Michael Lynch, a so-called energy consultant who used to be involved in energy research at MIT’s Center for International Studies, has a silly little piece of specious reasoning in today’s New York Times. The point of Lynch’s article is that the widespread belief in the “peak oil” theory is leading to wasting money investing in “hairbrained renewable energy schemes” and imposing “unnecessary and expensive conservation measures.”
Of course, Lynch never gives a single example of a “harebrained” scheme or of unnecessary conservation, preferring to spend his limited words on attempting to demonstrate that the earth has 2.5 trillion barrels of oil and not a mere 2 trillion as claimed by some “peak oil” advocates. As Wikipedia tells us, the peak theory, first proposed by M. King Hubbert, is a mathematical way to determine when the production of petroleum from any given oil field peaks, after which the yield from the field will start to dwindle inevitably to nothing.
Let’s say that all of the adjustments that Lynch proposes to make to the peak oil theory are accurate and appropriate: Won’t we still run out of oil one day? Are we better off sticking our hands in the tar sands (from which oil companies hope to one day pull oil) because we have more oil than one set of engineers say we do? And isn’t the burning of oil for fuel still a major cause of global warming?
The interesting part of the article of course is the sly way in which by changing the argument from “when will we run out of oil” to “have we reached what can technically be described as the ‘peak’ in possible oil production,” Lynch hopes to justify less regulation and less investment in a viable energy future. It’s an old rhetorical trick, akin to throwing (tar) sand into the eyes of the reader.