shouting into a void

They shrugged and said “whatever”.

This might be a phrase that sums up quite a lot about the present time. I realized a long time ago as a young lad that one of the worst things human beings can do is ignore history and fail to learn from it. The partner to this is failing to ever stop now and then and reflect a little about how future history might regard us, here and now. We seem to be in a time and place now where people tend to be doing pretty badly in both. The added dilemma, naturally, is that anybody suffering from this shortsightedness is also not likely to want to even hear about it. Whatever.

I’m frequently finding myself turning on a television to see what’s in the news, and I can barely stand to stay with it for even a short time. I suppose that quite a few people might respond to this by saying something like “yeah, I know, I hate it, it’s just all this bad news!“. No. That’s not it. What drives me up a wall is how unbelievably bad it all is about avoiding getting into anything that really matters, and doing what we’re supposed to have happening in the profession of journalism. In recent days, a perfect example of this has been hours, and hours, and hours, of droning trivial nothingness about the subject of The Royal Baby. Just to make sure that this is completely clear, I am talking about American television news.

There is a tendency for people to become corrupted by necessities imposed by their careers. Truth can be unpalatable and harmful to professional self-interest. – Paul Craig Roberts

Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions. – Niccolo Machiavelli

My last note addressed the news of the city of Detroit filing for bankruptcy. I said what I think should be obvious about the most basic factor driving the decline of the city of Detroit over many decades, while also recognizing something else that’s almost certain. We’ll be hearing much more of the same stuff about what various people have to say about what are supposedly the reasons for the problems there, while ignoring the most basic and simple reality, the cause, and instead, focusing on the many consequences and repercussions.

There’s a lot of that kind of thing around.

An awful lot comes down to a complicated problem that’s easy to define simply; if people are determined to not understand, getting them to understand is virtually impossible. This plays out in too many ways to account without writing multiple long books.

I think that a lot of all this kind of thing comes down to people absolutely deteremined to hang on to any sort of idea of status quo, no matter what it is, even if it’s an idea about the stuff that’s not actually true, just because they hang on to it as something stable… even if it certainly is not stable, or, again, not even actually real, but some kind of shared pretense. I point again to the old Hans Christian Andersen children’s story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, a story that simply and clearly illustrates this weird human failing in concise and simple form that gets the idea across even to young children, an eduational warning to the young about the ways that adults can cut loose from reality around them, because they think it’s easier. The simplest lesson is, no, it isn’t easier.

Children can understand this.

I stand and watch, way too often, as supposedly fully functional grown adults play out some bizarre pretense of confusion and even full on delusions because somehow they have the idea that this all makes things easier and simpler, that this is the practical and sensible way, even if it reaches astounding depths of batshit crazy.

When Apollo 13 ran into serious trouble on the way to the moon, their emergency turned out to be that an undetected electrical problem caused one of the oxygen tanks in the Service Module to explode, with pretty severe consequences. The whole story of what happened and how NASA managed to get the crew back to Earth safely is an extraordinary saga. A very large number of people had to do intensive work, a lot of analysis and hard thinking to figure out how to improvise very quickly in extremely complex circumstances. Early on, minutes after realizing there was a major emergency, NASA Flight Director Gene Krantz got on the communications loops and spoke words to everyone on hand on his shift of flight controllers, immortalized in the film about the mission, spoken by actor Ed Harris playing Krantz: “alright, people, let’s work the problem… let’s not make it worse by guessing“.

I might suggest, let’s work the problems, people, let’s not make it worse by pretending.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote:

The term “peak oil” was coined some time ago as a neat summary shorthand way of referring to the characteristic patterns found in oil discovery rates and extraction rates and described by Hubbert’s curve, specifically addressing the subject of reaching an all time maximum rate, the peak, of crude oil extraction rates, and turning into the phase of diminishing return declines.

It’s a good, simple, useful reference term. It’s severely unfortunate that, from the looks of things, right now, if you ask some random people about the term, it’s a high probability that you’ll find people thinking nonsense that it means “people think that the world is about to run out of oil, followed by end of the world doomsday”. The problem here is that people don’t have their heads around the actual concept, and it’s not a case of it being too hard to understand. It’s not. It does require taking a little time to absorb it, being explained well by people who first understand the idea properly, and are then trying to honestly get people to understand it.

I should add, from that same page, a simple quote, addressing the question, “what is peak oil?”:

“The term Peak Oil refers to the maximum rate of the production of oil in any area under consideration, recognising that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion.” –Colin Campbell

If somebody just absolutely must have some dead short simple definition of the term, then there it is in about as short a form as it can get. What it does not mean is “all the oil is almost gone!”. It’s about reaching maximum flow rates of oil extraction, running into limits and then heading into diminishing returns.

Somehow, this is extraordinarily hard to get across to people and get them to really get their heads around it. It’s a regular recurring event to find even really intelligent and generally informed and educated people being part of some discussion about oil, and saying something like “so, when will the oil run out?… when will be all tapped out?”, still missing the point.

This is one of the prime reasons why I’m a little repetitive about the subject. I have, of course, been writing regularly about this, and this whole thing I’ve just written above comes up yet again for a simple reason. I keep encountering ridiculous amounts of what I can most simply describe as disinformation campaigns about the subject of our oil predicament, basically selling a batch of fiction and distortion that sums up to “problem? what problem? it’s all good!”. A large portion of these kinds of things use a repeating trick, setting up a classic Straw Man argument by telling people a false definition of the term “peak oil”, that this means “people saying the world is almost all out of oil”, which they then immediately follow with some variation of words that say “… but look, there’s oil right here!”, along with the appallingly common hype about “new discoveries!” and “new technologies!”, and so on, ad nauseum.

At this point, it would be a good place to disassemble all that nonsense, but, then, I’ve already been through all of it before in earlier pieces. I only mention this again because this kind of stuff just keeps flying around, a nonstop stream of bullshit. If bullshit could replace hydrocarbon deposit resources, we would have no problems in this department.

The problem is, of course, and very unfortunately, that kind of specious and mendacious idiocy is such a constant barrage, often in highly visible places, often from supposedly serious people, that the actual reality gets completely buried. Among the results of this farce is one real problem, that too many people only see that kind of stuff, and then dismiss the phrase “peak oil” as some sort of realm of paranoid nutballs.

It really is just an obscene waste of people’s time and effort and energy to have to continually have to plow through all that reality distortion to get the word to people about where we are. It’s a seriously destructive distraction and diversion, and the consequences of all that are much worse than simply being an annoyance. It leaves people baffled and deluded about issues of the present, and completely unprepared for the near and long term future. It’s a grotesque disservice to everybody to be doing what many people are doing, which basically amounts to deceiving and confusing people, whether it’s deliberate, or just plain ignorance and even sheer stupidity.

There are very real and very bad consequences in doing what too many people are doing, rather aggressively in some cases. This is where the general tendency is to cast a narrative suggesting that anybody talking about the diminishing returns of oil (AKA peak oil) is some sort of raving doomsday cultist, who, some people claim, is shouting “the oil is about to run out and be all gone any day now!” (even though they are not saying that). Setting up that kind of gross Straw Man, and then spewing out the usual followup arguments about “see! there’s oil, right there!”, does worse than just confusing people badly, while leaving them thinking that they’re informed. It creates a badly misinformed sense in too many people that the phrase “peak oil” is an indicator of some kind of false alarm from panicked lunatics.

Leaving people with that lodged in their minds is much much worse than having people simply being unaware of any issues at all.

Part of the problem in getting through to people is the complexity involved. I’ve said before, getting your head around the basic form concept of Hubbert’s curve is really not that damned difficult. It just isn’t. As I have said before, this is something that really should be taught somewhere around junior high school level in general science classes, because it is that fundamentally important to understand to functional understanding of the world. It’s simple enough to be understood by anybody who can grasp fairly basic scientific and technical concepts and principles. But that’s just the starting prerequisite foundation, and the general subject of petroleum, and “energy” in general, does get pretty complex, especially since it inherently involves not just the actual physical matters, but human activity and systems. That’s where it really gets hairy. Many people just don’t want to deal with it, which is where things keep veering into “so, what’s the bottom line, are we about out of oil, or not?” simplistic nonsense.

But beyond that, I think part of the problem is that it’s not only such a large scale macroscopic level kind of matter, but it’s such a long term slow gradual matter, as well.

All the kinds of problems I’m talking about here are a severe diversion from the pretty damned urgent and immediate problem of getting people focused on major changes and adjustments we need to make to many things in the realms of human activities and systems. Instead, people have to waste time on the absurd battle of dealing with the idiots and scam artists shouting about “peak oil is dead!” and “the myth of peak oil!” and “our oil boom!” and all the rest of the amazing parade of deluded nonsense.

Thankfully, there are good people who bother to do the homework and sort it out and lay things out honestly for anybody who might bother to pay attention. Chris Nelder is one of those people, and he just wrote an online piece that does a very good job of smacking aside the barrage of delusions and fiction that form the problem I’ve been talking about here today. Please go and read that, which saves me a great deal of typing.

None of this is being helped by anyone who gets much attention in the public realm in positions of high visibility, whether the “news media” (replacing “journalism” with entertainment and distraction), political office, or business. For example, all you’ll hear via the chattering on CNBC about “energy” is generally lots of sales PR hype talking up the alleged wonders of this, that, and the other thing that all realistically only show more evidence of how deep into diminishing returns we actually are already.

Right now, the crude oil prices of both West Texas Intermediate and Brent have been hanging around for a while in the range between $100 and $110 per barrel. Sampling the chatter of the business news media, as far as I can tell the only way these high prices register is in the way that the whole Wall Street cult seems to regard anything, which is that increases in price numbers in any “market trading” means bigger equals better, that this is “growth”, part of the general basic “buy low sell high” idea, good for anybody who bought low. There seems to be little to no acknowledgement of the kinds of strain the cost of oil puts on virtually everything, anything, under the general collective umbrella of everything that people label “the economy”, from people’s personal lives and finances and ability to live and function, to costs of doing nearly any kind of business, as virtually everything either directly or indirectly involves petroleum fueled transportation.

There’s virtually no recognition in those circles stating a basic consideration, that all of what people like to talk about as supposed “oil boom” miracles are only in action, and can only be in action, given high crude oil selling prices, as we get further into diminishing returns; discovery of a given amount of oil requiring more energy, more work, and more complex work, and more money expended, and extraction of a given volume of oil requiring more energy, more work, and more complex work, and more money expended. All of this, by the way, just to be totally clear about this, shows the repercussions of hitting and starting past peak and into diminishing returns. But, again, this is completely obscured for most people in all the nonsense telling people that “peak oil” means “the oil is all gone”.

Enter the political realm, and the vacuum where reality should dwell is fully packed by something else.

“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the un-guessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!” ― Robert A. Heinlein



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