Friday, June 7, 2013

The Oil Drum

Earlier this week I removed The Oil Drum from my blogroll.  It wasn't an easy decision to make.  I've been a member there for approaching eight years.  It was a significant part of my re-approaching energy policy issues after a long time away from them.  In those early days, TOD posted and discussed — at least IMO — pieces representing an interesting variety of ways to look at the causes and consequences of a peak in liquid fuel production.  The comment threads were valuable, in the sense that people's reasoning on the subjects was criticized or supported intelligently.  It was very much a "bring facts and numbers to support your theory" sort of place.

That mindset, over a broad set of related topics, no longer seems to exist.  David Summers (writing under the pseudonym Heading Out) still writes interesting technical pieces, but those also appear on his Bit Tooth Energy site.  Gail Tverberg writes an occasional interesting piece, although the message that the global credit-based financial system cannot survive without perpetual energy-driven growth gets old as a steady diet.  As with David's pieces, Gail's are available elsewhere (at Our Finite World).  Stuart Staniford has gone on to his own blog, Early Warning, with TOD picking up one of his essays occasionally.  Jeffrey Brown and Steven Kopits often leave comments at Jim Hamilton's Econbrowser.  Alan Drake leaves useful comments about rail transport, but infrequently.  The four-times-weekly news aggregation Drumbeat pieces are useful; the follow-on discussion in the comments, not nearly so much as they used to be.  As a consequence of the changes, I no longer feel comfortable recommending the site.

The TOD editorial staff has made one choice that I regard as a significant tactical mistake: at least in the Drumbeat aggregation and discussion, they've let global climate change in.  I'm not belittling the threat of a warming climate, nor asserting that the two issues aren't related.  I'll concede the point that drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would precipitate exactly the kind of cliff effect that was common in Peak Oil scenarios a decade ago — if we shut off the petroleum taps over the course of a very few years, Bad Things would definitely happen.  As in, a billion or two people would die relatively soon thereafter.  So far, those scenarios have not materialized.  The consensus now seems to be that we'll experience a "bumpy plateau" in production, followed by a decline, driven by the fact that the world economy appears able to tolerate higher crude oil prices than previously believed.

That leads me to what I believe is one of the underlying difficulties about maintaining a web site dedicated to the issue: our energy problems (and I admit that I worry more about electricity than I do liquid fuels) are long-term slow-motion problems.  I often find myself going back to The Limits to Growth.  Published in 1972, we are just now reaching the really interesting part of the forecasts.  At that kind of pace, it's hard to keep finding new things to say.  The seemingly obvious direction to take — mitigation — is hard to do because there are many possibilities.  Abandon modern technology.  Abandon things that can't be electrified and pour huge amounts of money into nuclear generators.  Localize production.  Regionalize production.  Stockpile firearms and ammunition to (a) defend what you've got or (b) take what you need when things fall apart.  And on, and on [1].  And writing here, I'm as guilty as anyone at going off-topic: really, Mike, college football conspiracy theories?

Nevertheless, the deed is done, and seems unlikely to get undone any time soon.  Now what I'd really like to find is a site that's TOD the way it used to be, but focused on electricity.

[1] Note to self: write a series of connected posts that lay out my scenario for how I think things should go.  It's a book-sized project that I'm making (very) slow progress on.  Alienate lots of people.

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