Are Peak Oil Advocates 'Cultists'?
"Proponents of the imminent peak of global oil extraction -- led by Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, L.F. Ivanhoe, Richard Duncan, and Kenneth Deffeyes -- resort to deliberately alarmist arguments as they mix incontestable facts with caricatures of complex realities and as they ignore anything that does not fit their preconceived conclusions in order to issue their obituaries of modern civilization".
So begins the opening sentence of Vaclav Smil's equally polemic paper, Peak Oil: A Catastrophist Cult and Complex Realities castigating the "cultists" of peak oil, which I suspect he'd also consider EV World.
The thrust of his argument is that advocates of peak oil, the point at which global demand exceeds global supply, erroneously assume that mankind will not find a way to adapt; and as a result, the world will descend into a destructive spiral of economic and geopolitical crises that could result in a new dark age.
Well, I've read most of the books on peak oil, and attended the most recent ASPO conference in Denver and while many of the experts on peak oil do raise alarm bells because of the speed and trajectory of world oil consumption, which resembles the Titantic plowing full-speed ahead into a dark, ice-berg littered North Atlantic, few of them that I've read or interviewed assume -- with the possible exception of Richard Heinberg -- that we can't alter course. That is, in fact, the object of their concern and purpose behind their warnings. I consider them lookouts aboard a surging, Edwardian-era ocean liner long before the advent of radar, weather satellites and GPS.
I don't think anyone from Campbell to Simmons would argue with Smil's observation that, "even if the world's ultimately recoverable oil resources were known with perfection, the global oil production curve would not be determined without knowing future oil demand. We obviously have no such understanding because that demand will be shaped, as in the past, by unpredictable technical advances."
Matt Simmons recently told the ASPO conference in Denver that he doesn't see peak oil occurring IF the world curbs demand or if what he calls "conceptual reserves", in fact, actually become proven and economically extractable. Both are the great unknowns at the moment for both sides of the debate.
Simmons doesn't know how much oil is left and Smil doesn't know which technology will end our dependence on it.
"Steeply rising oil prices would not lead to unchecked bidding for the remaining oil," the University of Manitoba professor muses, "but would accelerate a shift to other energy sources."
That is, in fact, what is happening from renewable energy to hybrid cars, but it's the pace of change that is of concern here. Yes, gasoline or diesel-electric drives can double a car's fuel efficiency, but can they be built fast enough, in sufficient numbers to make a meaningful contribution in reducing petroleum consumption worldwide, especially since an SUV bought today will still be in service as much as twenty years from now?
Smil happily quotes USGS global oil reserve estimates of 3 trillion barrels of oil, ignoring EIA estimates that sees world petroleum demand increasing from the current 84 mbd to 120 mbd by 2025, while also forecasting that renewable energy will only provide less than five percent of the world's energy needs in the same time frame. The Hirsch report sees unconventional petroleum resources like GTL, biofuels, shale oil and tar sands making only modest contributions to the World's thirst for liquid fuels. Certainly hybrid cars, solar panels, wind farms and "inherently safe ways of nuclear fission" are likely to help some, but will they be enough to close the yawning liquid fuels gap?
Finally, assuming that the productionof liquid fuels can keep up with demand, what does that do to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? The present rate of CO2 injection is alarming. What happens when there are 2 billion cars and trucks on the road by 2025?
Most if not all of them will have to be powered by something other than petroleum and that something is likely to be electricity generated from renewable and perhaps safer fission or hopefully fusion power.
Is mankind likely to adapt to a changing energy world? Certainly, but I doubt it will be painless or without disruption. My guess is that somewhere between the "sect" of free-market optimism espoused by Professor Smil and the "cult" of peak oil pessimism personified by Professor Heinberg, lies the future in motion.