PEAK OIL symbol.
(Why its use is unsustainable.)
The Peak Oil symbol is often used by people attempting to communicate the fact that one type of oil - mineral oil - was created in Earth's crust by geological phenomena occurring over eons and it can be regarded as a non-renewable resource. In general they are attempting to alert human kind that the explosion in the human population from 1.5 billion to 6.6 billion people in the last century, which is based on this unique resource, is unsustainable. The resource is rapidly being depleted and as humans lose easy and cheap access to this astonishing resource all systems based on current uses of it will collapse.
The use of the Peak Oil symbol is not based in science. There is no research supporting its use by, for instance, showing that it communicates the issues with the hope required to generate sustainable behaviour. Preliminary analysis suggests its use reflects the origins of the symbol use i.e. people who are geological engineers rather than those with specialist knowledge of symbol use and impact.
As outlined in this letter to Richard Heinberg in response to his article on our depletion of this limited resource the use of the Peak Oil Symbol communicates neither hope nor the current market reality nor links to climatic impacts of combustion, all of which are critical in determining how people respond.
A fundamental fact is that no human can know how much mineral oil is present in the Earth's mantle. We can only act with knowledge on the quality and accessibility of known reserves. In this context the use of the Peak Oil symbol generates nonsense (or non-science).
In summary the symbol use does not resonate in a sustainable way, elucidating, inspiring and connecting issues.
Hi Richard from
The real problem is summed up in the phrase "Peak Oil."…. . Here is a concise definition of Peak Oil from my colleague Chris Skrebowsi, the editor of Petroleum Review in London. He says: "Global oil production falls when loss of output from countries in decline exceeds gains in output from those that are expanding."
disagree with your statement. There are many reasons why the use of the
“Peak Oil” symbol is unsustainable and fails to communicate
the issues you allude to.
The central issue
is our stewardship of the carbon flows and balances of this planet. It
is our sense of stewardship that determines the value each person puts
on carbon in all its forms.
In terms of
behavioural change, the most sustainable change and adaptation occurs
when individuals enjoy hope. They enjoy a sense of transition within a
framework of viable options.
curve of mineral oil resources (on which the Peak Oil concept is based)
engenders hopelessness because it frames all the focus on one carbon
form – mineral oil. It works to reinforce our addictive use of mineral
oil. The bell curve elicits in many people a sense of despair and
desperation – the same sense of powerlessness that drug addicts
experience as their habit becomes more habituated and the drug supply
more difficult to maintain. They are increasingly filled with a sense of
the inevitable downhill slide.
The use of the
“Peak Oil” symbol also works to confuse the market price of mineral
oil with its value. This is an extraordinary resource and the wise
person knows its value is many thousands of dollars a 42-gallon barrel.
This value can be extrapolated from its food and health producing
potential and from a more general calculation that each barrel contains
maybe 25000 man-hours of labour equivalent in a very convenient and
mobile form. This amounts to a value per barrel of $500,000 if one
accepts $20 is a reasonable payment for one hour of heavy labour
lifting, pulling, pushing etc. Thus the wise person uses the resource
sparingly regardless of whether market traders put a price of $2 or $200
or $2000 on a barrel.
In this context
it is clear that the use of the “Peak Oil” symbol fails to have a
meaningful relationship with the price of oil. As with drug pushers, the
mineral oil traders will manipulate the price so as to maintain and
enhance the addictive behaviour of the consumer. In some cases they
provide free “hits” to hook people on the habit. Similarly it is
common for mineral oil traders in New Zealand to supply cars to burn the
product for deposits of $1NZ (about $US0.75. Mineral oil traders also
play very influential roles in the media and Governments around the
world. In New Zealand current addictive uses of mineral oil are heavily
subsidised by all citizens, especially our young, through direct taxes,
excess interest charges and inflation.
As mentioned the
central issue is our stewardship of carbon. The use of the “Peak
Oil” symbol also works to exclude the atmosphere from the combustion
equation. Its total focus is on our capacity to extract mineral oil. It
communicates little of the vital issues of the relative quality of the
remaining reserves or the changing ratio of human beings per barrel of
For all these and
many more reasons the use of the “Peak Oil” symbol is unhelpful. I
suggest it is more helpful to use a range of symbols to express the
complexity of the situation and sustain hope. These might include use of
symbols such as “Cheap Oil/Gas Age”, “passing” “transition”
“Great Electric-Solar Age. In short the Cheap Oil/Gas Age has passed
for even if we discover we can extract mineral oil and gas for little
monetary expenditure the costs of our current uses of it to the
atmospheric and biosphere balances that sustain us are very expensive.
We are now in transition to the Great Electric-Solar Age in which our
children will make sustainable uses of carbon we cannot imagine.
Principle of Energy
“When a symbol use works
to deny change it will materially alter the potential of the universe
(energy) in a way that results in a reduction in the capacity of the
symbol user to mirror reality. When a symbol use works for the
acceptance of change it will increase the capacity of the symbol user to
Have We Really Hit Peak Oil?
if we have, we had better prepare to change the way we live.
...It's understandable that our elected leaders would want to do something about the meteoric rise of gasoline, diesel, and heating oil prices that are now bankrupting independent truckers and forcing many folks in colder states to choose between being able to stay warm and being able to drive to work. Yet efforts like the ones just mentioned are based on a profound misperception of why oil prices are rising. The real problem is summed up in the phrase "Peak Oil."
Petroleum is a finite substance and we have reached the inevitable point at which it simply isn't possible to increase the rate at which we extract it from the ground. Most oil producing countries, including the US, have already seen their glory days and are now watching output from their wells gradually dwindle. Only a few nations are early in the production cycle and able to ramp up the rate of flow.
Here is a concise definition of Peak Oil from my colleague Chris Skrebowsi, the editor of Petroleum Review in London. He says: "Global oil production falls when loss of output from countries in decline exceeds gains in output from those that are expanding."
Well, how are we doing? Who's winning, the decliners or expanders?
Link here to rest of Richard's article.
A helpful article
– especially the introductory discussion of the power of cognitive
dissonance. Lisa says, “Hard truths are hard to talk about as well as hard to absorb”.
The truth about the truth is that it is much less easy to live than it
is to think and talk about. And we all experience dissonance between our
walk and our talk.
Any dissonance we
experience is manifest in our use of symbols in whatever form we use
e.g. gestures, words, text frames, pictures etc. Thus we get the
phenomenon whereby “environmentalists” with their extra sensitivity
to the implications of their actions are particularly vulnerable to
reflecting dissonance in their choice of symbols. We find those who are
most calling for a certain type of change employ symbols that most deny
Take the Energy Bulletin, which you refer to.
its website indicates massive dissonance and confusion. Distilling the
content down to the website’s content down so as to extract the
authors’ definition of energy we find the principle use of the
“energy” symbol is that energy is mineral oil and gas. In other
words they make the fatal flaw of confusing energy with a couple of the
forms or manifestations it can take. In so doing they frame out and
destroy a vast range of insights into the multitude of sustainable
options we have of using the potential of the universe(s). The authors
also coincidentally adopt the use of the energy symbol promoted
by the bankers of the fossil fuel and Bulk-generated electricity sector
to serve their short-term interests. In so doing all the Energy
Bulletin’s wonderful content is negated and the site works directly
against its stated objectives.
Similarly the Oildrum.com evidences massive denial of change.
Its website is
framed by the statement “Discussions about energy and our future”
and the equally confusing statement by Henry Ford, “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in
trying to solve them.” Time
is just a manifestation or element of energy, a part of the time/space
dance of matter.
My point is
that we all experience cognitive dissonance and we cannot avoid our
roles as stewards of Earth’s resources, as much as we try to. The
inescapable truth is that our lives ARE the models, ARE the
communication. The truth of each of us is out via our use of symbols.
Even the current
use of the “environment” symbol is revealing. “Environmental
writers” commonly use the symbol to portray a world “out there”,
thereby obscuring the fact we ARE our environment. This use of the
symbol reveals the writer’s fundamental disconnection with the
universe and this is projected onto the audience. Dissonance prevails
and with that a sense of hopelessness and confusion.
I have on my
website a proposal called the Sustainability Principle of Energy which
is fundamentally a tool for enhancing our capacity to make sustainable
uses of symbols. If we take care with our use of key symbols and
conserve their potential then their use will resonate to reshape our
lives in more sustainable and meaningful ways.
context I suggest the use of the Peak Oil symbol is unhelpful. Certainly it is valuable in that it makes very clear that the
mineral oil on Earth is a limited resource and does not confuse the
mineral with energy, which is as bounteous as the potential of the
universe(s). However it fails to communicate a sense of transition to
other possible ages beyond the Cheap Oil/Gas Age. This most brief Age of
humanity when mineral oil and gas were cheap to extract and we were
unaware of the affects of their combustion on the atmospheric balances
that sustain us is now past. It is gone. We do have options of other
more viable cultures including ones based on the enhanced and more
intelligent uses of our electrical, solar and carbon potentials. However
for them to become manifest we need to adopt the symbol uses that
Thank you for
your article Kelpie
17 May 2008
" In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a petroleum geologist with Shell Oil, presented a paper to the American Petroleum Institute that predicted US oil production would peak in the early 1970s and then follow a declining curve, now known as Hubbert's curve. But Hubbert almost didn't get to give his paper. He got a call from his bosses at Shell, who asked him to "tone it down." His reply was that there was nothing to tone down. It was just straightforward analysis. He presented the paper, unedited. You can read the whole story here...."