What Peak Oil?
by Jeffrey Folks
Issue 217– December 12, 2012
For over fifty years, beginning long before the invention of “climate change,” the environmental left promulgated the theory of “peak oil.” For the left, peak oil served as grounds for shifting away from fossil fuels and for greater intrusion of government in the energy sector. Purportedly, the world was running out of oil, so we had best replace oil and other fossil fuels before they ran out with alternative sources of energy. For this to happen, government takeover of the energy sector involving a Marshall-plan level of funding for alternatives was required. That way, when we “ran out,” a catastrophe that was always made to seem imminent, we would be saved by alternatives.
“Peal oil,” it turns out, was always a speculative proposition based more on ideology than fact. The International Energy Agency, which in the past published evidence supporting the theory, now concedes that peak oil is not going to happen anytime soon. In its latest “Outlook” report, the IEA predicts that global supplies of oil and gas will expand through 2035, with the U.S. being the largest contributor. Already the U.S. heartland is producing so much oil that there is not enough refining capacity to handle it. And yet as late as 2010, the left was still ranting about peak oil and the catastrophe that would accompany it if U.S. taxpayers didn’t turn over hundreds of billions more to the Department of Energy to subsidize outfits like Solyndra.
Why was the left so utterly mistaken about peak oil? Because their predictions never had anything to do with fact. Peak oil was merely a convenient fiction that the left seized upon to advance its own agenda.
Everything that transpired in the bizarre case of peak oil applies equally to “global warming” and “climate change,” as well as to the left’s growing alarmism over hydraulic fracturing. There are always speculative fictions available for advancing the agenda of state control of the means of production.
For decades, “global warming” was one such fiction. Now it is a phrase that is slipping from the lexicon for the simple reason that it has begun to lose credibility. (Google “global warming” and you will arrive at 53% fewer results than if you enter “climate change.”) Most ordinary persons grasp that the climate has not warmed significantly over the course of their lifetimes. Those born in the 1940s or 1950s can recall American summers that were just as hot as that of 2012 and winters as cold as 2010-2011. They may also recall that the only category five hurricanes to have struck the U.S. since 1900 were the Great Labor Day storm of 1935, Hurricane Camille of 1969, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Nothing suggests that anthropogenic global warming had anything to do with these storms, widely dispersed as they were throughout the century. No wonder the rhetoric has shifted from “global warming” to “climate change.”
Rhetorically speaking, climate change has the advantage of being an entirely nebulous concept. By shifting the argument from “warming” to “change,” it is possible to suggest the existence of a crisis without ever specifying the grounds for one’s concern. Is the climate changing? Undeniably. It appears that this winter will be colder than last. Last year’s was warmer than the one before. The climate changes from year to year, and this is supposed to be cause for alarm.
Unfortunately for alarmists, in the context of the larger history of the earth, climate has not changed all that much in recent decades. During earlier periods in the earth’s history, the seas have risen and fallen a great deal—not the mere seven inches reported over the past century but by as much as 30 feet. Those changes were associated with far more dramatic changes in the earth’s climate occurring during the longer cycles of glaciation and warming taking place over millions of years.
The earth’s population has been fortunate to have enjoyed a period of warming during the past 150 years and a longer interglacial period beginning 10,000 years ago (a period not coincidentally associated with extraordinary advances in human civilization). For many environmentalists, however, the good fortune of the past century and a half during which global temperatures have warmed by one degree centigrade (and of the past ten millennia during which glaciation has receded) is viewed as cause for alarm. The fact that warming has spurred crop yields, increased forest growth, and reduced the need for heating fuels is beside the point. Climate alarmists seem to think that any change is grounds for alarm, despite the fact that change is taking place at all times. And, for the left, the “solution” for climate change is always global governance and state control of the energy sector.
That was the left’s solution in the days of “peak oil.” But then it was never resource depletion that the left was actually concerned with, any more than it is climate change today. The left’s real interest in climate is its usefulness as pretext for expanding a collectivist ideology. The left is driven by the same goal, dating back to the 19th century, of establishing a Marxist dictatorship with control of the means of production. The modus operandi is always the same: employ scare tactics as the means of placing the energy sector and every other sector of the private economy under state control.
The energy sector plays a crucial role in this collectivist endeavor. Despite a rapid escalation in regulation during the Obama administration, the energy sector remains largely regulated by state authorities and so relatively free. Comprising an outsized share of the free market in the U.S. (constituting approximately 11% of the S&P 500 index), energy is an obvious target for leftist attempts at control and appropriation. Once energy, industrials, healthcare, financial services, and communications are effectively under state control, the U.S. will have been transformed into a centrally-planned socialist economy.
By then, the left will have dispensed with peak oil, global warming, climate change, and all the other pretexts for control. They will have achieved their goal of enforcing a gulag-style existence on all but the party elite and of exploiting every resource and means of production to ensure the permanence of their rule. North Korea is the perfect model for what the environmental left wishes to impose on the U.S.
It’s not difficult to see why the left inclines toward that style of dictatorship. Marxists in that nation state can impose their will without the aggravation of democratic opposition. And as an added bonus, there is not much wastage of energy in that communist state. The lights are always out in Pyongyang.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).