Monday, June 30, 2008

Fantasy Island

On another forum I was encouraged to visit the web address of one Lindsey Williams, a self-appointed energy expert who claims there are more than adequate supplies of petroleum in the world -- easily enough to support two-buck gas and the continued regime of happy motoring.

But I declined to visit Williams's site, because I already know the main outlines of the theory he’s peddling, which consists of equal parts infantile fantasy and snake oil. I call it “The Creamy Nougat Center” theory, and it’s the idea that the earth’s core is spontaneously generating crude oil, which is seeping into the bottoms of the world’s petroleum reservoirs as they are emptied from the top. I hope someone will correct me if I have some aspect of this fundamentally wrong.

Thus desperate and fearful people are lured into believing that there’s just as much petroleum to be had now, or shortly will be as much, as existed at the beginning of the second industrial revolution, ca. 1865 or so.

This, of course, begs the question, “Where is it then? Where is this embarrassment of abundance?“ If, as it was in the beginning, so it now and ever shall be, why has oil production in the U.S. declined every year for over 30 years, by about five percent a year? Why are the Saudis having to pump ever-increasing amounts of sea water into their main field at Ghawar, and relying more and more on horizontal drilling techniques just to maintain current levels of production?

In order to answer those questions, you have to turn to the snake-oil part of Williams’s scenario, the conspiracy theory. I’m less familiar with that part of it than I am with the “creamy nougat” part, since I see no reason to learn the details of complicated, Byzantine, and convoluted scenarios involving the oil giants, Jimmy Carter and the Trilateral Commission, secret meetings at the Bohemian Grove, etc., etc. It suffices to point out that if there was any truth to this conspiracy theory, every bureaucrat in every oil ministry in every country currently struggling to maintain production levels would either have to be in on it, or would have to be an unwitting dupe of the master conspirators -- something that’s clearly impossible.

No credible expert in the field has paid the least notice or given the time of day to these crackpot theories. I’ll cite the Princeton geology professor Ken Deffeyes as an example, and he’s just one of dozens I could cite, who in his commentary on the situation this week bluntly advised, “What do we do? First – admit that there is a problem . . . It's the oil supply, stupid.”

Admit there’s a problem, which is to say, two-dollar gas and happy motoring are gone forever, and little Pollyanna, who sticks out her lower lip and doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, really is not helping.

All of this reminds me of an incident that happened a few years back when a young friend of mine, on fire with the new life he’d been given by A.A., visited the cirrhosis ward in a large metropolitan hospital. He was sure he’d be able to help some of those poor, suffering bastards. But as it turned out, he couldn’t help any of them, because none of them had a drinking problem. Every single one of them testified that alcohol was not a problem, that “I can take it or leave it.” And this, even though the day of reckoning for them had arrived.

The day of reckoning has been bearing down on us for a long time, and now it’s here. The first thing I did this morning, as I usually do when I get up on Monday, was visit Jim Kunstler’s blog, for his weekly installment of the bad news. And I’ll admit, it does take a strong stomach and some real courage for any normal, ordinary citizen to wrap his or her head around the truth.

But we’ll be a lot worse off if we don’t acknowledge it, and take personal steps to cope with it. The phrase that comes to mind is from Mr. “T” -- he of “A-Team” fame, who always used to say “I pity the fool who…” Yes. And I pity anybody who has not taken some concrete steps in his or her life to deal with these new realities, because you’re getting crushed like bugs.

And just one more thing. Obviously, there’s going to be a third industrial revolution, and the gangbusters new industries that arise during that phase of development will focus on renewable and clean methods of energy generation and energy conversion. There was a time when this country would have been leading the world in investing in, and developing and, yes, selling the new technologies. What happened to us? Why have we become so backward, inept, and unable to deal with the realities of changing conditions?

This is not the America I grew up in.


Joe said...

He is dumb because if not $4 per gallon, why $2 per gallon? Why not 50 cents?

Grace Nearing said...

There was a time when this country would have been leading the world in investing in, and developing and, yes, selling the new technologies. What happened to us?

One theory, as Kevin Phillips presents in several of his books, including American Theocracy, is that beginning in the 1960s the US collectively shrugged and waved goodbye to large sectors of its economy, most notably manufacturing. It focused instead on FIRE: finance, insurance, and real estate and the endless packaging, shuffling, repackaging, and reshuffling of these "paper products." Phillips maintains that such a classic rentier economy heralds the end of empire and cites numerous historic precedents for the claim.

Why have we become so backward, inept, and unable to deal with the realities of changing conditions?

Maybe I'm being naive here, but I think the "we" you refer to is really our elected representatives. Most Americans seem to realize that it's long past time to transition to a variety of integrated and complementary forms of energy and transportation -- oh, and some form of national health insurance.

We're now well into the third decade of our government completely ignoring the stated goals and priorities of its citizens.

Get the feeling that the US establishment does not fear the people?

Joe said...

That stuff about a paper-pushing economy is pretty true. Brings to mind that saying about a stopped clock, as applied to Phillips.

Somewhere around the 50's or 60's the powers-that-be began to determine that the power of the people must be thwarted to maintain control of the course of world events. They particularly noticed the democratizing effect of a free press, and that if you do a "Watergate", you have to be a lot sneakier.