11 07 2010

This month’s “Truth in Strange Places” award goes to Tennessee’s  own Lamar Alexander, for saying, in a speech on the Senate floor:

“We use 25 percent of all the energy in the world to produce about 25 percent of all the money in the world—five percent of the people in the world. In order to keep our high standard of living we need to remember we’re not a desert island. Solar, wind and biomass are an important supplement, but America’s 21st Century reliable, low-cost energy needs are not going to be met by electricity produced by a windmill, a controlled bonfire and a few solar panels.”

What makes the placement of this truth strange is the overall context, and the presumptions that surround it.  Senator Alexander apparently thinks that America can keep relying on petroleum and coal, build more nuclear power plants, and thus maintain our current lifestyle.

Senator Alexander’s remarks contain numerous fallacies about our energy supply and its future.

First, he assumes we can keep on relying on petroleum, when the truth is that we on the brink of seeing our petroleum supply diminish rapidly.  One of the rarely mentioned significances of deep water oil drilling is that we are only doing it because all the easy oil is gone.  We are at the point of peak oil.  Demand, especially from India and China, is increasing, while the rate of new oil discoveries has fallen dramatically and the amount of oil produced annually has plateaued.  .  Senator Alexander refuses to face the fact that we are running out of oil.

Second, he assumes that we can go on mining coal indefinitely.  This is not the case; carbon issues aside, some students of our energy future think we may hit “peak coal” in just another fifteen years or so. Let’s face it: mountaintop removal is to coal what deep water drilling is to oil–scraping the bottom of the jar for the last scraps of its contents.  Large-scale coal mining is also heavily dependent on petroleum for lubricants and transportation, and will become more expensive as the price of oil continues to increase.  Sen. Alexander further assumes that the sacrifice of much of West Virginia and Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee, is an acceptable price to pay for that coal.  Many of the area’s residents would disagree with him.  The fact that coal companies do not have to pay out of pocket for the destruction of the Appalachian ecosystem does not make it any less expensive.  It just means that somebody besides the coal companies is having to pay the cost.

Senator Alexander ignores the climate change aspect of coal and oil extraction, as well, and falsely claims that nuclear power is a low-carbon option.  The increasing carbonation of our atmosphere and oceans has spun the planet’s climate out of equilibrium and in a much, much warmer direction.  By cutting back our carbon emissions, we can at least soften the blow that is falling on us, but Senator Alexander recklessly disregards these realities in his demand for comfort now.  Where is his respect for the rights of the unborn on this issue?

“The rights of the unborn”—yes, I find it extremely ironic that many of those who campaign against abortion on this slogan seem to have no compunction about living a high-consumption lifestyle that will leave little in the way of natural resources for those who are not yet born….but I digress…

Nuclear power, too, faces looming limits on the availability of its primary fuel, uranium, and has the further disadvantage of creating radioactive wastes that remain lethal for a quarter of a million years, at least.  Not surprisingly, we have yet to come up with a technology or even a location for safe containment and storage of these poisons.  A quarter of a million years ago, our ancestors were not yet homo sapiens.   That’s how long we’re talking about here.  And, while Senator Alexander rails against subsidies for wind power, he conveniently ignores the massive subsidies that have made nuclear power appear to be a viable option for producing electricity.When the subsidies are factored in, nuclear energy is one of the most expensive ways to produce electricity.  A program that improved the efficiency of insulation, lighting, heating and cooling, and other common uses of electricity could eliminate the need for nearly 400 power plants in this country  We don’t need more, thank you.  The Europeans are doing quite nicely on about half of US per capita energy consumption.

And then there’s the question of how we are supposed to pay for more energy production, or even continue to pay for what we are currently using.  Sure, we have been “five percent of the people with twenty-five percent of the money,” but those days are just about over.  The American middle class is tapped out–in addition to everybody’s personal debts, we middle-class taxpayers are footing the bills for the bank bailout and our country’s military adventures in the Middle East, and just printing up more dollar bills will only go so far.

Can you say bankruptcy, boys and girls?

And the sad thing about all Senator Alexander’s errors of fact and perception is that they are not just one man’s opinion.  They are presumably shared by the million and a half Tennesseans who elected him, as well as millions of Americans around the country, many of whom are not even Republicans.  After all, Obama’s energy guy, Steven Chu, is calling for an expanded nuclear program in this country.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” eh?

The one thing that Senator Alexander did get right is that renewable energy sources cannot maintain the energy supply to which we have become accustomed.  The American lifestyle–indeed, the lifestyle of any even moderately wealthy person anywhere on the planet–is possible only because we have burned the greater part of the planet’s accessible supplies of coal and oil in the last two hundred years, leaving only scraps for our descendants.  There is no way we can keep living as we have been.  We are going to need to orchestrate a sensible and orderly return to a simpler lifestyle, or face the chaotic consequences of ignoring that reality.  It’s not what most people in America want to hear, but that’s the way it is.  The party’s over, Lamar.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over



15 responses

11 07 2010

You may be right or you are panicking.

You have to remember that we heard the same stories as you write above in the ’70’s and ’80’s.
Well the shortage then was manufactured by politicians, for example President Carter with his domestic oil price policy etc.

Maybe the end of oil is near but remember many of us have heard this wolf crying before.



11 07 2010

If we had taken Carter’s advice then instead of drinking Reagan’s Kool-Aid, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today, with the US running major deficits to import oil and major military missions (and consequent deficits) to secure oil supplies from Iraq because “the American way of life is not negotiable.” The oil companies wouldn’t be pressing to drill in dangerous, expensive places like a mile under the ocean or the far Arctic if they knew of “easy oil.”

But if you choose to bury your head in the sand, I hope you enjoy your cruise on the Titanic….ask not for whom the wolf cries…he cries for you.

11 07 2010

Brother Martin!

Carter’s policies were the prime reason why there was an oil shortage in the US. I remember it well. He had a problem of which you possibly share, in that he resented companies making profits.
Every economist knows how to create shortages and Carter’s policies fitted the rule exactly.

What I dont know is whether vestiges of his policies still remain.

Of course the oil gets harder to drill and therefore more expensive, but there is no sign of it actually running out just yet.

12 07 2010

Gee, as I recall, the problem Jimmy Carter had was that Kissenger and company blckmailed him into giving the former “Shah” of Iran (who had been put in place when BP and the CIA overthrew a popularly elected government in the country so BP and not the Iranians would get the benefits from the oil there), and so the Iranians quit selling us’s what wikipedia sez about it:

Richard Nixon had imposed price controls on domestic oil, which had helped cause shortages that led to gasoline lines during the 1973 Oil Crisis. Gasoline controls were repealed, but controls on domestic US oil remained. The Jimmy Carter administration began a phased deregulation of oil prices on April 5, 1979, when the average price of crude oil was US$15.85 per barrel (42 US gallons). Over the next 12 months the price of crude oil rose to $39.50 per barrel (its all time highest real price until March 7, 2008.)[6] Deregulating domestic oil price controls allowed domestic U.S. oil output to rise sharply from the large Prudhoe Bay fields, while oil imports fell sharply. Hence, long lines appeared at gas stations, as they had six years earlier during the 1973 oil crisis.

So, it was Republican Richard Nixon who instituted price controls, and Democrat Jimmy Carter who turned free enterprise loose. Who loves ya, baby?

The same article goes on to point out:
During the period, many people believed the oil companies artificially created oil shortages to drive up prices, rather than factors beyond human control or the US’ own price controls. The amount of oil sold in the United States in 1979 was only 3.5 percent less than the record set for oil sold the year previously.

So, me and Richard Nixon have a problem with companies making outrageous profits. Jimmy Carter, bless his heart, (as they say down here about well intentioned people who screw up royally) turned the oil companies loose, and that’s when they screwed us.

What I don’t understand about a lot of people in this country is why they (you?), in the name of “freedom,” staunchly defend the right of corporations to rob them blind, whether it’s oil prices, health insurance/healthcare costs, Wall St. regulation, or an insanely bloated, untouchable military budget. You wouldn’t put up with legalizing armed robbery, but this isn’t about taking your pocket change–this is about taking trillions of dollars that could be going for the general welfare (not as big government programs, mind you, just circulating among people who will do real things with it instead of jetting to Bali or buying insanely expensive clothing or sticking it up their nose), taking those trillions of dollars and giving it to the uber-rich so they can become even richer

if you don’t think that’s what’s going on in this country, check out

as for “no sign of (oil) running out just yet,” domestic US oil production has been in decline since the 1970’s, with a slight interruption by the Prudhoe Bay fields in Alaska, which are now in decline. Mexico’s oil fields are in steep decline, and that’s where a big chunk of US imported oil comes from. The North Sea oilfields are in decline. There are plenty of signs that we are running out.
this link
will take you to a page with graphs of oil production in 42 countries…and the bulk of them are in decline, as is the rate of new oil discoveries, which are not keeping pace with the decline of the older fields.

Thanks for comin’ back at me!

13 07 2010

There is no indeed no sign of the oil (and gas) ever running out, that is not what peak oil is about. It is true that the oil fields that we have already tapped are decreasing in production, but advances in technology have uncovered vast new reserves around the world, it just might not be possible to get them out of the ground without killing all life on the planet. As one geologist has noted “Energy shortage…, Hell! We are afraid of running out of air to burn.” Peak oil is more about overpopulation, demand outstripping supply. Not to say that supply won’t slip since the new reserve are more expensive and difficult to extract, but even before the current oil fields run out there will be a frenzy as the realization takes hold that the party is indeed over. Then we will all kill each other.

14 07 2010

I think this article supports 1 bnr’s position.

Many of the wells capped in the Gulf of Mexico have successful strikes of oil etc, but are considered uneconomic to exploit in the current economic climate.

As the price (at the well head) rises, these known oil resources can be almost immediately used. It is just a matter of the price that domestic producers in the US can get for their oil.


14 07 2010

It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to take the easy way out and quote somebody else:

“Worldwide discovery of oil peaked in 1964 and has followed a steady decline since. According to industry consultants IHS Energy, 90% of all known reserves are now in production, suggesting that few major discoveries remain to be made. There have been no significant discoveries of new oil since 2002. In 2001 there were 8 large scale discoveries, and in 2002 there were 3 such discoveries. In 2003 there were no large scale discoveries of oil. Given geologists’ sophisticated understanding of the characteristics that would indicate a major oil find, is is highly unlikely that any area large enough to be significant has eluded attention and no amount or kind of technology will alter that. Since 1981 we have consumed oil faster than we have found it, and the gap continues to widen. Developing an area such as the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has a ten year lead time and would ultimately produce well under 1% of what the world currently consumes (IEA).

“Oil is now being consumed four times faster than it is being discovered, and the situation is becoming critical”

The Guardian article doesn’t support bnr’s position one bit. Sure, there are a lot of abandoned wells in the Gulf, but we already know about that oil. It’s been counted. The article I cite above also points out that world oil consumption is running at 85M barrels a day, which runs to about a billion barrels every twelve days.

So, when this article
talks excitedly about “millions of tons of oil,” (35 barrels oi/ton), it turns out they’re talking about having found about a billion and a half barrels–adding less than three weeks to the world supply, and they’re thinking there might be 4 billion barrels just waiting to be found nearby–whoopie, another 7 weeks of our fix–or, since this is China, their fix. None for us! The technical term for drumming up excitement about this kind of small change is “grasping at straws.”

Sorry to take so long getting back to you guys on this. My real life sometimes has to take precedence over my virtual life, iykwim…thanks for challenging me. I really appreciate it!

14 07 2010

I might point out as mentioned in the article, that the 3500 “temporarly abandoned wells” which may well be productive at a higher oil price, would come under the statistic of “discovered oil” but the production has not yet been released on the market. Surely this would indicate that there are at least some effective reserves around.


15 07 2010

Well, I had a whole comment just about ready to go when the power went out in the neighborhood.(It’s one of the hotter days of the summer, too many air conditioners, I guess–all we’ve got is fans)…isn’t that funny!? So let’s see if I can reconstruct it.

You’re right, oil is not going to completely disappear overnight, it’s just going to get more expensive and harder to obtain. And it probably won’t be a steady increase in price, as this article explains

The same whipsaw effect that will kneecap development of large-scale alternative power projects (to say nothing of alternative lubrication and plastic projects will also play havoc with exploitation of whatever pockets of oil remain to be found, until we drop down to the level at which the financial and technical infrastructure required for that exploitation no longer exists.

Two other factors that will contribute to the increasing cost of oil are the general environmental cost and the carbon cost.
The tragedy in the Gulf will probably take a few years to fully unfold, but the destruction of marine and tidal ecosystems that is underway down there is going to have a lot of far-reaching effects, and few of them will be positive. It’s sort of like Chernobyl with oil and Corexit instead of radioactivity. It took Chernobyl and 3-Mile Island to end expansion of nuclear power. Now that we are more desperate, it may take more than a couple of Deepwater Horizons for folks to get it. One was too many, but we as a species seem to be slow learners.
Bnr’s unfortunately unattributed quote about “running out of air to burn” is indeed one worst-case scenario if enough oil, shale, methane, and coal keep on getting burned. Long before that happens, though, the consequences of unrestrained carbonization of the planet will wreak havoc on human culture and technology. Could we stop before we hit that wall, please?

16 07 2010

Well Brother Martin, thanks for answering my questions so well.

I will leave you in peace.

However do you have any advice for the normal individual on how to prepare for the approaching holocaust?
For instance, are you taking any steps yourself?



16 07 2010

advice for “a normal individual”–cultivate a circle of friends of varied ages and aptitudes, and do things together that build your trust in each other. Learn and practice basic knowledge and skills–gardening, carpentry with hand tools, hand sewing, “barefoot doctor” medical skills, including herbal medicine and skin stitching, shoemaking, metal working, bow hunting, small animal raising, butchering, simple ways to preserve food–including meat. (I’m a vegetarian, but if I can’t raise enough beans and grains, I’m not going to starve for my principles! there’s more important things in life than what we eat.) Pay off all your debts. Make home improvements that improve the efficiency of your home. Cultivate good relations with your neighbors, even if they don’t end up being the people in your circle of close friends. Do your best to hip people to what you see coming–the greatest security is created by the maximum number of people being most prepared, not by who’s got the most guns and ammo.
Cultivate tolerance and humor, and do your best to be easy to get along with, caring and sharing.

As for what steps I/we are taking, that same list about covers it.

Hope that’s helpful to you. Happy trails!

17 07 2010

this just in….

“If it smells like peak oil, it probably is
A bleak new report from the International Energy Agency offers plenty of fodder for those who believe the era of cheap oil is over, forever.

“The first sentence of the executive summary of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) influential “Medium Term Oil Market Report,” released today, states the broad outlines of the problem baldly: “Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012.”

“Demand for oil products — primarily transportation fuels — is growing fast. You can blame all those developing countries whose populations are approaching the critical $3,000 per capita GDP level — that magic moment when, according to the IEA, “a middle class usually emerges, eager to purchase cars, fly in aeroplanes, install air-conditioners and, more generally, use energy-consuming appliances.” Don’t blame a lack of refinery capacity — the IEA says investment in refinery upgrades is proceeding apace, and is not likely to be a problem in the near future. But overall, supply of the raw product — oil and gas — is having a harder and harder time keeping up with demand.”

24 07 2010

Brother Martin,

I think what you say is probably the best advice given the circumstances.
Where we probably differ most is that I believe the holocaust will not come from actual lack of oil,(and I agree that one day that must be inevitable) but prematurely, as we try and reduce CO2 emissions according to the IPCC demands. The sad thing in my mind is that we will not only be neglecting the planet in areas where we should take responsibility, but basing the whole decline of civilisation as we know it on a flawed and unproven science.



25 07 2010

Thanks, Roger, and best wishes to you…and yes, we have our differences–from my perspective, the IPCC hasn’t been demanding enough, let alone the US congress, which has put off climate legislation for another year (possibly just as well, since they are so under the sway of the coal, oil, and nuclear lobbies that anything Congress passed would, like the insurance industry bailout/aka “Obamacare,” just make things worse. And the science of climate change is not “flawed and unproven”–it’s well proved, and so far the flaws seem to be that the severity and speed of global warming was underestimated.

Thanks again for the exchange, and may all your future choices be wise ones.

7 08 2010

[…] “Rogerthesurf” doubted my claim that we are running out of oil (TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES–LAMAR ALEXANDER): You have to remember that we heard the same stories as you write above in […]

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