Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Peak Oil 2005? 2007? 2010? 2012? Who the Heck Cares?

Ok, I'm about to pick on ASPO again. I can't help it. First there was my reaction to the conference schedule, which looks exactly like last year's conference schedule, and (here I suspect I can save some people the cost of a flight to Houston) can be summed up as "Peak Oil is Real Soon Now." Then there was the conference theme, "A Time to React?" in the ASPO Europe Conference. (Note: I mistakenly wrote that this applied to ASPO-USA at first - my error). With a question mark on the end??!? Are these people out of their minds? I tried so hard not to pick on them any more - after all, we're on the same side. But that question mark pushed me over the edge...

Note: Some people have assumed that since I'm speaking at the Community Solutions Conference that I'm in someway trying to represent their approach as comparatively better, or that I'm criticizing ASPO because I'm speaking at Community Solutions, doing a "my conference is better than yours" - something that never occurred to me until a poster mentioned it. That's absolutely not the case. First of all, anyone who works at Community Solutions will tell you that I'm at least as much of a pain in the ass to them as I am to ASPO. I do agree with some of the things Community Solutions does, and not others, and you can count on me to say so loudly when I think they are wrong too. For example, I wasn't too pleased to see Pat Murphy, Richard Heinberg and Julian Darley up on stage last year having an all-guy's chat about what we should do about population, and I've said so publically several times. Secondly, this is my blog, and I speak only and always for myself, never as a representative of any group. I think the leaders of all such groups are duly grateful that they aren't responsible for me ;-). It was never my intention to plug one conference by dissing another, and it still isn't.

"Peak Oil is Real Soon Now" was pretty much the theme of last year's Boston ASPO conference, and I admit, I see no real evidence that it won't be repeated at every ASPO meeting, until we can officially change it over to "Peak Oil Was Just a While Back." http://www.aspo-usa.com/aspousa3/matrix.cfm. Looking over the list of panels, virtually all of them focus on one of three things.

The first is whether peak oil was Yesterday, is Tomorrow or next Thursday. Now this sounds like very important work, and is important if you have millions invested in oil wells, run India, or run Shell. To anyone else, it is largely a matter of complete and utter irrelevance. The reality is that real people are already experiencing the costs of peak oil - for example, it is the end of cheap oil that has led to the biofuels boom and to my grocery bill going haywire. This is only going to get worse - because of peak oil and climate change. But whether it gets worse slightly faster or slower really isn't the point - the point is that we're not doing anything about it. I'm willing to bet, however, that most of the Very Important People speaking at ASPO don't actually buy their own groceries, so maybe they haven't noticed.

The problem here is that ASPO hasn't noticed that peak oil has gone mainstream (that question mark again), and is still under the impression that the very important work that petroleum geologists have done in recognizing that peak oil was near, and warning the world is work that should still be at the center of things. And I don't mean to say here that their work is unimportant - but if ASPO has just one chance to pull people together to talk about peak oil, the date is far less urgent a subject than "where do we go from here?" It isn't that there isn't anything to talk about, it isn't that people still aren't debating peak oil. It is that the focus of the discussion has moved on from when to what to do, and ASPO hasn't caught up.

This is not only bad for the public discourse, but IMHO, it isn't very good for ASPO, either. Because they risk being rendered obsolete by their own data. ASPO has done the important work of establishing dates and reserves, but shortly, if their own estimates are right, when peak oil is will be an established, documentable fact - if it isn't already. And while ASPO will then have the satisfaction of being right, it will also have the problem of being irrelevant, if it hasn't taken a lead on the next step - where do we go from here?

As a purely practical matter, the Hirsch report demonstrates that we're well behind the ball - close to twenty years behind. Given that truth, that we cannot expect an orderly adaptation, one would think that the major study center for peak oil would be figuring out how we could triage and adapt the most urgent areas first. Unfortunately, that's not true. If ASPO wants to remain even remotely relevant, it needs to shift its focus, and lose the question mark - it is long past time to react. I understand that ASPO wishes to speak to the powerful and elite, and scaring them is bad for business. But telling the truth, even when unpalatable, is, I think, more important than looking friendly.

The second thing ASPO focuses on is making sure that rich people get to stay rich in a volatile market. If you have a few million dollars to invest in oil wildcatting, ASPO is the place to go. If you want to know which big businesses will boom in solar technology and biofuels, check out ASPO! If you don't wish to endure the tragedy of seeing your hedge fund decline, ASPO is there to help. If, however, you don't have large investments and are already just getting by, tough patooties. If you are wondering how to shift to a non-debt based economy, or resolve the consumption paradox, or even promote conservation, ASPO is not your friend.

Unless, of course, you have an exciting new technology to pimp. That's the other thing that ASPO will do - they'll tell you about the latest innovations in hybrid cars, light rail and nuclear power plants. If you are shopping for a high tech solution for your neighborhood, there's a good chance that they've got something coming your way. I was assured by an ASPO board member that there won't be any repeats of the Raytheon weapons designer who got up to sell his wife's new oil extraction techniques (and I'm sure would take a few orders for tasers on the side) or the "environmentalist" wind farm guy who builds filthy diesel plants in poor neighborhoods, both of whom starred at last year's ASPO, but there's a heavy "investor recruitment" element in which corporations sell their new toys.

Is it all bad? No, I'll give them credit for at least mentioning climate change and health care this year. And I honestly think that most of the people who run ASPO mean well. Their data analysis is terrific, and for people who are too lazy to read the papers on the internet and need to see middle aged men read them aloud to believe, there's value. But the reality is that ASPO has found its niche - and it is in saying "we're important, because we can tell you when...and we won't scare you by saying anything significant has to change." They are engaged in what James Kunstler has described as the notion that all we have to do is worry about keeping the cars on the road. And because most of them have access to an enormous amount of information that says otherwise, I find this particularly troubling. These are people who have read the data, and know that we're too close to peak oil for an easy, smooth transition - and yet, they are still selling one, or at least they were at last year's conference, and I don't see any evidence that that's changed.

There's not a single mention of food or agriculture at ASPO that I can find, not a single mention of housing. No mention of povery abatement, the third world, ecology, justice or conservation. Not a single mention of education or health care, children or families. No mention of the people who are already experiencing the consequence of peak oil - the poor who are being priced out of energy in the third world, and the American poor who are suffering from high food and transportation prices. No mention of capitalism, and growth. No link to a single political figure who deals with health, welfare, education or the environment - even though we all know that the first effects of peak oil will be economic.

There's no mention of the Oil Depletion Protocolo or any plan to get nations to adopt it or any other strategy for managing resources. At least ASPO Europe through Colin Campbell can boast of a real and meaningful policy plan that might make a difference, if we could get it applied. Where is such a plan from American peakists? I will give them points for upping the number of women speakers from 1 in 10 to 1 in 8. But ASPO, as far as I can tell, is still focused more on looking good to powerful people than telling the truth about peak oil, or than offering meaningful solutions.

And I still can't get over that question mark. What on earth is there a question about?



Anonymous said...

Could the question mark mean "is there really time to react?" or are we just closing the barn door after the horse?


Matt said...

What do you expect Sharon? ASPO is full of academia types who love to have conferances so they can hear themselves talk and socialize over drinks. I don't think any (if so few) have gotten dirty rehabbing a house to make it low energy, or digging a garden or even doing so much as touching some of the alternatives in the marketplace.

If we want real change it will have to be inviduals and possibly business leaders trying to save themselves (and their companies) who will do it.

We've seen enough examples in our lifetime to know that academics and government people don't have the backbone to make changes.

jlpicard2 said...

The question mark should be because it is very likely that Peak Oil already happened. I personally believe this blog is far more relevant to most people as you address "What to do?".

David said...

Thank goodness for you, Sharon. It's good to have some people out there cutting through the BS and calling a spade a spade.

Viva los troublemakers!!


jewishfarmer said...

MEA, you are far kinder than I am -and I have to say that if the question mark does imply what you suggest, it is the stupidest, most awkward grammatical construction of all time.

Matt, speaking as a former academic, I don't mind ASPO taking a scholarly approach - I think that has value. I object to their taking an irrelevant scholarly approach ;-).


feonixrift said...

I feel the same way reading a lot of stuff on Peak Oil. Keep wanting to hold their own graphs up to them and say "Uh, guys? The time for that was around when I was *born*, can we get with the picture here please..."

Novafp said...


There's more than one organization holding conferences. ASPO has always been technically oriented, while the Community Solutions deals with more fundamental social and economic responses. ASPO is one week, and CS is the following week. CS doesn't have technical talks, ASPO doesn't have practical talks. I'm speaking as a financial planner (not an investment guy)on an ASPO panel, and another planner is doing the same on another panel, but we're the only financial planners talking at either conference.


Anonymous said...

I was being sarcastic (grin)


Anonymous said...


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Thank you.

Novafp said...

Also, it was the international ASPO conference in Ireland that asked the question. The ASPO-USA conference in Houston is titled "Energy: the First Challenge of the 21st Century."

I hope that makes you feel a little better, though the speaker list is admittedly quite similar to last year's in Boston.


Anonymous said...

Hello Sharon,

I'm eager to see what the third point is (you said there were three things we can always expect to hear at an ASPO conference, but only got to point two!)

From your point of view (that of **cultural change**), much of the subject matter from ASPO is irrelevant.

But from the point of view of government and business, ASPO-type analysis is crucial. One reason NPC, IEA, investors and the oil companies are starting to pay attention to peak oil is the constant stream of high quality analysis that is coming from engineers, geologists and scientists.

In the coming era, it is critically important how investment decisions are made. Does a city expand its airport and freeway system? Does a corporation invest in expansive energy-saving equipment? Does a small businesswoman invest in a business that depends on cheap gasoline?

Whether one is red, green or libertarian, these decisions will have to be made -- and without good data, people will make the wrong decisions.

So, more power to ASPO, to academic types and to rich investors, if they help deliver that data.

And more power to you and the Community Solutions culture-change approach.

Both approaches are needed.

Bart / EB

jewishfarmer said...

Novafp, you are correct, of course, that I was conflating ASPO USA's title. I'll have to conceed that the yadda yadda 21st century title is boring but much better than the "Time to React?" Thank you for the correction.

Bart, the third point is in there, just not labelled point by point - the third thing ASPO does is sell/pimp big shiny techno things.

But while I agree with you that ASPO needs to spend time on the basic issues of when Peak Oil is, and that ASPO's papers are invaluable, I don't agree that spending four days reiterating the same points over and over again is either necessary or wise, both from the standpoint of getting things done and from the standpoint of ASPO having any kind of long term relevance.

The reality is that at some point the focus will change to "peak oil was just a while back" and as long as ASPO keeps its focus tightly on "when" and away from public policy changes that might affect most people, away from solutions that can be done without massive investments and large corporate subsidies, it is likely to become irrelevant when we no longer need it to pick a date. When the answer to "how much oil is left" is "not enough," geologists will still have stuff to do refining on that point, but the absolute urgency of focusing on it will be long, long gone.

The reality is that the answer to the questions you list is fairly obvious if you accept peak oil - no, yes, no. I'm not mocking you, and I realize not everyone is aware of peak oil - the one part of the conference that I think has real value is the city by city component that allows whatever town ASPO sets down in for a year to talk a little about their own infrastructure. But by keeping the focus on airports and freeways, we miss the larger point that's not what's at stake. As long as we keep speaking as though those are the choices at hand, we're going to be reinforcing the value of false choices.

I don't make the distinction you do between "culture change" and "government and business" - governments and businesses need good data, which ASPO provides, and good *analysis* which IMHO, ASPO is not providing here. And if anyone should know better, they should. It isn't "culture change" to say that we can't afford to keep all the cars on the road, or that any upgrade of car fleets won't happen fast enough to make a difference - that's data analysis, and I'd hope for better from ASPO.


Anonymous said...

Funny, I'm usually on the other side of this argument - pushing for long-term visions.

At this time, though, I think that the quantitative analyses are of utmost importances - as boring and repetitive as they may seem to many.

1. For communicating with certain groups, they are required. Numbers are the language spoken by scientists, investors, corporations and government agencies. You and I may be convinced that it's obviously a bad move to invest more in highways and airports, but they aren't listening to our opinions. They will listen to analyses and reports, however.

2. To convince these groups, one needs to build a water-tight case. We need studies which take different approaches, but which lead to the same conclusion. We need people from all parts of the political spectrum, from different nations, from different professions.

3. We don't really understand how peak oil will occur. Will supplies drop precipitously? Or will we be on a plateau for 10 years?

Then there are the interactions with other issues: coal usage, climate change, a nuclear renaissance (peak uranium?).

One example of the importance of analysis is the prospect of peak phosphorus. Sure, we've all known that we're pissing nutrients away with our sewage systems, but it was only a Hubbert Linearization analysis that brought home to me that phosphorus not oil could be the limiting factor for humanity. (Peak phosphorus / Background readings )

There are plenty of great ideas for sustainable living, but without the sinew of analysis, they are ignored - as they have been for the last 40 years. Although the quantitative types at ASPO and The Oil Drum take a different approach than visionaries, the visionaries really have no greater friends.

On the other hand, I don't think it would hurt ASPO-USA to go beyond the engineering / technocratic mindset. The recent ASPO conference in Ireland had right-brainers Nate Hagens and Rob Hopkins talk, and somehow people survived.

Bart / EB

Kiashu said...

It's a bit like the four stage foreign office response to any crisis, as described so well in Yes, Prime Minister.

Bernard Woolley: What if the Prime Minister insists we help them?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Then we follow the four-stage strategy.
Bernard Woolley: What's that?
Sir Richard Wharton: Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis.
Sir Richard Wharton: In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
Sir Richard Wharton: In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we *can* do.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.

Stage three can have added to it, "the problem needs careful study." So for example if your car is stuck on the railway tracks and think you hear the toot of the horn of a train coming, you can sit there arguing with your fellow passengers about whether or not the train is coming, and if so, exactly how far away it is. Toot, toot.

The point of debate is to avoid action, so that someone else will be the one to make the difficult decisions. Just imagine being the a US Presidential candidate and trying to get elected on a platform of no more burgers and SUVs. Try it out, see if you win.

Toot, toot.

jewishfarmer said...

Bart, always fun to switch sides. Again, I don't think the data analysis is the issue - I think that many of the ASPO analysts do good work, and yes, there's a role for refining this. There's a role for talking about it to - just not as the primary or sole point of discussion for 4 days. There's room for running analysis *and* talking about the future. I'll agree with you that the papers are invaluable - but I don't think we need to read them all out loud for four days, or that that's the most productive things that could be done at a conference.

But I guess the big issue for me is that there is no such thing as res ipsa loquitor - things don't speak for themselves. Data doesn't speak for itself. It requires analysis. And much of the underlying content of the analysis here is "life is going to stay the way it is." I don't think you can divorce the data from its analytic framework.

The other thing is that I just don't see the distinction you do between visionaries and data. Sure, I don't do a lot of hard regressive analysis, but there are plenty of technical thinkers who are also talking about the future in useful productive ways - Ted Patzek's paper that you folks just discussed, or Pat Murphy's extensive analysis of transportation and housing options. I'm not opposed to data analysis - I agree, it is essential. But we have to put our resources where it matters. And dozens and dozens of really smart people hammering on the same minute differences is missing the really big elephant in the room that could use some analysis too.


jewishfarmer said...

Kyle, that's a really good point. Nice post.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the presentation that I am going to be giving at ASPO-USA on Net Oil Exports is pretty hard hitting stuff.

Our basic point is that, from the point of view of importing countries, overall world production is pretty much irrelevant. What counts is the volume of exported oil. Our model, recent case histories and current data suggest that net exports will decline much more rapidly than overall production declines.

In any case, I think that Alan Drake will be giving the most important talk at ASPO-USA, on Electrification Of Transportation (EOT). Alan asks a simple, but powerful, question, to-wit, how did we cost effectively and efficiently move people and goods around in the past, with minimal oil input?

Jeffrey J. Brown

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon and Casaubon readers,

Assume that you were able to set the agenda for ASPO or a similar organization -- what would you want to see?

What would you be willing to do to make this vision come true?

I think that change will be coming faster and more dramatically than most of us think possible. What seems to be visionary today will be standard fare soon.

Bart / EB

Kiashu said...

I would change the "Peak" to "Past" and start looking at that.

Instead of, "when's it going to run short?" I'd be saying, "okay, it's running short: what shall we do?"

Whether the train is 1,000 yards or 10 yards away doesn't change the fact that we need to get off the damn tracks. Okay, once we're off the tracks, where do we go, and how?

I remember reading Goebbels' diary in which he described in his entries for late February 1945 a reform of the German income tax system. A couple of million Red Army troops were across the Elbe, a million or so Allies across the Rhine, Italy collapsed and taken by the Allies, Dresden had been firebombed and 100,000 people killed in one night, Germany was facing utter defeat, the entire Nazi state about to be brushed into the dustbin of history, the country entirely rebuilt and changed unrecognisably, and... they were talking about reforming income tax.

I often get a similar feeling from the discussions I see about hybrid cars or whatever.

Let's have an Association for the Study of Past Oil.

Anonymous said...

I have been lurking for some time now -- many thanks Sharon for sharing your thoughts with us. I have quite a few of your individual posts bookmarked, and frequently refer people to them.

So I was startled when this post struck a raw nerve, almost as if I felt you had betrayed some sacred cause. The evident depth of your feeling on the matter only heightens the effect.

Your position seems so reasonable that I have had a hard time putting my finger on what bothers me. But I think it's something like this ...

Peak oil, like global warming, presents a situation that cannot be mitigated by individual preparation. In both situations, we sink or swim together. I believe that life for you personally will be far better if everyone started right now to prepare in the same spirit that you do than if only 1 in 10,000 did so.

To that end, it is not sufficient that a few of us believe that the peak is so imminent that the precise timing hardly matters any more. People have to be persuaded en masse, and at the moment I don't find that they generally are.

In the case of climate change, the only way out of the mess seems to be to somehow manufacture the political will necessary to support -- even demand -- drastic change. Members of the scientific community have long been convinced that we have a problem and that the chance to act is slipping away. And yet, I still believe there is value in the recent IPCC reports that effectively consolidate and repeat ad nauseum the same message that has been in the air for years. The reports still focus largely on whether anthropogenic warming is real, and if so what the best guess is as to the timing and likely effect. The scientists all understand that the time for debate is long past and that we're staring directly into the teeth of catastrophe, but they also acknowledge the reality that little will be gained by advising people how to adjust and prepare if they are not simultaneously convinced that there is a need to adjust or prepare.

I see ASPO as playing a similar role. There is no shortage of credible peak oil material that I can refer people to, but they generally aren't often persuaded by fact, logic and reason. These are people who believe whatever they read in the paper as long as the person quoted is labeled an expert. There are a lot of "experts" out there still claiming that peak oil is a farce, just as there are "experts" still claiming that global warming is a farce (and finding traction for their ideas). The recent activity of ASPO gives us a density and relative unanimity of expert opinion that I haven't found anywhere else.

I completely agree that we desperately need to get on with the business of understanding how to plan. But I believe that if ASPO were to significantly focus on that, the result would be debatable enough to give rise to so many petty quibbles that the focus on urgency would be lost. Unless we achieve mind share on the reality of the issue, and a spark of political will to do something, things will go poorly no matter how much quality planning is done. We still need people to focus intently on that first step (while others get on with the planning), and for me, ASPO fills the role.

Hmm. I'm not sure if I've even convinced myself. Still, this is salve for my nerve. Thanks again for your efforts.

Scott from Canada

jewishfarmer said...

Steve, I can understand your point, but I admit, I don't buy it. I was at last year's ASPO conference as a correspondant, I interviewed a whole lot of people, almost all of whom had one thing in mind - their own money and its future happiness. It isn't that there wasn't anything useful in the presentations, or that individually some of the speakers aren't wonderful. But no presentations at all focused, for example on conservation - even though the potential returns on that are far vaster than anything we'll get from the finest extraction technologies. And that's what bothers me the most - it isn't like the scientists over at ASPO don't know that. They just aren't saying it because it is sexier to talk about bright shiny toys.

And in the desire to be sexy, and not too scary, to attract people with lots of money, there's a fundamental incompatibility. You cannot, for example get Michael Klare to talk about how to avoid resource wars, and allow the people who get rich from the resource wars a platform to advertise their wares, as they did last year.

And I think the IPCC report is a good analogy. Because the result of the IPCC report has been to give a lot of people the false sense of security that we have plenty of time - yes, it is a big deal, but we've got to 2050 before we have to worry - even as the data came out that made it clear that almost certainly isn't true, at least in terms of ice melting, the oceans, the amazon rainforest - all major tipping factors.

We'll all be just as screwed if governments and leaders are given bad information that doesn't traumatize them too much and doesn't drive them to move forward in time, or if they don't do anything. Timing is just as important as the data itself.

Bart, the thing I'd most like to see in a policy discussion of peak oil is to see the analysis of the problem match the data. For example, as far ASPO doesn't seem to be doing anything to encourage adoption of the ODP, nor does it seem to want to discuss rationing, or any other way that we might assure stable supplies in a fair way. I'd like their expressions of the urgency of the problem to be matched up by a similar focus on making change. I think that in a four day conference, you could easily spend two days on solutions with no great loss of clarity - lord knows, last year's conference included an enormous amount of duplication of purpose.

Jeffrey, I agree that's a good question, and that electrification of transport is a real issue. I'd be pleased to see similar discussion of the re-opening of water transport (which is, after all, more efficient than most electrified vehicles) and about not going places, which is the most efficient solution of all. But again, I don't say all the panels are a waste of time - but I think the sheer quantity of carbon people will be burning to get themselves to ASPO means that the total return has to be damned high. I don't see evidence that that's true.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. You have hit a certain nail on the head. If I hear or see one more "2007 or 2025" debate, chart, etc....anyway.

Like a gaggle of people standing on the railroad tracks watching the train coming and expostulating about how fast it's coming and the exact moment they will get hit.

Me, I'm stepping off the tracks.

Action time is now. Thank the good folks at ASPO for being the voice from the wilderness that's not so much out in the wilderness anymore. We got it.

Now what we gonna do about it?

Anonymous said...

Here is what ASPO-USA is doing right:

1. They are actually doing something, rather than just grumbling. Moreover, they have gone beyond individual action and established an organization, with regular publications and conferences. There is a degree of professionalism there which makes them easy to work with.

2. They have chosen a well-defined attainable goal and have persisted at it for years.

3. They are committed to doing what it takes to communicate with the larger public. They have begun issuing press releases, talking to the press, producing videos, establishing alliances with other groups. This is pretty impressive for a small group.

4. They are contributing to the larger movement of building up a scientific and theoretical case for peak oil, and examining the consequences. They are attempting to do this with scientific and academic rigor.

On the other hand, I sympathize with Sharon's criticisms. But you know, there are many groups who have been beavering away at sustainability for decades (permaculture, the New Urbanism, bicycling groups, Greens, Deep Ecology). I love them, but oh how I wish they could be more professional. Working with them is like trying to herd cats.

So, if you want to go beyond ASPO's limitations, great! But it would be wise to learn from them as well.

BTW. I have no connection with ASPO, except that I re-post their articles with their permission and correspond with a few ASPO members.

Bart / EB

jewishfarmer said...

Bart, I'll cede you the point there - they do have a good organizational structure. And I know just what you mean about cat herding. This is why I don't live in an ecovillage - too many years being a leftist who did everything by consensus ;-).

I guess that's why I make these criticisms - I think ASPO could be really important in shaping the future - if they want to be. I'm not convinced they are on the right track.

That said, I'll cheerfully admit that I'm not interested in founding a heirarchical, well organized politically astute think-tank on the future. Writing already way too much into my carrot-growing time ;-). So the implied "if you want it to be different, you do it" criticism does stand also.


Michael Dwyer said...

Yes, ASPO will need to re-think itself when its first task is complete.
Looking ahead to the problems of after peak, a very practical appraoch is rationing and a great scheme is Tradable Energy Quotas. This is the only solution I know that heads off catastrophe. Why isnt it getting headlines? (And that was a question mark. :) )

agwh said...


I do agree with many of these criticisms of the upcoming conference. However, I also know that lots of people still don't have a clue about peak oil, and big conferences to convince people that the date is near might help, especially if there is any mainstream-press converage that gets the message out the conference doors.

I only say this because I have three siblings who work as engineers in the oil business. I have been bringing up the idea of peak oil for on and off for about four years now, and the primary response is still, "there's plenty of oil." The problem seems to be that they are so focused on their own oil fields that haven't stood back to see the big picture. At least, I am hoping that's the problem, since I know they are all very smart individuals.

As for the focus on technofixes---engineers are trained to solve problems, and the means they use in their work in the oil fields has always been technological, so the focus is pretty understandable, even if I don't agree with it. I don't know how we are going to get them to find other answers, but I am guessing that a lot of the answers are going to have to come from the rest of us, like your own focus on getting more people involved in food production and in rioting for austerity.

Gene Logsdon has a recent post, that relates to the ASPO issue of maintaining the status quo, up on the organic-to-be blog about economic inevitablility. Basically, he illustrates how people who look at the current trajectory of development assume it will continue in the same direction, and that something usually happens to totally change the trajectory. The big forcasts for more-of-the-same then turn out to be wrong.

So, all this isn't to say that I disagree with your post, because I do agree with it; I just can see why ASPO is still clinging to the same topics and that, for some people, the ASPO conference could be the crucial piece of a puzzle helps them see the whole picture. At least, I am hoping it is, because two of my engineer siblings live in Houston. They aren't going to the conference (although I tried...), but they have an increased chance of hearing more about peak oil if such conferences continue to meet.

Thanks for all your work on helping people get ready for peak oil!


Anonymous said...


Could you share the URL for the Gene Logsdon post? He's one of my favorites. He's been walking the sustainability talk for decades... and he's got a great sense of humor.


Thanks for the thoughtful response. I hope you don't try to add organizing to your already too full plate, though. You are already a one-women movement yourself.

About better organizations ... I'm serious in my suggestions. Visionaries could learn a lot from ASPO, as well as from successful organizing efforts from the past:
* Old Left (30s & 40s)
* counter-culture (60s & 70s)
* civil rights and labor struggles,
* the idea of Gramsci for creating an alternative culture
* the modern conservative movement

The most interesting approach now seems to be de-centralized, leaderless movements, with different groups co-operating on specific issues. One does not have to agree 100% with another group in order to co-operate.

Jeff Vail calls this a rhizome approach to organizing. This approach is particularly suited to the Web. And I think it is what we are doing right now with peak oil and sustainability, even though we may not realize it.

Historical precedents include the Popular Front of the 30s and the New Deal in the USA. The most spectacular success story is the modern conservative movement which managed to unify fundamentalists, libertarians, neo-conservatives and the corporate elite.

My best, Bart / EB

agwh said...


The url for Gene Logsdon's essay is


It is his 15 Sept. entry.

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