Not Running Out of Oil, or Sunshine

From Jennifer Marohasy’s Blog

April 23, 2020 By jennifer

I remember through the 1970s, we were meant to run out of oil, soon. In fact, as long as I can remember we have been running out of oil, soon.

Instead, oversupply is such that the benchmark for US oil fell below zero for the first time ever a couple of days ago. That is, the share market suggested oil couldn’t even be given away because it was in such oversupply.

There is no shortage of oil despite more than 7.6 billion people on planet Earth, and so many vehicles powered by it.

Prices have collapsed, because despite all the pumping from ‘Mother Earth’ since I was a child, there is still more. Because of the pandemic, global demand, not supply, has fallen dramatically. In fact, the worldwide supply glut has created a worldwide shortage of storage space for oil.

The headlines read:

Oil futures collapsed to below zero for the first time ever

Oil plunges for a second day

Yet still we have movies by famous Americans claiming an imminent shortage because:

Too many human beings are using too much, too fast …

That’s according to the latest Michael Moore movie entitled ‘Planet of the Humans’, released earlier this week, which was about the same time oil couldn’t be given away.

The movie is long and a bit tedious and laments our so-called ‘addiction’ to not only oil, but also coal. Yet it is different, because it also effectively shows up ‘renewables’ as something of a scam, if their objective is long term energy security and sustainability.

Surprisingly for Moore, the movie looks beyond the popular to explain that whether solar panels or wind turbines: both are built using ‘fossil fuel’ infrastructure.

In the movie, Moore interviews a technician who explains how silicon is mined and then processed in very hot furnaces with coal. And that this is what solar panels are actually made of – silicon and coal!

The qualities of cement and steel consumed in the construction of a single wind turbine are also detailed.

The new Michael Moore movie also shows us electric cars fuelled by a power grid based on 95% coal.

So, is electricity from coal better than oil, and how could we possibly still have any of either of them? Since I was a young girl at the beach, these type of documentaries have explained we are running out of both.

I am also reminded of how the prices of various natural resources has tended down over the past few decades. It was in the early 1980s that Julian Simon famously betted Paul Ehrlich that the price of Cooper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten would fall. And they have.

Julian Simon explains why in his book The Ultimate Resource published in 1981. Yet back in the early 1980s, and still today, the conventional wisdom has claimed we would all be undone by resource scarcity. Simon explains that our notions of increasing resource-scarcity ignores the long-term declines in wage-adjusted raw material prices because of innovation.

Another book, ‘The Future and Its Enemies’ written by Virgina Postrel and published in 1999 puts more context around the notion of innovation. Interestingly Postrel explains why government regulation may only be a problem when it limits innovation. Further, Postrel suggests notions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ in politics are some what meaningless. She suggests the more significant battles will be between the values of a type of person she refers to as the ‘dynamists’ versus the ‘statists’. Quoting from an interview some time ago:

In the book, I talk about the sort of core values of dynamists versus stasists. The core values of dynamists are – it’s really about learning. It’s about discovery. The idea is we don’t really know the best way of doing whatever, and that requires a lot of experimentation, trial and error learning, competition, criticism. It’s a messy process, but it’s the process through which we discover better ways of doing things, whether that’s in business, technology, or the way we live our everyday lives.

On the stasis side, there’s sort of two competing or two complementary ideas rather. One is the ideal of stability – that the good society is the society that doesn’t change. And the other, which I associate with sort of technocratic stasis, is the idea of control – that someone needs to be in charge to set us on the right path and to decide centrally what that will be.

How might this pandemic show the need for regulation and cohesion, while allowing innovation?

That oil prices are at unprecedented lows must be upsetting established world orders? I hope so. Then again, I’m a dynamist.

It is a fact that there has never been so many people on planet Earth and that we live during a time of great wealth but also great uncertainty. Our times perhaps provide unique opportunities for both Postrel’s dynamists and also the technocratic stasis.

In Australia and around the world, how much have our values changed in just the last two months? And yet we have perhaps more social cohesion, at least here in Australia? And many are looking for new rules of engagement, to provide some certainty.

As long as the rules created by the technocrats are clear, and there is still incentive, there is perhaps potential for great innovation: for us to innovate our way out of this pandemic. It should be possible through trial and error, spontaneous adjustment, and adaptation – even if we can’t travel, or party, or watch sport. In fact, there may be more time for thinking.

It is a fact that we can still innovate for a new and different future, and that the best things in life will still be free, even if the movie-makers keep telling us that we are running out of oil, soon.

In Noosa where I live, the sun is still shining, and it shines for everyone.

My little sister and I enjoying the sunshine in Noosa back in the 1970, when the price of oil was higher and we were about to run out of it.
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58 thoughts on “Not Running Out of Oil, or Sunshine

    • I agree, Ms. Marohasy nails it again. If she reads it, I have no doubt that she will enjoy YOUR article. Thank you for sharing your thorough, well-written, article, Mr. Gillespie.

      … we have not even approached the upslope on the ‘peak oil’ bell curve; we are NOT going to run out in a few decades. ***

      Where [M. King Hubbert] err[ed] was in … not allowing for the most precious resource of all – human ingenuity.

      Thomas Gillespie (see above linked article)

      YES!

      (Suggestion: submit this to WUWT for publication here — it is worthy of being a main topic, not just the subject of a comment).

    • Thomas Gillespie:

      Thanks for providing the link to your outstanding article. I agree with Janice Moore, it would make a great submission as a WUWT article.

  1. This is a great post! I never thought of myself as a “Dynamist” but I am surely one! Now I have my ‘label’ that I have been searching for for all my life!!!

  2. Thank you Jennifer as always for an interesting article.

    You mention the various types of “-ists”

    IMHO, there is really only one type of “-ist” that guarantees the ongoing survival and development of the human species, and that is ADAPTIST.

    Adapting is what got us (and just about every other form of life) to where we are today.
    Worryingly, there are those today (even “experts”) who would have us believe that we can keep the world exactly as it is now, and has been for the past 200 years, forever into the future.

    • Re:

      … the world exactly as it is now, and has been for the past 200 years …

      Dear Mr. (your-name-here),

      Please explain.

      Until you do, we will be unable to give further consideration your application for the job of History Professor.

      Sincerely yours,

      /s/
      Dean of Academics
      Any Institution of Higher Learning Worth Attending

      • Does “Any Institution of Higher Learning Worth Attending” include “The University of Hard Knocks”?

        (If it does, I’ll *adapt* my application. As in Marx (Groucho)’s “these are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others . . . Seems to work OK for Gore, Suzuki et al)

        • Hi, Mister. 😄

          Well, lol, let’s just fugeddabouddit.

          I am so grateful that you were courteous enough to reply that I don’t care what you meant.

          THANK YOU.😊

    • They would be attracting unwanted attention if they attack moor, he will expose the scam for what it is, they push he will shove ,typical leftists shouting their mouths off without a thought of the consequences.

      • “They would be attracting unwanted attention if they attack moor”

        Good point. On the other hand, can they afford to do nothing and let this complete take-down of one of their Sacred Cows stand?

        For my part, I think it is time to grab some popcorn and a beer as this could be fun to watch.

        • You hit the nail on the head, of course they cant afford it, so they will expend resources trying to defend ,against a man who will expose them for the scammers they are, the real question here is who will step in before moor gets the publicity to damage the agenda , will moor end up being demonised like so many before him , will his outlets and backers turn thier backs, it’s too late for the video, but not to late to silence moor, ( I hope not) hes opened pandora’s box .

          • “… hes opened pandora’s box .”

            He certainly has. The demonization and the back-turning has already started (see my link above to “Left-Wing Activists Are Trying to Cancel Michael Moore”).

  3. Ha ha. Great article. Even at half the quality, that caption on the photo at the end was worth the entire read.

  4. So Mr m moor after 10 years as a leading climate alarmist all of a sudden decides green alternative power sources are a scam . “Yet it is different, because it also effectively shows up ‘renewables’ as something of a scam, if their objective is long term energy security and sustainability ” 10 years m it took you to work out we cant replace FFs with alternative energy, I’m just surprised you havent got a alternative to replace the alternative,

    • ” I’m just surprised you havent got a alternative to replace the alternative”

      After watching the movie, his alternative appears to be to cut down on our use of technology and on the population of the earth, but he ends the movie on a question as if he is not even sure if that is the correct solution.

      • Yes genocide is never popular with the grunts however you dress it up, still the same left wing armchair warriors have always said ” too many people” there the same ones saying covid19 is a old persons disease with what appears to be a covering of smugness. Moor certainly is not sure .as for technology we have seen a vast increase in its use during the pandemic ironically as we are all under house arrest ,not allowed to use our old technology
        Perhaps that’s what he really means replace one technology for another,yet clueless about how to drive either?

        • “… same ones saying covid19 is a old persons disease …”

          Yes, they consider covid19 a two-fer; it reduces the population plus gets rid of the old people who, in their minds, are the only people who doubt there is a “Climate Emergency”.

          • Interesting that in the New York metro area the least supplied care facilities were…. (Drum roll here)… Nursing Homes!!

            Yup, how convenient. The same group that said when grandma got too old she should forget expensive care, take a pill, get comfortable, and wait for the end.

            I’m paraphrasing the last president, of course.

  5. We have always had this “petroleum” problem wherein we never seemed to have much more (or much less than twenty years supply, but in the late 1940s we also had a “fuels” problem. Not enough reserves of petroleum capable of making high quality fuels.

  6. The greedy green glitterati have been buying indulgences by sticking up a solar panel or twenty, while continuing to engage in wholesale use of fossil fuels and the electricity gained from them.

  7. There has never been a time, in all the history of humans on this planet, when it wasn’t a time of “great uncertainty”.

    Beyond that, it’s easy to argue that even though recent times are time of uncertainty, it is not a time of great worry. For those in the first and second world, even those who are without jobs have no reason to be concerned that they and there families might end up starving to death in the next few weeks. In prior centuries, such worries were normal for all but the very wealthiest.

  8. “The price of Cooper”? Alice Cooper, Gary Cooper, Anderson Cooper, Henry Cooper, Tommy Cooper?

    Or just the hire price for a barrel maker?

    Children just aren’t going to know what a cooper is.

  9. Back in the eighties, Germany was flooded with ads for cars with hopelessly small engines. Not really appropriate to call them cars, rather self propelling midget passenger containers, something only driven by desperation byers would appreciate

    Back then the rhetoric was “Stop feeding oil magnates while there’s still some oil left!”.

    Comparatively they tried to establish a “small car hype” with a strong scent of patchouli and imagery of responsible city hippie young professionals.

    Which is about wat they do now for electric cars.

    Today only few collectors (hardly) remember names such as “Innocenti”, “Autobianchi”, “Peugeot Z”, “Citroen LNA” and so on.

    So yes, individual transportation has been always a revolving “double-cow” milked by both taxes and trend allegiances.

    • In 1986, my friend’s Munich, Germany friend, Sergio, a very nice fellow, gave us rides in an “Enten.” It had a little duck sticker on it. Ugly-cute and VERY small. No WONDER “creative” advertising was necessary to sell it! It was, though, good for parking in Munich. We would get out first, then, he would park and barely squeeze out his door (and he was not a fat young man).

    • In the 60’s Australia had the Lightburn Zeta. Made by a washing machine manufacturer. There were plenty of comments about that.

    • My wife’s car is a Hyundai i10. It is well equipped, reasonably nippy and uses next to no fuel. Cars have become ever more fuel efficient over the years. I have a book about the 1950s Ford Prefect. In it there is a reprint of an old motoring magazine road test. Fuel consumption of 30mpg was thought to be good. These cars had a side valve engine with very poor performance.

      • We once witnessed whatever became of a rear-ended Polo. And bought a second-hand LandCruiser for my wife & kid. I commute in a full sized TDI station wagon.

        Fuel efficiency ? Last time I checked, facts were that statistically we live only once.

      • My car is a Challenger Widebody Hellcat (717hp). It’s unreasonably nippy and uses a little bit more fuel than your wife’s Hyundai. But I’m sure I have much more fun driving and gas prices are quite low right now. Who cares about fuel economy? I’m feeding the plants.

  10. Anthony gets a mention:

    24 Apr: Washington Times: Michael Moore turns on climate left with film skewering green energy
    ‘Planet of the Humans’ released on Moore’s YouTube channel for Earth Day
    by Valerie Richardson
    Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore is under attack from his putative climate allies with a newly released documentary taking on one of the sacred cows of the environmental movement: green energy…

    “If global warming is really a problem, the solution can’t possibly be windmills, solar panels, burning biomass, and battery storage,” said Mr. Ebell, director of the CEI Center for Energy and Environment. “Climate and energy realists like CEI have been making these points for years, but now that leaders of the extreme anti-human, anti-industrial environmental fringe have reached the same conclusions, perhaps more people will start to pay attention.”

    Heartland Institute senior fellow Anthony Watts, who runs the skeptical Watts Up With That website, hailed the film as an “epic take-down of the left’s love-affair with renewables by one of the left’s most known public figures.” (Tweet)…
    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/apr/24/michael-moore-turns-climate-left-film-skewering-gr/

  11. Jennifer
    Thanks for the great article. But.
    You can’t really pigeon hole people ( or nations) into Dynamists and stasists.
    1. It’ probably a sliding scale,
    2. In different nations the are different % of each.
    3. There are many overlapping human traits – both genetic and environmental

    Example for comparison of different nations https://www.hofstede-insights.com

    Anyway, I think Australia is more dynamist than stasist but I’m more stasist than dynamist. Every family, village, culture, nation needs a balance.

    • My simplistic view of what has happened.
      Each community or nation has less than 50% of dynamists/risk takers/innovators.
      In times of hardship of the last few centuries the Ds are more likely to take risks and migrate to the unknown. Hence, the original country become less dynamic and the “colonies” became more dynamic. I believe this is true of both USA and Australia.
      What USA and Australia may be experiencing is a multi-generational move away from being dynamic.

  12. I find this rather naïve. Oil is costing more and more in energy to extract as the low hanging fruit is picked. Unless you believe in abiotic genesis of oil, there is also a finite amount there, and indeed the planet is a place of finite resources. There is only so much lithium cobalt, neodymium, copper. gold and silver in it, and only so many watts of sunlight falling upon it.

    Those prophesying peak oil or peak population have not been proved wrong, just wrong so far. They used, in the 1970s figures for known commercially viable reserves. And they were actually right. US oil output was in decline before fracking made some less easy to drill reserves more or less accessible, albeit at a cost many times higher than the early reserves bad been tapped at. We bought some time but there is a law of diminishing returns.

    If we today look at – say – Uranium and thorium reserves viable at current market prices, there is probably only 100 years of fertile material for reactors. But if we look at reserves that are potentially viable at prices several rimes what they are now but still viable as a fuel if that’s all you have, add in breeder reactors and recycle the fuel rods, then we have around 10,000 years of fuel for a global society living at US standards as long as the populations doesn’t increase much more than it is right now. Might even be long enough to develop a fusion reactor. Civilisation is only 10,000 years old now…at best.

    Its terribly easy to yell ‘you were wrong’ but it behoves us to examine why they were wrong and not throw babies out with the bathwater. Unless we want to behave as stupidly as any Green and Just Believe…

    Almost no power station today uses oil. Even bunker fuel costs more than gas or uranium. Diesel is used for emergency plant but never for baseload.

    Yet in the 196s oil fired power stations burnt bunker oil because no one else wanted it! Now its in huge demand for large ships.
    Human ingenuity may approach the theoretical limit of physics but it cannot breach the laws of physics. The energy budget of this plant is ultimately constrained by the sunlight falling upon it, if you want a steady state situation, but in te short (<10,000 year) term we can burn up whats left of the fissile and fertile heavy metals and possibly build our own suns to burn hydrogen.

    In the meantime we are running down the the hydrocarbon bank so carefully stocked by Mother Nature over the last few million years. Will it last 1000 years? No. Will it last 100 years? Probably but with more and more energy and financial costs associated with it. Net result falling standards of living.

    Renewable energy simply doesn't work and is destroying the planet. Thank you Michael Moore.
    The only answer for now is nuclear power. Let's hope we have enough fossil fuel and sense to build it.

    Fossil fuel is, like the man falling past the 13th floor 'Okay, so far'
    But not forever.

    • Who said “forever”?
      Some of the cheaper stuff is gone but technology improves and the fact remains its selling for nothing today.
      It is cheap and plentiful and by time it becomes expensive and rare we will have something new

    • Leo: Fossil fuel is that man’s parachute. It is slowing his descent, buying time while he works out how and where to land. It strikes me as absurd to assume people will still be burning black gold for its energy content 100 years from now.

      “OK, so far” … is about as good as it gets on this planet.

    • Mr. Smith, you haven’t been to Mexico. The city of Mazatlan produces electricity from burning bunker fuel. Has for some time. The city air is bad, mostly from this. Mazatlan isn’t the only city burning bunker fuel either, Manzanillo has a plant that on a calm day will produce a cloud that can be seen for 20 miles out to sea. (I sailed there 4 years ago.) Your thoughts are well-placed,this is not a criticism.

  13. We’ve only ever been in danger of running out of cheap oil, and right now there is a lot, but if and when those supplies become scarce, then there will be the more expensive (to extract) oil. And it won’t stop, like whale oil did when the cheap petroleum oil was discovered.
    And as for the planet being over populated and heading down the drain, one should look at Hans Rosling’s studies, which show that, while the population is rising, the numbers living in real poverty is falling and more and more people are better fed than ever before. And what is real poverty – families without a toothbrush, followed upwards by families that share a toothbrush, to one’s who each have a toothbrush, and at the top? Yes families where everyone has their own electric toothbrush … https://www.gapminder.org/factfulness-book/

  14. Running out of oil? haha! Been hearing this since I was a kid! Either they have no idea how vast the oil reserves are, or, it is indeed abiatic! Bet someone knows the truth! But, it will all be hyped up, or covered up, to artificially inflate the price!
    Coal, I’m not so sure about, except we have known reserves in Victoria to last another 300 years!
    Except the powers that be have decreed that we must change to ruinables! God help us!
    Bring on the nuclear revolution.

  15. The oversupply albeit short term of oil and the Michael Moore movie highlights one absolute horrendous and scurrilous mistruth about renewables is that they are becoming cheaper than fossil fuels . What can be cheaper than using the wind and sunshine that is free. The film highlights the absolute fraud that whether it’s EVs or power generation society cannot tolerate a system which fails to provide 24/7 and every claim for 100% renewables has the dishonest additional cost of fossil fuel or nuclear back up. So using extremely basic logic if A is the cost of base load and B is the cost of renewables and B cannot exist without A then B can never be less than A plus B. In other words a grid that includes renewables will always be more expensive unless at sometime in the future magically there is a storage solution for renewables that can be tapped on request and A is not needed. Despite trillions of dollars thrown at it and millions of human man hours dedicated to finding a solution we seem no closer than we were 10-15 years ago. And if you accept Michael Moore’s claim that renewables don’t help in reducing emissions then it’s time for the modern generation to really wind back the clock and return to base load fossil fuel or nuclear solutions to generate power .Ban all subsidies for renewables and allow them to prove themselves in the market place. We will then realise how much money the diversion by governments to renewables has cost. Money that perhaps might have been better spent supporting a health system that could perhaps cope a bit better with say an unexpected pandemic.

  16. The coal-ape invented a better source of energy before the reserves were really touched and evolved into the oil-ape.

    The oil-ape has will probably evolve into the atomic-ape, if the Luddites don’t interfere.

    And if oil really is abiogenic (as some believe) then we ought to have sufficient reserves for plastics, etc. for some considerable time.

    These bogeymen seem to be mostly invented by Dunning-Kruger political animals, not humanist scientists.

    • You can synthesise plastics from almost any carbon feedstock at price that is not unreasonable. If plastic was ten times as expensive it wouldn’t really be an issue except it would be worth recycling.

      The end of hydrocarbon comes not from running out anyway, but when either the energy needed to extract it approaches the energy you can get out of it (EROEI) or something cheaper comes along (uranium) .

      You could probably still drill it for fuel using nuclear power – a way of turning nuclear energy into more useful hydrocarbon fuel – until direct synthesis using nuclear power gets to be cheaper.

  17. There is a large subset of people for whom there will always be too much or too little of something. Most of the “too much” folks are of the opinion that other people are having too much fun or ease, or are being paid too much money or admiration.

    Peak Oil was a very popular abstraction until about 1995. and was based on the assumption that we had found all the oil there was, and were close to drinking the wells bone dry. The emergence of Alberta’s oil sands as a new and abundant supply of oil undermined the theory of Peak Oil, and that was the reason the sands were demonized so viciously by environmentalists.

    You can see the oil sands from outer space. Of course, you can’t see them from Edmonton, so that particular complaint about them never really resonated with me.

  18. This statement confuses me.
    the conventional wisdom has claimed we would all be undone by resource scarcity. Simon explains that our notions of increasing resource-scarcity ignores the long-term declines in wage-adjusted raw material prices because of innovation.
    I would think resource scarcity would increase raw material prices and resource abundance would cause long term decreases. Has innovation really overcome resource scarcity?

    • Yes, that’s precisely the point. Simon started out as a believer in the premise that resources were running out. Being an economist he knew that increasing scarcity would be reflected in rising prices so he looked at commodity prices over time expecting that it would validate the Limits of Growth position. Instead he found that there was a long-term decline in price of every commodity once you adjusted for inflation. (That is because improving technology means the cost of production is falling over time.) Faced with that evidence Simon became a critic of Ehrlich and the Limits of Growth crew.

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