Monbiot denies peak oil.

Monday, 9th July 2012

In reply to: We were wrong on peak oil. There's enough to fry us all

Dear George,

Once again I feel constrained to write to you in defence of cool-headed rationalism rather than vapid emotionalism. I refer of course to your recent piece in the Guardian on peak oil. I would really welcome any hard facts that led you to change your mind since the concept gained public awareness in the late 90s. Geologists have long known of huge reserves in Alaska, the South Atlantic and even deep under the Antarctic Ice. We have long known of vast reserves of tar sands. Peak oil refers to the maximum commercially viable extraction rate of easy oil, as present in the Middle East, Venezuela and formerly in Pennsylvania and Texas. Once we start drilling 3000 metres below the Mid Atlantic seabed, as Brazilian surveyors already are, the EROEI, a concept  with which I hope you are familiar, will diminish very fast in any currency and oil will lose its relative advantage over alternatives, which unfortunately either yield much less (biomass), are unreliable (wind), require enormous infrastructure and maintenance (solar and tidal energy) or are downright dangerous (nuclear). However, don't take my word for it, Richard Heinberg has dealt with your assertions much more eloquently than I could: Peak Oil Denial.

I had previously written about your refusal to attribute our ruling elite's support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to control of the oil supply. You seem to have a wonderful knack for pandering to our establishment's self-righteousness (namely we did it for democracy, freedom and human rights). You also expended considerable literary resources on your condemnation of 9/11 truthers, likening them to climate change deniers,. To the best of my knowledge, nobody denies the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 or the murder of around 3000 office workers, although many Americans and others fail to believe the official explanation for this terrorist act. So why would you join William Engdahl and others in denying the reality of finite resources on a finite planet? For the environmental movement the timing could not be worse, only two week's ago James Lovelock admitted overestimating the scale and consequences of man-made climate change. While our collective overconsumption has undoubtedly affected our planet's ecosystem, I remained somewhat sceptical of some of the more extreme predictions, mainly because the so-called scientific consensus has frequently been wrong on so many issues. Continued human hyperactivity is  very likely to disrupt natural climatic cycles, but maybe not before other technological constraints begin to thwart our suicidal drive for growth at all costs. Indeed the message climate change and peak oil deniers have been getting is quite simple: The enviro-fascists were wrong, the party can go on. We can keep expanding markets and place all our uncritical faith in the next generation of technofixes. Remember in geology a century is but a just a split second, yet in this period our population has quadrupled and our per capita consumption sky-rocketed. We are indeed treading unchartered territory and may not be fully aware of the consequences for another 50 to 100 years.

I suspect it's because you fear the consequences. Indeed I also note your disagreement with Jonathon Porrit on the population issue. You simply fail to recognise it and accuse, albeit diplomatically, true environmentalists of wanting to depopulate the planet through Draconian measures such as sterilisation and eugenics.Yet any rationalist would distinguish science from ethics. If we get the science right, we can then consider its ethical implications and act to avert suffering. If we get the science wrong, through misplaced faith in dangerous technology or overreliance of finite resources, then the ethical consequences can be catastrophic. Yet since the mid 1980s, and increasingly since the advent of New Labour, the trendy left has been enamoured with the neoliberal Globalist project, its growth mantra and its imagery of multicoloured happy consumers sipping lattes and fondling their iPads. Humanitarian intervention, outsourcing and mass migration were key tools of the new globalist world order. Yet the left seems to have confused the noble causes of International solidarity and humanism for an economic system that thrives on hyper-competition and hyper-consumption addicted to growth at all costs. Its advocates in the British media stop at nothing to accuse its intellectual opponents of authoritarianism (green fascists), racism (anyone opposed to cheap labour and free trade) or conspiracy theoryism (anyone refusing to believe orthodox propaganda). 

In short, I suspect you changed your mind on peak oil, not because of any new evidence, but because of peer pressure to embrace growth and remain politically correct on immigration and population. Well done! So as 1.3 billion Chinese, 1.2 billion Indians and 700 million Africans strive to emulate Western European living standards, will they kill each other in the process? Will we ever learn from experience?

I'd prefer to see tens of billions more human beings over the coming millennia than destroying the ecosystem on which our civilisation depends just to squeeze in a few billion more here and now.