Re: Palast Debunks "Peak Oil": Dave McGowan Was First, How About Some Credit.
NEWSLETTER #56 - The Debate Continues (by proxy)
March 24, 2004
The Debate Continues (by proxy)
I will say one thing for a lot of the Ruppertians out there: they have an amazing capacity to stand by their man. Many have written to defend Michael Ruppert's comments concerning population reduction. These respondents feel that I have "deliberately and despicably" misrepresented Ruppert's words and positions. In the process, I have "completely discredited" myself by displaying a "willingness to say anything to destroy the man."
Mr. Ruppert, these respondents insist, wasn't talking about anything more nefarious than a birth control program. One reader, for example, wrote that: "For all we know Ruppert simply envisions a condom vending machine in every public restroom." Another noted that there are no real solutions other than "pursuing a more aggressive birth control policy." Still another expressed hope that, "over time, a birth control policy could help solve this and other problems."
I fail to see, however, how Ruppert's comments can be interpreted in such a charitable manner. I think perhaps we need to go back and review the actual quote: "This would, scientifically speaking, include immediate steps to arrive at a crash program – agreed to by all nations and in accordance with the highest spiritual and ethical principles – to stop global population growth and to arrive at the best possible and most ethical program of population reduction as a painful choice made by all of humanity."
I would readily agree that Ruppert is advocating some form of birth control program, possibly a very aggressive one, when he speaks of the need to "stop global population growth." And if he had stopped there, then I would readily agree with my new critics. But Ruppert clearly did not stop there. To the contrary, he added that we also need to "arrive at the best possible and most ethical program of population reduction." These are clearly two separate ideas. Or am I to believe that what Ruppert is saying here is, "we need a birth control program, and we also need a birth control program"?
Ruppert also states that his proposed solution will require "a painful choice made by all of humanity." But since when has a birth control program represented such a painful choice? And Ruppert is not calling for a reduction of the population over time, as would be the best case scenario with a birth control program. No, he is advocating "immediate steps to arrive at a crash program." Again, I fail to see how that could possibly be interpreted as referring to a birth control program.
It is important to remember that Ruppert is proposing solutions to what he has presented as a deadly serious problem. On his website, he openly promotes the idea that 'Peak Oil' will mean the end of civilization as we know it, and could mean the extinction of the human race altogether. The message seems pretty clear to me: the situation that we find ourselves in is a dire one indeed, and dire situations require extreme solutions. A birth control program, needless to say, is not an extreme solution.
Luckily, there is an easy way to clear this up. There is only one person who can definitively interpret Ruppert's proposed solution, and that is Ruppert himself. He has claimed that he regularly shares this information with his lecture audiences. As fate would have it, Mr. Ruppert will be speaking to an audience this coming weekend, at the San Francisco 9-11 conference. He will, undoubtedly, be speaking primarily about 'Peak Oil.' Mr. Ruppert owes it to the audience to clarify exactly what solutions he is advocating.
It seems to me that, in the final analysis, what the 'Peak Oil' crowd is selling looks very much like what the Bush administration is selling: control of popular opinion through fear. The methodology and the goals (justifying endless war and openly fascistic domestic policies) appear to be the same. The only difference that I can see is that Team Bush sells the agenda through fear of phantom terrorists, while Team 'Peak Oil' sells it through fear of a phantom apocalypse just over the horizon.
Now it is time once again to let some 'Peak Oil' enthusiasts weigh in. Why? Because some of them are, if nothing else, rather amusing. And also because it is interesting to see how their arguments seem to be growing increasingly desperate. First up is researcher/writer Arlene Tyner, from Probe magazine, who sent in this charming missive:
Your diatribe against Mike Ruppert is a waste of my valuable time. I can't understand your .vitriol It appears infantile at times - an example of what V. Lenin once wrote about left sectarianism being a form of infantilism. We need unity today to defeat neofascism, not leftists attacking other leftists with diarrhea of the pen. People have enough trouble keeping up with our in-box to wade through piles and piles of demeaning rhetoric. I've read postings on From the Wilderness about Peak Oil and they make sense to me. Predictions that our oil-dependent society is in trouble can now be found on the front pages of the NY Times with the story about Shell Oil misrepresenting oil and gas stocks to its stockholders. This is the tip of the iceberg and Mike Ruppert et al are to be congratulated for being the first journalists to scoop this important story.
So please remove me from your newsletter list - don't have time to waste reading it.
Well, gee whiz Arlene, your valuable input will sure be missed around here. I have to say though that it seems odd that a researcher who has logged years in the trenches warning people not to trust what they read in the paper is now citing the front page of the New York Times as the definitive authority on the legitimacy of 'Peak Oil,' but - what the hell? - to each his (or her) own, I suppose.
Next up is this rather surreal exchange with journalist Kellia Ramares, who write in following the posting of Newsletter #55.
Ramares: I do not understand your comment about it becomes increasingly clear why the Ruppert crowd doesn't want anyone taking too close a look at the 'Peak Oil' story. I have read many of the articles written by Dale Allen Pfeiffer, FTW's contributing editor for energy. They have graphs and footnotes. I think that if anyone reads them they can get a close look at the Peak Oil story.
I think you confuse two questions that ought to be separate. A) Is Peak Oil real? B) How do we respond to it? Possible answers to B have to factor in Global Warming, War and Peace, The Dangers of Nuclear Power, The Ecological Problems Inherent in Drilling in Certain Places (e.g. Outer Continental Shelf), The Length of Time It will Take to Install Renewable Alternatives e.g. Solar and Wind, and Their Limitations.
You seem to have a problem with the idea of Peak Oil being announced to us by people who are or have been in the oil industry. While such people should be questioned as to how they get their data, such information not being transparent to the lay person, one must also ask whom you would prefer to give us information on an issue like Peak? Your favorite actor? A folksinger? Your barber? One would figure that if Peak is real, the petrogeologists would know and would be the ones to tell us..
You, with the help of Walt Contreras Sheasby, whose article you reposted, seem to be making a political argument that Peak Oil is a scare perpetrated by friends of the oil industry to get us to go along with bad suggestions such as drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, or worse yet, going to war to conquer the world's remaining oil.
But what is your basis IN SCIENCE for an argument that Peak Oil isn't real?
Me: If you hadn't dropped in in the middle of this, you would already know the answer to "what is your basis IN SCIENCE for an argument that Peak Oil isn't real?" Why don't you go back and read what I have written?
Ramares: Your newsletters are rather lengthy. Can you state in a paragraph or cite as references what scientifically disprove Peak without all the political editorializing you do? People need to know the science of this first; the politics come later.
Me: If you don't have the time to read one essay from an opposing point of view, then I can't help you. Funny though that you have endless hours to slog through all the "Peak" literature.
[The exchange at this point broke up into several threads.]
Ramares: I have read some of your work, and I see more politics than science. What jumps out at me is your contention that Peak is a scare tactic that is supposed to get people behind oil wars, nuclear power plants and other such noxious things. I see you attacking Ruppert, but that is just a "kill the messenger" tactic that doesn't explain the scientific basis for saying Peak isn't coming. I have heard about the Brou-ha-has that you and Ruppert have been having lately, and I certainly have no time for that.
Me: Seeing as how you have already read and commented on one of my 'Peak' postings, and have now sent me several e-mails, it seems to me that you have already made time for the "Brou-ha-has."
Ramares: I have received via several other parties a portion of the exchanges between you and Ruppert and what the two of you say to each other is what I call the Brou-ha-ha.
Me: Well, I guess that's one word for it. Ruppert set the tone, not me.
Ramares: I don't spend endless hours slogging through all the Peak literature. It doesn't take hours to read Pfeiffer's work. I did read Heinberg's book and Rifkin's on hydrogen because I had the opportunity to interview each of them for a KPFA book show called Cover to Cover. I've seen a few things on the Die-Off website, which is too cluttered to hold my interest. So I doubt I have read more than a very small fraction of it.
But this is really not about whether I have the time to read one essay, it's whether the people you hope to dissuade from Peak will have the time to read it. Can you briefly summarize or reference the science that disproves the coming peak, for the sake of those whom you think will be scared into supporting war and nuclear power because of the energy shortages Peak is supposed to bring us? Peak will not induce me to support such things.
Me: I will tell you, once again, that if you want to know what my arguments are against the 'Peak Oil' scare, then you know where my essay is posted. After you read it, I will be happy to do my best to answer any questions you may have. If you are as concerned about this issue as you claim, I think you can spare twenty minutes or so to read an opposing viewpoint.
Me: In one of your previous mailings, you asked why it makes a difference if the 'Peak' proponents have oil industry connections. Could you please explain to me why, if it makes no difference, Ruppert makes a point of stressing that the idea comes from academia, rather than the oil industry? If it isn't important, why lie about it?
Ramares: The Peak Oil proponents have both academic and industry connections. And what points Ruppert is making about where the idea comes from is irrelevant. What IS relevant is whether or not Peak Oil is real.
Me: I disagree. It is definitely relevant that he misrepresents where the idea is coming from. Why lie about something unimportant? I think the deception speaks directly to the issue of whether 'Peak Oil' is real. Why all the deception about the true origins of oil, and about who is behind the concept [of Peak Oil], and about the viability of alternative energy sources? There has to be a reason why the idea is being sold with so much deception.
[No further responses]
These 'Peak Oil' enthusiasts seem to be so damn busy preparing for armageddon that they don't have any time to spare to review any opposing points of view. So now I am supposed to debunk decades of conventional wisdom in one paragraph? And do it without coming off sounding like a complete loon? I'm not really sure I could pull that one off. Next up is a lengthy missive from Nicholas Levis, webmaster of the 9-11 skeptics site Osama's Kidneys, and one of the organizers, along with Ruppert, of the San Francisco event.
Hi, Dave, remember me?
I find your latest piece very interesting but I hate seeing this as a struggle between you and Ruppert (I have promoted your work and his, happily) or between the "real" critics of 9/11 and capitalism as opposed to the "false" ones.
In the hope of keeping this on a higher plane, I wish to point out that at least three separate questions are in play here. Perhaps this will clarify:
1. What is the origin of oil? For the same reasons you list, I always found fossil fuel theory suspicious, because it does not seem to account for the vast volume and intense concentration of oil deposits as compared to organic remains (only a tiny fraction of which would become oil), even over millions of years. Note, however, that an abiotic or mantle origin of oil, even if geologically recent, does not yet tell us anything about the rate at which oil is created (compared to the rate at which we consume it), or the accessibility of deep oil deposits (i.e., how much energy it would take to find such deposits and bring them up to the ground).
2. Regardless of origin, does oil deplete? You give an example of one curious field that obviously merits investigation to figure out where the "new" oil is coming from. However, there is no doubt that in nearly all known cases, oil fields and oil regions deplete. Without arguing over exact figures, the Hubbert curve describes what has actually happened in fields and regions over time: first there's easy oil, then it gets harder to get, finally it dries out (i.e., the remainder is too deep or locked into stone to be worth extracting in energetic terms).
Even if oil has an abiotic origin and is plentiful far below the surface, this does not mean that it replenishes what we can actually access (at a net energy gain) quickly enough to compensate for our consumption. Far as I can tell those arguing the abiotic origin side have not shown that the replenishment rate can compensate for the evident depletion of what we can actually access. There may be tech fixes in store, but you don't know that.
Recall that we have burned up more than half of all oil discovered to date within just 140 years, most of that just since the 50s. What good does it do us if the earth can replace that again even within such a short time as, oh, a few thousand years? (And more likely this would be a matter of millions of years).
3. Are we reaching the peak oil point (i.e. when extraction can no longer meet demand)?
3a. Do the oil companies themselves believe their stated scenario?
On #3, the current ratio of 9 barrels consumed for every 1 new barrel discovered, with consumption continuing to rise, and with the net energy gain lower (extraction now requires 10% of the oil energy extracted, whereas in the 1940s that was just 1%) implies indeed that we are approaching the peak oil point. As you know, this does not mean the oil runs out, just that it becomes an increasingly impractical and inefficient energy source.
On #3a, you assume automatically that the industry is going to lie about this, as they have lied about shortages in the past to create crises. However, they can still be evil murderous cartel bastards and yet actually believe their current scenario. Yes, shockingly, their scenario can still be true, even if they are the ones propagating it in the media! You don't seem to take that possibility into account. Furthermore, if they DO believe it (and the way these things work is that the majority of people pushing a given lie do convince themselves of it by way of group think) then this would be sufficient motive for them to act to physically seize the oil now. The motive is still there, even if it is based on false facts. (They always find a motive for the next war, as you know.)
I don't see the oil question as separate from the dollar question. The U.S. power, confronted with the crisis of its air-driven home economy and currency, looking ahead to the prospect of future global challengers, and seeing the immediate threat of an OPEC switch to the Euro, feels a need to seize the physical asset of ME oil and demonstrate its military power and will, as the last-resort means for backing the dollar and reminding the other powers who the boss is. The immediate point is more about demonstrating power than gaining fuel. (I call it putting the dollar on the Megaton Standard.)
I basically agree that a 9/11-type event to transform American society and the world would have been in the cards regardless of the oil situation. Ruppert overstates his case there. But there is no doubt that oil reserves are a guiding principle in determining the countries "we" most want to invade and dominate. Oil wealth is the key territorially-based source of economic and military power, and naturally offers itself as the theater of the wars that the capitalist/imperial/mil-industrial system is going to inevitably generate (for all the reasons that I expect we both agree on).
So while what you present is a powerful blow to fossil-fuel theory, it does not yet disprove the idea of oil depletion, or of perceived oil depletion as the motive for the present set of wars.
Might "they" be suppressing new technologies that make the oil question fairly irrelevant? Sure, but this still has to be established by demonstration of said technologies.
Given the importance of this moment (you may think it's hopeless but things can get much worse and we still have chances to actually shift how reality is perceived), can't you and Mike have your debate without the acrimony, the personal bile, the ego, or the not-so hidden insinuation (on your part more than his) that someone here must be acting out of suspicious motives?
You being so smart and all, you seem to forget that people often come to the wrong conclusions for reasons other than cunning or malevolence; some are simply wrong, but still honorable. You have an acrobatic ability to dance around the arguments of others, and that means it is all the more important that you also remember that you, yes you, can still be wrong. (I saw you use a couple of cheap rhetorical flourishes in an otherwise good piece; you have trouble avoiding argumentative overkill.) Please show a bit more humility, not necessarily in your writing style or in the humor which I very much appreciate.
Any chance you'll be in San Francisco for the conference?
Such correspondence seems to suggest a disturbing willingness by some to go to remarkable lengths to cling to the 'Peak Oil' theory. Taken together, what Ms. Ramares' and Mr. Levis' arguments reduce to, essentially, is: "Well, okay, we quite likely have been lied to for decades about oil being a non-renewable resource. And, sure, we have been deliberately misled about who is really promoting this whole notion of Peak Oil. And, yes, the story did largely originate with the same folks who told some real whoppers about 9-11, and Iraq, and lots of other things. And no, us peasants don't really have any way of independently verifying any of the oil industry's figures, so we really have no idea how much oil is out there. And, okay, I guess the notion of 'Peak Oil' could be seen as playing into the Bush administration's hands. But even so, shouldn't we assume that 'Peak Oil' is real? And even if it isn't real, isn't it possible that the oil industry has hypnotized itself into thinking that it is real, so shouldn't we therefore act as though it is real, even if it isn't? And even if the whole thing turns out to be a load of manure, isn't it likely that the people selling it were doing so with good intent?"
I guess I just view the world a little differently, because the first question that comes to my mind is: why in the world would anyone conclude that we are not being lied to? Clearly there is a reason for the deception. Why have we long been taught that oil is a 'fossil fuel' if it is not? That is not some random lie dreamed up by a couple Skull & Bones brothers after one too many hits off the opium pipe: "Dude, I bet you I can get everyone in the country to believe that oil came from dinosaurs." "No fucking way, bro! You're on."
By the way, if I may briefly digress here, I got this note from 'across the pond,' as it were, courtesy of reader Nick: "How strange. What a difference a Pacific Ocean makes. Diagonally opposite we were told not that oil was made from disintegrated dinosaurs but that it trapped and preserved them, particularly at open seepage areas like La Brea, whenever they ambled west to view the Hollywood sign en route to visit cousinlet Mickey in Orange County. Nobody told us where the oil came from, except there were occasional rumours of amoeba rotting down in a kind of mass compost heap here and there."
So in England, if I understand this correctly, they believe that the oil actually came before the dinosaurs, and was just kind of sitting there waiting to trap them. Say what?! What the hell is the matter with you people over there?! You're actually buying that story? Get with the program, guys! At least over here in America we have a theory that actually makes sen .... uhhh, anyway, what was I saying?
Oh yes, I remember now. The deception surrounding the origins of oil is not random; rather, it serves a very specific purpose -- creating the impression that oil is a non-renewable, and therefore inherently scarce, resource. So if we are to acknowledge that we have been misled about oil being a non-renewable resource, why would we automatically assume that it is nevertheless still scarce?
Many have suggested that to prove 'Peak Oil' isn't real, it must be proven that replenishment rates exceed consumption rates. But how could this possibly be proven? How is it possible to ascertain the rate at which oil is generated and replenished when the only hard data comes from an industry that doesn't acknowledge that oil is generated at all?
All of the figures thrown around in the debate over 'Peak Oil' come from the petroleum industry. And all of those figures are based on the notion of oil as a static resource. Why is that? How do those figures have any credibility? How, for that matter, does the oil industry itself have any credibility? Aren't these the same folks, after all, who have worked hand-in-hand with the CIA for decades to destabilize foreign governments, commit egregious human rights violations, and brutally rape the environment? Or is that a different oil industry?
The one I am thinking of was created by a guy by the name of Rockefeller, I believe. A pretty powerful fellow, from what I hear, with a little bit of money to throw around and some friends in high places. He basically created the petroleum industry, and he held monopoly control of it for a pretty fair amount of time, according to legend. I mention that because it occurs to me that if you were to compose a list of people who might be powerful enough to create an entire global industry based on a fiction, the name Rockefeller would probably be very near the top of that list.
The petroleum industry is now, as it has always been, essentially an enormous, global criminal enterprise. Mr. Levis has acknowledged that that industry of "evil murderous cartel bastards" has "lied about shortages in the past to create crises." And yet now, when the stakes are considerably higher, he seems to suggest that we should accept the industry's pronouncements as the truth. I find such a stance difficult to understand.
How do we know that oil fields always, or usually, follow Hubbert's depletion curves? Don't we really only 'know' that in the same sense that we 'know' that oil was produced only during the Jurassic period by mysterious piles of compressed organic matter? And how do we know that known reserves are running as dangerously low as the industry claims?
Some readers have written to ask, "but what about all the dry oil wells capped off all across this country?" A couple of other readers, however, have written to say that those wells aren't necessarily dry. Many of those wells, a reader claimed, were active wells that were capped off to deliberately assist in the creation of the illusion of shortage, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.
I have no idea, at this time, whether such claims have any validity. But even if such claims are not valid, there is still the question of the possible replenishment of abandoned fields. The question then becomes: do we, in fact, have oil reserves sitting dormant right here at home?
I cannot answer that question, but I did find very interesting some comments made by Dr. K.K. Bissada, a geochemist for Texaco. Returning to the 1995 New York Times article, Bissada was quoted as follows: "It's impossible to put a number on the rate at which this goes on, but I could imagine that this kind of stacked reservoir system, with favorable geographic plumbing between the reservoirs, might refill the upper reservoirs in, say, 10 or 20 years. If we were to go back to some oil field that had been abandoned 50 years ago, we might drill a test well, and we might find fresh oil. The trouble is that that kind of experiment is too expensive in the present economic climate."
(Malcolm W. Browne "Geochemist Says Oil Fields May Be Refilled Naturally," New York Times, September 26, 1995)
It seems to me that it would not be necessary, in many cases, to drill new wells, but merely to uncap existing wells. And how could that not be a more cost-effective strategy than exploring for new sources of oil? Isn't that kind of like saying that it would be easier for me to dig a new hole in my backyard to toss the dogshit in than it is to simply lift the lid on the one that is already there? How does that make any sense?
Bissada said, in 1995, that it was "too expensive in the present economic climate." But how about now, in a climate of "Holy shit! We're all going to die!"? Is it still too expensive? Is it really conceivable that, if the situation were as dire as it has been presented as being, we wouldn't have taken such rudimentary measures as checking for the replenishment of abandoned wells?
But if there is considerably more available oil than we have been led to believe, then why, as many respondents have asked, do so many U.S. military ventures seem to revolve around oil? Reader Richard, as it happens, has a compelling answer to that question: "I think you should know about 'Resource Denial Theory.' It's a sub-section of Geopolitical Theory, so beloved of the Bushite and Zbigniew Brzezinski crowds, and states you must take control of areas where strategic resources are located - like oil - and prevent rivals from entering. Your power derives from the control of these resources."
In other words, it's not about seizing the resources that we need to survive; it's about denying our 'enemies' the resources that they need to survive. And that, to me, seems a more reasonable explanation for what we are witnessing than the one being marketed by the 'Peak Oil' crowd..
Finally, we have reader Jim, who observed that: "This also explains the obvious inconsistency that petroleum corporations are investing so little into alternative energy, even as the 'peak oil' story hits the mainstream press." There are, to be sure, a number of questions raised by that seeming contradiction, as there are by Mr. Ruppert's contention that the oil industry is cutting back on exploration and new drilling.
We are hearing doomsday predictions of the demise of man. Human civilization as we know it is in its final hours. And we have, apparently, simply thrown up our hands in despair. Why bother looking for new sources of petroleum? Why bother double checking old sources of petroleum? Why bother giving any consideration to any alternative sources of energy? Why bother doing anything at all?
Clearly, there is something very, very wrong with this picture.
[Check here for details about an AAPG sponsored conference on the origins of petroleum to be held this July in Vienna, Austria: http://www.aapg.org/education/hedberg/vienna/index.html]
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