California State Senator Cox on Climate Change: Ignorance Is Bliss

California State Senator Dave Cox’s most recent constituent newsletter dismisses public policy attempts to address climate change (“AB 32 – The Runaway Train of Overregulation”) by repeating the usual neocon talking points: Climate change is not really scientifically proven, and the costs to address it are too high even if it is real.

But he omits the one parallel problem about which there is literally no controversy: peak oil. The solution to both problems — climate change and peak oil — is the same: conserve more, consume less. An irony-denier, Cox describes himself as a “conservative.”

About peak oil: Oil production typically follows a bell-shaped curve, rising to a peak then falling, inexorably, as production subsides. Geologist M. King Hubbert observed that for nations this bell-shaped curve of production echoed the bell-shaped curve of oil discoveries, with a 40-year lag. He correctly predicted U.S. peak oil after observing discoveries in the U.S. peaked in 1930. And when did oil discoveries, worldwide, peak? About 40 years ago.

There is some controversy about when worldwide oil production peaks, if it hasn’t already, but there is no controversy at all about the peak in U.S. domestic production. Even the American Petroleum Institute (the oil lobby) concedes that U.S. production peaked in 1971, and no matter how much we drill in Alaska or offshore, production will never return to that peak. The U.S. Energy Dept says Alaska would make a nickel-a-gallon difference in gas prices…in a decade.

In 1971, at our production peak, the U.S. imported 30% of domestic petroleum demand, and the price of oil was $1.75 a barrel. Currently, the U.S. imports 70% of the oil it imports, and pays anywhere from $40 – $140 per barrel.

Does anyone notice a trend?

Even the military now takes climate change and peak oil seriously enough to commit to cutting emissions from its non-combat facilities by 34 percent by 2020. The Air Force is investing in renewable energy as an alternative to its dependence on billions of gallons of imported oil. The Army is investing in battery technology, renewable energy, and electric drive vehicles. (see the recently published Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review ).

But won’t we have to make drastic changes our lifestyles to do something about peak oil (and climate change)? Yes, we will have to make some changes, but we do not have to return to the stone age. People in Europe and Japan live first-world life-styles spending half the energy per dollar of GDP that Americans do.

And for those who dismiss peak oil as something too small to worry about it’s useful to remember that Cuba experienced a preview of peak-oil induced changes when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1990. Shipments of oil from Russia all but ceased, and Cuban GDP contracted 34% over the next three years. That roughly equals the American economic contraction during the first three years of the Great Depression.

The one thing we don’t want to do is subsidize even more petroleum consumption. If we gave oil producers a special tax break (like the “depletion allowance”), or paid for the military protection for those increasingly important overseas oilfields, gas would be artificially cheaper at the pump, and we would have abandoned the “magic of the marketplace” for crony captalism, where a few favored interests get the lion’s share of public policy benefit.

The World Resources Institute said the level of subsidies (in 1989!) was $300 billion a year.

So climate change or peak oil: potayto, potahto.

Adam Eran

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