Not Throwing Fuel on the Fire

Interesting open memo by Hirsch Report author Robert Hirsch, in which he more or less tells peak oil proponents to shut up… at least for a while:


The world is in the midst of the most severe financial crisis in most of our lifetimes. The economic damage that has already been wrought is considerable, and we have yet to see the bottom or the turnaround. Against this background, I suggest that the peak oil community minimize its efforts to awaken the world to the near-term dangers of world oil supply. The motivation is simple: By minimizing our efforts in the near term, we may not add fuel to the economic fires that are already burning so fiercely.

We are all aware of how disoriented governments and business are right now. Our leaders, leaders-to-be, and best minds are disoriented and seeking pathways out of the current morass. The public is in a quiet panic mode — those who were reasonably well off are less well of, and their options for action are limited. Those that have lost their jobs and/or homes are desperate. Businesses and the markets are in what might be called a free fall. If the realization of peak oil along with its disastrous financial implications was added to the existing mix of troubles, the added trauma could be unthinkable.

Like many of you, I’ve devoted my recent efforts to trying to wake the public and governments to the impending horrors of peak oil. As much as that awaking is urgently needed, continuing to press forward now is almost certainly not in the broader interest.

Many may be tempted to directly challenge the recent IEA World Energy Outlook. I am among those who were very disappointed. Pressing those concerns at this time might further the peak oil “cause,” but it could well do much more damage than any of us really intend.

Please keep up your studies and thinking, because helping the world realize the dangers of peak oil is an absolute must. In the near term, keeping relatively quiet is likely the better part of valor.

Mr. Hirsch has a point… many people are freaking out right now about losing their jobs, houses and means to secure food & other essentials for their family.   Hammering home the point about declining output of global oil production is only going to make those people freak out even more.

An imperfect analogy would be to go back to the last time the world’s economies simultaneously went into the shitter… back in the 1929-39 timeframe.   One of the things that dragged the world out of its prolonged economic slump was the breakout of World War II.  Global war is at least part of the ‘added trauma’ Mr. Hirsch is referring to.   War can be a very effective way to jump-start the economy, mobilize the populace and also thin out the number mouths to feed somewhat.  Our modern forms of warfare are particularly effective at this.

I have no desire to see the globe plunged into another cycle of global warfare if it can be avoided.  I usually limit my peak oil screeds to this site and a few other online fora… so I’ll just continue to do that.  There will be plenty of time for illuminating others down the road.

HT:  Energy Bulletin


8 Responses to Not Throwing Fuel on the Fire

  1. e4 says:

    I gotta say I’m not entirely convinced. To me it’s like telling somebody they’re being laid off, but waiting six months to tell them oh by the way, we wiped out your 401k too. I mean, not knowing the full picture could lead to very bad decisions, both governmentally and individually.

    We’re all grownups. Well, mostly. We hear every day how bad it’s gonna get financially now, and I haven’t seen any signs of real, actual panic.

    Honesty, transparency, disclosure. Lack of those is what put us in the $#!+ in the first place.

    Just my take on it.

  2. Bart says:

    I can see both sides of the argument…

    Personally, I think that many adults are not that grown up. If they were, we wouldbe able to talk more directly about conservation, frugality, and cutting back to help our children & grandchildren have better lives. I’m not hearing much of that at all… just more of the same drumbeat that this is temporary, and don’t cut your spending any more than you must. The constant growth paradigm is still the standard…

    Fear is driving a lot of the actions that are being taken in government and Wall Street right now. Telling people who may be worried about losing their job that it’s nothing to worry about (since the global economy is permanently screwed anyway) could lead a lot of people to act irrationally.

    Panic will start in earnest if unemployment numbers keep rising, IMO. Getting laid off when the economy is still growing is bad enough… losing your job when many big companies are laying off thousands is worse. When there’s little left to lose, people are more likely to blatantly act in their own self-interest at the expense of their neighbors, and people are also more willing to believe that their problems are the fault of some foreign people, with all that generally leads to.

    I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men.” “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!!!”

    I understand where you’re coming from… I don’t share your opinion on how well people will react to things. I’m more than a bit cynical I guess.

    I will be very curious to see how the incoming Obama regime handles things. The more Democratic party veterans he appoints (Emmanuel, Summers, etc.), the less likely I am to think that they will change a whole lot in DC. Will they be more pragmatic? Probably… but that’s not the ‘change’ that was sold to the voters.

  3. Jim says:

    With the recent plunge in oil/fuel prices, I’m more convinced than ever that PO is just an eco-lefty conspiracy to destroy the economy and to harm America.

    I’m pretty sure the PO community risks nothing by talking about PO, except looking nuttier than usual.

    (as you probably know, I’m trying my hand at satire here)

  4. e4 says:

    I guess my point is who are we to decide what people should our shouldn’t know? Didn’t we just collectively give the boot to leaders who were trying to control the flow of info because they thought it was best?

    We don’t know how people will react to different events or scenarios or realizations. It partly depends on how they find out. But nobody knows what the world will look like or what will be going on a year from now, or five. I don’t know of anybody who predicted both $150 and $50 oil this year.

    People are seriously evaluating their lives right now. Maybe a kick in the ass would be just the thing to get them to change course instead of waiting it out.

    It’s purely philosophical anyway, because I really don’t know that people are any more likely to listen now than they were a year ago. But it’s an interesting debate…

  5. Verde says:

    I’m never in favor of hiding facts and truth. Peope won’t hear it unless their ready anyway. Ever tried talking about PO with someone who thought it was just some nutty opinion? IMHO people need help learning to live more simply and frugally and sustainably becasue it will help them cope with economic crisis and will help prepare them for PO, too.

  6. Bart says:

    Fair points…

    Personally, I’ve never been one to try and convert too many people in person. Usually all I get is a perfunctory acknowledgment that there are issues with oil supply, but even those gains evaporate within a day or so. So, I do most of my communication on the subject here, with people who are already looking for such things.

    So, I’m not changing my behavior, really. For what it’s worth, my site traffic has continued to climb this year even when I’ve gone through periods of not posting often, which tells me that more and more people are recognizing that something’s up, and trying to figure out what it is and how to react.

    I don’t believe Mr. Hirsch is advocating complete silence… it appears to me he’s urging moderation. There are plenty of sites out there promoting the current mess we are in as the start of the slide into Olduvai Gorge or some other horrible, final abyss. This is often done for profit, IMO, and I believe those are the folks that Mr. Hirsch is directing his points too…. or maybe not.

  7. phædrus says:

    Seems to me that the reason a major war jump starts an economy is that people start working towards a concerted goal without as much thought for specific compensation and simultaneously cut their unnecessary waste.

    It also seems to me that “a war for [energy] independence” could accomplish the same if people can be convinced that the way to salvage the present and the future is to work hard towards building a sustainable energy grid and cutting their unnecessary energy use as much as possible in order to bring that grid online and make it able to supply everyone’s needs sooner.

    Create a goal, create jobs, and increase conservation. Much better to have a concept like “peak oil” be the enemy than it is to have it be the people of [wherever].

  8. Bart says:

    I agree… The problem is I think that the schmucks in charge will find it easier, and possibly more expedient to demonize someone else rather than make Americans come to terms with the end of their energy-wasting, debt-ridden lifestyles.

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