Steve LeVine writes, at Foreign Policy, no less, about the prospect of a century long reprieve from the peak oil scenario.
It’s quite plausible – the same advances that have led to a resurgence of American natural gas production may also produce an abundant flow of oil. Not cheap oil, but nonetheless abundant at the level of $70 per barrel or so. Last year, for the first time in over a decade, new oil discoveries exceeded consumption.
“What’s unfolding is truly a technological revolution” : deep water, oil sands, and frackable shale vindicated the cornucopians – an increase in price is leading to a direct substitution of new sources of oil. It still can’t last forever, but it does totally disrupt the “business as usual” pictures that IPCC have been drawing.
This turns much of our conventional wisdom upside down.
Good news or bad news?
Well, if we don’t get some sort of carbon capture scheme in gear at a scale as enormous as the energy sector itself, as you can well imagine I for one think of it as a disaster. But the prospect has not penetrated into the public discussion of the environment, as LeVine points out and as an embedded 2 hour seminar video justifies.
A second aspect of the discussion was the conspicuously little discussion of global warming, which would be seriously exacerbated, as I wrote last month. One reason for this near-omission of global warming was the nature of the discussants — these are oil market and geopolitical analysts, not climate experts. Yet that in itself is illuminating. I must be missing some folks, but I can think of no one in the climate field who has injected him- or herself into the contemplations of this new age (unless one includes movement activists such as writer Bill McKibben and NASA scientist James Hansen.). One has the sense of an entire sector of business, academia and civil society — thegreen energy industry, climate scholars and environmental activists — on the verge of being obliviously bulldozed by an unseen force. McKibben and Hansen will say “game over” for the planet should the age proceed. The thing is, it appears to be proceeding of its own accord.
The indifference of the powers that be, in industry or in government or in academic engineering sectors to actually making the earth less inhabitable and grossly biologically impoverished is no real surprise. We have to be used to it. I read a book by Fareed Zacariah, a widely recognized international relations pundit, that came out two or three years ago, on the post-American-hegemony he predicted for the 21st century. His prognosis for the next century DID NOT MENTION CLIMATE CHANGE. This is the amazing victory of the denial industry – the idea that there is a risk here is not even discounted. It just doesn’t cross the minds of people in geopolitics.
I have to think this is because the extent of the change is grossly underappreciated. Calling it “global warming” and measuring it in terms of global mean surface temperature, though convenient for discussions among the cognoscenti, implicitly but powerfully understate the risks for outsiders.
And that is how we get articles like this by Paul Mulshine, the second line of defense. “You may know what is going to happen but you can’t tell me what it is going to cost”. Here is where I think the “deficit model” gets its defense. Anyone who can talk about “what it is going to cost” is clearly unaware of what it is likely to be like. And that’s why the events of the early part of this summer in America (and elsewhere) are well-billed as “what global warming looks like”.
I mean this sort of thing:
By the way, this is why I refuse to allow commenters on tis topic to fall back on that tired talking point about there being a “consensus” among scientists that man-made global warming is a danger.
That consensus extends only as far as the idea that, all thing being equal, we’d be better off not altering the atmosphere in anyway.
Well all things are not equal. Every step toward curbing CO-2 emissions has economic costs. And the “consensus” on just what those costs should be is up to the voters, not the scientists.
Yes. Of course that is all true. But it requires not just people understanding that there is a global warming consensus among scientists. It requires them understanding what that consensus actually says.
And that is why suddenly all attention is on severe events. Because whatever happened in the middle ages and however adequate or otherwise tree rings might be, they are a hell of a lot less salient than a suburban forest fire.
How far we can go from “what global warming looks like” to “this is a direct consequence of our actions” remains a difficult question for now. Different people’s intuitions go different ways and the correct statistical approach to the question is hard to define. The problem is that people want an answer. They don’t seem to realize that to some extent, the difficulty is a good thing. It means that things have not yet gotten as spectacularly bad as they might, and from all indications, probably will.
The ideas that the “rich Bangladeshis of the future” will “just move inland” shows a touching faith in economic dogma that presents an interesting contrast to the adamant contempt of climate science. I really wish I could reverse my perspective to that one. It would help one sleep easier, wouldn’t it. But if the dewpoint in Bangladesh ever consistently goes above 40 C, it won’t matter much whether there is money or higher ground in that country. Everybody who ventures outside without a space suit will die. Every vertebrate creature in the tropics will die.
What is the economic value of not turning the non-economic parts of the earth into lifeless desert? I mean, they hardly contribute to production at all!
Since sarcasm is occasionally lost on the internet I’ll plainly assert that anyone asking this question is missing the point, to say the least. Nature is not ours to destroy.
At the very least, most human ethical schemes would allow our descendants a say in the matter. We shouldn’t be foreclosing their options because we’re too lazy to reinvent our transportation infrastructure, and then claim that it’s an economic imperative. If we can’t afford a living planet, what the hell good is an economy anyway?