September 10, 2017

QotD: Peak oil

Filed under: Economics, Quotations, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Witness, brothers and sisters, witness. The oil, it’s going to run out. Peak production of the world’s oilfields has either passed or is about to pass; from here on out it’s rising oil prices forever. Now we wave our hands and pronounce that the energy-guzzling capitalist West (and especially Amerikka) is so addicted to cheap oil that its decadent empire will collapse, collapse I tell you. Barely concealed gloating follows.

There are so many mutually-reinforcing idiocies here that it’s hard to know where to start. As I was thinking of writing about this, one of my commenters pointed out that above $32 per barrel it becomes economical to build Fischer-Tropf plants and make your oil out of coal. This is old tech; the Germans did it during WWI. At slightly higher price points, MHD generators to burn garbage start to look good.

These are instances of a more general phenomenon: markets adapt to price shifts! To wreck an economy with oil-price rises, they’d have to spike so fast and so far that you somehow couldn’t run the cement trucks to build the Fischer-Tropf plants. Not gonna happen.

In fact, the long-term trend will be that the amount of oil invested per constant-dollar value of goods produced in the U.S. economy drops faster than the price of oil rises. This is a safe prediction not because manufacturers have all bought into Green ideology but because they want to make money. This means that they have a market incentive to use their inputs (including oil) a efficiently as possible, and to substitute less expensive inputs for more expensive ones. It’s called capitalism, and it works.

(And, by the way, the cheapest input of all is information. Buckminster Fuller pointed out forty years ago that as technologies mature, the products tend to get smaller and lighter and less energy-intensive and smarter. Your cellphone today weighs less than it used to, and costs less oil to produces than it used to, because its design is smarter. Information has replaced mass. This trend will continue and accelerate.)

The peak-oil collapse scenario is not credible for five minutes to anybody who understands market economics. But the sort of people who believe it are blinded by their own prejudices; fundamentally they think market economics is an invention of the Devil. They need to believe in the collapse, because they need to believe that the wickedness of Americans and capitalists and Republicans will be punished.

Eric S. Raymond, “Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-11-13.

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