Is it clear yet?

In Peak Crisco, in early July, I noted that oil prices had hit $60 per barrel, with some predicting $80-100 by Winter. It’s now been hovering around $70, a little ahead of schedule.

Peak Oil is now mainstream news, if only as a theory. I have a friend who has tolerated my talk of impending crisis politely for nearly a year. She asked me once to “bring it,” meaning that she was open to being entertained by my crazy End-Is-Nigh talk. And she did for months. I told her that I didn’t think our children would drive–I might as well have told her I thought there was a Florida-sized meteor made of impacted fecal matter sneaking up on us from behind the moon. But after I sent links from the local paper and the New York Times presenting the threat to her, she asked me to stop. She told me that she’d prefer to live in a fantasy world loving her car until the end. I’m not embellishing. She took the blue pill. I think we’re in for a lot of trouble, but as much of it will be psychological in determination as thermodynamic.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve has been tapped for the second time in history to stabilize oil prices. The first time was during the first Gulf War. The reserve represents less than a month of our consumption — not that we’ll be relying upon it more than a little, or that tight rationing wouldn’t be imposed if we were. The military would naturally get theirs first to, you know, protect our non-negotiable way of life by invading another oil-bearing region, or trying to. It’s not weapons; it’s not democracy: it’s oil after all. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

I’ve held back on commenting about Katrina, though it has been tough to remain calm at seeing comparisons to last year’s Indian Ocean tsunamis, which killed more than 150,000 people. Some disasters are more natural than others. Katrina’s real name is making the rounds in media I follow. It asserts that we have global warming to thank for Katrina and lots of other freakish weather lately. Whether you think that’s a sound conclusion or not, you’ll appreciate the irony that among responses to the catastrophe has been for the Environmental Protection Agency to waive clean air requirements for gasoline and diesel through September 15th. More greenhouse gasses. “These waivers are necessary to see that fuel is available throughout the country,” said the EPA head. Does he really mean that fuel will become unavailable unless we look the other way on emissions? Why not rationing? I guess the Environmental Protection Agency thinks it’s better to burn dirty than to burn less. What other measures follow from this more better reasoning? Why do I suspect that the waiver will be extended past September 15th? Emergency Fantasy Implosion Deferral.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

4 thoughts on “Is it clear yet?”

  • Jess Austin


    I live in Los Angeles. To what 2-foot snowfall is the Globe article you link referring? It’s true
    that our local ski areas did well (for SoCal) last winter, but my house is in the foothills of the
    San Gabriel mountains and all I got all winter were a couple of frosts that had melted off by 7 AM.

    I’m not familiar with all of the other places he mentioned, so I can’t definitively deny any of the
    other events he describes. But I’m inclined to doubt those events that I haven’t heard about from
    other sources. Even if all of the other stories were true, stories are all we get. As with any
    entirely anecdotal argument, there’s no escaping the sample bias.

    It seems to me that sample bias underlies the entire “global warming theory”. To whit:

    1) “Over the last several centuries temperatures in many regions has in general risen.” There is
    actual evidence for this claim, so let’s stipulate its basic truth.

    2) “It is highly abnormal for temperatures to warm over the course of several centuries.” This is
    the sample bias I’m talking about. If we restate it as, “It is highly abnormal for modern science
    to observe temperatures to warm over the course of several centuries”, we have something a little
    closer to the truth. The long-term normal state of global climate is not something that can be
    directly observed within the lifetime of a civilization, let alone that of a human.

    3) “The activities of humanity have brought about this highly abnormal pattern.” This statement has
    never been scientifically considered. It is a hypothesis without an experiment. There have been
    any number of computer models proposed, but they all involve so many variables and so much unsupported
    ad-hockerry that they are basically just computer games for the tenured.

    There are important reasons to use less oil. I can see a giant smoggy reason hanging over the valleys
    every day as I bike to work. There’s no reason to enlist psuedo-science in the support of healthy
    lifestyles that include bicycles.


  • Jim

    Good post Todd. I like the part about the fantasy world. While Mad Max reality is gripping the Gulf Coast right now, and gas is close to or over $3/gallon everywhere else, I imagine a lot of people still aren’t ready to discuss this matter of the energy crisis, and will be angry when it’s brought up in conversation.

    Jess, to paraphrase Professor of Geophysics Henry Pollack of the University of Michigan, ‘just because scientists don’t know everything does not mean they don’t know anything’. There are lots of holes in the case for global warming. Likewise, there are even more holes in the argument that global warming is human induced. People who work in the geological sciences are accustomed to working with imperfect data sets. Unlike a chemist, who can cook up an experiment in a controlled lab setting, the people who study the Earth’s thermal history must be content with the evidence that nature has left behind. I measured what I believe was a climate change signal in the magnetic properties of Chinese dust deposits when I was working on my MS in 1999. The magnetic properties change, quite distinctly, in the dust horizons that have been correlated in time to major climatic change events. The signal is a choppy line of frequent fluctuations from year to year, century to century. Then in the horizoon that was laid down over the past 100 years, the signal takes off consistently in one direction. Take the data I collected and compare it with similar data from other researchers from samples from other localities, and the signals are remarkably agreeable. Take the dust magnetic data I collected, and lay it over oxygen isotope data from Greenland ice cores, and, once again, the signals have big peaks and valleys at the same points in time. Are there unsolved problems with these data? Of course. Do seemingly disparate data sets obtained using wide ranging methodolgies seem to agree? Yep. Are scientists hard at work right now trying to isolate and remove the major sources of potential error in each of these methods? Yes.

    As for the computer models, they are oversimplified because of computational limitations. Those who develop and use such models, contrary to your suggestion that the models are merely “games”, actually care that such models are accurate. So they spend many man-hours and millions of dollars trying to assure that the simplifications don’t compromise model results. They do this by evaluating the models against field data, lab experiements, and the rare mathematical solution.

  • Todd

    Jess: I don’t accept as fact that global warming is the cause of Katrina, but it is certainly a plausible contributor. I share your hesitation to grasp at straws in support of what should stand on its own. I wouldn’t drive if cars were somehow completely sustainable, sociological factors aside.

    This doesn’t merit a post, so: can somebody essplain me how oil prices are high because of limited refinery capacity, an explanation that I’ve encountered frequently in the media? I can see how inadequate refinery capacity would drive up the price of gas and other distillates, but it seems to me that it would actually drive down the cost of the inputs.

  • Mauricio Babilonia
    Mauricio Babilonia September 1, 2005 at 4:27 am

    I don’t think that oil prices are high because of limited refinery capacity. Prices are high because light sweet crude is in short supply under heavy demand, and refining capacity is limited for heavy sour crude. Sort of a media half-truth (surprise!)

    I also think that the reduced demand for crude caused by damaged refineries is as responsible for crude not having gone past $70 than is dipping into the strategic reserve. Witness also how a real shortage of refining capacity has driven up product prices (especially gasoline) while crude has remained about the same.

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