This article is republished from the ASPO-USA newsletter and was sent in by reader Major Daniel L. Davis in the US military
Peak Oil from the Front Lines
Here in Iraq, I’ve had interesting conversations over the past few days with some of my soldiers. Those exchanges illuminate the problem we face in getting people to understand the gravity of our energy situation. The guys I was talking to are some of my better soldiers; they’re savvy, intelligent, and aware of international issues. We started talking about energy, and the issue of an eventual peak of crude oil production. Most of them didn’t have a problem conceptually understanding that there would someday be a peak and then a decline. But when it came to contemplating and understanding the consequences of that eventuality, there was intellectual disbelief. In their minds, there are too many ‘obvious’ alternative solutions.
It is the classic shopping cart of answers: solar, nuclear, shell oil, heavy oil, bio fuels, wind, coal-to-liquids, and electricity from natural gas. In their minds, it’s a simple matter of switching from the one (crude) to the ‘all-the-above’ alternatives. But when you try to explain the remarkable difficulties pointed out in Dr. Hirsh’s 2005 report [“The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management”] and other reports from The Rand Corporation about how long it would take to transition from where we are to the world relying on “all-the-above alternatives,” how much it would cost, and how difficult it would be to even replace our reliance on just the depleting oil, much less stay ahead of growing demand, they just don’t believe it.
You know the look you get on some people’s face when you’re telling them something, recite some facts they simply don’t believe, and no matter what you say or how you say it, you know they’re not going to believe you? That’s what I get. And I believe that is a direct result from all these reports from the optimists, the infomercials, ‘news studies’ and other forms of – if not misinformation then at best partial information—that various organizations promote.
How many Exxon-Mobil or BP commercials have you seen on TV, talking about how they’re working hard to provide the ‘next generation’ of energy for America’s future and that ‘we’re working for energy independence’ and other such hogwash? They have a vested interest, obviously, in promoting that kind of message, and I don’t even accuse them of willfully trying to mislead the public; I’m sure in their minds they are aware of the potential for trouble and do want to get out front on working for solutions, but the unmistakable message – clearly received, based on my recent conversations – is that ‘don’t worry about it; the future is likely going to be messy, but we’ll figure something out and all will be well. Sleep well, young man, and tomorrow morning a bright new day will dawn!"
But they’re just looking at things from their own company’s perspective. It’s in their economic self-interest to figure out a way to make a profit well into the future and they have a huge budget to help sell that idea in the form of an advertising and marketing program. So then, you’ve got Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, etc, etc, throwing out many millions of dollars a month on advertising and marketing selling the public on the message that all is well and they will ensure the future just as they’ve ensured the past – who would argue with their track record?
The problem is that there is no one on the other side of the argument, with the bigger picture in mind, to send a different message that will affect everyone, not just one company’s bottom line. Guys like Collin Campbell and many others who try to tell all they can about the logic, reason, and geological facts that shout of trouble, are like pebbles in the ocean of better-funded messages. We don’t have hundreds of millions to advertise our views on a continuous basis. As a result, they hear a very consistent message from the big guys and a tiny mouse voice from those like me, and who are they going to believe? Who are my Soldiers going to believe? My one voice or, I rhetorically ask, the cumulative baritone choir of major producers and others? Anyway, just a blinding flash of the obvious that suddenly hit me this week.