Fossil fuel era continues

Predictions of an imminent decline of oil are misplaced, argues Jack Conrad. Along with global temperatures, consumption is set to rise

Peak oil predictions: as old as the industry

The question of peak oil appears to be eminently simple. The world is finite; the world’s natural resources - in this case oil - are equally finite. Therefore, so runs the argument, if we humans persist in extracting and burning the stuff on any sort of scale, sooner or later absolute limits must be reached. Before that, however, production will arrive at a maximum, or a peak. Thereafter, the supply of oil will steadily diminish, till the cost of extracting an extra barrel exceeds what it can be sold for - in terms of physics, a negative ‘energy return on energy inputs’ (EROEI).

Over the years, peak oil pundits have announced that oil production would begin to decline in 1975, 1985 … 2005, etc.1 Regardless of those repeated failures, when the tipping point finally arrives, all manner of dire socio-economic consequences are confidently predicted: eg, massive hikes in consumer prices, an end to economic growth, oil wars, etc. Indeed because oil is today the primary energy source and plays a vital role in air and road transport, the manufacture of plastics, chemicals, etc, there are those who warn of some kind of civilisational collapse. 2

Not surprisingly, peak oil pundits have been challenged on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Some critics dismiss peak oil as economically illiterate3. Others see a convenient excuse to assert direct US control over Middle Eastern oil. Then there are those who believe that peak oil is a gigantic financial scam. Rising spot prices certainly yield huge profits for Wall Street and City of London speculators.4

As an idea, peak oil has already had an undoubted political impact. On the side of the angels, green parties, environmental organisations and eco-capitalists have used the widespread fear of a pending oil crisis to gain acceptance for energy efficiency measures, alternative sources of power generation and novel technologies. But there are the devils. Oil rentier states, the nuclear industry, neocon warmongers and rightwing populists have taken full advantage of peak oil too.

Take Donald Trump. In the name of ensuring America’s energy security, the 45th president signed executive orders giving the go-ahead for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, shredded federal restrictions on mining and drilling in national parklands, and reversed the ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic imposed by Barack Obama shortly before he left office. To further boost US oil production, Trump instructed his officials to assess the potential for energy exploration in recently declared or expanded marine sanctuaries in the Atlantic and Pacific. As with the US withdrawal from the non-binding Paris climate accord, an arrogant display of contempt for the future of the planet.

Yet due to flat-lining incomes, precarious employment and the system’s relentless promotion of selfish individualism, such gestures resonate with a wide body of US electors. Through foreign wars, sweeping away environmental red tape and giving free reign to market forces, they imagine the cheap oil needed to heat their homes and fill their petrol tanks will be guaranteed … well, at least for the moment.

Meanwhile, naive radicals treat peak oil pundits as modern-day prophets. Via blogs, websites, YouTube channels, etc, ‘peakism’ became something of a “sub-culture” in the early part of the 21st century5. People seriously began to ready themselves for life after oil. A popular slogan to be found on the huge anti-war demonstrations of February 2003 was ‘No blood for oil’. As if the 1991 George HW Bush and the 2003 George W Bush wars were driven primarily by soon-to-be-scarce oil.

Exactly the trite explanation offered by various sections of the organised left. In 2006, with oil prices riding towards record highs, the Socialist Party in England and Wales happily presented peak oil theory as verity. Therefore, it supposedly followed that the “key reason for the two wars with Iraq was the USA’s need for oil”6. In fact, the US imports relatively little Middle Eastern oil. However, it does have an interest in exercising military control over the region and, therefore, giving itself “strategic leverage” over potential imperial rivals: ie, China, Japan and Europe.7 Their oil can be choked off.

Not to be outdone, the Socialist Party of Great Britain approvingly quotes Mathew Simmons, a former energy advisor to George W Bush: “Securing adequate oil supplies was … an important element in all the major wars of the 20th century and in the United States’ two most recent interventions in the Middle East.” The SPGB writer obviously agrees and adds that oil is probably “about to reach its maximum rate of production”8. Then we have the hapless Alan Thornett. Writing in the March 2012 edition of Socialist Resistance - “with the price of oil only likely to go up” - he even manages to explain the Falklands war, 30 years on, with reference to “peak oil9”.

Malthus

More sober minds point out that the “predictions of catastrophe” regularly trotted out by peak oil pundits are “steeped” in the doctrines of Thomas Robert Malthus and his theory of “land”, “scarcity” and “overpopulation”10. Malthus (1766-1834) was, of course, a Church of England cleric, an economist and an influential apologist for the most heartless, brutal forms of capitalism. He argued, famously in his Essay on the principles of population (1798), that the suffering, the misery, the degradation of the poor was unavoidable … given their irresponsible tendency to produce too many children.

Because land is finite it could only furnish so much food; meanwhile the poor produce too much in the way of mouths that have to be fed. True, Malthus accepted that agricultural productivity might improve over time. Subsistence, however, “increases at an arithmetical ratio” (ie, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …). Meanwhile, he insisted, population, if unchecked, “increases in a geometrical ratio” (ie, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 …)11. Hence, the only solution, according to parson Malthus, was late marriage, sexual abstinence or, failing that, allowing nature to take its grizzly course through disease and starvation. A blasphemy against both nature and humanity.

Blaming the social horrors of late-18th-century capitalism on the lowest, the most desperate stratum of the working class admirably suited the penny-pinching, oligarchical authorities. With a good conscience wealthy gentlemen could explain poverty not by admitting ruthless exploitation, but by the workings of god’s divine laws. Leaving people to starve therefore amounted to a Christian duty (the British state did just that during the 1845-52 Irish famine).The same callous political economy saw Malthus urging the United Kingdom parliament to sweep away the niggardly poor laws inherited from Tudor times (a late feudal system of social security). According to Malthus, though the poor laws were “undoubtedly instituted for the most benevolent purpose”, they were sheer folly12. Interfering with the natural order of things only encouraged those living on the edge of destitution to further augment the surplus population.

Engels lambasted Malthusianism as “the crudest, most barbarous theory that ever existed, a system of despair”, which absolved the state from any duty to come to the aid of the hungry13. But Engels did not reject Malthus and his misanthropic population theory on the basis of moral outrage alone. The underlying logic was transparently bogus. If there were too many people in 18th-century England, there must have been too many people when god first made Adam and Eve. After all, they were already possessed of the same innate tendency to reproduce in excess of the available means of subsistence.

Engels also maintained that science and technology grows geometrically. Physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, oceanic shipping, rail transport, methods of storage, postal communications, agricultural technique, etc had all been revolutionised and revolutionised again. As a result, Australia, North America and South America were able to supply Europe with grain, sugar, fruit, meat, wool, cotton, fertilisers and other raw materials in abundance.

Therefore, the desperate condition of the poor should be attributed not to the laws of nature: rather to the laws of capitalist society. Overpopulation did not result from an excess of people in relationship to the means of subsistence. No, overpopulation came about because of the periodic overproduction of capital, and, as a consequence, capital’s diminished requirement for labour-power (hence the reserve army of labour).

Rainfall, sunshine and grass set an absolute limit on the number of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles roaming on the Serengeti (note, Charles Dwain’s Origin of the species was inspired, in no small part, from his reading of Malthus). Engels, however, emphasised that human society is subject to a higher order of determination than the animal kingdom. Our population numbers result not just from nature. Historical laws, the mode of production, class struggles and technological progress, in fact, play the decisive role. The same surely applies to oil.

Endist

Peak oil is by no means a new theory. Marion King Hubbert (1903-89), an unjustly famous Shell geologist, presented a paper in 1956 which maintained that, for any given geographical area, from an individual oil field to the planet as a whole, the rate of oil production would, over time, resemble a bell curve. Overall US oil production, he figured, would peak some time between 1965, which he considered most likely, and 1970, which he considered the outlier. Global oil production was set to peak around 200014.

The following year - ie, 1957 - admiral Hyman Rickover discussed the fossil fuel era in emphatically endist terms - he envisaged the “ultimate disappearance of automobiles, trucks, buses and tractors” because oil would inevitably run dry15. In the exact same Malthusian spirit, the Club of Rome think-tank published what was to become an instant bestseller. The limits of growth (1972) predicted not only the end of oil in 1992 - with no increase in reserves - but a whole range of other vital natural resources. Eg, mercury and silver (1985), tin (1987), zinc (1990), copper, lead and natural gas (1993), aluminium (2005-21)16.

In point of fact, there have been doom-laden auguries ever since oil was first established as an economically important industry. In 1874 US experts reported that the Pennsylvania oilfields were going to become exhausted within just four years. This, so went their analysis, would mark the end of the US oil industry.

Then, as now, it is when prices are considered abnormally high that peak oil punditry gains traction. Hence the widespread acceptance of peak oil during the early 1970s, late 70s, early 80s and early 90s. The same thing happened over 2002-08, when oil prices appeared to be rushing headlong towards $150 a barrel.

High prices are equated in the popular mind with supply shortages. Yet, instead of wells running dry and mounting geological problems, a better, a more realistic explanation for the repeated ups and downs in oil prices lies in capitalism’s economic cycle and the intertwined outbreak of wars and eruptions of acute class struggles: eg, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the 1975 Portuguese revolution, stagflation and the rollback of the post-World War II social democratic settlement, Iran’s revolution and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 1985-88 inflationary boom, the 1989-91 collapse of bureaucratic socialism, Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the 1991 US-UK ‘liberation’ of Kuwait, etc. The 21st century began with the spectacular al Qa’eda terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon (2001), the US-UK invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and the US-UK invasion of Iraq (2003). There followed, of course, the subprime and banking crisis (2007-08) and the Arab spring (2011-12).

The onset of peace, defeat for popular insurgencies and economic downturns have a chilling effect on overheated oil prices. Naturally, export-dependent oil producers attempt to buck what is a highly competitive market. Eg, towards the end of 2016, Opec agreed to output cuts. Then, in May 2017, Russia and Saudi Arabia came together in a strange alliance. Production levels would be held back for a further nine months. To little or no effect. There is today, according to the Financial Times, a “persistent glut in global supplies” … and this seems to be no “short-term aberration”17.

The case of peak coal is worth mentioning here. In 1865 the British economist and mathematician, William Stanley Jevons, published his book The coal question. The subtitle is revealing: An inquiry concerning the progress of the nation, and the probable exhaustion of our coal mines. Jevons argued that British industry relied on cheap coal and that this constituted an Achilles’ heel. “Are we wise,” he rhetorically asked, “in allowing the commerce of this country to rise beyond the point at which we can long maintain it?18” Given that demand grows exponentially, and that coal is a finite, non-renewable energy source, Jevons warned that having to mine deeper seams and having to incur greater costs heralded approaching limits. His central thesis was that Britain’s global hegemony was in danger and that economic stagnation was unavoidable. Interestingly this doom-mongering won him national fame and many academic prizes. In fact, Jevons anticipated peak coal using the same tropes we encounter when it comes to peak oil: ubiquitous applications, local exhaustions, the necessity of going to ever greater geological depths, growing rates of usage, estimates of proven reserves, EROEI, etc.

Jevons rejected Malthusian theory when it came to agriculture: he saw no limits to the productivity of land. However, that could not apply to coal mines. Logically, at some point, output had to go into decline. All Jevons had to do was start with estimates of British coal reserves - no more than 90 billion tons. Jevons then subtracted expected rates of consumption and he had his shocking answer. Coal, he reckoned, would be exhausted in 50 or 60 years. There was no escape. He discounted possible substitutes.

Obviously, Jevons was spectacularly wrong. However, there is one aspect of his argument that made a lasting contribution to scientific thinking - the Jevons paradox. Against common sense, he insisted that, far from increased energy efficiency leading to reduced usage, the opposite would happen. Greater energy efficiency generates increased demand19.

Of course, just before the outbreak of World War I, the Royal Navy, under Winston Churchill, first lord of the admiralty, had begun the transition to oil (compared with coal, less bulky, easier to store, quicker for refuelling purposes; it also provided for greater speeds and ranges because of a far superior weight-to-energy ratio … and, with Persia reduced to an Anglo-Russian semi-colony, oil was wonderfully cheap 20).

British coal did, in fact, peak in 1912. Production amounted to around 200 million tons (about half the world’s total output). However, since then, in global terms, both production and reserves have considerably increased. Nowadays, global coal production stands at 7,708 million tons annually21. Reserves are given as 948 billion tons (recoverable22).

Extrapolation

As Ismael Hossein-Zadeh says, perhaps the biggest problem with peak oil theory is the “extrapolation or transition from micro to macro level23”. What is true for an existing oil well or oilfield is extended to global oil production. Every operating, or producing, oil well or oilfield will reach a maximum or peak flow rate, after which output declines to the point - temporary or permanent - of shutdown. Eg, “UK taxpayers” are due to face “a probable £24 billion bill” for decommissioning gas and oil fields in the North Sea24.

There are limits to all things in nature - in about five billion years the sun is expected to cease being a main-sequence star and balloon into a red giant; life on planet Earth might be sustainable for another billion years; an individual can only consume so much food and drink; there are only 24 hours in a day; etc. So, when peak oil pundits say there are limits to global oil production, they are not saying anything profound. It is a truism, which cannot explain past, current or future rates of output or patterns of consumption25. It certainly does not follow that because there are limits we are just about to arrive at peak oil production.

Peak oil pundits refuse to confront an inconvenient truth: the discovery of new oilfields, technological innovation and the introduction of other sources of energy, including renewables, offset existing rates of depletion. No wonder predictions of doom are repeatedly confounded. Even when it comes to conventional oil, proven reserves outgrow those fields and wells that have peaked or become exhausted. Hence, in 2016, according to BP, the world’s total proven oil reserves were marked up by 15 billion barrels (0.9%) to 1707 billion barrels - “sufficient to meet 50.6 years of global production” at 2016 levels of consumption. The increase came largely from Iraq (+10 billion barrels) and Russia (+7 billion barrels).

Historically, there has been an institutional bias towards underestimation. Morris Adelman points out that in the 1920s Exxon and Mobil were “sure” that the flat plains of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would contain “no oil at all”. Even in 1944 “a special expert mission estimated Persian Gulf reserves at 16 billion [barrels] proved and five billion probable26”. Yet, by 1975, those same fields had “already produced 42 billion barrels and had 74 billion remaining proven reserves. Nowadays proven reserves in the Persian Gulf are put well above 800 billion barrels27.

There is also the phenomenon of post-peak bounce-back. The case of the United States is instructive. Having peaked in 1972 and then slowly declined, the curve is once again on the rise. Indeed over the last eight years US oil output has grown by more than 85%. By the end of 2015, output had reached 9.4 million barrels daily - the highest level since 1972. And, of course, there has been a significant shift to natural gas and shale oil. In 2015, the US produced 3.5 million barrels of natural gas liquids daily and, on top of that, 4.9 million barrels of shale oil. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that such sources will continue to make up the “majority” of the increase in US oil production “into 2040”.

Today’s depressed oil prices are, needless to say, hardly conducive to sustaining marginal operations or stimulating further exploration and innovation. Eg, out of America’s 61 offshore rigs operating in 2013, “only 22” are now active28. Nevertheless, against industry expectations, though US shale companies were at first badly hit by the 2014 price collapse, they have become far more efficient and can now profitably compete even with prices below $50.

It must be emphasised that, in general, the category of “proven reserves” is not an estimate of what oil deposits actually lie beneath the ground29. Proven reserves refer to oil that can be commercially obtained with existing technology and existing price levels. Hence proven reverses are a “short-term, static view of the future30”. Oil companies will, of course, only invest if they can expect a financial return. They are not driven by the imperative to maximise output. Hence, estimates of real oil reserves will be considerably downplayed. By definition the vast sources of oil that are currently unprofitable are excluded. However, it should be added that reserves which may be considered unviable from the viewpoint of private capital might present a golden opportunity for a state with grand ambitions. Eg, while capital aims to realise a profit, a state will seek use-values (eg, with the aim of national self-sufficiency, military requirements, securing foreign currency, etc).

Here the experience of the Soviet Union is instructive. Bureaucratic socialism sought to maximise output and was, therefore, prepared to invest massive resources into long-term oil and gas projects. Siberia, the far east, the inhospitable Arctic were explored, settlements founded and super-deep drilling perfected. The Soviet Union thereby became an energy superpower. Not surprisingly, the 1973 oil crisis proved to be a boon. Oil exports allowed the Soviet Union to obtain western technology on a considerable scale and thereby put off the system’s inevitable demise. Having peaked in the 1980s, oil production plunged by a staggering 50% in the 1990s - not the result of natural limits though, but the “economic and political freefall” associated with capitalist restoration31. Oil production rebounded in the 21st century, reaching a post-Soviet high of 10.8 million barrels daily in January 2017. Russia today is, once again, an energy superpower and is credited with being the world’s number-one oil producer and number-two oil exporter.

As with Malthus, peak oil theory fails to grasp the revolutionary role of science and technology. Satellite imaging, 3D computer modelling and sniffer devices have transformed the ability of geologists to locate oil; horizontal and directional drilling, jack-up rigs, deep water production units and hydraulic fracking also allows for the exploitation of previously unprofitable sources. The net effect is to reduce costs. Simultaneously, smart technology, energy storage, radically improved industrial methods, stricter building regulations - combined with national and businesses interests in driving forward competitiveness - ought to limit demand.

According to Climate Progress, energy efficiency has long been the biggest and cheapest “new” source of energy by far. Energy efficiency technologies have also been called a “$18 trillion windfall” by the International Energy Agency32. Certainly cars, aeroplanes and other forms of transport have become far more fuel-efficient. Hence, with one eye on an ecologically concerned public and the other on reducing dependency on imported oil and gas, Germany plans to progressively bring down primary energy consumption: from a 2008 base by 8.7% (2014), 20% (2020) and 50% (2050)33. It is far from unique. Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and other energy-poor countries are determined to follow a similar course.

Even that energy glutton, the United States, can be cited. Bloomberg reports: “The US economy has now grown by 10% since 2007, while primary energy consumption has fallen by 2.4%34.” There are, of course, a number of explanations (eg, offshoring industrial production to China, the increasing role of finance capital, the knowledge economy, etc). Undeniably, though, in terms of its basic unit, at the level of the company, the personifications of capital will ruthlessly seek to drive down costs - in other words, reducing outlays on fixed capital, labour-power, wages and raw materials to the barest minimum. A phenomenon Marx discussed in Capital volume one.

And yet, as a system, capital is fundamentally and inescapably predicated on endless self-expansion (C-M-C1). Hence, as Jevons accurately maintained, energy efficiency will paradoxically lead to greater usage. In global terms that is exactly what has happened. Overall consumption of oil and coal has gone up and up again. Countries such as China, India and Brazil more than make up for any primary energy decreases in the capitalist metropoles. In point of fact, the US EIA projects a 48% increase in “world energy consumption” between a 2012 base and 204035. However, while conventional oil and coal consumption will doubtless grow, the expectation is that they will grow at a snail’s pace. It is other sources of energy that will make the running.

Alternatives

Peak oil pundits pay far too little attention to alternative sources of energy, both actual and potential. They include thermal, solar, wind, bio and nuclear energy. Crucially, they also include, of course, natural gas. Natural gas now accounts for about 25% of energy supplies globally. Because of the steady rise in the production of tight gas, shale gas, and coal-bed methane, it is calculated that by 2050 natural gas will be the world’s main source of energy. Nor, frankly, do peak oil pundits treat what is sometimes called ‘unconventional’ oil with the seriousness it deserves. Unconventional oil is a category which includes tar sands, heavy oils and oil shale.

  •  The world’s most notable tar sand operation is located in the Canadian province of Alberta. Easily accessible, the tar sands lie temptingly just below the surface. Total production has steadily climbed and now stands at 2.3 million barrels daily. The world’s estimated reserves of tar sand oil are put at around two trillion barrels, with Canada counting for the lion’s share. Industry sources report that the cost of tar sand oil, although originally considered uneconomical, has dropped from $30 a barrel to just over $836.
  •  Heavy oil is extracted, transported and refined using the same equipment as used by the conventional oil industry. It is ‘unconventional’ only because the cost of refining is at the moment considerably higher - by $10 to $20, compared with a barrel of ‘sweet light’ Saudi crude. Venezuela puts its reserves at 1.2 trillion barrels. The country’s heavy oil belt stretches from the mouth of the Orinoco River, near the Caribbean island of Trinidad, across to the eastern slopes of the Andes. This is part of an oil-bearing trough that some geologists believe may be continuous along the entire South American continent, down to the Falkland Islands in the bitterly cold south Atlantic. Only a few segments of this gigantic field have been fully explored, yet even those parts have been estimated to contain some three to four trillion barrels, with perhaps one third recoverable, given current technology.
  •  Oil shale also requires extensive processing and consumes large amounts of fresh water. Still, reserves far exceed those of conventional oil, and costs are bound to fall, as newer and more efficient processing techniques are invented and become available. Estimated reserves are staggering - the highest figure I have come across being 2.1 quadrillion barbells37.

Given the ongoing scientific and technological revolution, such energy sources are bound to rise in significance. A considerable reduction in the relative importance of conventional oil is more than likely. The US EIA is of the view that oil’s share of global energy consumption will decline from 33% in 2012 to 30% in 2040. However, this will not happen because natural limits have been reached. As we have argued, oil is not about to run out.

Closing remarks

Medieval society did not embrace wind- and water-power because slave and animal muscle-power had become exhausted. Nor did mature capitalism turn to coal because the wind had stopped blowing and water had stopped flowing. In turn, late capitalism shows all the signs of reducing its relative dependence on conventional oil not because natural limits have been reached, but because of the growing availability of other, cheap, energy supplies.

Incidentally, nothing could be more stupid than to equate capitalism and the oil industry, as if the two were synonymous. Capitalism considerably predates the Royal Navy’s turn to oil, or for that matter the coal industry that was conjoined with the widespread introduction of steam-power. Mercantile capitalism thrived in classical antiquity. Industrial capitalism began its stunning rise to dominance in the 13th and 14th centuries. Profit-generating windmills and watermills - perfected with gears and other such devices - formed the primary energy source for flour milling, iron forging, wood sawing, leather tanning, etc.38

Obviously, late capitalism’s relative downgrading of conventional oil usage is no cause for celebration. An existential fear of global warming has persuaded governments of every hue to subsidise thermal, solar, wind, bio and nuclear energy. A combination of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Thermal heating works brilliantly in geologically blessed locations, most notably Iceland and New Zealand. However, it accounts for a mere 0.07% of the world’s primary energy. That figure cannot be expected to grow by much. Solar and wind energy is equally benign, but is of far greater importance in terms of the energy mix. Solar and wind accounts for some 10% of the US energy total. And in January 2017 the World Economic Forum announced that wind and solar power either “matched” or was “cheaper” than fossil fuels39.

Aircraft will, for the foreseeable future, rely on specialist aviation fuels (largely kerosene-based blends, though there are ongoing experiments with bio fuels: ie, so-called sustainable aviation fuels). However, in truth, bio fuels are an invitation for big business to replace biologically diverse rainforests with a thoroughly denatured monoculture. A ghastly act of ecocide.

As for nuclear power, it not only comes with a gigantic price tag. Enormous public health risks are involved too. Because of the inevitability of human error, accidents are surely bound to happen: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. If nuclear fission could be replaced with nuclear fusion, it would be another matter. But that requires extremely high energy inputs. As of 2017, corresponding outputs remain negative (EROEI). Hence, for practical purposes, that particular technology must, for the time being at least, be counted alongside the perpetual motion machine and warp drive.

Meanwhile, tar sands oil, heavy oil and shale oil are horribly polluting. They are also ecologically destructive. Thousands of square miles of top soils are to be bulldozed in Alberta, valuable boreal forests uprooted, wetlands irreversibly ruined, endangered animal species such as the caribou further denuded.

Nor will the turn towards natural gas and unconventional oil do anything to reduce carbon emissions. Primary energy consumption is set to increase and, therefore, anthropogenic CO2 emissions - the main cause of global warming - are unlikely to be capped. Paris was not even intended to do that. The goal was to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels. That did not stop The Guardian greeting Paris as signalling “an end to the fossil fuel era”40.There is a real danger, however, that by 2100 the rise could be more like 4°C - and with that will come severe disruption to agriculture systems and food supplies, mass plant and animal extinctions, substantial and permanent polar ice losses, higher sea levels … and the distinct possibility of an abrupt shift in the climatic pattern.

As I have repeatedly argued, the only hope for humanity lies not in so-called green politics, but fundamentally breaking with the destructive logic of capital and refounding society on the basis of the communist principle of production for need41l

Notes

  1. See, for example, KS Deffeyes Hubbert’s peak: the impending world oil shortage Princeton 2009; P Roberts The end of oil: on the edge of a perilous new world Boston MA 2004; M Klare Resource wars: the new landscape of global conflict New York 2002
  2.  See MC Ruppert Confronting collapse: the crisis of energy and money in a post peak oil world White River VT 2009.
  3. See I Hossein-Zadeh, ‘The recurring myth of peak oil’: www.counterpunch.org/2008/10/01/the-recurring-myth-of-peak-oil.
  4. FW Engdahl, ‘Perhaps 60% of today’s oil price is pure speculation’ Financial Sense Editorials, May 2 2008.
  5. M Schneider-Mayerson Peak oil: apocalyptic environmentalism and libertarian political culture Chicago 2015, p1.
  6. B Hopwood, ‘Peak oil’ Socialism Today June 2006.
  7. See A Mahadi Energy and US foreign policy: the quest for resource security after the cold war London 2012.
  8. www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2017/no-1349-january-2017/peak-oil-and-capitalism.
  9. S Lilley, D McNally, E Yuen and James Davis Catastrophism: the apocalyptic politics of collapse and rebirth Oakland CA 2012, p19. Many other such books, articles and studies could be quoted. Suffice to say, nowadays the term ‘Malthusianism’ refers not only to pessimism based on concerns about overpopulation … but resource scarcity (and not only land ... but coal, oil, gold, zinc, copper, etc).
  10. . S Lilley, D McNally, E Yuen and James Davis Catastrophism: the apocalyptic politics of collapse and rebirth Oakland CA 2012, p19. Many other such books, articles and studies could be quoted. Suffice to say, nowadays the term ‘Malthusianism’ refers not only to pessimism based on concerns about overpopulation … but resource scarcity (and not only land ... but coal, oil, gold, zinc, copper, etc).
  11. TR Mathus An essay on the principle of population London 1798, p4.
  12. Ibid p92.
  13. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, London 1975, p420.
  14. M King Hubert, ‘Nuclear energy and the fossil fuels’, fig 20, p22: www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/1956/1956.pdf.
  15. See www.resilience.org/stories/2007-06-13/commemorating-admiral-rickover39s-1957-speech-energy.
  16. See www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf.
  17. Editorial Financial Times June 24-25 2017.
  18. oilcrash.net/media/pdf/The_Coal_Question.pdf - see p211.
  19. See ibid chapter 6; also, for a more recent treatment, JM Polimeni, K Mayumi, M Giampietro and B Alcott The myth of resource efficiency: the Jevons paradox Abingdon 2009.
  20. www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a524799.pdf.
  21. www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/KeyCoalTrends.pdf.
  22. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal#World_coal_reserves.
  23. I Hossein-Zadeh, ‘The recurring myth of peak oil’: www.counterpunch.org/2008/10/01/the-recurring-myth-of-peak-oil.
  24. Financial Times January 8 2017.
  25. www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/oil/oil-reserves.html.
  26. M Adelman The genie out of the bottle: world oil since 1970 Cambridge MA 1993, p16.
  27. Totted up from 2012 figures - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves.
  28. Financial Times June 24-25 2017.
  29. There is, in fact, no standard. While most countries report proven reserves, using conservative estimates from existing oil fields, others, like Venezuela, report yet-to-be-discovered reserves on the basis of geological probability.
  30. I Hossein-Zadeh ‘The recurring myth of peak oil’: www.counterpunch.org/2008/10/01/the-recurring-myth-of-peak-oil.
  31. M Goldman Oilopoly: Putin, power and the rise of the new Russia Oxford 2010, p11.
  32. thinkprogress.org/u-s-economic-growth-decouples-from-both-energy-and-electricity-use-16ae78732e59.
  33. www.isi.fraunhofer.de/isi-wAssets/docs/x/de/publikationen/National-Report_Germany_November-2012.pdf.
  34. thinkprogress.org/u-s-economic-growth-decouples-from-both-energy-and-electricity-use-16ae78732e59.
  35. www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26212.
  36. oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/Forget-20-Oil-Prices-At-8-Per-Barrel-In-Canada.html.
  37. See hubbert.mines.edu/news/Youngquist_98-4.pdf; also DC Duncan and VE Swanson, ‘Organic-rich shale of the United States and world land areas’: pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1965/0523/report.pdf.
  38. See J Gimpel The medieval machine: the industrial revolution of the Middle Ages London 1992, pp1-27, 24-28.
  39. The Independent January 4 2017.
  40. The Guardian December 12 2015.
  41. See, for example, ‘Contours of green thought’ (June 29 2012); ‘Climate change and the necessity of communism’ (November 2 2006); etc.