[extropy-chat] Peak Oil news

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Wed Mar 8 14:02:46 UTC 2006

On 3/8/06, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at tsoft.com> wrote:
> Hal's written some very fine pieces that clearly explain one
> very good way to come to tentative conclusions about issues
> that interest you. "Prudence", like "virtue" aren't terms that
> you hear much of these days, but prudence was very high on the
> list of desirable virtues in classical times, and you simply
> must rate pretty highly the Hanson/Finney formula in terms of
> prudence, and "Peak Oil" is a great esxample.
> It even gets a little funny to anticipate how uncomfortable
> these claims must make some people. One bottom line, "if you
> are so sure, then put your money where your mouth is"
> naturally provokes outrage.

I tried that awhile ago, someone in my gaming group started talking about
peak oil so I said "well then, buy oil futures and get rich in a few
years!", which was met with some vague mumbling and a change of subject :)

Of course, given that one does hold strong beliefs one way
> or another that are at variance with the market, there can
> be prudent reasons that he or she may find it too risky to
> gamble anyway: we all have our utility curves, after all.
> But surely, I would think, you'd be at least a little more
> inclined to be *less* certain in your own mind about
> conclusions you've reached if so many others with good
> "credentials" disagree with you: your immediate mission,
> whether you choose to accept it or not, is to explain
> how it is that they all could be so wrong.


Like others who demur a bit, I too subscribe to some beliefs
> about this that may conflict a little with the market. I've
> read---along with my book group, which is composed of folks
> I respect a good deal---Thomas Gold's "The Deep Hot Biosphere".
> We were convinced! Concretely: at the end of the evening we
> discussed the book, most of us thought that the odds were
> eighty percent that he was right about the abiotic theory
> (we also thought that he had about a fifty percent chance
> of being right about life itself first arising deep within
> the earth.
> I venture to say that anyone who's studied Gold's fine book
> will significantly change his odds more towards the abiotic
> theory, (even if he retains probability at less than
> fifty percent).

*nods* Excellent book. What I did was this: having read Gold's arguments
against the prevailing view, before I made up my mind I wanted to hear the
prevailing view's arguments against Gold. So what I did was, I went to a
newsgroup - sci.geology or somesuch - and said, hey, I've read Gold's book,
are there flaws in his arguments and if so where?

The conclusion I came to as the result of the discussion was:

Gold can't be right about the net flow of reducing elements being up rather
than down, because the Earth's surface has become more rather than less
oxidizing over geological time (and the rate of hydrogen loss to space is
nowhere near enough to make up the difference). So the conventional view
that the C and H in fossil fuels ultimately originates from buried biotic
material must be correct.

However, the conventional view ignores the fact that there's no depth limit!
There's nothing to keep buried material at shallow depths, and much of it
could be expected to be subducted into the mantle to emerge much later. So
Gold is probably right about the total reserves being much larger and deeper
than currently known. (This accounts for his discovery of oil under igneous
rock, and for the fact that known reserves are nowhere near enough to match
the oxygen content of the atmosphere.)

Separately, I think he must also be right about the origin of life either
within the crust or in what he calls the borderlands - hydrothermal vent
regions - since these are where a continuous flow of chemical (rather than
light or electrical) energy is present.

The general technique that I think is a good one is: when you've read a
convincing argument against the conventional view, ask a bunch of experts
for their arguments against the maverick view and compare the two.

- Russell
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