When it comes to scientific topics like peak oil and climate change, are people’s opinions based on optimism, or ignorance? Does optimism prevent people from even obtaining the information that would make them less optimistic?
To answer this, consider what it took for me to become aware of peak oil, peak resources, and climate change:
1) Being curious about many topics
2) Majoring in biology with a chemistry/physics minor
3) Becoming involved in alternate technology groups when I was in college during the first energy crisis
4) Continuing to read about science after I graduated
5) Understanding the scientific method – how we know what we know –how else can you tell truth from falsehood?
6) Critical thinking skills (especially via Skeptic and other magazines devoted to this subject)
7) A hell of a lot of bedrock knowledge to evaluate new information.
8) Getting bedrock knowledge, “a big picture view”, from (systems) ecology, evolution, cognitive science, cosmology, biology, agriculture, engineering, soil science, medicine and health, economics (history of & natural capital), etc.
9) Willing to continue despite having cherished notions crushed – it’s like finding Santa doesn’t exist over and over again.
10) Willing to continue despite the very negative feedback from friends and family who thought I was nuts and unrealistic (pessimistic) see “Telling Others”
11) Having time to read: no children, reading a lot while commuting (including while walking back and forth to work 10 miles a day).
12) Reading BOOKS, which connect the dots (of articles). People who are too busy to get new information beyond TV sound bites will never understand anything important.
13) It takes a lot of reading to really understand a topic. For example, to understand how soil affects plant growth, I spent 3 years reading soil science textbooks, peer-reviewed articles, and college-level courses before I knew enough to write just the soil sections within “Peak Soil”
14) Knowing where and how to find the very small amount of information that contradicts all the positive press releases and articles
15) Reading Grandpa’s autobiography “Memories of an Unrepentant Field Geologist”, where I discovered he was a good friend of someone called M. King Hubbert who predicted there’d be a peak in oil production, and doing an interent search on Hubbert.
I still wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t found peak oil internet forums from my “Hubbert” search in #15 above, and found forums like energyresources and runningonempty), where I found out about books like Youngquist’s “Geodestinies”, Gever’s “Beyond Oil”, Hayden’s “Solar Fraud”, and Trainer’s “Renewable energy cannot sustain a consumer society”. The Bay Area reads more books per capita than anywhere else in the United States, yet these books never appeared in any bookstore in the Bay Area, let alone books by Charles hall, David Pimentel, and others too numerous to mention (see my book list ). Some of these books are at the University of California, Berkeley library, the 3rd largest university library system in the United States, and I’m often the only person or one of several to have read them! But I would have never stumbled on them in the vast stacks, and I didn’t even know until about 6 years ago that the public has access to these libraries for $100 a year.
It’s still very hard to find this kind information that contradicts positive articles because negative scientific results are often not published and publishers explicitly state in their guidelines they won’t publish pessimistic books (they’re hard to sell).
I continue to find new information in internet forms, but also by reading Science, Nature, and other peer-reviewd journals, as well as the books recommended (Science only publishes their long list of books received online).
Then there’s the “bop-a-mole” problem. Pimentel, Patzek, Hall, many others, and I (Peak Soil) have explained why plant-based fuel can never replace oil for dozens of reasons — from topsoil depletion and compression, EROEI, composting or combustion of the biomaterial in storage, weather preventing harvest, eutrophication of waterways from fertilizers to grow crops, not enough water to grow plants, energy to collect and deliver biomass to biorefinery, energy to deliver biofuel to customer, and hunger (in my paper I have a caption of “Do you want to eat, drink, or drive?”).
It seemed like there was actually some effect – scientific researchers vowed to stay away from corn ethanol and pursue cellulosic ethanol or butanol from non-food crops. Though that still doesn’t get around all the other problems listed above. But never mind, science researchers got hundreds of millions in funding from BP and other sources, and I think that quietly they’re more looking at how to use plants to replace chemicals and the other 500,000 products made with oil as a component than for fuel.
Just because the corn mole was bopped down doesn’t keep the other moles from popping up. Especially annoying is the algal biofuel mole (see 38 reasons Algae will never replace oil ).
Or consider all the positive information that constantly is published about solar, wind, and other energy that would generate electric power. Before you can begin to understand why these articles are too optimistic, you have to keep in mind while reading them that
1) our problem is oil, which accounts for 99% of transportation
2) that the electric grid is falling apart and needs at least $2 trillion in expansion to balance the alternative energy load
3) that the grid can only handle so much intermittent power which has to be balanced by more and more natural gas peaker plants (and natural gas is finite despite all the fracking)
4) that some of the rare metals required are depleting faster than fossil fuels
5) that at best these energy resources can augment fossil fuels, but once oil is gone, they’ll vanish too, because these sources aren’t capable of reproducing themselves: They don’t generate enough energy to mine the rock, crush the ore, fabricate the metal, maintain themselves (especially windmills which start to break down more and more often after about 2 years), build the roads and vehicles to transport the device to remote locations, feed / house / educate / fuel the cars of the employees involved from birth to death involved in this entire process, etc.
I think that it’s okay people don’t understand the situation we’re in because there’s nothing that can be done, we’ve so way, way, way overshot carrying capacity locally, regionally, and globally. If people did realize the real situation, the financial system would have already collapsed when Science announced peak oil happened sometime in 2005 and the IEA said peak happened in 2006. That means our economy can’t grow endlessly and the entire credit/debts-payed-off system no longer works. As long as people think other kinds of energy will seamlessly replace oil and don’t know how much their lives depend on oil, civilization continues, and when it crashes, will crash that much harder and faster, perhaps our only hope of preventing our extinction (and millions of other species).
I think that it’s okay people don’t understand the situation we’re in because there’s nothing that can be done, we’ve so way, way, way overshot carrying capacity locally, regionally, and globally. If people did realize the real situation, the financial system would have already collapsed when Science announced peak oil happened sometime in 2005 and the IEA said sometime in 2006. That means our economy can’t grow endlessly and the entire credit/debts-payed-off system no longer works. As long as people think other kinds of energy will seamlessly replace oil and don’t know how much their lives depend on oil, civilization continues, and when it crashes, will crash that much harder and faster, perhaps our only hope of preventing our extinction (and millions of other species).
Alice Friedemann in Oakland, CA