Why does the pernicious BS about ‘peak oil’ persist on the left? By William Bowles

25 September, 2010

Peak Oil? Why not Peak Water, after all, water is much more crucial to life than oil ever will be and it’s being consumed in vast quantities by the same economic system that chows oil?

In fact, water is a far more potent and relevant symbol of the way capitalism chows the planet than is oil. Although it too is a finite resource, it also a renewable resource through the process of recycling, something that is done by nature in another of its amazing cycles that keep (kept?) the biosphere stable; what we call homeostasis where life, chemistry, physics and geology all meet. Water is thus far more symbolic of the irrationality of capitalist production than is oil, where even a renewable resource is consumed by capitalism.

This is why I just cannot get my head around the fact some on the left (who I think should know better) are buying into the ‘peak oil’ BS. ‘Running out of oil’ is essentially a problem for capitalism, but not for you and me. In fact, ‘running out of oil’ maybe a blessing in disguise. Just think, we could once again be living in a world without plastic bags![1]

Clearly, oil and gas are non-renewable resources[2] but then so is every other element, mixture and compound present on Earth.[3] What makes oil so important is its centrality to capitalist production and especially its ability to wage war, that’s why there’s all the fuss about it[4]. But why has the left bought into this ‘peak oil’ BS?

I suspect that part of the problem lies with the ideological position on the left that on the one hand rightly opposes consumerism, a way of life that ultimately consumes everything, with the much more difficult problem of posing an alternative. Oil has become symbolic of the capitalist way of life, yet it’s ridiculous to advocate that we stop using oil, at least in the short term. The real question is how it should be consumed and critically who decides?

It also has to be accepted that we who live in the West have adsorbed the ideology of Empire and this includes those of us on the left, who assume that the nature and quantity of their consumption is non-negotiable, unless of course capitalism does it for them.

Sure, we could ‘run out of oil’, but so what? We’re also ‘running out’ of helium. But let me rephrase this: we’re running out of economically viable sources of oil. And by economically viable, they mean profitable to extract, not that there’s a shortage.

Then there’s the issue of global warming/climate change to which undoubtedly burning fossil fuels is major contributor in the form of carbon dioxide. But an even more inflammable contribution to global warming is the gas methane (ten times more heat retaining than is carbon dioxide), produced in vast quantities by beef cattle for all those billions of burgers. Once again, the problem is not production per se but the quantities and the inevitable distortions and inequalites that monocultures create and perpetuate.

Thus consumption of oil, in order to satisfy the demands of shareholders, is but one aspect of an all-consuming capitalism. To single out oil, to make a special case out of it, seems pointless and just like the ‘over-population problem’, a gigantic red herring, pointing away from the real solution to our crisis.

The bottom line is that capitalist economies do not want to change the way they ‘do business’ just as companies often resist the introduction of new ways of doing things because they deem them not to be profitable or too expensive to implement. If pursuit of profit is the only driving force then clearly we’re going to ‘run out of oil’ and a bunch of other things. And let us not forget that the single biggest consumer of oil on the planet is the US military machine.

Undoubtedly because oil is so central to capitalist economies and as it gets more expensive to extract it, it becomes (yet another, if major) source of conflict but no more so than other strategically critical materials are, especially the so-called rare earth elements so necessary to electronics sector.

So why has oil been singled out and not initially by the left but by the oil industry itself?

For the past one hundred years the major western powers have had a lock on petroleum resources. Two world wars and uncounted ‘minor’ ones fought over access to, and ownership of, oil. The question therefore is not its abundance or lack thereof but who controls it and who determines how it is used?

Media commentary in the West should be our guide as to the role of oil in our economies where it is assumed that access to oil is our God-given right, therefore we constantly hear the refrain ‘energy security’ and now closely followed by the refrain ‘peak oil’.

There are new reserves of oil and gas being discovered all the time but they are no longer concentrated in a few locations. So it’s not that the world is ‘running out of oil’ but the West’s access to the world’s supplies are now not only constrained by the cost of extracting it[5] but that it entails the West, principally the US need to control more and more locations, necessitating the expansion of its military bases. It becomes a vicious cycle of consumption, production, expansion and war.

Oil, along with many other resources (including people) fuels the endless expansion of capitalist production. Forget ‘peak oil’, instead let’s get rid of capitalism and then we can decide how we can best we can share and maintain the Earth’s resources between all of its inhabitants, present and future.


1. Apparently, we ‘consume’ 600 million tons of plastic products each year, and all of it is made from oil.

2. Unless you subscribe to the theory of abiogenesis, or the non-organic origins of oil. But even if this hypothesis is correct, the raw materials that oil is made of are also finite just like everything else. See also this for some background on ‘peak oil’.

3. Actually, the Earth is a net importer of energy and materials, it’s what makes planets so special as they operate anti-entropically unlike practically everything else in the universe. All the energy sources on Earth originate from the sun (it’s energy production is scheduled to ‘peak’ in 5 billion years time). And we also get millions of tons of elements entering the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space every year in the form of meteorites and other space debris.

4. Although competition between economies was one of the essential causes of the two World Wars, in both cases oil acted as a catalyst. In the First world War it was Germany’s push Eastward where it threatened the British Empire’s possessions and access to resources. In the second, Hitler’s invasions, also Eastward, was essential to fuel his armies and later, it was the US embargo on Japan’s access to oil, also in the East, that signaled the attack on Pearl Harbor.

5. In any case, the ‘cost’ is determined not by the actual cost of extracting it, but by what price it commands on the world market. Were oil to become so expensive, whether through actual shortages or like now, through economic downturn, that its consumption dropped radically, wouldn’t that be good thing? We might then be forced to turn to alternative sources, like gas or any number of alternatives. Were there the will to do so.

The Fateful Geological Prize Called Haiti By F. William Engdahl

30 January, 2010 — Global Research

President becomes UN Special Envoy to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

A born-again neo-conservative US business wheeler-dealer preacher claims Haitians are condemned for making a literal pact with the Devil.

Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Bolivian, French and Swiss rescue organizations accuse the US military of refusing landing rights to planes bearing necessary medicines and urgently needed potable water to the millions of Haitians stricken, injured and homeless.

Behind the smoke, rubble and unending drama of human tragedy in the hapless Caribbean country, a drama is in full play for control of what geophysicists believe may be one of the worlds richest zones for hydrocarbons-oil and gas outside the Middle East, possibly orders of magnitude greater than that of nearby Venezuela.

Haiti, and the larger island of Hispaniola of which it is a part, has the geological fate that it straddles one of the worlds most active geological zones, where the deepwater plates of three huge structures relentlessly rub against one anotherthe intersection of the North American, South American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Below the ocean and the waters of the Caribbean, these plates consist of an oceanic crust some 3 to 6 miles thick, floating atop an adjacent mantle. Haiti also lies at the edge of the region known as the Bermuda Triangle, a vast area in the Caribbean subject to bizarre and unexplained disturbances.

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PEAK OIL AGAIN…and Again and Again and Again…(Pt. 2 of 2) By Mark S. Tucker

[[from Veritas Vampirius #349, July 2009]]

Unfortunately for Ruppert and Hartmann, even Western science – that is, Western science unfunded by Hartmann’s handlers and such – has been catching up. Dr. J.F. Kenney is one of several Western geophysicists who has taught and worked in Russia under Vladilen Krayushkin, developer of the Dnieper-Donets region, and Kenney told Engdahl recently that “alone to have produced the amount of oil to date that (Saudi Arabia’s) Ghawar field has produced would have required a cube of fossilized dinosaur detritus, assuming 100% conversion efficiency, measuring 19 miles deep, wide and high”, or, as Engdal put it “an absurdity”. Hm, yes, Hartmann may indeed have been wrong, eh? Engdahl knows why, and it’s religious in nature:

“Western geologists do not bother to offer hard scientific proof of fossil origins. They merely assert as a holy truth. The Russians have produced volumes of scientific papers, most in Russian. The dominant Western journals have no interest in publishing such a revolutionary view. Careers, entire academic professions are at stake after all.”

Do Western key personnel know about this? Oh hell yes!

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PEAK OIL AGAIN…and Again and Again and Again… (Pt. 1 of 2) By Mark S. Tucker

“It may be that I’m wrong”. Thom Hartmann, the Thom Hartmann Show, responding to a caller re: his (Hartmann’s) former steadfast, adamantine, almost fanatical position on Peak Oil, 6/26/09.

Though few know it, because “Left” radio will never travel the path of looking past OpEdNews.com and AlterNet for their “news”, Hartmann was reacting to an article by F. (Frederick) William Engdahl a freelance journalist, historian, and economic researcher who grew up, ironically enough, given the subject here, in Texas. He then obtained a degree in engineering and jurisprudence from Princeton (1966) and conducted graduate study in comparative economics at the University of Stockholm, working as an economist and free-lance journalist in New York and Europe. Please note that two-time insertion of “freelance”. It’s crucial. It means Engdahl can’t be censored very easily.

In the 70s, Engdahl interested himself in the “oil shock” (think Naomi Klein) of the era and published his first book A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, addressing a number of factors he saw as relevant to the coming Energy Wars. Central to his discussion was, oh look!, the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran so that the U.S. and Britain could manipulate oil prices and, or so it was claimed, stop ideological Soviet expansion, communism, blah blah blah, woof woof woof – a move Western leaders well knew (though few “Lefties” understood it then or now) was aiming at capturing oil lands, were that possible. Anyone now professing puzzlement at our involvement in Afghanistan under a pretext of immense concern for terrorism (gratis CIA, MOSSAD, and MI6) might want to reconsider why that terrorism was genesised in the first place, flanking the oil fields as it does.

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Video: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived the ‘Special Period’

Jul 6, 2008 AlchemyHouse Productions Inc

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call “The Special Period.” The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production will reach its all-time peak and begin to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis – the massive reduction of fossil fuels – is an example of options and hope.


A most widely-cited factor behind the recent U.S. wars of choice is said to be oil. “No Blood for Oil” has been a rallying cry for most of the opponents of the war. While some of these opponents argue that the war is driven by the U.S. desire for cheap oil, others claim that it is prompted by big oil’s wish for high oil prices and profits. Interestingly, most antiwar forces use both claims interchangeably without paying attention to the fact that they are diametrically-opposed assertions.

Not only do the two arguments contradict each other, but each argument is also wanting and unconvincing on its own grounds; not because the U.S. does not wish for cheap oil, or because Big Oil does not desire higher oil prices, but because war is no longer the way to control or gain access to energy resources. Colonial-type occupation or direct control of energy resources is no longer efficient or economical and has, therefore, been abandoned for more than four decades.

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Out Damn Spot – Oil Prices! By William Bowles

23 May 2005


ABUNDANCE ECONOMICS: Design Science’s more with less advantaging has proven the Malthus dictated scarcity ethic, which is the working assumption of the world’s major states, is fallacious. The scarcity ethic dictates that there is not enough of the World’s resources to go around; Design Science’s abundance ethic/economics frame of reference dictates that there is enough for everyone if we utilize the Earth’s resources comprehensively and anticipatorily.

R. Buckminster Fuller, ‘The World Design Science Decade’ (PDF 3.8mb)

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(S)Peaking of oil… again ‘Peak oil’ – Newsspeak for ‘too many poor people’ By William Bowles

12 May 2005

I don’t think there is [a solution to the energy shortage]. The solution is to pray. Pray for mild weather and a mild winter. Pray for no hurricanes and to stop the erosion of natural gas supplies. Under the best of circumstances, if all prayers are answered there will be no crisis for maybe two years. After that it’s a certainty. –

Matthew Simmons speaking to Michael Ruppert in 2003

Simmons is the CEO of the world’s largest energy investment bank, Simmons & Company International. Simmons’ clients include Halliburton; Baker & Botts, LLP; Dynegy; Kerr-McGee and the World Bank and he is a close pal of George Bush.

Amen to Mr Simmons’ ‘predictions’. Once more I find myself returning to the subject of ‘peak oil’ as it seems that a good deal of the ‘left’, alongside all the usual suspects are peddling this Peak Oil nonsense. It seems the output of ‘peak oil’ articles is actually outstripping the output of oil. We have to ask the question why? Continue reading

Warming to the subject of oil By William Bowles

11 January2005

Since writing a couple of pieces on ‘Peak Oil’ (here and here) I’ve been deluged with stuff on the subject, so much so that I simply have to deal with the issue once more, even though, frankly, I’m fed up with it, especially when it’s ‘lefties’ doing the deluging when they should know better. But as it has the ‘Left’ sleeping with ‘strange bedfellows’ to quote Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, there is obviously much more at stake here than the issue of how much of the stuff (oil, not ‘Lefties’) there actually is. As I pointed out before, all kinds of other antedeluvian ideas have been dragged into the debate, especially the totally discredited Malthusian population rubbish of plus-200 years ago, global warming, 2 billion Chinese with a car and a fridge, 1 billion Indians with a car and a fridge and so on and so forth (only Euros and Yanks are allowed these ‘luxuries’ and fortuitously for us, we’ve already got them and understandably, are extremely loathe to give them up or share them with anyone else!) and finally, oil wars. Have I missed anything?

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