Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

"Oil Peaking is Going to Happen"
Alex Steffen, 10 Mar 05

Ally #1, Bruce Sterling, sends along this article about the most recent report on the implications of peak oil, noting "The part I like is 'massive demand destruction.' Now there's a coinage with legs."

"World oil peaking is going to happen," the report says. Only the "timing is uncertain." ... But in its conclusion the report makes troubling reading, noting that "the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary."
Bookmark and Share


Now we're getting news from Al Jazeera? Please.

Posted by: Jesse Hill on 11 Mar 05

Yes, because American media is always scrupulously truthful and never misleading in any way, whereas the sneaky Arabs have invented peak oil as a conspiracy to take away your good Christian God-given right to drive an S.U.V!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 11 Mar 05

The report itself is available at

Posted by: devin on 11 Mar 05

For Jesse, and anyone not glancing beyond this page and his comment, Al Jazeera are reporting the contents of the report (thanks for the link, Devin!) 'Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management' by Hirsch, R.L., Bezdek, R.H & Wendling, R.M., published by the US Department of Energy, February 2005.

The DoE also submitted a summary of the report to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil ( March 2005 newsletter ( They conclude that we need to start preparing for peak oil 20 years before it happens in order to mitigate the effects; also, that it will happen within 20 years from now.

"Misplaced cynicism" is probably the politest way of describing Jesse's comment. Shouldn't we be asking why such a report from the DoE is only being picked up a specialist newsletter and Al Jazeera? (BTW, worth mentioning that energy trade publications have picked up the story, too. Seems that Al Jazeera should be praised for actually reporting "The News".)

Posted by: Gyrus on 11 Mar 05

I thought Jesse was joking.

Anyway, if we are all reading the same blogs, we probably see the evidence for Peak Oil accumulating. I think it was bits from Green Car Congress:

that led me to (tenatively) accept the idea:


Posted by: odograph on 11 Mar 05

A friend of mine on a message board had this to say about this. I think he is correct.

"Where as supply steadily dwindles, the price will slowly but steadily increase. It's not going to simply "crash" if it actually has a correspondance to supply (which subsidies distort, as price is less directly coupled to supply). As price indicators slowly push oil up, investment in alternative infrastructure looks better and better. The very point of this however is gradual change, not a total crash."

Here is where that quote is from.

Also think of the oppritunites for energy leap frogging that this provides. Developing nations will no longer have a need to develop capital heavy oil based energy systems and can look into cleaner distributed energy systems.

Posted by: Graham on 11 Mar 05

Graham, I think I expected this sort of soft landing as well.

Now I'm thinking things might be perturbed by the nature of oil production. Costs come at the front end (exploration, drilling) and at the tail end (secondary recovery, whatever), but the middle is easy. In the middle stages of production you just (simplifying a bit) run the pumps.

I think it is easy for an oil-rich nation to run the pumps, even when it might be in their interest to pace the output a bit.

This could prolong our sense of well-being a bit past the "peak."

Posted by: odograph on 11 Mar 05

I'm somewhat puzzled by the fascination with "peak oil". It sometimes appears that its proponents are hoping for this big crash in oil production so that the world can magically change to a radically new energy infrastructure.

I'm not sure when oil production will hit it's peak and I don't really care. It appears that the average price for oil is going to stay relatively high for the near future and it may rise more. If this happens, substitutes will become more "affordable" and other sources of oil which are now uneconomical will come into production. If the substitutes are more economical than the new sourc es of oil then we will have hit a peak. What's the big deal?

Over the next century we will gradually (with some hiccups/disruptions) move to newer energy sources. The current high price of oil will encourage this.

Posted by: Joe Deely on 11 Mar 05

Everybody likes a disaster movie.

Posted by: odograph on 11 Mar 05

Well, before you discount the gravity of peak oil completely, consider the following:

Oil drives our economy, literally and figuratively: besides providing for transportation (that is, allowing the 'market' to function), oil by-products also provide for a major part of industry (by by-products I mean both energy derived from oil and these: Air conditioners, ammonia, anti-histamines, antiseptics, artificial turf, asphalt, aspirin, balloons, bandages, boats, bottles, bras, bubble gum, butane, cameras, candles, car batteries, car bodies, carpet, cassette tapes, caulking, CDs, chewing gum, cold, combs/brushes, computers, contacts, cortisone, crayons, cream, denture adhesives, deodorant, detergents, dice, dishwashing liquid, dresses, dryers, electric blankets, electrician’s tape, fertilisers, fishing lures, fishing rods, floor wax, footballs, glues, glycerin, golf balls, guitar strings, hair, hair colouring, hair curlers, hearing aids, heart valves, heating oil, house paint, ice chests, ink, insect repellent, insulation, jet fuel, life jackets, linoleum, lip balm, lipstick, loudspeakers, medicines, mops, motor oil, motorcycle helmets, movie film, nail polish, oil filters, paddles, paint brushes, paints, parachutes, paraffin, pens, perfumes, petroleum jelly, plastic chairs, plastic cups, plastic forks, plastic wrap, plastics, plywood adhesives, refrigerators, roller-skate wheels, roofing paper, rubber bands, rubber boots, rubber cement, rubbish bags, running shoes, saccharine, seals, shirts (non-cotton), shoe polish, shoes, shower curtains, solvents, solvents, spectacles, stereos, sweaters, table tennis balls, tape recorders, telephones, tennis rackets, thermos, tights, toilet seats, toners, toothpaste, transparencies, transparent tape, TV cabinets, typewriter/computer ribbons, tyres, umbrellas, upholstery, vaporisers, vitamin capsules, volleyballs, water pipes, water skis, wax, wax paper (list taken from here.))

What happens when the major constitutive force of the economy suddenly becomes more expensive? Everything becomes more expensive. At some point, this rising in cost may shatter 'the market' completely. ((That is, when the cost of fabrication/transportation connot be recuperated)). And before you run on flights of fancy about 'the market' supplying the impetus for a change when gas gets expensive, consider the time needed to implement a massive infrastructure change--not to mention the great cost as is, without calculating the costs after cheap oil becomes a thing of the past.

The timeline of the report is rather important as well: 20 years preparation will mitigate the vast majority of the effects; 10 years will take the edge off the guillotine; none will leave us, as it were, running without heads. Most geologists agree that the peak will hit by 2010. Barring major global recession, demand will outstrip supply at around the same time. That's 5 years away. The time to act is now, rather than then. The 'market' is not going to save us: it works on the basis of the dollar, not the joule.

Posted by: livingfossil on 11 Mar 05

Peak oil is fun in that it puts a deadline on all our collective efforts of building 'a bright green future'.

It places our actions under the sign of a certain 'fatality' - and the fatal is a condition under which I think many romantic souls love to work.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 11 Mar 05

Some comments on Hirsch's articles (this one and a presentation from last year with similar content) were posted earlier this week over at

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 11 Mar 05

"Peak Oil" - sounds a bit negative. How about, "Peak Carbon in the Atmosphere!" which is of course a huge positive. Self enforcing Kyoto.

One other note, riffing off some of comments, the reason why peak oil is a big deal is if it happens, the cost of building an alternative energy infrastructure explodes. Transportation, linchpin of the global economy, takes a big hit.

Posted by: Jon S. on 12 Mar 05

The other aspect to consider is that oil isn't the only finite energy resource to have a depletion curve associated with it - natural gas is another, so if people plan to follow Amory Lovins' recommendations to transition to a hydrogen economy one day, they better do it while there is still enough gas around to make it feasible.

(I'll note uranium has a poorly analysed depletion curve as well, for those who buy the "clean, green nuclear energy" line).

And if you're into doomsday scenarios based on endless oil production decline, the best places to go include Jay Hanson's fabulously gloomy ( and Mike Ruppert's From The Wilderness ( - where you can also get a good dose of conspiracy theories as well.

This article may also provide some food for thought: "The Oil We Eat" (

Posted by: Big Gav on 12 Mar 05

"How about, "Peak Carbon in the Atmosphere!" which is of course a huge positive. Self enforcing Kyoto."

Jon, it doesn't work that way.

Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere as long as human emissions exceed the rate at which the planetary system of air, oceans, soils, rock weathering, etc., resorbs the carbon.

In other words, as long as the "faucet" is at a higher volume than the "drain", the "bathtub" will fill. You can reach a "peak fill rate" and then diminish from there, but the tub will keep filling until the "drain rate" is greater than the "fill rate".

Kyoto is about a tiny reduction in the fill rate. The actual reduction we need is approximately 70% from today. Many folks think that's impossible. I don't - in fact, I think most of what we need to do to get there will be a lot of fun. Beats the alternative, anyway.

Posted by: David Foley on 12 Mar 05

Re: "What's the deal about peak oil?", "The market will resolve it", "Alternative will become affordable". I think livingfossil sums up an important point, in that people far too easily limit oil to its direct usages, and look to "alternative energy" sources as easy replacements. Firstly, there is a serious debate about whether alternative energy sources (1) can match the energy generated by oil in the near future, or (2) can be built into our oil-based infrastructure in time to mitigate serious negative effects, i.e. the energy needed to overhaul the infrastructure won't be forthcoming before it's done. I'm far from decided on this debate - but I know enough to know it's real, not to be easily dismissed.

Secondly, there are all the other uses of oil - my understanding is that agrochemicals are the most important of these. Never mind energy to transport food when you've got no fertiliser to grow it with and soil that's lost its own fertility due to years of use of agrochemicals.

Re: Terriblisma, "Everyone likes a good disaster movie", etc. Some truth in this, but I'm not sure it's helpful in a debate about these issues. Reminds me of the mis-/over-used idea of people actually having a desire for the terrible things happening to them. (Did this originate with Freud's theory of "wish-fulfilment" in dreams and neurosis? Surely past its sell-by date?) Of course there's something to it, but you can't base rational discussion on the idea, it just becomes an easy dismissal. People jerking themselves off over apocalyptic scenarios are easy to spot - everyone else deserves counter-arguments, not cod psychology :-)

Posted by: Gyrus on 13 Mar 05

David - The implication of peak oil is that well over 70% drop in emission will occur by 2030. There is also a peak for methane, and uranium.

Posted by: Jon S. on 14 Mar 05

I recently posted an article summarizing Peak Oil on Most interesing response is that there is no response: e.g. no comments at all. I think it falls flat partly because of the dread that the very idea inspires and because we have become a defeatist, supersition driven society. The whole "I'll get my MBA and get rich" mindset has to be overcome.

Posted by: John Laumer on 15 Mar 05



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg