[ExI] Whatever happened to peak oil by 2020?

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Jan 12 22:29:11 UTC 2016

On 2016-01-12 16:49, BillK wrote:
> On 12 January 2016 at 15:29, John Clark  wrote:
>> Oil is now selling at $31.41 a barrel, the lowest it's been in 12 years, and
>> Goldman Sachs  and Morgan Stanley both predict $20 oil in the near future
>> but you need to take that with a grain of salt. Goldman Sachs predicted $200
>> oil in 2008 so they're not very good at forecasting the future.
> The world has reduced the use of oil and coal. Sales have dropped off
> a cliff. So the price of oil and coal has dropped because nobody wants
> to buy it.

Nope. Looking at 

(based on  http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/tables/?tableNumber=6# )
shows that consumption is up, while the price is going down. This is 
easy to explain due to the Saudis pumping a lot (and the final breakdown 
of OPEC?) Given the low price I would expect efforts to use less oil 
will slow over the next few years.

The problem with forecasts is that this is a domain that to a great 
extent depends on a few actors decisions. I think (from reading the 
Economist) that few expected the Saudis to turn on the tap when it 
happened. Of course, the peak oilers are right in principle that at some 
point we will run out, but as I love to point out, their predictions 
were typically biased by the vagaries of curve fitting:

> Is the atmosphere pollution becoming too bad?
> (When you can't breathe the air in cities, something has to change).

Yep. Although the overall pollution levels vary from city to city. 
Horrible in New Dheli and Beijing, pretty fine in many European cities. 
The smog in the developing countries is to a large extent due to cheap, 
oldfashioned polluting technology and not enough demand for clean air 
(other things like prosperity has higher priority - and often the 
decision is not made by the people suffering from the air).

> Is atmosphere pollution causing catastrophic weather events?
> The disruption and repairing the damage is getting too costly).

That is actually an interesting issue. I have been following Atlantic 
hurricanes over the past years thanks to my insurance project, and the 
rough consensus is that climate change does not seem to make them more 
common or much worse, that the Atlantic right now is in a rather quiet 
state, and that the real cause of expensive disasters is more people and 
wealth near coasts.

Now, direct pollution (soot particles and aerosols) have other effects. 
There is some evidence that this is messing with south Asian weather 
(equatorial rainstorms becoming more intense, with about the same amount 
of water), concerns about the Monsoon due to the cooling effect of the 
soot, and of course the horrible Indonesian aerosol cloud. But nobody is 
really certain.

> Is the switch to renewable energy gathering speed?
> (Very popular with the Millennial Generation).

My own take on it is that the current cheap oil will slow down the big 
renewable projects, but probably not slow down the R&D into better 
methods. When oil prices turn up in a while it will be possible to do 
much better renewable systems - the recent pressure to do them led to a 
fair number of subsidy-based dodos. I suspect there is room for more 
Teslas here.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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