Thursday, August 04, 2005

Duality in Peak Oil discourse

I expect some of my ideas regarding Peak Oil to seem contradictory, especially were one to survey some random posts from Peak Energy. I will try and clarify why this is – and why it will continue.

The primary duality could be described by analogy to Schrodinger's cat: is the poor grass monkey in the box alive or dead? It is unknown until it is observed.

Peak Oil puts Western Civilization in a similar box. After all the Hypercars are dreamed and ethanol brewed, there is still no guarantee of a pulse twenty years down the line. To observe the outcome of our experiment is to finally determine it.

Our civilization will struggle forward, perhaps with better habits and a carbonated ocean, or it will collapse globally, local pockets of oil notwithstanding. There is no way to rationally assert an outcome at present.

The probability for a good outcome will naturally increase if active steps are taken to honestly frame and address our problems by an international coalition of governments. The Rimini Protocol is a good example of a positive idea. It might undergird our civilization, providing a stable platform for addressing global energy solutions.

The Rimini protocol is also a wild-ass crazy idea, entertained by certain holy fools, oil geeks, and few others. It describes a future unthought and unrealized by most people living in our civilization.

This goes to the core of Peak Oil duality as I perceive it. Oil is “built” into our civilization. Peak Oil could, even now, at this late date, be addressed with serious effort. Apollo like energy projects. Conservation plans: Jimmy Carter-esque mandates to stop being wasteful.

None of this is happening.

Oil Shock – via Richard Daughty
• The largest declines in oil production last year occurred in the U.S., where output fell by 160,000 barrels a day, and in Britain, where output declined by 230,000 barrels a day. We're near the bottom of the barrel for many of America's oil fields.
• America imports 58% of its oil -- and we import more and more oil all the time. In fact, U.S. oil imports jumped 5.3% last year over 2003, versus a 5% rise for the world. So our dependency on oil from people who'd like to kill us is increasing, and increasing faster than the global average.

Today's energy crisis is transforming the world -- from geopolitics to the financial markets to the gas pump to the price of 75% of everything you consume on a daily basis.
I'd like to be able to tell you that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to prepare for the coming energy emergency...but I can't. In fact, when I think about how little prepared this country is for the changes that are about to hit us, my hands automatically clench into fists. America is unprepared -- but YOU don't have to be.

So the duality can be expressed thusly: Regarding the post-peak era, good things could happen. But there is no evidence that they will.

Our civilization has a high level of complexity, driven by the present glut of energy. You can’t replace a river of oil with a can-do attitude and elbow grease. When you fly to Europe from the United States, approximately the same amount of energy is used as was expended in the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Individuals should prepare for the worst and work for the best. Duality.

Harmonizing these two outcomes can lead to some surprising conclusions. Most “knowledge workers” I know view investing in precious metals such as gold and silver hopelessly old fashioned and tainted by Y2K hysteria. Few suspect that in a few years, “intellectual property” will be about as valuable as an investment condo in a saturated housing market.

With or without the comfortable auspices of your local neighborhood supermarket, we’re entering a bull run for commodities. No one will lose their shirt on commodities if civilization sticks around with its bevy comfortable human interfaces. In fact, one should make a bundle, just as happened in the 1970’s.

If we ascend into anarchy, having a pile of doubloons gives one something to barter with besides personal labor potential.


At 1:03 AM, August 04, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

I won't defend the practice of acquiring useless knowledge (though I think there is quite a lot of useful knowledge that could perhaps create a buffer, even if it isn't in the IT area of technology) but I still view gold and silver as fundamentally useless.

They are just metals for decoration and are only have the value that the herd places upon them. That could be a lot and it could be nothing.

Platinum could be a two way bet as at least its useful in fuel cells :-)

The best hedge is an interest in energy "producing" "things" - be that commodities or technologies (with producing meaning they create energy or improve the efficiency of use)...

At 6:29 AM, August 04, 2005, Blogger Chris said...

"There is no way to rationally assert an outcome at present."

This gets at what is for me the essential crux in facing the nemesis of Peak Oil: having to face a future we cannot foresee, but one which nevertheless guarantees to up-end our present way of life.

"Individuals should prepare for the worst and work for the best. Duality."

And this of course is the only rational response we can assume in facing our incapacity to make a rational assertion.

Though we have to face the nightmare possibility of a descent into anarchy, this for me is the abyss -- at which point I lack the capacity to imagine reality as a livable possibility. This, of course, is what we all fear most as well: everyday life as an endless episode of "Survivor." No thanks.

A stack of dubloons for barter only goes so far in the end. The only possiblity for hope in my view is in investing in community. Those we know, and those we can talk to and work with will increasingly be our only insurance against the onslaught of multiple unknowns. "Survivor" is not an option.

At 11:18 AM, August 04, 2005, Anonymous Jack said...

There is no 'duality' per say. The difference between visions are picking good and bad human behavior and guessing what is going to happen.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

At 11:49 AM, August 04, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Jack, in the context of writing about both positive technologies and outcomes, AND "head for the hills" rants, I think there are two sharply defined possibilities that are antagonistic to each other, but also entwined.

gav - I am counting on the herd behaving along traditional lines. Although in large part gold and silver are used decoratively, they have many industrial uses, and a silver coin is a good way to keep the milk from going sour when your refrigerator lacks electricity...

At 7:19 PM, August 04, 2005, Blogger WHT said...

Shroedinger also says that just to observe the outcome is to effect it. That's the jist of the uncertainty principle. Whether we do anything or not, as it is we'll be observing this as we go straight down the toilet.

About the Rimini protocol, we can call it rationing or conservation, which will the righties feel more comfortable with? Probably neither

At 3:26 PM, August 07, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Actually, I conciously ignored the fundamental quantum implications of Shroedes cat, in the standard mode of a metaphysic'ian

Dead cats are enough for me to make my trivial little points. :)


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