Dr. James Schlesinger announces “the peak oil debate is over”
This recent speech by Dr. James Schlesinger constitutes Necessary Viewing/Listening/Reading (depending on whether you prefer to read the text or watch the video). It’s also brief and easily digestible.
Schlesinger, in case you’ve forgotten, was the first U.S. Secretary of Energy, from 1977-79. Before that he was Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Director of Central Intelligence. As preserved and presented in this video, at this year’s ASPO-USA conference (Association for the Study of Peak Oil), he delivered a keynote speech in which he publicly stated the bald truth: there is no debate left over the reality of peak oil. It’s a simple, stark fact that oil production has peaked/is peaking/will imminently peak, and that this changes everything. What’s left uncertain is our political response to this fact.
His comments lay out cleanly and clearly the reality of peak in a series of “first, second, third” statements, and advance a point that’s very sobering, and that bears sober reflection:
Acceptance by knowledgeable people is not enough. The political order should respond. Nonetheless, our willingness, let alone our ability to do anything serious about the impending inability to increase oil output is still a long way off. The political order responds to what the public believes today, not to what it may come to believe tomorrow. It is also resistant to any action that inflicts pain, or sacrifice, or those who vote. The payoff in politics comes from reassurance, perhaps precluded by a rhetorical challenge. Still, the challenge is clear, in both logic, and in the evidence.
….Of course, there are uncertainties, which make timing predictions with regard to the peak risky: Iraq, which has been held back for a variety of reasons, may come along as one of those five new needed Saudi Arabias. Offshore Brazil and offshore oil elsewhere are promising. Shale gas, which is apparently coming in abundance, but is not of course oil, may somewhat alleviate the pressures on liquid fuels.
But in general, we must expect to get along without what has been our critical energy source, in expanding the world’s economy for more than half a century.
Can the political order face up to the challenge? There is no reason for optimism. We are likely to see pseudo solutions, misleading alternatives, and sheer sloganeering: energy independence, getting off foreign oil, and the like. All of that sheer sloganeering we have seen to this point.
The political order, which abhors political risk, tends to rely on the Biblical prescription, “Sufficient unto the day, is the evil thereof.”