Article

Drought, Peak Oil, and Climate Change: the Future is Now

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Climate change denialists are crackpots of the worst kind. In this article, I will demonstrate how they are also dangerous. Whether or not they are also creationists, tin-foil-hat conspiracists, or resource cornucopians is immaterial. They all use the same flawed modes of thinking, including head-in-the-sand dismissals of mountains of evidence. Why give them any time or attention–since they are so clearly misinformed and off-base? Because tacit agreement with them is distressingly common in a distracted and uninformed population, and this denialist mind-virus underlies a great deal of politically motivated mismanagement of resources. Defeating the crackpots’ arguments also educates the uncommitted. Thankfully the tide is turning, but far too many voices of denial remain.

Water is poised to be the next oil in terms of scarcity and importance. The two resources are related, in that both are essential, both are overconsumed and underappreciated, and we need each to produce the other. Many of us will come to regret our ignorance of these facts in the coming years. Actions we casually take today without a second thought will become unthinkable–possibly even criminal. Our gap of understanding is so wide as to practically defy description. “Fiddling while Rome burns” would be a monumental understatement. As long as even one Escalade or Navigator is still being sold in the U.S. for personal transport, we know we have failed. As long as one person remains who is still afraid to drink recycled water (or worse, doesn’t even know what that is), things haven’t gotten bad enough. As long as one newspaper still prints the blatant misrepresentations coming out of the Middle East that “refinery problems” are the cause of high oil prices (because refiners can’t yet take the increasing share of sour crude that’s left in the ground after we’ve used up most of the light sweet variety). Of course, they paint the problem as anything but our consumption, anything but running out.

Only when the final stages of this slow-building catastrophe slam their way into the headlines will most people wake up about energy and environment issues. Only when society’s craven “live-in-the-moment” neglect of the future becomes so glaringly obvious will most people wake from their slumber, rub their bleary eyes and hold their politicians to account. But by that time, the damage will be so pervasive and irreversible that the inevitable disgrace for the gladhanding pied-pipers will provide us no comfort or relief from the sad reality.

Lest you think it’s hyperbole, read the following two items, one from the Guardian on peak oil, and one from the New York Times on the fresh water crisis (H/T the Cost of Energy). The Guardian article cites a study from the German-based Energy Watch Group, which states without fanfare that world peak oil was reached in 2006, and oil production will now decline at a rate of 7% per year. Underscoring this is a startling figure: world oil production was 85 million barrels per day in 2006, and the Guardian now claims it is 81 million and falling. Contrast this with the ridiculously rosy projections from the EIA, which shows world oil production ranging well over 100 million bpd in 30 years. If the Guardian figure is even close to true, it will change the world as we know it for the worse, and quickly. One of the first responses will be an “export crisis” whereby the leading oil-producing countries decide to keep more of it for themselves. The study also predicts a sharp increase in resource wars.

The NYT article concerns the “other” warming related water crisis (aside from rising sea levels), scarcity of fresh water. As the climate warms, snowpack is reduced, aquifers dry up, water tables drop, and drinking water becomes extremely difficult and expensive to obtain. As can be seen from the above picture of lake Mead, we are starting to feel these effects already in the American west. Georgia also faces a critical drought. One would be hard pressed to find a more critical issue for human development or security. Energy scarcity reduces our ability to deal with drought, and drought hampers our ability to feed ourselves or grow biofuels–for example–in a worsening spiral.

This all sounds very distant and trite on paper. But watch the shock and horror set in once it becomes clear what these abstract concepts actually mean to the average person–in an economy no longer ebullient on the prospect of ever-increasing resources. Life will get a lot more difficult and complicated. Even if just some of it comes true, it will not be pretty. Expect a lot of “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” and rationing of many basic commodities, including fuels of all types. Few people alive today can even fathom such a scenario–which would make the 1973 Arab oil embargo seem like a picnic.

Remember, this is not some fringe conspiracy theory. Oil output is now falling in the face of rising world demand and near-record prices. The cratering dollar is also connected to the high U.S. oil-import-dependence, among other factors. We are in uncharted territory–not in some imaginary future–but right now, today.

I hold strong hope for a positive outcome, but only through facing the reality. With the right leadership, we have the ingenuity and resources to transition to a low-carbon economy fueled by renewable energy. John Edwards talked about this recently on the Bill Maher show. (Whether or not he’s the best candidate remains to be seen. But the Democrats have certainly been far better on energy policy than any Republican administration.) We have the potential to manufacture biofuels in a sustainable manner. We have the ability to electrify transportation. We have the ability and duty to re-engineer society from top to bottom: to close the loops, eliminate waste, live better and more efficiently, and to finally work in harmony with nature instead of stubbornly fighting against it. Many have referred to this transition as the soft-landing scenario, which maximizes prosperity and minimizes loss of life.

But every time morons like Tom Stelene or Michael Crighton open their mouths, (or their blogs) to the denialist rhetoric, they are simply attempting to postpone the day humanity stands up or grows up and takes on this challenge. They are dragging that same rusty anchor from the past as religions. Why do I devote this time to speaking out against them? It’s about promoting sustainable human prosperity and saving lives. Because the denialists provide intellectual cover for doing nothing and prolonging our childish follies and dangerous flirtations with things like coal-fired power plants, buying cheap but utterly unsustainable goods from places like China, or the manufacture and use of obscenely monstrous vehicles for personal transportation. By justifying these practices, they are setting us up for a hard-landing many people in the world will not survive.

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Comments (24 comments)

John Evo-Mid / October 22nd, 2007, 8:11 pm / #1

“But every time morons like Tom Stelene or Michael Crighton open their mouths, (or their blogs) to the denialist rhetoric, they are simply attempting to postpone the day humanity stands up or grows up and takes on this challenge.”

Would that it be that they were simply morons. The problem, I believe, is that they are anything but.

There is money to be made and attention to be had for anyone who is considered a “credible” source, speaking out on the side of denial. I know it sounds too cynical to be true. These are smart people. They know that even if they are totally proven wrong, it will probably be decades from now and they will be safe under the cover of death or obscurity by then.

Morgaine / October 23rd, 2007, 2:45 pm / #2

I think it’s worth noting that a large, if not predominant chunk of anti-AGW ‘experts’ have close ties to our current administration/ and or Big Oil (namely Exxon, but others as well).

For example, one of the biggest political criticizers of AGW is Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Since 1987, Barton has received $1.84 million from the oil, gas, coal, nuclear, electricity and chemical industries — more than any other member of the House. Barton predicates much of his skepticism of AGW on work by Stephan McIntyre, a former director of several mineral exploration companies, and economist Ross Mcitrick.

Actual scientific “experts”, such as Chris Feitas, Robert Balling, and Sallie Baliumnas are closely affiliated with anti-government (pro-Bush) conservative think tanks and receive major funding from Exxon, and/or are Exxon offshoot round table members. Lee Gerhard, is an oil and gas geologist. Hendrick Tennekes, who was at the very least approached by, if not funded by Exxon, is retired and hasn’t published a peer reviewed paper in 15 years.Continuing from the list of oft quoted climate change denial ‘experts’; Richard Lindzen, R. Spencer, Robert Carter, Willie Soon, David Legates (and more), all connected with/funded by Exxon. Fred Singer is affiliated with eleven organizations funded by Exxon.

Lindzen, one of the higher profile energy industry apologists mentioned above, is also the author representing CATO’s( Bush ’s CATO) argument against AGW (The Cato Review of Business & Government.)

Then there is Frederick Seitz, a former President of the National Academy of Sciences, “but the Academy disassociated itself from Seitz in 1998 when Seitz headed up a report designed to look like an NAS journal article saying that carbon dioxide poses no threat to climate. The report, which was supposedly signed by 15,000 scientists, advocated the abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol. The report was not peer-reviewed and The NAS went to unusual lengths to publicly distance itself from Seitz’ article. . . “

Another common affiliation I found for many in the AGW denial camp: Techcentralstation.com

This website is an offshoot of American Enterprise Institute, and hosted by James Glassman, a professional climate denier who is frequently published in the US, and Ken Holme, Director of Arms Control in the Reagan administration. In May 2001, Holme claimed not only that (UNNAMED) “top scientists” believe that the evidence of climate change is insufficient to take ANY action, he also compared the “liberal” Kyoto Protocol with the lack of science in the “LIBERAL CAMPAIGN FOR BREAST FEEDING”- which he voted against while in the UN.

Questionable affiliations such as this could fill an entire post.

I’m also tired of hearing skeptic’s position that they are not being given adequate attention, or are being squelched from “green conspiracists.” What about the majority of scientists who have to balance their ethics against the very real pull of big funding offers from powerful corporate interests, and Bush related interests?

One example of such pull, reported this past Feb., involves the aforementioned American Enterprise Institute (AEI) -(the think tank of techcentralstation fame) again, closely linked to the Bush administration, who offered payments for articles which they could use to emphasize the shortcomings of the then upcoming IPCC. Scientists and economists were offered $10,000 each to undermine that report. Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered. That the AEI has received more than $1.6m from Exxon/Mobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration cannot be ignored.

It’s naive to imagine that the think tanks that many of these scientists are associated with, would not have an impact on their research and conclusions.

Also, about 1/3 of the 470 ‘free market’ think tanks (most of which are steeped in AGW denial rhetoric) were birthed (and are continually encouraged) by Atlas Economic Research Foundation. This leader, is closely affiliated with Philip Morris (of tobacco fame) and Exxon, and are on a stated mission to populate the world with new ‘free market’ voices and combat what they call “creeping socialism”.

In 1997, despite a tight budge, PM staff recommended Atlas receive $150,000 because of the organizations ability, through it’s events and public advocacy work, to “positively impact the regulatory environment, particularly in Latin America.” Atlas’ think tank, Phillip Morris staff wrote approvingly, create ” an improved operating environment for all PM (Phillip Morris) businesses.” Scientific accuracy is clearly not their M.O..

Of course, everyone receives funding from somewhere…but I would be much more likely to trust those affiliated with foundations and grants which are not as beholden to the status quo oil /energy industry as so many of the denialists are. What’s also telling is that of the scientists who are most alarmed by global warming, the cry is not that more money go into their research, but rather money go into research to increase fuel efficiency, and to develop carbon-emission-free- fuel sources.

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heather / October 23rd, 2007, 3:05 pm / #3

I have to comment on this but I am reduced to shameless sycophancy. Sorry.
Great post. Great comments.
You could not say this more clearly.

The Gay Black Jew / October 23rd, 2007, 5:09 pm / #4

I minored in Sociology and I took a class called “Scarcity in our Society.” My professor claimed he had never bought a new pair of shoes. That impressed and amazed me. This was 12 years ago, but I remember the debate presented between the “techno-fixers” and realists such as yourself, Sean. Technology may be able to buy us a little time, like with coal sands, but the signs you point to, like peak oil and water scarcity, are undeniable.

Lately, I’ve come to question our democracy. I feel guilty saying this, but I also value honesty: Stupid people vote for stupid Presidents…so if you’re stupid, please don’t vote. It’s how we got Bush…stupid Americans. I think all voters should have to take a test to see if they know anything about the issues.

With so many religious people avoiding birth control, having too many babies and blindly voting for two issues that have no effect on them whatsoever: gay rights and abortion, I fear that the ignorant and brainwashed masses could basically destroy our world as we know it.

This is the real war, and I’m glad that you are a very intelligent and eloquent advocate to fight the Dark Side of the force. At least Europe has declining birth rates…because that is an integral part of the equation. More people=more consumption=more water and oil needed. 2 kids, no more. We should take a modified lesson from China, IMO. BUT, for people like you Sean, I think you have a moral responsibility to make many babies! It’s a baby war, really.

Thomas Laprade / October 23rd, 2007, 6:14 pm / #5

Global Warming??

Recent research by Henrik Svensmark and his group at the Danish National
Space Center points to the real cause of the recent warming trend. In a
series of experiments on the formation of clouds, these scientists have
shown that fluctuations in the Sun’s output cause the observed changes in the
Earth’s temperature.

In the past, scientists believed the fluctuations in the Sun’s output were
too small to cause the observed amount of temperature change, hence the need
to look for other causes like carbon dioxide. However, these new
experiments show that fluctuations in the Sun’s output are in fact large
enough, so there is no longer a need to resort to carbon dioxide as the
cause of the recent warming trend.

The discovery of the real cause of the recent increase in the Earth’s
temperature is indeed a convenient truth. It means humans are not to blame
for the increase. It also means there is absolutely nothing we can, much
less do, to correct the situation.

http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/188993.php

Thomas Laprade
Thunder Bay, Ont.

BlackSun / October 23rd, 2007, 6:26 pm / #6

Thomas Laprade,

Wrong, wrong, wrong. This is more mythology that has long ago been totally debunked. Check the climate change tab at the top of this site. The “solar fluctuation” myth is one of the 26 climate myths listed there, along with the outing of that wretched propaganda piece “The Great Global Warming Swindle.”

Read it and weep.

This is a warning. I allowed your comment to show how common your type of denial still is. But unless you go read the links I’ve already provided on the climate tab and get with the scientific program, you’re not adding any new information to the debate and I will delete you.

vjack / October 24th, 2007, 4:08 am / #7

I was just thinking that I tend to place the climate change deniers in the same category as the Holocaust deniers. I realize this may not be very PC of me, but I think it is an apt comparison.

Engineer-Poet / October 24th, 2007, 9:05 pm / #8

Add evolution denial to that list, and you’ll probably find that a great many people who are on two also make the third.

Tommy / October 25th, 2007, 9:26 pm / #9

I used to be one of those global warming deniers, but starting about 3 or 4 years ago, the receding glaciers and shrinking of the arctic ice cap was undeniable. I accepted the evidence. Thefore, I think I am proof that people can change their minds on this subject.

The big question though is what can we do about it? It seems that there is little we can do to stop it. The best we can hope for is to lessen it somewhat while trying to adapt to the changes that global warming is inflicting on us.

BlackSun / October 26th, 2007, 9:14 am / #10

@John Evo-Mid

I think you’re right about the institutional deniers. There’s a clear monied interest there. But what about the individuals who have nothing at stake (except maybe they drive a large vehicle or something)? What explains their recalcitrant denials? Frankly I’m puzzled.

@Morgaine,

Thanks for the good research on the funding of denial. Trillions of dollars are at stake. Of course all that money isn’t any good if there’s no place to spend it.

@Tommy,

If we could get a political consensus, there’s a hell of a lot that could be done. The sense of helplessness is such a big part of the problem. Just like denial, helplessness justifies inaction.

Not that there’s any guarantee that it’s not too late. But I’d rather try than not try, you know?

Engineer-Poet / October 26th, 2007, 3:31 pm / #11

The individuals with nothing at stake might see the issue as a grab for power (face it, the power to control carbon emissions means the power to control a lot else) or reflexive opposition to positions held by “them”.

Tommy / October 26th, 2007, 3:57 pm / #12

No disagreement from me there Blacksun!

Isaac Hubbard / October 27th, 2007, 1:58 pm / #13

This is the second time you have predicted the “end of the world”.

BlackSun / October 27th, 2007, 2:26 pm / #14

Isaac,

You are putting words in my mouth. These stories of shortages are from the New York Times and The Guardian UK. Here’s another one. And another.
Here’s what I actually said:

I hold strong hope for a positive outcome, but only through facing the reality. With the right leadership, we have the ingenuity and resources to transition to a low-carbon economy fueled by renewable energy. John Edwards talked about this recently on the Bill Maher show. (Whether or not he’s the best candidate remains to be seen. But the Democrats have certainly been far better on energy policy than any Republican administration.) We have the potential to manufacture biofuels in a sustainable manner. We have the ability to electrify transportation. We have the ability and duty to re-engineer society from top to bottom: to close the loops, eliminate waste, live better and more efficiently, and to finally work in harmony with nature instead of stubbornly fighting against it.

Does that sound like the end of the world to you, Isaac? Does is sound like I’m predicting the problem or more like that scientists are speaking with an unprecedentedly strong voice about urgent and very real situations that need our attention??

Isaac Hubbard / October 28th, 2007, 6:18 pm / #15

Look Blacksun, I agree with much of your writings, but as far as climate change goes, you are being quite an alarmist. And to praise Al Gore as if he were some kind of saint germaine-crazy! And why even care if the earth is warming? It wont ALL be bad! In fact, I look forward to longer summers. I don’t care about polar bears at all, at all.

You are a fanatic! Just like your folks!

Stick to what you do best. Stick with the atheism bit. You are excellent at that.

Regards, Isaac

BlackSun / October 28th, 2007, 7:05 pm / #16

Isaac,

You are a fanatic! Just like your folks! Stick to what you do best. Stick with the atheism bit. You are excellent at that.

Well at least the ridicule comes with some praise. But seriously, I’m perfectly happy to open myself up to ridicule about this subject.

I’m simply a voice defending the scientific community. It’s amazing how when scientists serve people, cure disease, etc. they’re the heroes. But then when they tell us something we don’t want to hear, they become alarmists. I didn’t make any of this stuff up. It’s from the front pages of major world papers. Thanks for reading, Isaac, and for the Earth’s sake I hope you’re right.

Engineer-Poet / October 28th, 2007, 8:52 pm / #17

Isaac,

If you look forward to longer summers, you perforce admit that AGW is real.  Do you also look forward to extended and extreme droughts?  Perhaps you don’t care about polar bears, but do you care about the coastal cities which even 1 meter of sea-level rise will damage seriously (think about every beach you know moving up to where buildings stand now)?

A man took a swim at the North Pole this year.  Greenland is having earthquakes as a consequence of ice movement and relieved weight.  The whole Southeast of the USA is in a severe drought (I was there; water reservoirs for entire cities are now just trickles of water).

If this doesn’t bother you, just wait; all the terrestrial forces driving these changes, with the possible exception of methane, are increasing.

OilMonkey / November 19th, 2007, 12:42 pm / #18

Here is the perfect essay to compliment this thread:

As the World Burns

I think it’s especially poignant and relevant because of this opening passage:

“Georgia’s on my mind. Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a city in trouble in a state in trouble in a region in trouble. Water trouble. Trouble big enough that the state government’s moving fast. Just this week, backed up by a choir singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ accompanied by three protestant ministers, and 20 demonstrators from the Atlanta Freethought Society, Georgia’s Baptist Governor Sonny Perdue led a crowd of hundreds in prayers for rain.”

These kinds of clueless, desperate, ego-and-agenda driven, denial-fueled dog-and-pony shows are exactly what we have to look forward to folks.

Theists and atheists alike — I’m a devout but pragmatic atheist — missing the point entirely.

It’s going to be interesting to say the least. Never a dull moment.

In the eloquently astute and prescient words of Michael Ventura:

“Life will be a lot less predictable and a lot more for real. The greatest art will be the art of survival. Your credit rating won’t matter (you won’t have one), but your word will matter a great deal. It always does in an informal economy. Careers, as we know them, will be a thing of the past, but so will boredom; most people will be in the same boat, swapping services and skills and not knowing what tomorrow may bring. Ours will be a leaky boat, in need of constant attention. It’ll be intense, interesting, and often dangerous – and that’s when people feel most alive. Folks will look back at how we live now and wonder at the triviality that, as a society, we allowed ourselves to settle for. If we survive, there will be many great stories to tell your grandchildren.”

- Things to come: Part 2

mapquest directions / April 18th, 2010, 4:05 am / #19

its all for the money

eric / April 20th, 2010, 3:37 pm / #20

Clearly you have found your new religion.

BlackSun / April 20th, 2010, 6:40 pm / #21

Eric, substantive comments only, please.

rushe essay / August 28th, 2015, 8:27 am / #22

Teachers should bring notes; books and other material which is require teaching students. They must arrange projector in class to teach through visual aids and graphics. They should arrange map and globe to tech geography and history like subjects.

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