[extropy-chat] Debate on Peak Oil

Brent Neal brentn at freeshell.org
Mon Apr 25 14:44:43 UTC 2005

 (4/25/05 2:29) Samantha Atkins <sjatkins at mac.com> wrote:

>Huber's argument amounts to belief that somehow there will be more oil 
>available if we want it bad enough because we will come up with some 
>miracle technology to make it so just because we always have and 
>because Americans have a God given right to guzzle oil forever by gum.  
>  There is no credible challenge of the facts as they currently stand.   
>  Only the optimism that if we drag our butts, don't develop 
>alternatives and thus really need the oil that it will be there in 
>plenty and at affordable cost.  I don't understand why anyone would 
>take such an empty argument seriously.

I agree with your assessment of Huber's argument, but not for the reasoning behind it. As Mike has already said, Huber is a pretty bright guy. My opinion is that he is assuming that as oil becomes more expensive, we'll get commensurately better results at innovating out of the problem.  That's a pretty safe bet, considering the human proclivity to pull rabbits out of hats when the chips are down.  But you are correct that if we fail to solve the problem in a timely fashion, things could become sticky. I'm not willing to bet that way (yet).

I think I saw someone mention this earlier, but the danger in dumping a ton of money into development of alternatives can artifically skew development towards technologies that are cost-effective to develop, but not to operate. However, Mike's argument that we shouldn't be developing solar cells because they are 10 times more expensive than fossil fuels or nuclear power (assuming that solar is ~$0.70 per kwh and fossil fuels are ~$0.07.  Pure handwaving.)  does not hold because there is no guarantee that in the future, fossil fuel electricity will remain that cheap and there is no reason to believe that solar cannot be cheaper (for example, the PbS nanocrystal in PPV solar cells that are about 30% efficient over a much broader spectrum than silicon.)  

The net present value of a technology is very difficult to compute: it can be manipulated by both gainsayers and naysayers with equal effectiveness. The only effective way to make rational choices about this is to look at the science, not the economics.

Brent Neal
Geek of all Trades

"Specialization is for insects" -- Robert A. Heinlein

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