(fwd from David Walters) Sports Utility Vehicles: They aren't going away

Mark Jones markjones011 at tiscali.co.uk
Fri Nov 29 12:20:12 MST 2002

David wrote:
> Thirdly, Louis, I would LOVE Mark Jones to write something about
> oil. As it
> happens, most 'limits' projected on oil reserves are phony, designed to
> encourage opening up of wilderness areas to oil exploration. People who
> project limited reserves are doing the work of the oil companies. In fact,
> oil reserves have gone UP not down in the last 30 years as new
> oil finds are
> constantly discovered...and causes for major wars. There is no shortage,
> yet, of oil reserves and shouldn't be for decades to come. This
> doesn't mean
> we should advocate alternate fuels research, extended life
> battery research,
> etc...but we're not  running out of gas anytime soon.

Everything David says about the benefits of SUV's, pickups etc is fine
except for (a) climate change and (b) it isn't the case that 'we're not
running out of gas anytime soon'. As David properly says, urban
civilisations historically consisted of places of work and places of
residence intermingled and very short or no commutes. It will have to get
back to that because of (a) and (b) above. This means that, assuming (a) +
(b) = end of the petroleum economy, that all modern industrial societies
face serious problems of sustainability, and the US--because of its atypical
energy intensity, faces the worst potential problem of all (US used more
than twice the energy per capita of EU states like Britain or the
Netherlands, and more than 20 times that of India.

Anthropogenic climate change and energy and water famines will surely be the
defining material circumstances of 21st century capitalism. Climate change
and hydrocarbon depletion are the two jaws of a vice which has human society
by the throat. The continued cancer-like spread of unsustainable urban and
suburban petrol-driven society is an unprecedented cataclysm directly
responsible both for the huge dangers posed by climate change but also for
the largest mass extinction of species since the dinosaurs disappeared 60
million years ago. The risks we are collectively taking with the fabric of
the planetary ecosphere are very large, compared to the benefits achieved.

Two final points: there is no evidence whatever of any viable 'alternative
fuels'. The British government, which is a lot greener than some other
capitalist states, has recently ceased funding research into most
renewables. Fuel cells will never be economically viable; photovoltaics,
windpower, geothermal and hydropower will never constitute more than 5% of
total energy consumption.

There is a great deal of detailed discussion of these issues on the A-List
and a search of the archive using terms like 'fuel cell', 'Campbell';
'Laherrere', 'Hornborg', will yield a mass of data.

Finally, it is not the case that  ' oil reserves have gone UP not down in
the last 30 years as new
> oil finds are> constantly discovered.' The opposite is true. Global oil
and gas production is reached and may already have passed the so-called
Hubbert Peak (search the a-list archive on this). World per capita energy
consumption has already peaked in 1978. The way oil reserves is calculated
is complex and contentious and much of the data is kept secret by
governments and oil corps. Traditionally oil corps employed a Net Present
Value method of calculating reserves. This is an accounting convention based
on the proposition that no investment is worth making if it pays back in
more than 15 years. In other words, oil corps publish reserves based on what
stock markets expect their Internal Rate of Return on invested capital to
be. A company which boasts of having say 50 years of oil reserves is
actually misusing (over investing) capital. This way of presenting reserves
of course is all about the market and says nothing about the underlying
geology of physical reserves. Estimates of the Ultimately Recoverable
Reserve of crude vary from a low of 1750bn bbls (Campbell, Laherrere) to a
high of up to 3 trn bbls (US Energy Information Agency, US Geological
Service). For authoritative debate on these issues, apart from the A-List,
check out sites like Policy Pete:

A crucial consideration is he relationship of discovery of reserves to
output. During the last 40 years, annual discovery has rarely exceeded 10%
of annual output of crude. It is this more than anything which suggests that
world oil is in decline.

The end o this century will see a human global population, on present
trends, of around 10bn-- 50% larger than today. It will be (on the best
case?) a hot, dry, polluted, impoverished, energy-starved world infested not
only with human but with other detritovores with a liking for similar
habitats--rats, cockroaches and the like. Only the abandonment of the
suburban built environment and the petroleum economy can prevent this, and
only socialism can make that possible.


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