An overdue explanation

Last week’s contentious Viewpoints piece in the Arizona Republic stirred some long-overdue interest in peak oil. On the first of six pages of online comments is this one: “We’ll check back with ya in 10 years Guy. You might have some ‘splanin’ to do.”
I suspect there will be no need for explanation in a decade, by which time we’ll be well on our way to the post-industrial Stone Age. So I’ll provide the explanation now, before the power goes out and the Empire collapses under the weight of its own hubris. Actually, I gave a partial explanation in a follow-up piece in the Republic, but more details follow .


Hubbert’s model indicates we peaked in December 2005, according to Princeton professor emeritus Ken Deffeyes. Data from the ultra-conservative U.S. government Energy Information Administration (EIA), on the other hand, indicate we passed the world oil peak in May 2005: see column “F” in this Excel table. If Hubbert’s bell-shaped curve is accurate at the global level, as it has been for every other level studied so far, global oil production in 2008 should match that of 2002 (which was about 67 million bbl/day, according to column “F” in the aforementioned table). My prediction of “global supply plummeting below 70 million barrels/day” is conservative compared to Hubbert’s model. The data are more dire than the model, since they indicate we passed the world oil peak in May 2005 instead of December 2005.
Note that we have not passed the global peak for all liquids, which includes many non-crude products (e.g., liquid natural gas, gasified coal, “oil” from tar sands). Richard Heinberg expects this peak to occur in 2010 or 2011. But apparently we have reached peak production of the master resource, crude oil.
Conservative, too, is my prediction of oil priced at $400/barrel in 2018. By that time, Hubbert’s model predicts we’ll be producing about 60 million barrels per day, whereas the EIA forecasts global demand at about 110 million barrels per day. The French investment bank Ixis-CIB forecasts $380 oil in 2015, so my estimate of $400 oil in 2018 is quite conservative.
Matt Savinar’s website gives a broad and compelling overview of the fix we’re in, and it debunks ridiculous ideas such as “deep” and “abiotic” oil, and also hydrogen as a fuel. It’s worth reading the site’s breaking news every day.
A quick read of Savinar’s site, especially in combination with the many others dedicated to serious discussion of peak oil, supports my central thesis: We will not innovate or organize out way out of this crisis. Oil priced at $100/barrel is no great shakes, but the supply disruptions and hyperinflation associated with $400 oil are another matter. Economic growth slowed to nearly zero in the fourth quarter of last year, during which time oil never hit $100/barrel. Since then, it’s rarely been below the $100 threshold.
Below, I list a few of many resources dedicated to this important issue:
Books:
Four by Richard Heinberg:
The Party’s Over
Powerdown
The Oil Depletion Protocol
Peak Everything

Two by Kenneth Deffeyes:
Hubbert’s Peak
Beyond Oil

James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency
David Goodstein’s Out of Gas
Aric McBay’s Peak Oil Survival
Additional websites, in no particular order:
Energy Bulletin
The oil drum
Postcarbon Institute
Oil Depletion Analysis Center
PeakOil.net
Survival Acres
From the Wilderness
There are many more resources, of course, but these will get you started. Finally, this nicely written three-part article by Dmitry Orlov, author of Reinventing Collapse, provides practical advice for various hypothetical people: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Comments 17

  • I agree in principle with you. I think, however, that trying to be too specific on dates is probably not a good idea, and even Kenneth Defeyyes, who actually worked with Marion Hubbert, admits that his prognostication is a hypothesis and can only be verified several years after the peak is reached. This week the webiste theoildrum.com, which is very pro-peak oil, contained news of an all-time high of petroleum production this year, which obviously contradicts assessments that peak oil occurred in 2005. However, the exact timing of the actual peak is not the primary issue. The fact that we are near the peak is what is highly significant and the peak itself may turn out to be a plateau with minor ups and downs over a few years before the downward turn is undeniable and the bell curve slope downwards becomes steep and irreversible.
    Richard Heinberg noted that not only is petroleum peaking, but many of our earth’s finite resources seem to be peaking or face the grim reality that our exploitation is unsustainable by a large factor.
    So, for humanity, the long emergency is due, if not overdue, and our myopic pursuit of consumer goods and wealth will prove to be lethal for many of us.
    Another fact that is hardly emphasized, even in peak oil discussions, is that the world is controlled by wealthy, powerful, elites who will surely do everytning in their formidable power to engineer their own survival at the expense of the lives and safety and property of virtually everyone else. We are seeing powerful harbingers of a global food crisit, which may kill millions of humans in the foreseeable future. The wealthy elites may very well stand by and allow this to happeen so that when a die-off occurs, they will be left alive with their mercenary armies and their hoarded supplies of survival goods with an opportunity to restart their version of civilization on a much smaller scale.
    This is a subject that deserves further consideration.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Right on Professor McPherson.In Matt Savinar’s,Breaking News:Friday April 11,2008,we see that Vietnamese families have to spend 65% of their budgets just on food.
    When I was in Saigon last year there were three Roll’s Royce dealerships in that city.Anyone see a disconnect here?

  • Stan’s point, the date of peak, which is now uncertain given the latest EIA data release and discussed here, http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3835 also brings up the issue of what is oil? Is it just crude plus condensate? Should it include natgasplantliquids (LGPL)? What about syncrude like Canada’s tar sands? Even Collin Campbell/ASPO International’s great chart that graces the top of his monthly newsletter doesn’t even go into all the various types, http://www.aspo-ireland.org/contentFiles/newsletterPDFs/newsletter88_200804.pdf
    These questions are important because not all fuels contain eqivalent BTUs–a 42 gallon barrel of crude has a higher/denser amount of BTUs than any of those petroleum-related oil-like substances. So the all-liquids measure has a lesser amount of BTU content than a similar amount of crude, thus the measure is misleading. This becomes even more true when judged by actual net energy content. Please see theoildrum.com link above for a very lively discussion and links to other information about these topics. There’s also lively discussion about the Bakken province in North Dakota and how it’s not going to come close to matching its boosters predictions.

  • I, too, believe conservation is the way to go in saving Mother Earth from us humans. Many of us are spoiled and ignorant of how our daily living choices affect the environment. I agree that it would be political suicide for anyone running for President to hop on the conservation bandwagon. Just running for President calls for excesses that are unhealthy for the environment. Keep up the good work, Guy McPherson, and don’t let the hate mail get you down.

  • The article referenced by Stan Moore from The Oil Drum has an extensive commentary following. It turns out that May 2005 remains the global peak in C&C production because the 2008 number includes tar sands, which is clearly NOT C&C and was rolled in simply to give the statistical illusion of stable production. Remove the tar sands number and the 2008 number is almost 1.1 mbpd lower.

  • Suggest anyone interested in this subject read “Twilight in the Desert” by Matthew R. Simmons.
    Does anyone know the actual worldwide oil consumption figures currently? I believe they are quite a bit higher than mentioned in the Republic article.

  • Lets imagine for a moment that Professor Macpherson is correct and we are indeed headed towards a collapse of civilization resulting in a new Stone Age enviroment and the PTB knows this is coming, what would they need to do to protect their positions of power and ready themselves for the ensuing chaos in the streets when the Empire begins to crack and crumble?
    The obvious answer is they would need in place the type of legislation that would allow them to lock the civilization down in order to control the chaos that will ensue when this all comes to an abrupt end.
    So for Professor Macpherson to be right we would probably need to see this police state being built all around us as we speak. The question then becomes, how can they build that police state without calling attention to it and causing premature fear and panic among the people?
    An event would be needed that would sifficiently put the people asleep just long enough to make this happen.
    Enter the events of 9-11 and the ensuing draconian police state legislation passed by our congress and through the unprecedented use of the Presidental Executive order:
    It is not a matter of thinking or believing that the power to declare martial law has been established, of course it has always been within the power of the executive branch to do so, but since 9-11 there has been a CONCERTED EFFORT to make it much more easy to do and to BROADEN the reasons that will allow them to justify doing it.
    For example just recently President Bush signed Executive Directive 51 which defines a “national emergency” as “any incident, regardless of location (doesnt even have to happen INSIDE THE UNITED STATES), that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”. It also allows for the President to personally declare when this state is reached without any congressional oversight. This directly goes against the separation of powers in our constitution and also the National Emergencies Act which makes sure that Congress oversees the declaration of a state of emergency. This directive states that in this case an “Enduring Constitutional Government,” comprising “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government,” will replace the current form of government and will solely be coordinated by the President himself. This effectively changes Bush into a dictator and gives him the ability to disassemble our current government and implement a new Enduring Constitutional Government – under his totalitarian rule.
    What’s even more disturbing than that is the fact that all this that we know – is only the declassified information. The National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive contains an entire portion that is completely classified. In fact, its so secret that Congress is not even allowed to see it.
    The list continues, since 9-11:
    This plan goes back decades, but I would like to keep it recent. We’ll say, the past 2 years. It all starts with H.R. 5122 (John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007)[text of bill] which was passed in congress on September 30, 2006 and signed by President George W. Bush on October 17, 2006. This bill effectively (and officially) paved the way for the complete control of our country by one man – The President himself.
    The bill revises the Insurrection Act of 1807, an act allowing the president to personally use military force to quell rebellion, lawlessness, and subversion. The new revisions expand those abilities to allow Bush to “…employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to…restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States…, where the President determines that,…domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order; suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy…”. The Insurrection Act of 1807 was repealed in 1878 with the passing of the Posse Comitatus Act which reinforced the idea that the military was meant to govern our borders rather than police our streets.
    Signed into law on the same day, we have the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text of bill] which allows the President to deem any citizen an “enemy combatant”. It also did away with habeas corpus, the right to bring your case before a public court, and instead moves all legal dealings to confidential military tribunals.
    These 2 changes in our system of Constitutional law are particularly disturbing due to the legislation passed in the past:
    Executive Order Number 12148 created the Federal
    Emergency Management Agency to interface with the Department of Defense
    for civil defense planning and funding. An “emergency czar” was
    appointed. FEMA has only spent about 6 percent of its budget on
    national emergencies. The bulk of their funding has been used for the
    construction of secret underground facilities to assure continuity of
    government in case of a major emergency, foreign or domestic.
    Executive Order Number 12656 appointed the National Security Council as
    the principal body that should consider emergency powers. This allows
    the government to increase domestic intelligence and surveillance of
    U.S. citizens and would restrict the freedom of movement within the
    United States and grant the government the right to isolate large
    groups of civilians. The National Guard could be federalized to seal
    all borders and take control of U.S. air space and all ports of entry.
    Executive Order 10990 allows the government to take over all modes of
    transportation and control of highways and seaports.
    Executive Order 10995 allows Seizure of all communications media in the
    United States.
    Executive Order 10997 allows Seizure of a all electric power fuels and
    minerals, public and private.
    Executive Order 10998 allows the government to take over all food
    resources and farms.
    Executive Order 10999 allows Seizure of all means of transportation,
    including personal cars, trucks or vehicles of any kind and total
    control of highways, seaports and waterways.
    Executive Order 11000 allows Seizure of all American people for work
    forces under federal supervision including the splitting of families if
    the government finds it necessary.
    Executive Order 11001 allows seizure of all health, education and
    welfare facilities, public and private.
    Executive Order 11002 empowered the postmaster general to register all
    men, women and children in the U.S.
    Executive Order 11003 allows seizure of all airports and aircraft.
    Executive Order 11004 allows seizure of all housing and finance
    authorities to establish Forced Relocation Designated areas to be
    abandoned as “unsafe.”
    Executive Order 11005 allows seizure of all railroads, inland waterways
    and storage facilities, public and private.
    Executive Order 11051 specifies the responsibility of the Office of
    Emergency Planning and gives authorization to put all Executive Orders
    into effect in times of increased international tensions and economic
    or financial crisis.
    Executive Order 11921 allows the Federal Emergency Preparedness Agency
    to develop plans to establish control over the mechanisms of production
    and distribution, of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the
    flow of money in U.S. financial institution in any undefined national
    emergency. It also provides that when a state of emergency is declared
    by the President, Congress cannot review the action for six months.
    Executive Order 12919 otherwise known as National Defense Industrial
    Resources Preparedness, was signed by William Jefferson Clinton on June
    4, 1994, and released on June 6, 1994. EO 12919 making the President a
    virtual dictator in war or peace.
    For actual texts of the Executive orders, simply use your favorite
    search engine and search or http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/
    This is all just preparing for the future. Toward a time when the president can declare a “state of emergency” and then take control of any function in our nation, with military force and no intervention by the then-crippled satellite government.
    And then we have this year:
    Executive Directive 51 which defines a “national emergency” as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”. It also allows for the President to personally declare when this state is reached without any congressional oversight. This directly goes against the separation of powers in our constitution and also the National Emergencies Act which makes sure that Congress oversees the declaration of a state of emergency. This directive states that in this case an “Enduring Constitutional Government,” comprising “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government,” will replace the current form of government and will solely be coordinated by the President himself. This effectively changes Bush into a dictator and gives him the ability to disassemble our current government and implement a new Enduring Constitutional Government – under his totalitarian rule.
    What’s even more disturbing than that is the fact that all this that we know – is only the declassified information. The National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive contains an entire portion that is completely classified. In fact, its so secret that Congress is not even allowed to see it.
    A large part of this plan for domination rests on FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose purpose is to “coordinate the response to a disaster which has occurred in the United States and which overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities.” As shown in the above list of executive orders, FEMA gains control of a large portion of our rights and liberties if any sort of emergency would be declared – including any emergency the President chose to declare within his wide scope of options (”a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States”, and economic crises, etc). Another help in widening the power of FEMA was the National Security Act of 1947 and the 1950 Defence Production Act.
    FEMA’s powers were consolidated by President Jimmy Carter to incorporate: The National Security Act of 1947, which allows for the strategic relocation of industries, services, government and other essential economic activities, and to rationalize the requirements for manpower, resources and production facilities; The 1950 Defense Production Act, which gives the President sweeping powers over all aspects of the economy; The Act of August 29, 1916, which authorizes the Secretary of the Army, in time of war, to take possession of any transportation system for transporting troops, material, or any other purpose related to the emergency; and The International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which enables the President to seize the property of a foreign country or national. These powers were transferred to FEMA in a sweeping consolidation in 1979.
    As part of their contingency plan for keeping peace is the use of hundreds of “detention facilities” dotted all around the USA. [locate a camp near you!] These are camps that were built by Halliburton and have been being built and renovated since the 80s. These camps were used as part of Rex 84, a military readiness exercise to test their ability to detain large amounts of American citizens during a time of national emergency or civil unrest. FEMA, along with 34 other federal civil departments and agencies, conducted this exercise which “anticipated civil disturbances, major demonstrations and strikes that would affect continuity of government and/or resource mobilization. To fight subversive activities, there was authorization for the military to implement government ordered movements of civilian populations at state and regional levels, the arrest of certain unidentified segments of the population, and the imposition of martial rule.” [source]
    Because of these laws giving power to FEMA (and because of other laws to modify those ones, the President), they have ability to detain any US citizen without trial or reason for an unlimited amount of time, and use torture and execution methods if deemed necessary. This also gives them the ability to take control of every function of society in one fell swoop.
    And now we reach today. In the past few weeks, a certain scary set of events has begun to unfold that point to a possible use of martial law in the not-to-distant-future. The first is the apparent collapse in the US economy. That subject alone would need its own article, but needless to say the American economy is going down the tubes, and nothing that the FTC or the Federal Reserve has done so far is helping.
    In light of all this, who and what were really behind the events of 9-11 and what do they know about what our future holds that is making them feel they need to create this kind of fascist police state to protect us/themselves from it?

  • Mr. McPherson,
    I read the Viewpoints article in the Republic and it upset me. I feel really doomed. I am 56 so I can say that it won’t affect me as much as my children and grandchild. What is an ordinary person supposed to do?

  • Gary, I’m a UofAZ alum (class of 58, Engineering). Our university has had its share of outstanding teachers. I’m glad the administration has hired you. In an age of increased mass media bias, we need ”the other viewpoint” more now than ever. I hope the highly paid, highly esteemed administration at the Univ. will not have its spine turn to buttermilk and dispose of you, but nothing would surprise me anymore.

  • Professor McPherson,
    I heard you on NPR today and have read some of your writing and am impressed with what you have to say.
    The subject of peak oil was made clear to me in the excellent documentary “The End of Suburbia”. The United States has been in denial for years about our wasteful habits and now it looks like the whole program will certainly grind to a halt. Too bad the poor will suffer first.
    Continue with your clarion call. Maybe we as a culture can learn something from it.

  • I agree 100% with the Hypothesis of the poster”Gonzo”, who pointed out the “Police State” legislation that has been passed, and justified in the name of “terrorism” and illegal immigration.
    That is, the Patriot Act, Real ID Act, and even SPP. It appears the government might be planning for potential social unrest.
    I’ve thought this for awhile, its nice to know others have been feeling the same.

  • Oh Lucy!
    Regarding the “splaining” to be done that JDAZ thinks will come due in a decade, I’m reminded of the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich. Paul paid up. Which simply points out that how long something takes is the critical question. After all, we’re sure the sun will eventually burn out. I think in this case — peak oil — the key variables are substitution, conservation, and nonlinear social responses to energy decline. Peak Oil is a great geologic hypothesis but not necessarily a good sociologic hypothesis. Society will respond to energy declines in nonlinear ways.
    Stan Moore touched on some of the social aspects and after Gonzo’s comprehensive summary, I don’t think there’s much left to add except maybe one more book recommendation, The Road to 9/11, Peter Dale Scott’s latest research into wealth, empire, and the future of America.
    But pampered people in our culture must have it end on an positive note. That was the most frequent criticism I heard about Guy’s talk at the Deserts and Climate Workshop — too negative. People want to know, “what can I do?” For that I have two recommendations: 1) stop traveling and, 2) grow your own food locally.
    “Besides that,” I can hear them ask.

  • I would add as #3, become very active in local and state politics.

  • Great, in-your-face article in the main stream press. Many thanks.
    I’m a psych prof looking into what psychological science may have to offer to mitigate the coming crisis.
    More info at my website:
    Evolutionary psychology and peak oil:
    A Malthusian inspired “heads up” for humanity.
    http://drmillslmu.com/peakoil.htm

  • Not to Quibble
    Committing the offense of sub-parsing, I’ll offer an edit to the third recommendation by karlof1:
    “I would add as #3, become very active in local and state politics.”
    Politics draws me into that false dichotomy of Repugnican versus Demoncrat, right versus left, heads versus tails of the same Imperial Coin, the coin of war, greed, and corruption. Your local precinct feeds into the state, which feeds into the farce we see played out on the national stage to the music of that huge, Wurlitzer Organ, the mainstream media. You can’t get third party candidates elected because the game is rigged. It’s like trying to make money in a casino. The house wins. Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for the courage of people who are trying to fix the system from within. But metaphorically, it’s like trying to shore up a skyscraper by working on the inside while it’s on the verge of collapse. I think it’s more a matter of what comes after. What are we going to rebuild? For that I would replace politics with community. Not just genetically related tribes, religious cults, and gangs, but real community. Sure, there will always be politics in community but surely a whole lot more.
    Recommendation #3, become very active in your local community.

  • Thanks, everybody, for such stimulating online discussion. Great stuff from the oil drum, especially the reference that EIA is fudging the data by, for the first time ever, including oil sands as part of crude + condensate. Shame on them! I suspect this type of bait and switch will continue at least until we see all liquids peak in 2011 or so.

  • If Anarchy comes when petrol finishes it would be a bendition, my grandfather stills remembers me how Barcelona worked under anarchy for some time before the fascism killed the dream.
    I hope to have the opportunity to build this system again.
    Alberto
    Spain