Peak Oil: Prominent Peaker Tells Allies to (Temporarily) Pipe Down
By Jeffrey Ball
The Journal’s Neil King Jr. reports: Mum’s the Word, Peakniks!
Should the deans of the peak-oil movement give the world a break and shelve their dire warnings of impending supply shortages?
So urges Robert Hirsch, one of the true eminences of the peakist crowd. Hirsch penned a seminal 2005 report for the Energy Department called “Peaking of World Oil Production” that warned of stark consequences as world oil supplies tighten, slamming the world economy. He has since lectured widely on the topic.
But with the world economy now under seige for quite different reasons, Hirsch is urging his cohorts to tone down their bleakness for a while so as not to worsen the damage.
In a memo “To The Peak Oil Community,” Hirsch recommends that the group “minimize its effort to awaken the world to the near-term dangers of world oil supply.”
His rationale is itself plenty grim. “If the realization of peak oil along with its disastrous financial implications was added to the existing mix of troubles, the added trauma could be unthinkable,” he wrote to his colleagues.
Hirsch sent his memo to a Who’s Who of the peak movement, including retired petroleum geologist Colin Campbell; investment banker Matt Simmons; Swedish peak-oil scholar Kjell Aleklett; and Steve Andrews, director of the U.S. Association for the Study of Peak Oil.
But his appeal, sent Thursday, doesn’t seem to be winning much support.
“This is a very risky time to go silent on a problem far deeper and less fixable than the financial mess,” said Simmons, author of the 2005 peakist bible “Twilight in the Desert,” which cast doubt on Saudi Arabia’s abilities to pump evermore oil. “The current price of oil is as lethal to supply as $10-a-barrel oil was a decade ago when we were all petrified about the permanence of the Asian flu that had killed any growth in oil demand.”
For others, the approach of a new administration is another reason to keep banging the drum. “We are too close to peak oil and its impacts to be able to afford making more wrong turns (e.g., ethanol from corn) in energy policy,” said Andrews.
But Hirsch argues that there may be some honor in silence. “In the near term,” he said in his memo, “keeping relatively quiet is likely the better part of valor.”
Here’s the memo in full:
TO THE PEAK OIL COMMUNITY:
The world is in the midst of the most severe financial crisis in most of our lifetimes. The economic damage that has already been wrought is considerable, and we have yet to see the bottom or the turnaround. Against this background, I suggest that the peak oil community minimize its efforts to awaken the world to the near-term dangers of world oil supply. The motivation is simple: By minimizing our efforts in the near term, we may not add fuel to the economic fires that are already burning so fiercely.
We are all aware of how disoriented governments and business are right now. Our leaders, leaders-to-be, and best minds are disoriented and seeking pathways out of the current morass. The public is in a quiet panic mode — those who were reasonably well off are less well of, and their options for action are limited. Those that have lost their jobs and/or homes are desperate. Businesses and the markets are in what might be called a free fall. If the realization of peak oil along with its disastrous financial implications was added to the existing mix of troubles, the added trauma could be unthinkable.
Like many of you, I’ve devoted my recent efforts to trying to wake the public and governments to the impending horrors of peak oil. As much as that awaking is urgently needed, continuing to press forward now is almost certainly not in the broader interest.
Many may be tempted to directly challenge the recent IEA World Energy Outlook. I am among those who were very disappointed. Pressing those concerns at this time might further the peak oil “cause,” but it could well do much more damage than any of us really intend.
Please keep up your studies and thinking, because helping the world realize the dangers of peak oil is an absolute must. In the near term, keeping relatively quiet is likely the better part of valor.