Climate writer and Guardian (UK) newspaper columnist George Monbiot has written an interesting piece on peak oil. It's called We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all. On that subject, George is all wrong of course because in the narrow sense he knows diddly squat about the upstream oil industry. Or as the Brits would put it, he knows bugger all. He is wrong in the broader sense because he knows even less about people than he knows about oil, as I will explain.
First, let's look at his misguided take on Leonardo Maugeri's crazy oil forecast. I wrote about this report in Optimistic Lunatic Says We'll Soon Be Swimming In Oil.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted [peak oil] to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case...
Peak oil hasn't happened, and it's unlikely to happen for a very long time.
[My note: crude oil production (no natural gas liquids) has been on a plateau for about seven years now.]
A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that...
The country in which production is likely to rise most is Iraq, into which multinational companies are now sinking their money, and their claws...
[My note: Iraq—no kidding! That's why America invaded the place. Iraq has the world's last remaining easily exploitable oil reserves, and those reserves are substantial. The Empire would not have invaded Iraq if it were the world's biggest cabbage grower.]
When I deconstructed Maugeri's report, I honed in on the most important factor which discredits it—Maugeri is a wild-eyed optimist, which is a form of mental illness as far as I'm concerned. My reasoning is simple: the more removed you are from Reality, the more psychologically damaged you are.
For me it is sufficient to point out the exaggerated positive bias, so that's what I did. (We might call it Glass Half-Full Disease.) Everything else follows from that, but you also need to know something about the upstream oil industry to understand the details. In essence I was making a psychological argument, which one reader viewed as ad hominem, which is an attack on the man, not his reasoning.
Of course it was an ad hominem argument! I was saying Leonardo is crazy, so why should you believe anything he says? I then demonstrated this premise (to my satisfaction) by examining his over-the-top projections for shale oil production in the United States. Do you recall the phrase consider the source? Considering the source is a fundamental Rule of Life. Do not simply evaluate the content of what somebody says. You must also evaluate who that person is, what special interests he represents, whether what he says is self-serving, and so on. That rule applies to me, too.
I also said the following in the introduction to that post—
Optimism is a natural tendency of the human mind, and is expressed through various positive cognitive biases which researchers have discovered over the years. It should not surprise us then that this tendency is exaggerated in some individuals whose brain chemistry causes them to overdose on optimism all the time, much like thrill-seekers who get "high" on excessive risk-taking. Unfortunately, there is no antidote in either case, and even more unfortunately, humans are so dense and undiscerning that they can not see what's really going on when it becomes all-too-obvious that some person's Big Brain has gone completely haywire.
I often wonder if readers simply gloss over stuff like this without giving it a second thought. I was setting the context for what followed in my Maugeri post. The important part reads unfortunately, humans are so dense and undiscerning ... which brings me back to George Monbiot, for George literally can not see the excessive positive bias in everything Maugeri, who is a former industry executive, writes about oil. Maugeri's oil glass is not merely half-full, it is brimming over! The fact that Monbiot takes what Maugeri says at face value because George is an environmentalist who does not understand the upstream oil industry is secondary.
In short, Monbiot is not psychological, and the vast majority of human beings aren't either. Being psychological is a mode of perception. Considering the source is one way of getting around this unfortunate limitation. Look out for conflicts of interest, hidden agendas or people with axes to grind. You don't actually consider what Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann say, do you? You don't have to if you are able to see that Glenn and Michele are crazy. Extreme optimists like Maugeri or the rational optimist Matt Ridley are crazy in a more subtle way.
Remember, we are dealing with human beings here. We are not dealing with rational beings. Rationality is merely a veneer. It is a human conceit.
However, Monbiot rallies somewhat at the end of his column. I found these remarks very interesting.
There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world's most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.
[My note: take this "enough oil in the ground to deep-fry" us all with a grain of salt, as just discussed.]
Humanity seems to be like the girl in Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth: she knows that if she eats the exquisite feast laid out in front of her, she too will be consumed, but she cannot help herself.
I don't like raising problems when I cannot see a solution. But right now I'm not sure how I can look my children in the eyes.
If I didn't "like" raising problems for which I can not see a solution, I would never say anthing on this blog!
But the important point here is that Monbiot is moving toward the DOTE position on global warming—the problem has no solution in the realm of human action. He has undergone a psychological shift. He has moved from an earnest writer of books like Heat: How To Stop The Planet Burning to a hand-wringing quoter of Pan's Labyrinth. Now he is wondering how he can look his children in the eyes. In short, George has gotten a clue he didn't want and doesn't know what to do with. Well, it's a start.
In the future, many more people will undergo the radical shift in their thinking George is experiencing. In fact, I might be so bold as to predict that in a mere 10 years, and certainly in 20 years, most "intelligent" people will hold the "negative" views I have expressed on DOTE. In 10 years it should be abundantly clear to anybody who isn't brain-dead that human beings do not have the cognitive wherewithal to solve the global warming problem, or any other global problem. In short, these people will become resigned to on-going human failure. Some of them might see, as if for the first time, the Human Condition for what it truly is (to paraphrase T.S. Elliot).
Most of these "intelligent" people will of course continue to blame governments and industry, as Monbiot does. They will never blame themselves. In this sense, they will never see The Big Picture.
I hope you found this post helpful. I wanted to explain a few things.
For you Americans, enjoy your July 4th holiday.