re Jose's remarks

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Fri Jun 9 23:05:08 MDT 2000


    You asserted quite flatly that el Niño was a "global-warming event." I
quoted precisely that part of the NASA post that took up exactly that point.
Whether or not some scientists speculate that is has been/could be affected
by global warming is completely irrelevant, as is the intensification of the
event and its more frequent recurrence in the last quarter century.

    I have no problem discussing those aspects also, and in fact did so in
another, related post I was preparing at the same time as the one you reply
to here, which is why I didn't bother to get into all the fine print about
El Niño here, because your statement did not require it.

    Then you quote (selectively) the passage on climate variability which I
quote in full in my other post to the effect of: we really don't know much
except that the southern oscillation has been acting up and this influences
a lot of weather.

    Then you quote the statement about how a rise of 2-7 degrees centigrade
in temperature would be bigger change than anything scientists are able to
document following the end of the last ice age, a statement to which, for
reasons I can't fathom, you attach tremendous importance. I suggest you
re-read it. It does not say such a change WILL happen; it says IF it does
happen it would be a big change.

    As for priesthoods and so forth and so on, you are quite wide of the
mark. The scientists involved in these research projects, as far as I've
been able to determine, are not ideologues but people devoted to
dispassionate scientific investigation as best they understand it. The stuff
on the web pages connected to the Huntsville group, the people doing heat
island studies, and others reflects their actual best understanding of what
the data show, as well as some perspective on what it might mean for various

   It is a mistake to view this material as some sort of  politicized
"report" by the NOAA or NASA or anything else like that.

    On the fossil fuel "shortage": YOUR expert, who YOU brought to the bar,
says quite specifically 95% of the "available" fossil fuel supplies. I
checked into it, because, of course, the first thing that occurred to me is
the point you raise: it's all well and good for there to be a thousand-year
supply of the best grade crude, but if it is at the bottom of some deep-sea
trench, it might as well be in Uranus. Apparently "available" is a term of
art among at least some academics who became dissatisfied with the industry
manipulation of "reserves," which are those supplies supposedly recoverable
at a profit. These "reserves" tended to follow the political winds of
convenience of the industry, something that was easily accomplished by
changing the guesstimated price levels and, in the case of coal especially,
costs associated with environmental impact mitigation.

    Unfortunately the person I consulted on this could not give me a precise
definition of "available." He said it meant recoverable with present
technology but without going to "heroic" lengths that would cost hundreds of
dollars a barrel of oil, for example.

    At any rate, it is clear in the case of coal that the United States has
humongous readily available supplies, there is no shortage of fossil fuels
as such.

    As for their being a more specific crude oil shortage, it seems to me
you miss the main point, which is that the "shortage" in the 70's and the
situation today is a function of a fight by third world countries to obtain
better terms of trade, not of some lack of crude in the ground or a huge gap
in the installed capacity to extract and refine it. That said, it is in the
nature of capitalism to generate all sorts of crisis of over (usually) and
under (sometimes) production, which, despite the disruption they inevitably
entail, have not yet proven terminal.

    In particular, a crisis of underproduction such as you project simply
means that the capitalists will be falling all over themselves to bring more
capacity online in the hopes of reaping superprofits.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Jones" <jones118 at>
To: "marxism at lists. panix. com" <marxism at>
Sent: Friday, June 09, 2000 7:04 AM
Subject: re Jose's remarks

Jose G. Perez wrote:
> Mark,
>     Just WHERE did you get the idea that El Niño is a "global-warming
> event"?
[flaming snipped]
> >From the NOAA web site:
> "Are El Niños related to Global Warming?
> "El Niños are not caused by global warming.

Jose, you give new meaning to the words 'selective reading'. The next words
from your truncated quote are: >>However, it has been hypothesized that
warmer global sea surface temperatures can enhance the El Niño phenomenon,
and it is also true that El Niños have been more frequent and intense in
recent decades. <<

 I'll post seperately about El Nino.

A few paras later still the NOAA say:

>>Is the atmospheric/oceanic circulation changing?
A rather abrupt change in the El Niño - Southern Oscillation behavior
occurred around 1976/77 and the new regime has persisted. There have been
relatively more frequent El Niño episodes. This behavior is highly unusual
in the last 120 years (the period of instrumental record). Changes in
precipitation over the tropical Pacific are related to this change in the El
Niño - Southern Oscillation, which has also affected the pattern and
magnitude of surface temperatures. <<
A little lower we read:

>>In areas where a drought usually accompanies an El Niño, droughts have
been more frequent in recent years. Other than these areas and the few areas
with longer term trends to lower rainfall (e.g., the Sahel), little evidence
is available of changes in drought frequency or intensity.
In some areas there is evidence of increases in the intensity of extreme
rainfall events, but no clear global pattern has emerged. Despite the
occurrence in recent years of several regional-scale extreme floods there is
no evidence of wide-spread changes in flood frequency. This may reflect the
dearth of studies, definition problems, and/or difficulties in
distinguishing the results of land use changes from meteorological effects.
There is some evidence of recent (since 1988) increases in extreme
extratropical cyclones over the North Atlantic. Intense tropical cyclone
activity in the Atlantic appears to have decreased over the past few
decades. Elsewhere, changes in observing systems confound the detection of
trends in the intensity or frequency of extreme synoptic systems.
There has been a clear trend to fewer extremely low minimum temperatures in
several widely-separated areas in recent decades. Widespread significant
changes in extreme high temperature events have not been observed.
There is some indication of a decrease in day-to-day temperature variability
in recent decades. <<

A few lines on we read a summary:

>>Large and rapid climatic changes affecting the atmospheric and oceanic
circulation and temperature, and the hydrological cycle, occurred during the
last ice age and during the transition towards the present Holocene period
(which began about 10,000 years ago). Based on the incomplete evidence
available, the projected change of 2 to 7°F (1-3.5°C) over the next century
would be unprecedented in comparison with the best available records from
the last several thousand years. <<

This is a report of the US Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration.
The NOAA works closely with Nasa (remote sensing projects) and the Dept of
Defence (submarine hydrological surveys, buoy-systems for ocean-current
detection etc). It is part of the high priesthood of American imperialism,
it's not just me and Louis Proyect. This is the equivalent of the Aztec High
Priest announcing that, on reflection the Sun God doesn't exist, or a
tobacco CEO admitting nicotine is addictive.

Jose goes on:
>     On the rest of your post, it seems to me the underlying idea is in
> this paragraph:
> >    "All the carbon that can be burnt will be, and that will include
> 'dirty' fuels like coal, tar sands and non-conventionals which emit still
 >>GHG. The capitalist world system has entered a fatal impasse, it cannot
>> and whatever world we are living in will be a post-capitalist world. It
>> has exhausted its real material basis, which lay in the exploitation of
>> non-renewable, exhaustible (as Priddle puts it) and non-substitutable
Ø fossil fuels.

>     I think you have fallen victim to the hysterical propaganda of
> environmentalists. There is no such energy crisis coming. I know because
> told me so. In the article which you so kindly posted about remembrance of
> climates past, the author makes the following point:
> "For reference, about 5 percent of the available fossil fuel reservoir has
> thus far been utilized,"
> and, confirming this is no misprint, "Since about 95 percent of the fossil
> fuel reservoir remains to be processed (see below)..."

If recycled myths and legends could fuel windmills there'd be no energy
crisis. The whole point is, Jose, that most of that 95% of possibly-existing
fossil fuels is unobtainable AND ALWAYS WILL BE. Why else do you think that
when we speak about the Hubbert Curve we are always careful to qualify what
way say as follows: CONVENTIONAL oil production recoverable by KNOWN
TECHNOLOGY and capable of being ECONOMICALLY brought to market, will peak in
the years 2000-2005, resulting in new price-spikes and energy shocks and
ushering in the end of the age of Big Oil, with catastrophic social and
economic effects'.

The average oil-reservoir still contains oil even after it is 'exhausted'
and the last oil well has been closed; the amounts vary depending on the
geology, but even the 'easy to work' mid-East supergiants will still have
half their oil left in the ground when they are shut down as uneconomic
forever. This is not news. Equally, there is, as we keep hearing, vast
deposits of tar sands and oil shale in Alberta, Venezuela etc: the mounts of
hydrocarbon they contain far exceeds not only the total amount of
CONVENTIONAL oil ever discovered, they exceed coal and natural gas combined
too. HOWEVER tar sands will not save capitalism because they will NEVER be
economically viable at ANY price, and because in any case no known
technology exists to exploit them in ways which really would release so much
CO2 that we'd get runaway warming.

>     I think it was Carroll Cox who hit the nail on the head by saying the
> problem with your position is that it takes us away from POLITICS. What is
> at stake here is NOT fundamentally a relationship between people and
> people and a diminishing supply of fossil fuels, etc. It is a relationship
> between people mediated by things. The energy crisis of the 1970s had
> nothing to do with a "shortage" of crude oil. It had to do with a bunch of
> the semicolonial countries TAKING ADVANTAGE of the weakened state of U.S.
> imperialism and the world imperialist system in the wake of their
> catastrophic defeat in Vietnam. It was a fight about money, with various
> semicolonial countries fighting to obtain a more equitable price for their
Ø products.

Look, the energy crisis of the 1970s was solved by increasing the supply of
oil. It was also solved by increasing US hegemony in the mid-east and by
destroying the USSR and making its oil reserves available. All these factors
combine into the equation.

Today, the situation is much more unstable and dangerous, and the outlook is
much bleaker. First, there are no new large NOPEC reserves like the N Sea
coming on stream. There is the Caspian and one or two other places; they all
have difficulties of geology, political instability, distance and maybe all
3 factors. Second, the great Persian Gulf reserves have been allowed to run
down; there is a need for huge new infrastructural investment in Saudi,
Kuwaiti, Iraqi and Iranian upstream + refining. But this investment is
unlikely to happen in time to stave off a new energy crunch, because time is
already too short and because the geopolitical instabilities of the
Caspian-Persian Gulf Region (one territory linked by Iran) will make it
difficult or impossible to avoid major conflicts.

Secondly, world oil demand is practically double that of 1973 and rising at
around 2% p.a., mainly because of demand in Asia and above all China. The
world oil supply system is incapable of meeting projected demand growth, and
even if the pipelines, tankers and refineries existed, the OIL IN THE GROUND
DOES NOT, and most people know now this.  The era of BIG OIL = the era of
CONVENTIONAL OIL and it is now in its final stages because the Hubbert Peak
has arrive, and from now on world oil production will plateau and then
decline. By 2050 whatever is left of the world economy will not be

> That is EXACTLY what is going on today ALSO. The price spike was caused
> by a change in oil supplies, but by Chavez's victory in Venezuela which
> meant the U.S. lost control of the main instrument it had been using in
> undermining OPEC's producer's united front against the petroleum robber
> barons. Chavez's victory came on the heels of an absolutely ruinous plunge
> in the price of crude, largely created by the U.S. through its sponsorship
> of Venezuelan scabbing on OPEC quotas, that convinced even the more
> "moderate" members of the cartel and other countries that occasionally
> with them that the imperialists would eat them alive if they stayed on the
> same course, that their only possible salvation was to bloc together
Ø the imperialists.

This is right as far as it goes but is just too simplistic to account for
the actual  pattern of price movements, and I especially suggest you read
Priddle on backwardation, I just posted it on the CrashList, for the
conventional IEA view; and then check out Matt Simmons piece at:

and I can supply more if needed. There's more than conspiracy at stake, and
there is above all the fact that (as Priddle points out) many Opec producers
**physically cannot increase supply**. This is the high priest telling the
crowds the sun won't come out today: it means the Hubbert crunch has already

> What it shows is that although it has been able to weaken OPEC,
> has not been able to destroy it, and now OPEC is fighting back. Good for
Ø them, I say!

This is wide of the mark. OPEC has traditionally worked closely with the
West to determine the oil-price regime best suited to both major producers
and major consumers. Do you suppose that OPEC represents colonial countries
and is engaged in some kind of economic guerrilla warfare with the West?
NOTHING could be further from the truth. OPEC is dominated by Saudi Arabia,
a US puppet regime. Since 1979 at least, successive US Administrations have
agreed with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that the optimal oil price is around $20
bbl. This suits the UK, too, because at that price the N Sea is profitable.
It suits the oil majors, too, because if prices went much higher marginal
markets might start to be lost to alternatives, energy conservation, more
fuel efficient cars etc. So all the parties collude in making the deal
happen.  This is how the world energy complex operates, under US cntrol and
domination. Therefore, price spikes and price collapses are events which
disrupt the energy-regime and N_ONE wants them. Chavez is interesting, but
he's accession changes nothing fundamental; what is fundamental is the
upward pressure on prices cause by growing excess demand over supply; in the
end, these pressures will burst open the OPEC-NATO-NOPEC energy-regime, and
when that happens the global energy system will disintegrate completely; and
what happens after THAT will depend on many factors, but is bound to entail
a change of regulation-regime at the world-system level AT LEAST as profound
as the changeover from UK to US domination in the 1930s-1940s.
> This actual political and economic battle to WEAKEN imperialism and
> STRENGTHEN the semicolonial countries completely disappears in these
Ø "environmental" analysis of the situation.

the idea that the big-oil producers are 'semicolonial countries battling
imperialism'  is wide of the mark, as I say, and a more complex analysis
(for which we definitely on these lists have the collective potential to
make) which must show the dynamic links between many instances of the world
system, the linkages which unites to constitute a whole which, though
unstable and with true-chaotic tendencies, nevertheless does integrate as a
whole that is governed by US imperialism; hegemony in this case has to
co-opt and inhere to itself many conflicting processes and has to find ways
to prevent positive feedback loops from inflating and thus
destabilising/destroying the system.  The dynamics of population growth in
Egypt and Iran (especially) and of Mexico and other 'high-absorber' states
which use most of their oil revenues to placate restless, youthful
populations - is one factor affecting OPEC prices; the politics of Islam and
the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia is another; the absence of large Chinese
oil reserves and the subsequent competition between EuroAmerica on one side
and China on the other for Kazakh, Caspian and Russian reserves, is another
thing to factor in. There are many other pieces of the puzzle; and
'environmental' issues are among them. From our perspective as Marxists,
what priority we give analytically and then politically to any one
process/event/phenomenon within the world-system ensemble of relations,
depends on its significance in the unfolding of the capitalist conjuncture,
i.e. the forward momentum of class struggle, at any one moment in time. I
have no ideological commitment to Gaia, but I see that important and
probably the overdetermining momenta of this epoch (the epoch of declining,
crisis-ridden capitalism), are these (a) climate change; (b) energy famines
and (c) what Marx called the production of relative surplus population in
conditions of (d) exponential increases in labour-productivity and the
expulsion of labour from production, together with the massive
over-production of capitalism, increase of the reserve army of labour on a
world scale, and its immiseration.

I do not think that the role, function, existence and place of the state,
and the analysis of the state-form, is any less important than before, but
how we analyse the state depends on how we first analyse and reconstruct as
theoretical objects/models, the overdetermining momenta.

Ø There may well come a point, as
> started to happen in the late 1970s, when the imperialists will become big
> sponsors and promoters of fuel efficiency, alternative fuels, etc. etc.
> etc., all as part of this conflict. Viewing things on an environmental
> as you are doing, and not on a social and political axis, i.e., on a CLASS
> basis,is a political mistake, for capitalism cannot be overthrown except
Ø an alliance of the workers and oppressed peoples of the world.

Except that a Marxist analysis of the capitalist conjuncture is exactly what
I am making. The 'environmental axis' is merely a __form of appearance__ of
capitalist crisis, but like every epiphenomenon if has to be analysed in its
own terms.

> There is no such thing as "the final crisis of capitalism," there is NO
> CRISIS from which capitalism cannot recover given half a chance.

This is arguable, I think. This kind of ex-cathedra proves only that you
have strongly-held opinions. I believe there is a weight of evidence about
growing energy-famines for it to be clear that this is a specific crisis
which capitalism must overcome. It has been trying to overcome it for three
decades, without any success at all. If it cannot succeed, then it
(capitalism) will certainly not survive in its present form, because the
effect of oil price-spikes is to devalue a huge mass of existing capital,
making renewed valoristion much harder, and creating huge and general
systemic crises. If it cannot find a way out of that impasse it will be

Mark Jones

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