came across recently is this one from Aftermath News, which has some ominous sounding quotes from another CoR publication - "The First Global Revolution" of the Club of Rome.
“It would seem that men and women need a common motivation, namely a common adversary, to organize and act together in the vacuum such as motivation seemed to have ceased to exist or have yet to be found. The need for enemies seems to be a common historical factor…Bring the divided nation together to face an outside enemy, either a real one or else one INVENTED for the purpose…

Democracy will be made to seem responsible for the lagging economy, the scarcity and uncertainties. The very concept of democracy could then be brought into question and allow for the seizure of power.

In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. The real enemy [of the elites and their minions] then is humanity itself.”

- “The First Global Revolution” (1991) published by the Club of Rome.

The problem with this quote is that it selectively quotes content from the book without putting them in context (and removing large chunks of intervening text that don't fit the theory that the "limits" are just a phantom menace to manipulate people).

Luckily someone (who seems to subscribe to the theory being promoted above) has posted the text of the book to Scribd (an excellent resource if you are on the lookout for various hard to find or out of print books), which allows the quote above to be checked for accuracy.

As the full quote from the book shows (the sentences above were taken from a range of pages), the actual intent of what was being said is rather different to that being claimed - the problems (in the opinion of the authors) are real, not invented, and democracy is the goal, not the enemy.
Generally speaking, informed dlsucssion on the main political, economic and social issues take place on radio and television rather than In Parliament, to the detriment of the latter. The activities of political parties are so Intensely focussed on election deadlines and party rivalries that they end up weakening the democracy they are supposed to serve This confrontational approach gives an impression that party needs come before national interest. Strategies and tacrjes seem more Important than objectives and often a constituency is neglected as soon as It is gained. With the current mode of operation. Western democracies are seeing their formal role decline and public opinion drifting away from elected representatives. However, the crisis in the contemporary democratic system must not be allowed to serve as an excuse for rejecting democracy.

In the countries now opening up to freedom, democracy is being introduced in a situation which demands greatly changed attitudes and patterns of behaviour from citizens. These Inevitable problems of phasing in democracy are difficult to solve. But there is another, still more serious question. Democracy does not necessarily build the bridge between a colonial or nco-colonial economy or a centralized bureaucratic economy, and a market economy based on competition and capable of producing growth. Attitudes, market relations and managerial styles simply do not exist in a country experiencing a transitional situation such as the present, which because of sudden and unforeseen changes has been neither planned nor prepared for the necessary structures. If such a situation is allowed to continue for too long, it is probable that democracy will be made to seem responsible for the lagging economy, the scarcities and uncertainties. The very conceptof democracy could then be questioned and allow for the seizure of power by extremists of one sort or the other.

Winston Churchill was right when he quipped, 'Democracy Is the worstof all systems, except for the rest.' Yet we must be aware of its erosion, its fragility and its limitations. When persons say 'It is obvious what must be done to improve our situation,' they seldom ask 'Why isn't it done dien?' And if they do ask, they will have to answer.' It is because we lack the (political) will or because of our habits, or because of shortsightedness, or politics and so on...' Our inability to indicate how to overcome these sources of inertia and resistance makes it clear that we are not at all sure about what must be done. We overlook (psychologically speaking, we deny) our Ignorance and instead say, that we lack the political will. The cr jcial need is to revitalize democracy and give it a breadth of perspective that will enable it to cope with the evolving global situation. ...

It is not easy to stimulate a universal debate on ideas, but the lack of attempts to do so further deepens the void. There is a pressing need for such a debate, and the frequency of international conferences and meetings, with their cross-cultural discussions, should initiate new and more global thinking.

This period of absence of thought and lack of a common vision - not of what the world of tomorrow will be, but of what we want it to be so that we can shape It - is a source of discouragement and even despair. How simple it was, or should have been, for France. Great Britain and their allies to mobilize against their common Nazi enemy. And was it not obvious during the period of the cold war, that the Western nations should accomplish a diplomatic. economic and technological mobilizaoon against the Soviet Union and its satellite countries? Again, freedom fighters, despite tribal and ideological differences, were able to find unity and strengthened patriotism in the struggle for independence their common enemy, the colonial powers. It would seem that men and women need a common motivation, namely a common adversary against whom they can organize themselves and act together. In the vacuum such motivations seem to have ceased to exist - or have yet to be found.

The need for enemies seems to be a common historical factor. Some states have striven iv overcome domestic failure and internal contradictions by blaming external enemies. The ploy of finding a scapegoat is as old as mankind itself - when things become too difficult at home, divert attention to adventure abroad. Bring the divided nation together to face an outside enemy, either a real one. or else one invented for the purpose. With the disappearance of the tradioonal enemy, the temptation is to use religious or ethnic minorities as scapegoats, especially those whose differences from the majority are disturbing.

Can we live without enemies ? Every irate has been so used to classifying its neighbours as friend or foe. that the sudden absence of traditional adversaries has left governments and public opinion with a great void to fill. New enemies have to be identified, new strategies imagined, and new weapons devised. The new enemies are different in their nature and location, but they are no less real. They threaten the whole human race, and their names are pollution. water shortage, famine, malnutrition, illiteracy, and unemployment. However, it appears that awareness of the new enemies is. as yet, insufficient for bringing about world cohesion and solidarity for the fight. Also the failure of many ideologies has removed some of the necessary points of reference. ...

Whether on the international level, the national level, or the level of the corporation, the problem of governance presents itself in new terms. The growing complexity of the world and of its problems makes it necessary to have a complete grasp on tremendous amounts of information before coming to a decision. This immediately calls into question the quality of information, for it is in constant danger of rapid obsolescence and possible inaccuracy, or of being used lor outright propaganda. A second impediment to governance is caused by the increasing size and inertia of large bureaucracies that spread their tentacles around the centres of power and slow down or paralyze both decision making and implementation. Other crucial impediments consist of the lack oi education for competent citizenship and inadequate intergencrational understanding.

Yet another difficulty arises from die lack of cooperation within the administration and its sectoral structures. If the different power centres do not learn to cooperate, and instead insist on acting in ignorance of or in opposition to one another, the resulting administrative sluggishness can provoke delays that can lead to inefficiency, wrong decisions and confrontation.

So far, governance has operated by treating problems separately and in a vertical mode, I.e. field by field. Today the interaction between problems is monopoly of governments and their departments, working in a vacuum. outside of the framework of the problematique. This in turn demands leaden of a new kind, capable of treating problems :n both a horizontal and vertical mode. In the world that is emerging, decision making can no longer be the monopoly of governments and their departments, working in a vacuum. There is the need to bring many partners into the process —business and industrial organizations, research institutions, scientists, NCOs and private organizations-so that the widest possible experience and skill is made available. And, of course, enlightened public support, where the public is aware of die new needs and die possible consequences of decisions, would be essential. A dynamic world needs an effective nervous system at the grassroots level, not only to ensure the widest range of inputs, but also to make the identification of every citizen with the common process of governance possible.

In the present situation in the world, the lack of identification of the people with the processes of decision-making is expressed in the form of indifference, scepticism, or outright rejection of governments and political parties, which are seen as having little controlover the problems of our times. These attitudes are dearly indicated by a decreasing rate of participation in elections.

The common enemy of humanity is Man

In searching fot a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill. In their totality and their interactions these phenomena do constitute a common threat which must be confronted by everyone together. But in designating these dangers as the enemy, we fall into the trap, which we have already warned readers about, namely mistaking symptoms for causes. All these dangers are caused by hman intervention In natural processes, and it is only through changed attitudes and behaviour that they can be overcome. The real enemy then Is humanity itself.

One intriguing piece of tinfoil I came across on Aftermath, some time ago, was this theory about how Mike Ruppert came to be interested in peak oil - Mike Ruppert and the myth of Peak Oil. I've got no idea whether or not to put any credence in it (and based above the example above, the dude's track record isn't good - even if we make some allowances for his obsession with the Illuminati and the New World Order) but it is quite an interesting theory nevertheless.

Ruppert himself also has a new screed out, which is circulating around the peak oil traps. Mike is sounding more like a paranoid conspiracy theorist than ever unfortunately (his work on the Iran-Contra-CIA-drugs stuff with Gary Webb remains an important piece of history, but he's ridden the peak oil meme to the fringes of sanity it seems). He's started down the Rockefellers / Rothschilds line of theorising in this one (one of those areas usually left to the right-wing fringes - which often link them to depopulation conspiracies, an area they'd - ironically - probably point the finger at Mike at as well) , complaining that the Rothschilds have switched sides to back McCain (as usual he's realised this rather belatedly, given the London fundraiser the family did for McCain back in March).

I've never managed to get to grips with the whole RnR line of New World Order conspiracy theories, so I'm not really sure where Ruppert is heading with this one. Presumably the root cause is that (historically at least, I've got no idea if this is still true) the Rothschilds were the richest family in Europe and the Rockefellers were the richest family in America and each were thus believed to be the "power behind the throne" (or White House, as the case may be).

Most conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds tend to veer quickly on to tales about "international bankers" and then towards traditional conspiracy theories about Jews which makes me quickly give up and consign them to the category of racist nonsense.

As far as I'm aware the Rockefellers are WASPs though (albeit also increasingly involved in banking as they moved on from the Standard Oil monopoly days), so the more generalised conspiracy theories seem to have more of a left wing (or at least the crankier type of libertarian) slant - perhaps just agitating against the concentration of power represented by such large concentrations of wealth.

Either way, the fact that both groups are supporting the Republicans seems to be "ho hum" sort of news to me - and I'd recommend voting against McCain regardless of who is (or isn't) backing him.
Let me paraphrase something I once saw George H.W. Bush say: "Everything I am; everything I have accomplished; and everything I hope to accomplish I owe to David Rockefeller." Today I saw some thing I never thought possible. I saw a Rothschild endorse a fundamentally Rockefeller candidate – John McCain. DNC Platform Committee Member Lynn Forester de Rothschild quit her post to endorse McCain as she also ended her longstanding role as a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. The Clintons also have strong Rockefeller "lineage" so I'm guessing that Hillary understands the move perfectly with a wink and a nod.

I'll give you the punch line now, without making you read further.

If Rothschilds and Rockefellers are taking the same side it is because the entire economic paradigm is threatened. There is good reason to believe it. The Dow has lost almost 10% in just two days. The bailouts are lining up at the door before the Fed goes bankrupt; before our government goes bankrupt. Lehman was ten times bigger than Enron. AIG was much bigger than Lehman. Still to come are Washington Mutual, Goldman, J.P. Morgan, the automakers and the airlines, to name a few. Not all are going to be saved.

There is only one run on the bank taking place. This time it's the Federal Reserve and we know who will get screwed. The Fed and our Treasury are being looted at the one moment in time when we most need them to be full.

All of this has everything to do with Peak Oil. For those of you who have followed my work – and the work of everyone who was FTW – this is exactly what we said would happen, and were trying to prevent. The fact that we are going to have a fast crash now is the best possible outcome because it has given us a unique and perhaps fleeting moment –a window – to change things. There is plenty left to salvage.

There are other signs of a fast crash. For months now the prices of oil and gold have been ruthlessly suppressed. Oil reached $147 a barrel and broke demand so badly there was not even a dead cat bounce in demand at $100 a barrel. Energy is the economy. Money is useless without energy. There is no credit available to finance renewed demand and get some cash circulating. It is interesting to note that narcotics seizures are at all time highs. Cocaine shipments in the thousands of tons are being seized on almost a daily basis. That is taking enormous amounts of cash out of the system. There's just one problem with that cash. It must circulate through many hands to multiply before Wall Street gets it. That takes time and they don'thave time.


Schwartz seems a bit muddled. We don't know how much oil is there, so we should assume that there's more than they say is out there? But not less?

So if when I go to the ATM to withdraw money I don't ask for a balance receipt, I can assume it's higher than my rough guess? That may be comforting, but at some point I'm going to get the message "insufficient funds".

Uncertainty is uncertainty; the reserves could be higher than is thought, or they could be lower.

To his suggestion that estimates of reserves "tend to be conservative", I should like to hear of a case where a reserves estimate was made within five years of initial discovery, and the amount of oil recovered over the next (say) thirty years was more than that. I should also like an explanation of OPEC's reserves jump in the 1980s just after the quota system was introduced, and of certain countries' reserves not declining despite pumping out billions of barrels.

They could be higher, they could be lower. When you don't know how far the train is from you, you don't stand around on the tracks waiting to find out. Uncertainty increases the risk of inaction. If I know I have (say) $5,000 in the bank and no further income, then I can plan on how to spend that before finding a new source of income. If I'm just not sure what's in the bank, it could be $1,000 or $10,000, then I'd better find a new source of income right away.

Anonymous   says 9:30 PM

It would be nice to find the source of the George Bush quote, or paraphrase; "Everything I am; everything I have accomplished; and everything I hope to accomplish I owe to David Rockefeller."

Well - it wouldn't surprise me if that quote was made up - but if you find the source, please let me know...

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