Peak Oil and Pollution

Forget global warming, forget the mathematical fact of finite resources, forget middle-eastern politics. Burning fossil fuels is, well, like… minging.

Over at Samizdata, James Waterton highlights this quote from ExxonMobil, apparently rubbishing the recieved wisdom that our oil reserves will run out soon:

According to the US Geological Survey, the earth currently has more than three trillion barrels of conventional recoverable oil resources. So far, we have produced one trillion of that.

According to James, oil companies tend to under-estimate the amount of crude-oil resources, because they have “natural interest in maintaining a perception of scarcity”. I think that is half the argument: They also have an interest in maintaining a perception of having a viable business model, and that surely depends on there being plenty of oil to extract, no?

A hat-tip to Devil’s Kitchen, who thinks our worries over Peak Oil are a red herring:

We need to wean ourselves off the oil as fast as possible in order to negate the stranglehold that the dictators in the Middle East have over us.

True, but I think even this still misses the point.

Forget global warming, forget the mathematical fact of finite resources, forget middle-eastern politics. Burning fossil fuels is, well, like… minging. Any cyclist who has stopped at traffic-lights behind a bus will attest to this objective fact. The buildings in our cities – all human cities – are stained black with the residue of this continuous combustion.

I read a lot of indignant prose from both environmental campaigners who complain about the lack of urgency at combatting global warming; and from climate change deniers who resist these apparently fascist demands on their freedom and their lifestyle. Let me remind everyone of the facts: We set fire to chemicals and make everything just a little bit smellier, dirtier, and more carcinogenic to every living thing than it was the day before (we don’t even have the decency to add any nicotine to the mixture). I maintain that no-one, whether they are part of this species or another, thinks this is pleasant. The picture is already preposterous enough, without adding global climate change into the mix.

Since industry uses so much fuel to power the economy, an instant change is unlikely. Nevertheless, vast chunks of our daily lives that could be powered by renewable sources. The ‘standby’ indicator light on my DVD player could be kept glowing by a hamster and a wheel, so I feel sure that A Drop Of Golden Sun could do it too. Why not leave the argument about whether solar and wind can actually power our entire lifestyles, for the day when we have a wind-mill and solar-panel in everyone’s back yard? Purely in terms of smell I would rather have a spoilt view, than a cloud of carbon monoxide haze, and I say that before I count the extra change in my pocket, and before my government realises it no longer has to be nice to Wahhabists.

Finally: Let us remember that having only a couple of trillion barrels of oil in reserve is still a crisis for humanity. Some of us are still holding out hope for the colonisation of other planets in the solar system (and beyond), and we need all the resources we can find.

Stop using our precious fossil fuels for your Land Rover! I need it for my space-ship.

8 thoughts on “Peak Oil and Pollution”

  1. A spoilt view? Surely you don’t think such a magnificent creature as a wind turbine, or a sleek sexy solar panel could spoil the view any more than a gas works, or a massive car park, or a nuclear power station, or a great giant chimney belching out its fumes? I think both would vastly improve the view. I want one of each in my back yard. Not because they’re good, but because they’re beautiful.

  2. How much oil reserve we have depends on what you count. If you count Shail oil and sand tars, the world has a very large reserve indeed. Gasoline and other products derived from oil, can be profitably produced from coal at today’s market prices. The real question is not “how much oil do we have,” but how much can we afford to produce and use, given the environmental consequences.

  3. Never have I read a better argument for banning fossil fuel usage. Though no doubt DK will call you a muesli-eating hippy just for even thinking pollution is a bad idea.

  4. Anyone who’s cycled on their bike (as I have) behind a new petrol BMW or Merc will tell you it’s fine. As a cyclist the problem is diesel fumes especially London buses.

    They could also declare those expensive face-masks VAT free.

    However nothing is more minging than living in a cave.

  5. However nothing is more minging than living in a cave.

    Heh! As I hinted in the last couple of paragraphs of my original post, I fear that the metaphorical cave is precisely where our oil dependence keeps us. It seems we are still obsessed with fire and tribes.

  6. As someone else has said – how much oil we have depends on how you count it. Oil industry insiders will tell you that as the price of oil rises it become more economic to drill into hard to extract reserves, which aren’t currently viable. Yypically these are in remote geographical areas and/or are expensive and difficult to acess because of geological factors. It follows that as supples dwindle, and the price rises, more, not less oil will be extracted. The oil companies also have a vested interest in underestimating reserves, creating the illusion of scarcity and maintaining the price.
    Personally I think that we are coming at this the wrong way – being anti-car, anti-air travel is never going to work, once a technological genie is out of the bottle it stays out and a better approaceh would be to find alternative fuels. That is of course if you buy the environmental argument in the first place. As a child of the 1960s, I dimly remember the doom laden predictions of a coming ice age which were widely accepted in the 1970s and I am inherently sceptical about worse case scenarios. At the same time as a modernist I firmy adhere to the belief that science can and will find a solution to all human problems.
    There is also the connection between the environmental movement and political correctness/marxism (some see the environmental movement as the sucessor to political correctness, as in if we can’t destroy capitalism by manipulating culture, we’ll do it through fear) but that’s a whole other post….

  7. There is also the connection between the environmental movement and political correctness/marxism (some see the environmental movement as the sucessor to political correctness, as in if we can’t destroy capitalism by manipulating culture, we’ll do it through fear) but that’s a whole other post….

    Oh absolutely. I worry that the sanctimonius tone take by many environmentalists is precisely what makes other people so keen to debunk the global warming warnings…

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