Peak Oil: A Dialogue with George Monbiot


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    Otto Matic

    Thanks for the ClubOrlov headsup, I was going to wander over there sometime this week, he posts irregularly.

    Particularly rye observations on neurosis tag teaming with psychosis in the Peak Oil mosh pit.

    My favorite:

    “…Take your typical neurotic (refuses to face Peak Oil, spouts gibberish about it when pressed), put that neurotic through a terrible, ego-destroying crisis, and that individual may regress and lapse into psychosis.

    What happens to individuals also happens to entire societies. Take a neurotic Peak Oil-denying industrial civilization, put it through a terrible global financial crisis, tell it that economic growth is over forever, and what you get a psychotic, delusional industrial civilization..”

    Over there, yah, right there, one just flew over the cuckoos nest…haha


    A most erudite reply, Nicole.

    Monbiot’s essay also appears on his website,, which also includes references, so it’s worth looking at this to get some idea of his evidence base. It is pretty flaky. For instance he writes:

    “Maugeri writes (page 47): “In 2011, Continental has estimated the Bakken OOP alone at 500 billion barrels. In terms of oil in place (not all of which is recoverable), both the Price and the Continental estimates would put the Bakken formation ahead of the largest oil basins in the world, making it the biggest one.”

    Had Monbiot been seriously assessing the reliability of Maugeri’s work he would have picked up on the parenthesis “not all of which is recoverable” and looked into what actually was recoverable. For instance the USGS website claims this is about 3 or 4 billion barrels, i.e. less than 1% of Maugeri’s figure. No wonder Maugeri glossed over this, and shame on Monbiot for not bothering to investigate.


    In: “We find ourselves in a world of receding horizons,” the notion of “receding horizons” seemed an interesting metaphor and wondered how to visualize it?

    A search led to: “Model Predictive Control, or MPC, is an advanced method of process control that has been in use in the process industries such as chemical plants and oil refineries since the 1980s. … The prediction horizon keeps being shifted forward and for this reason MPC is also called receding horizon control. Although this approach is not optimal, in practice it has given very good results. …”

    So, in the oil industry, it is not simply a metaphor.


    I defined the The Law of Receding Horizons years ago when Nicole and I were still writing for the Oil Drum. The core of it is based on the fact that as soon as alternative energy sources, from shale to wind to biofuels, start to look profitable because oil prices rise, they no longer are, precisely because oil prices rise, and all alternative energy sources depend heavily on the use of oil in their production. It can be used in many other fields too: there are tons of things that look viable if and when not all costs are counted. Which they’re often not. The idea is loosely based on something Ken Deffeyes addressed with regards to shale in Wyoming, which has seen many instances of boom and bust through the decades. You can see the horizon but never reach it.


    The picture I have of receding horizons: oil is an essential input to oil production. On the downslope of the peak oil curve, the next barrel costs more to produce, resulting in a positive feedback on costs and the progressively steeper slope of net energy.

    Robert 1

    Greenpa said:

    “One aspect to photovoltaic power generation that is NEVER discussed is: it is desperately vulnerable to terrorist or vandal attack. All you need to do is break a few panels- and major disruption of service can follow, as the system gets unbalanced. Can you buy or build a weapon that will break windows over a fence and 200 yards away? Oh, yeah, easy.”

    Another issue re vulnerability of solar panels, PV or Thermal capture, is that of deterioration of output due to panel surface damage. I can remember my grandfather telling about seeing cars coming out of a Mexican desert road after a sand storm. All of the paint had been sand blasted off of one side of the cars and the window glass on that side was frosted by the force of the sand. Although it should be possible to protect the surface of solar panels by changing direction or covering the surface during inclement weather, I have not seen this discussed by solar energy advocates.

    I just finished watching a film on the US dust bowl and it reminded me of this problem:


    Robert 1


    Thanks for the documentary about the Dust Bowl. Several analogies in it to today’s world of greed and loss.
    At the end…

    “People are thinking differently about taking care of the land.”
    “Don’t fool yourself.”
    “You can’t convince me we’ve learned our lesson.”
    “It’s just not in our blood, to play a safe game.”


    I can’t help but be a fan of George Monbiot because of his exceptional book Age of Consent that argues for a people’s world parliament. Brilliant stuff. I’ve admired his writing for years after, so when he declared Peak Oil was over I was confused, certainly enough to post his article on for their response, and they wisely directed me to TAE. Thank you for your clarity, Stoneleigh, and thank you in particular to billhartree for pointing out what George missed. Incredible.

    As intelligent and focussed as the debate is, however, I can’t help but side with the comment from SteveB. I too believe that the real problem is that the matrix of our money system is actually working against us. As Marshall McLuhan once wrote: “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us”. I will probably be derided for even bringing up this meta-issue, but our money system really does need to be superseded in order for us to survive and evolve to something new. We seem to be all caught in money’s mass-psychopathological catch-22…

    To quote The Matrix: “What if you were unable to wake from [a] dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” The trouble is that even if you are aware of that difference (and can separate the matrix of money from the real and natural world) but are still unable to wake from it, the rules of the dream world apply regardless. I hope it doesn’t need to end like in the movie Abre Los Ojos. 🙁


    Ms. Foss, I believe your emphasis on EROEI is spot on. As I frequently rant, we’re not mining hydrocarbons, we’re mining energy. The return on that energy is what makes it useful. The rest, as they say, is detail, where the devil still lies comfortably.

    Unfortunately, I think peak EROEI has come and gone and has recently become low enough to be noticeable, resulting in the higher prices we’re paying now to simply run in place. Despite the small fluctuation in prices we’re seeing, I’m sure this upward trend will continue. I’m skeptical that demand destruction will make a dent in the higher costs caused by EROEI decline, but since reliable aggregate EROEI figures are impossible to come by, I am not certain of this.

    What worries me are feedback effects, and supply chain viability. As energy prices rise, more and more of our interdependent supply chains will no longer be viable. Eventually, even the supply chains to the energy industry itself will fail, at which point we’re facing a decidedly non-linear decline in hydrocarbon energy delivery.



    I hope Monbiot does eventually respond but I’ve no expectation of that. However, when you said, “If EROEI falls by a factor of ten, production would have to rise by a factor of ten just to keep supplying the same demand (ie to stand still),” that was surely wrong. If EROEI is 80, then the net energy of 80 units is 79. To get the same net energy with an EROEI of 8 would “only” need something near 90 units of production. That’s not a factor of 10 increase, more like a factor of 1.125. That’s still a huge ask, of course, but the comment just struck me as wrong.


    Perhaps Japan will develop Kr-F laser fusion and make it into a game changer. I don’t know of any other technology that has even a remote chance of having a high enough EROEI besides KrF laser fusion.

    btw, the NIF facility in the USA is based on a totally inferior technology that can never be viable for a power plant. It was designed to simulate nuclear explosions, not to make a power plant, and it does not work yet anyway.


    Everyone here is missing the coming black swan events. After hearing and repeating all the end of the world scenarios I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong chance we will survive and prosper.
    First I’ll refer you to a book called Abundance by Peter Diamandis. If you read it you will get a sense of how things can be getting better. Next I will mention two developments that are world changing but highly ignored.

    First is the E-cat heat generator (called cold fusion in general) that has reached 1000 C steam. Cost of fuel is essentially zero and no radioactive waste.

    Second is a Plasmic transition engine. This works by exciting a mixture of noble gases in a sealed chamber which drives a piston. The expanded gas then collapses. A small two cylinder engine can produce up to 250HP and run for many thousands of hours at , again, very little cost. They need a better web site but it will explain a lot.

    Lucas Durand

    You wrote:
    “Everyone here is missing the coming black swan events.”

    If you can see an event coming, it is NOT a black swan.

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