Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

A Peak at the Future

Brent crude has dropped below $50 a barrel.

For decades, we’ve heard warnings about “Peak Oil.” This is the idea that production levels of fossil fuels will hit their apex, that we won’t find enough new reserves to meet growing demand, and that the machine of capitalism will implode as it can no longer power itself.

We are certainly seeing the peak of something, but it isn’t oil supply. It’s oil demand.Energy Use

Energy consumption per capita in the US is on the decline (albeit from pretty ridiculous highs). Growth in China is slowing way down—they had a great leap forward, but such growth simply isn’t sustainable. Or even healthy. And supply is expanding with new techniques (mostly fracking and horizontal drilling).

The global recession contributed to the decrease in demand, but it doesn’t account for all of it. Small things like more efficient appliances and the end of the incandescent light bulb have gone a long way to decreasing our energy load, offsetting the explosion in the number of devices and gizmos that now seem necessary for our survival (or at least: entertainment).I’m a bright-eyed optimist, so my hope is that our dependence on fossil fuels will lessen as we learn to lean on cleaner energy like solar and nuclear. One of the problems with declining oil prices is that alternative sources of energy become less competitive. Solar recently hit parity with some fossil fuel power plants, as the cost per kwh has plummeted due to massive leaps in solar panel efficiency and plummeting costs of production.

With gas dipping below $2, will American drivers turn back to massive SUVs and trucks? There’s already been a call in recent weeks to tax gas at the pump even further, levying a carbon cost to cover the externalities of burning fuel. It doesn’t take long for lessons learned to be forgotten. Or for us to take highly variable things for granted.

All of this comes on the heels of more bad environmental news. 2014 was now officially the hottest year on record. Global warming is happening, whether that makes you comfortable or not. We’re contributing, whether that aligns with your worldview or not. Sea levels are going to creep up, and we’ll have to deal with that coastal city by coastal city.

Again, I’m an optimist. I think we’ll engineer a way through this mess. New York City is working on plans for parks that will ring Manhattan, providing levies to guard against the next major storm, but also to cope with rising sea levels. Advances in nuclear energy continue to make this the cleanest of the always-on energy sources. (I toured a natural gas power plant a few weeks ago, and the entire plant was built because of a nearby wind farm. Always-on power generation has to be built to accompany wind and solar, which is a massive problem. Nuclear will have to play a greater role going forward).

20141216_155017 copy

 Me and my dad at a natural gas power plant outside Pueblo, CO.

Now let’s talk distant projections. Where will we be in 50 years? I have a few hopes, and I think they have a greater chance of being right than the constant predictions of peak oil. I think in the near future, energy production will come through innovations that we build rather than something we pump from the ground. This will have an incredible impact on global economies and result in an even further decline in world violence and the incidences of war.

Right now, energy is a natural resource, tempting nations like Iraq and Russia to annex neighbors. And tempting Americans and others to drill in some of our most beautiful habitats. When wealth is as simple as running pumps, the industry can be commandeered by bandits with guns, as we are seeing with ISIS. And Russia, to some degree. When energy is instead met through solar and nuclear, it will have the same effect that Silicon Valley had in turning factory and rote jobs into jobs that pay more, require more education, are safer, and better for the environment. Oh, and generate fewer wars.

I also think in the next 50 years (hopefully on the sooner side) we’ll see Africa explode with the same perceived problems we saw in Asia. China’s rapid growth has brought a lot of people out of poverty in a very short time. While some were denouncing the offshoring of our least desirable jobs, those jobs were increasing wealth and freedoms elsewhere (especially for women). We should celebrate this. And we should hope that Africa has a chance to build factories, consume cheap energy even if it’s coal and oil, and go through the same growing pains that we went through and that the rest of the developed world has gone through. Pulling the ladder up behind us is wrong on so many levels.

The craziest thing I think we might see in the next 50 years is a drop in ppm of atmospheric CO2 levels. Once we stop pumping so much of it into the air—as we move to electric vehicles powered more by solar, wind, and nuclear—nature will absorb a lot of what’s out there. This will be the big stunner. We’ve seen this with catastrophic oil spills. Predictions of the decades of environmental ruin are followed by shock when environments return to order in far less time. I believe the resiliency of our planet will surprise us once again. As will the ingenuity that spills from our noggins.

These sorts of pronouncements are often seen as reasons to slack off or do nothing, but I disagree. Stoking fear should not be our way to inspire action. Truth is always better than clever agendas. We can inspire people to be better stewards of our environment, to use less energy in dozens of little ways, to pay more for an electric car or solar panels, to make a positive difference through positivity. The fear mongering has done real harm, I think. It has bred mistrust. It has turned us away from useful solutions like nuclear power (if you haven’t seen Pandora’s Promise, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Seriously. Grab a copy right now. You’ll thank me).

The best outcome of cheap oil will of course be the end of the incredible violence in the Middle East. For those who think this is impossible, consider the violence in Ireland just a few decades ago. Consider the record low murder rates in American cities recently announced. Consider the violence in myriad places throughout history that has now declined. At some point, the Middle East will generate wealth through trade, tourism, and innovation. It’ll be harder work than pumping liquid money out of the ground, but a lot safer, more rewarding, and less violent.

The people who predict bright futures are always mocked, and those who predict collapse are treated as sages, even as the former get it right and the latter are almost always wrong. This speaks more to our fears than it does to their wisdom. Here’s looking to a brighter tomorrow, powered by something clean, and visible through a lifting smog.

 


My newest release, THE SHELL COLLECTOR was inspired by my obsession with the world’s oceans and many of these environmental concerns. The work is dedicated to my good friends Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan, who have done much to make the world and our environment a better place. If you haven’t read Stewart’s excellent Whole Earth Discipline, you should. It’s a brilliant book.

45 replies to “A Peak at the Future”

I’m absolutely in favour of green energy, and although I have deep-seated reservations about nuclear, I read that a working fusion reactor is only 3 years away, and that thorium-based nuclear fission energy may be a way forward. So I’m hopeful that new nuclear energy can supply that gaps that occur in natural energy power.
I’m also intrigued by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desertec which has the potential to provide enough solar energy to power the whole world. How fantastic would that be? Issues on ownership and security would need to be addressed, obviously.

Interesting points and predictions–not that I will be around in 50 years to see how it pans out :-)

Another trend that will increasingly affect energy is an increase in corporations sending their workers home to work. These companies heat and light fewer buildings as a result. Their employees driver fewer miles. In many cases, significantly fewer miles. I get an entire two hours of my life back every day by working from home! My personal carbon footprint is tiny now.

My company has been able to cancel their plans for a 3000 occupancy building. Approximately 1/3 of our customer service call center operation (including managers, and support staff–IT workers like myself) are now full time work from home employees. Although my company tends to be innovative, we are at the beginning of a gallop toward a different way of working that will eventually have a hand in decreasing energy consumption in the US.

Good point. I hope it happens. People are also moving into cities, which are better for the environment than urban sprawl and rural settlements. People are having fewer children, which reduces the load on the planet (population is expected to peak around 2050 and then begin what could be a very steep decline). With fewer children comes a reduced need for large houses with lots of bedrooms.

Hugh, thank you for this post. I find this topic fascinating (environmental impact and energy), which is probably why I tore through The Shell Collector. When I finished the book, my wife asked me what had kept me fixed to my Kindle for 24 hours? My answer: A romance novel…I think. That’s the sign of a fantastic story. Never once did I let up reading. Your passion for this topic energized the story for me.

My next series will deal with a number of environmental issues plaguing Southern California in an apocalyptic novel I’m billing as “a futuristic Grapes of Wrath…but nowhere near as good as the Steinbeck’s classic.”

“The craziest thing I think we might see in the next 50 years is a drop in ppm of atmospheric CO2 levels”….. Why? We are burning more oil than ever. It is really simple math no one ever bothers to do. So PER CAPITA each person in the usa is using about the same amount they used in the sixties, the problem is you completely ignore population. In 1960 there werre 180 million americans, there are 314 million of us now, so the actual amount of oil being used is almost double the amount used 50 years ago. This goes for everywhere, almost every population has doubled in the last 50 years and everyone is using as much oil as their grand daddies did, then we add in China which is also is a fuzzy math problem… Their per capita is lower than ours, because 70% of chinese have no oil in their lives, which means the other 30% are using the heck out of it.
Fuzzy math.

Population will begin declining in the next 50 years. Fuzzy math is looking at population curves from the 1950s and pretending those trends are still in effect. The curve on population growth turned in the 70s.

Right now, we’re seeing the start of slower demand for fossil fuels. Solar has reached parity, and nuclear has a bright future. In twenty to thirty years, I predict that global oil consumption will be lower than it is today. And within ten years of that happening, atmospheric CO2 will begin to decline as it is consumed by algae and drifts to the bottom of the sea.

Not sure that I’ll be around in 50 years to collect, but I’d wager a lot of money on seeing CO2 rates decline in the next half century.

You are missing my point, let me show it in facts…
1950 2,556,000,053 18.9% growth
1960 3,039,451,023 22.0% growth
1970 3,706,618,163 20.2% growth
1980 4,453,831,714 18.5% growth
1990 5,278,639,789 15.2% growth
2000 6,082,966,429 12.6% growth
2010 6,848,932,929 10.7% growth
You see, even though the percentage of population growth is dropping, the actual population is growing by 800,000,000 every ten years. When the population growth was 22% in the sixties the total still only went up by 700 million.
So it doesnt matter if the growth drops by a few percent a year, the totals are still rising.

You are missing my point. Check the UN’s report on population growth. We are looking at a peak world population probably around 2050 and then a decline.

I’m not talking about rates. I’m talking about total numbers. The inflection point for this was back in the 70s. But people are still fear-mongering over the population bomb, which ended up being a dud.

Oil, per unit, is an extremely versatile energy packed resource. It is easily transportable and operates all types of very simplistic and available engines. The third world, where population increases continue, will find it difficult to move away from it. Wealthy nations further up the Malthusian wants curve, like the US, can psychologically justify alternatives like electric cars that cost twice as much and go half the distance as petroleum based vehicles (btw.. most electric cars are very bad for the environment based on the toxicity of battery formulations and the fossil fuels used for the electric doing the recharging). It is my belief that the world will become even more dependent on oil as third world emerging economies expand and those who “rule” them feed their citizens basic needs in the most economic way possible.

And I think we’ll see developed countries move to solar generation on homes, with storage taking place in our plugged-in electric vehicles. And developing nations will continue a tradition of leap-frogging past some developments to seize on those that are easier to install and maintain.

There are shantytowns full of mobile phones and few if any landlines. There will be a similar leapfrog past combustion to cheap solar panels and inexpensive electric scooters and cars. Thirty to fifty years from now, this will look obvious. Right now it sounds like a pipe dream. But that’s how these things tend to go.

I do understand your point very clearly, but I will repeat that we can all forget the UN’s percentages, let’s look at totals. The population has increased by 800,000,000 every decade irrespective of the percentages. So 50 years from now when we hit 12 billion, a much lower percentage will not matter because the number it is a percentage of is bigger.
How is the population bomb a dud and how was it disproven in the 70’s? We have 4 billion more people on earth since then, more than double, exactly as they predicted at the time. The ‘dud’ part was the fact that according to UN ‘experts’ at the time we could only feed 6 billion so they said the world would go to hell…they were wrong. The only question now is can we feed 12 billion, or will starvation bring about the numbers the UN promises?
And, you really think if people stop buying middle east oil they will simply go away and stop killing us? If they kill us now while we give them money, what will they do when we stop?

Yes, I think they’ll stop attacking us. Look at Germany and Japan 70 years ago. That’s a single lifetime. Violence in general is going down.

And again, you seem to be misreading what I’m saying. Total world population is set to decline. I’m looking at trends 50 years out. You think world population and oil usage (and atmospheric CO2) will be worse in 50 years. I think all of these issues will be improving by then.

It’s fine that we disagree.

John,

China, Japan and Western Europe are all trending toward or are experiencing population contraction. Most developed economies are moving toward negative population growth. The US is an anomaly only because we’ve recently imported large populations from the developing world in Central and South America, primarily Mexico.

The important analysis you’re missing is the second derivative, which is the rate of change in the rate of change. Essentially, the change in the trend is that growth is diminishing and as things stand the end of the road for a developed country is zero to negative population growth.

Hugh,

What isn’t being considered here is longevity. We’re on the cusp of a serious change in our understanding of the human body that could end up dramatically improving life expectancy as well as extending the reproductive window. If lifespans become unusually long or people have more children later in life, the trends could completely change.

Agreed. I wrote a short story once about an age where immortality is only granted if you agree not to have children. I think we’ll have to face that option in the next few hundred years. Well, others will.

True immortality would require our being capable of making perfect duplicates after accidents or violent death. Regarding our living that long, I’m inclined to agree it’s extremely unlikely. However, I think that some lucky or unlucky few current adults may have all of the breaks go in such a way that they could reach such an age. My reasoning is that all of the molecular technologies of the next twenty years could enable the full capability to achieve human immortality, but we’ll be fumbling in the dark. Someone is bound to catch all of the breaks in such a situation.

Funny that we were discussing this today and then I read this in the Post this evening:

http://tablet.washingtonpost.com/world/japans-birth-rate-problem-is-way-worse-than-anyone-imagined/2015/01/07/3dedaa77f49edb6bfbe8148a87008636_story.html?tid=kindle-app

There are going to be more and more stories like this. The real threat is going to be how fast our population unwinds, not that it will runaway unabated as most people mistakenly believe.

The fear mongering has done real harm, I think. It has bred mistrust. It has turned us away from useful solutions like nuclear power…

My father was executive director for the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement for decades. The organization’s sole purpose was developing proper safety standards to ensure that medical imaging technology such as x-ray machines were safe and to ensure that nuclear power plants were safe. He saw first hand many of the untruths being spread about nuclear power, with the result that our nation continued its reliance on many supremely dangerous and polluting fossil fuel burning energy plants.

I fully support the further development of technology for harvesting the wind, the sunlight, tidal forces, and geothermal energy. But I believe that nuclear energy will need to play at least some part in our energy future.

I love your predictions in this post, Hugh. I grew very disconsolate about peak oil over the past few years, and I am delighted to adopt your rational and optimistic viewpoint on this subject. Thank you!

I’m so excited to see someone promoting Pandora’s Promise. I thought it was a fantastic documentary. I’m also a fan of Mark Lynas, who I admire very much for his strong science based stance on environmental issues.

I’m a lighting designer by trade, and spend a great deal of my time running the numbers for energy efficiency in my work. Because of this I’m keenly aware of the fact that energy efficient light bulbs are not going to be enough. Lighting is a very small slice of our energy usage, and we’re fast approaching a point where will have squeezed every bit of efficiency out of it that we can. The way forward is to concentrate on reductions in the bigger energy hog areas (manufacturing, heating, and cooling), AND finding a solid mix of renewable energy sources. I believe that nuclear is going to be an important component in the solution.

As a former U.S. Navy submarine officer, I can proudly proclaim I have hugged a nuclear reactor! (Wasn’t some weird fetish…they pack the reactor compartment pretty tight and an officer is required to fully inspect all areas of it before the door can be closed and locked following entry for maintenance, etc.) And I even went on to father several healthy children.

As long as personnel are properly trained and equipment is properly inspected and maintained, nuclear power is incredibly safe. The spent fuel tends to be a much bigger problem than the power plant itself, but still a minor problem compared to the benefits of the power source.

“The spent fuel tends to be a much bigger problem than the power plant itself, but still a minor problem compared to the benefits of the power source.”

Well, we could start by digging a bunch of underground silos …

I have read that if we simply reprocessed the spent fuel, we could eliminate over 95% of nuclear waste. The resistance is largely political, not practical.

We have really resisted reprocessing fuel because of the risk that it is so easily weaponized, but if we carefully controlled how it was reprocessed, etc., it goes a long way towards eliminating the need for huge, secure repositories like Yucca Mtn…a much smaller amount of waste to store.

Is my understanding correct or am I wrong on this? Not even remotely pretending to have an informed opinion, this is what I have read when the issue comes up.

We definitely think in the same direction on the future of energy, though I’m not the optimist that you are, Hugh. I think more along the lines that the past isn’t the Garden of Eden and the future isn’t a slide into oblivion. It could all go horribly wrong for us down the road, but living on Earth hasn’t exactly been easy in the past, either. Humans haven’t been around very long and our recorded history doesn’t even register in the history of the Earth.

We should be far more concerned about how the Earth’s climate could suddenly change due to conditions out of our control than the little bit of CO2 we’re reintroducing into the atmosphere. The mild climate change we’re currently experiencing is ridiculously small compared to what the natural world is capable of inflicting all by itself without our assistance. Climate scientists criminally overstate how good their models are. If they had a model worth anything, they would be able to reliably suggest more than one way to counteract the trends they think they’re seeing, because they would actually be accounting for all of the significant contributors.

The point is that the Earth is not naturally on our side. It has been an evolving ecosystem throughout its lifespan, and it kills every species that doesn’t change to keep up. Obviously, we should still worry about how we manage our environment, but the smaller scale effects, like a lot of people living close together is far more dangerous than some relatively small proportion of O2 being chemically transformed into CO2 and H2O as the products of combustion.

The concept of peak oil is definitely not an accurate view of the way forward. There are vast quantities of hydrocarbons under the oceans. Oceans are where the bulk of the biomass lives, which gets crushed into hydrocarbons on the sea floor when they die. Estimates are that the Earth did not start out with an oxygenated atmosphere. Oxygen levels are estimated to have been half what they are now hundreds of millions of years ago when the dinosaurs were dominant. These changes have been caused by photosynthetic bacteria turning CO2 and H2O into CH chains which have been preserved beneath the oceans and O2 that has been released into the atmosphere.

As much hydrocarbons as are still trapped under the oceans, it isn’t sustainable to continue pursuing them. We’ve tapped most of the low hanging fruit, so what we have is oil that is getting harder to extract against solar that is getting easier to harvest. As the costs overlap, solar gets more attractive and hydrocarbons get less so. There is the issue of storage, but as solar electricity gets really inexpensive, electricity can be used to generate chemical fuel. Essentially, it’s just a matter of time before the crossover from mining energy to harvesting it occurs. And we won’t need nuclear power to make it happen, either.

I know you didn’t say this, but a careless reader might walk away thinking that oil prices are falling because demand is decreasing. None of which is true.

Oil prices are falling because the Saudis plan to drive the American fracking industry out of business. And they might do it. The Saudis have plenty of cash to wait things out. By contrast, frackers are over-leveraged and over-invested. Prices are already below the level they need to survive.

Saudi can’t go more than three years with its current cash on hand plus the reduced price of oil. They have a lifting cost of about $10, so even at $50, they have a huge profit margin. The last time they depleted their cash was in 1991 when they had to pay for the first Gulf War. They actually had to borrow on the international markets after that.

The whole country runs on oil money. The royal family has purchased domestic peace with lots of oil money. That’s how the Wahabis have been kept in check. A huge proportion of the workforce is employed by the government. Manual labor is done by Asians. They have 6 million Asians there, and the ultimate resolution of that population will be something to watch. It’s a very delicate balance, and it has to be fed with oil money.

They are typically the swing OPEC producer, and most folks expected them to drop production to support prices. They didn’t.

They are also very smart. My idea is this has less to do with the US frackers than with the Iranians who are being squeezed by the much lower prices.

This. There are many factors that affect the price of oil but this current sharp decline in price is due to production decisions more than other factors. The Saudis made a decision about output that directly resulted in the decrease in oil prices. OPEC recently failed to reach an agreement on production limits and this has led to a decline in oil prices because supply has increased. Other factors such as demand declines add to it. Once oil falls below a certain price, fracking and oil sands extraction become less economically viable. Declining price will hit the budgets hard of several countries that rely on oil royalties. Seeing as oil sands production and fracking are the filthiest energy sources besides coal, it’s probably a good thing.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/12/economist-explains-4

There’s lots of fossil fuel left, whether coal or oil or oil sands or shale oil. There’s lots of methane trapped as clathrates if we could mine it. The question is more whether we should, not whether it’s there.

It’s clear that humans are affecting the climate. All that carbon has been sequestered for hundreds of millions of years and is being released lightning fast. Climate is a behemoth, a juggernaut that once you get moving may be quite hard to keep or get under control. However, it seems that human control over climate is going to be essential at some point. Humans, if we survive our technological childhood, will eventually have to prevent the next ice age. Maybe climate change in the fossil fuel era is like a dry run for our eventual control over the planet’s climate and that of other planets. Only then will we be on our way to a true Level I civilization in the Kardashev system.

Fusion is the way to go. We wouldn’t need to harness the energy of our star. We will create our own. :)

Global warming is happening, whether that makes you comfortable or not.

Comfort has nothing to do with it. The scientific method does. We were presented with a claim that said increasing carbon PPM would result in increasing surface temperatures. That’s the hypothesis.

The natural experiment is observation of surface temperatures for 18 years as carbon PPM moved from 360 to just under 400. It increased each year.

Observation of surface temperatures showed they had no statistically significant increase. They have been flat. Not moving up. The models all called for an increase in surface temperature each year. The models were all wrong each year. The UN was wrong.

The natural experiment did not give the results predicted by the hypothesis. The hypothesis is falsified.

With gas dipping below $2, will American drivers turn back to massive SUVs and trucks?

Yes.

Sea levels are going to creep up, and we’ll have to deal with that coastal city by coastal city.

They have been creeping up for thousands of years during this interglacial.

We’re contributing, whether that aligns with your worldview or not.

World view doesn’t matter anymore than comfort. Butterfly effect. The existence of a contribution tells us nothing until we know the magnitude of the contribution. For 18 years there has been no increase in surface temperatures as carbon PPM has increased. So it’s difficult to say what we are contributing to.

The best outcome of cheap oil will of course be the end of the incredible violence in the Middle East.

Lower prices lead to less wealth in nations that are heavily dependent on extraction industries. Impoverish people during a religious war, and it’s not conducive to peace. Saudi Arabia has had 80 years to diversify its economy, and it hasn’t. It still runs on oil.

Climate is 30+ years at a minimum. 18 years is far too short and obscures the longer trend, which is up. The meme of “climate change has stalled”or “no global warming in 10 years” is mistaken and misleading and based on cherry picking particular dates to suit a political agenda. If you look at the entire era when records have been kept, you see a clear correlation between CO2 levels and global temperature.

http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/images/indicators/global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009.gif

The climate warming advocates presented a hypothesis. Then they applied it in their models. Their predictions were flat wrong. That dooms a hypothesis under the scientific method. The hypothesis did not accurately predict the results of the natural experiment.

They didn’t place a 30 year lag on their hypothesis. They said it would accurately predict each of the last 18 years.

They told us each of the last 18 years would see an increase in temperature because of an increase in carbon PPM. We got significat increase in PPM. We did not get the temperature increase. Failed hypothesis.

The last 18 years have not been cherry picked. They were chosen by the climate modelers when they gave specific predictions for each of those 18 years.

All the models applying this hypothesis have been proven to be wrong 18 times in a row.

It’s embarrassing enough to regurgitate those talking points when we all know where you got them. It’s even worse that you actually screwed up your own talking points. Practice that cut and paste a little.

A hypothesis is falsified when it fails to accurately predict experimental results. That is standard scientific method.

The hypothesis that increasing carbon PPM leads to increasing surface temperatures was presented and tested. PPM increased. Surface temperatures did not increase. The hypothesis’ predictions did not happen. Falsified hypothesis.

If 18 years isn’t enough, ow big a difference will another 12 years make? Let’s go bigger, let’s look at the thousands of ice ages we have had before man walked the earth. Too many people say those of us who argue against global warming don’t believe in it, when in fact we do, we have seen evidence of it thousands of times. What we argue is that it is natural, we came out of an ice age a hundred thousand years ago, maybe we will continue to get warm or maybe it will switch and start to get cold, the point is man is not big enough to stop it.
But people like to feel important, they like to think that if they make a personal sacrifice and drive a small car they are personally responsible for saving the world. I remember when the big cities were dark from smog, we had acid rain and the rivers were poluted. Things have gotten a lot better in the last 50 years, in fact so good that there is more ice on the polar caps now then there has been in decades.

The sad results of epistemological closure. You aren’t even aware of the hundreds, if not thousands, of times your talking points have been debunked. Your closed sources have not told you.

Hugh, you and I aren’t on the same page about all of this, but I am 100% with you on nuclear. When you find out how little nuclear waste would be produced to power just the US for a year, you can’t help but wonder why we aren’t already doing it.

I also don’t see why it’s so hard to compress all of our nuclear waste and then give it an outbound orbital trajectory. :D People usually respond, “what if there’s an accident and it spreads radiation across the world” but that just seems to be a matter of securing it against the worst case scenario.

Value is based on scarcity. The multibillion dollar companies that control scarce oil and gas production and distribution will not voluntarily transition to decentralized abundant cheap solar or other sources, nor will the politicians they own suddenly cease subsidizing oil/gas to make them competitive. Simply put, the both of them would sooner choke the world to death for profit, which is precisely what we’re seeing now. Nuclear is an unmitigated disaster, replete with falsified and largely unpunished safety record falsifications (TEPCO included) that are indicative of the profit-at-all-costs mindset and Big Energy’s client relationship with governments and regulatory agencies. If not for government-imposed liability caps, there would be no nuclear industry, because of the obviously catastrophic risks and the sheer impossibility of safe waste storage for the next half-million years. What kind of idiot stores the spent fuel rods on-site? (Just about all of them do this, actually.) Oil prices are in deliberate decline as a concerted effort to bankrupt the Russian economy (which is primarily dependent on oil), with the added effect of hammering Venezuela. It is not indicative of a long-term price drop.(The recent reconciliation with Cuba is also intended to damage Russia.) Meanwhile, fracking poisons the water supply more quickly and effectively than just about anything else. I’d like to see the bright future you do, but most indicators seem to be pointing the other way–to business-as-usual, here and abroad. National policy is determined by those whose greatest concern is the next quarterly statement.

What is the worst nuclear disaster of all time, and what was the death count?

Chernobyl was a piece of Soviet-built crap, and it only killed 41 people directly at the incident, mostly firefighters who had no idea what “radiation” meant. Cancer deaths across the affected area fluctuated by less than 1%. Now, that 1% is comprised of thousands of lives which are each precious, but it’s also impossible to say how many of those are connected to exposure to radiation from Chernobyl. It also doesn’t take into account how many lives were saved by the electricity produced by the power plant prior to the explosion, or how many were saved by that power being produced by nuclear instead of a filthy Soviet coal plant, or how many miners’ lives and health were saved by not having to dig up that coal, or… and on it goes. So there you go, we can’t even show that the worst nuclear disaster in history even managed to harm the people of Russia in a provable way.

Are you saying that we’ve been lying about one of the USSR’s most embarrassing scandals ever since the Cold War? Because that’s going to take some proving.

So far you’ve said that all the existing proof is fake, but you’ve offered no proof in return. That’s not a very convincing position.

Fukushima is the worst by far, and its problems did not begin with the quake or the wave. There is no existing “proof” the tech is safe. There’s plenty of proof the existing “safeguards” are routinely ignored with impunity. You can believe industry shills (remember when smoking was good for you and climate change was fake?), or you can do some outside reading and reflect that the same exact reactors dot the US, built by a company that owns a media empire unlikely to tattle on its parent and so endanger an industry that has doled out nearly half a billion dollars to political candidates. My “position” is that even if the tech could be run flawlessly, it wouldn’t be (we already have ample proof of that)–and that the dangers far outweigh the benefits. Look at BP’s appalling safety record in a far less dangerous industry, and what that led to. We know for a fact that TEPCO, the Japanese government and the IAEA spewed false information from the start; there’s no reason to believe them now. At any rate, it’s not my job to convince you, Jim; I was responding to Hugh’s post. But you might want to consider the opinions of nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen or physicist Michio Kaku; I think you’ll agree they know more about this than either of us ever will. In the end, Hugh is right; we have to transition to renewables if we’re to survive. The problem is, the most powerful players simply don’t care, and active disinformation keeps the public on the fence.

Oops–meant to say that, together with the financial industry, the energy industry has contributed half a billion. There too, we see reckless disasters without consequence for those who caused them. Hmm, seems to be a pattern here…

Well. Peak oil is real and it will happen. Whether its this decade or a few decades from now. It’s a physical reality. One of the predicted symptoms of peak oil was price volatility and more frequent recessions. Oil price rises due to limited production rates, economy gets slammed, prices fall, economy recovers, etc. The cycle repeats and becomes more frequent. We’ve been seeing this since around 2007 so I think we’ve reached the production rate plateau.

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