Faux News recently released an article by Alex Epstein, a businessman, titled “The 6 Myths About Oil.” I found about it thanks to my friend Jamie Schutmutt, who is currently living in Antarctica. Knowing that Faux News has an immense hard-on for oil, I thought I’d give it a read and make a short blog post about the article. What I found once I began reading was more horrifying than I had imagined. It is the most ignorant and misguiding pile of propaganda I’ve seen in a while. Here is my analysis of the six myths.
Myth #1 is basically claiming that, since oil is so useful, reliance on the finite resource is not self-destructive. In case you were unaware, the above argument makes no sense. They’re simply making an argument for the utility of oil, claiming that, since it’s so useful, it can in no way be irrational or self-destructive. They seem to think that it is contradictory for something to be both conducive for economic growth and at the same time self-destructive. The serious flaw in their reasoning is the failure to incorporate a proper time scale. Sure, oil will be useful in getting me to work tomorrow, but does humanity or nature on the whole benefit, in the long run? Shouldn’t we not be talking of oil’s use, but instead of its sustainability—its usefulness over time? Will oil be useful when gas prices are up around $10 per gallon?
Myth #2 is something I’ve actually never heard before. I haven’t heard any people, on the right or the left, claiming that current green technologies are as good or even an even better and more practical source of energy than oil. This sounds like something conjured up by the Republicans in an attempt to straw-man liberals. It doesn’t matter if liberals don’t actually say this, but in telling people that they do, they get a quick and ignorant victory when someone does a fact check. What liberals actually want is funding for green technology research in order to find alternatives to oil before it is all used up and in our atmosphere. But, you see, that argument actually makes sense, which explains the Republican’s need to change it in order to claim victory.
Also, they state that “. . . solar, wind, and biofuels have proven utterly incapable of matching two of oil’s key virtues: low price and enormous abundance.” Yes, oil is currently cheaper than solar energy, but are they really claiming that oil is more abundant than sunlight or wind? Oil will have a difficult time lasting a century, but the sun should be shining for nearly five billion more years. Do they have any clue that oil is concentrated solar energy? Are they also claiming that wind is a finite resource, and that we had better not build more wind turbines otherwise we’ll use it all up? Yes, it appears that’s exactly what they’re saying.
Myth #3 is probably the most mind-numbingly stupid thing I have ever heard. First, they claim that “There’s a lot more oil than you think.” This is an interesting claim coming from a non-scientist. Also, he claims to know what I think. I’ve actually read geological assessments regarding how much oil is believed to be on the planet and, therefore, think the geologists’ consensus statistic is roughly correct. But what do they know? They’re just geologists.
Their second claim is that “. . . if we have a free market in energy we will ensure that we find superior substitutes long before we run out.” This is quite the conjecture. It’s also dangerous considering the fact that only when the very last oil is being pumped out of the ground will there be an adequate, free-market-driven incentive for alternative energy. At this point, it’s too late.
Here’s another gem of a quote:
“As oil economist Michael Lynch explained, as of 2009…the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 percent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 percent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way.”
Let’s do some math, shall we? The current daily global oil consumption is around 85 million barrels per day. The above quote suggests that there are some 2.5 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. So:
85 million barrels a day X 365 days = 31 billion barrels per year. . .
2.5 trillion/31 billion per year = 80.6 years of oil AT CURRENT LEVELS OF CONSUMPTION.
Lets add some economic growth to the mix, since global oil demand seems to grow on an average of 1.76% every year.
1/0.0176ln (0.0176*2.5×10^9/3.1×10^10 +1) = 50.2 years.
So, correcting for growth, we will be out of oil in 50.2 years. And this man has the balls to say that, in this amount of time, we need to wait for free market incentives for alternative energy to manifest itself? Sorry chum, the chances of us finding an alternative energy source that will be cheap, abundant, and environmentally neutral will take this much time AT THE VERY LEAST! We cannot wait another decade before seriously pivoting in the way we think about alternative energy. Check my math, it’s the simple expiration time equation. Show me how I am wrong.
“But surely oil supplies will run out or go scarce at some point? No—because at the same time that entrepreneurs have every incentive to develop more oil, they have every incentive to develop substitutes for oil (especially as oil prices rise).”
Man, this guy is just full of stupid. He really just said that oil will NEVER run out or even go scarce. I have just shown in my calculations that we have about 80 years until the oil runs out, assuming ZERO GROWTH. The reason fossil fuels beat out lamp oil derived from whale blubber is because oil is way more abundant and usable than whale blubber! He thinks that free markets can conjure up anything. The thing is, we may not find an equivalent replacement in the immediate future, or even in many decades. That is why we need to start investing in alternative energy now, for we only have approximately 50 years before we have to completely switch.
“To the extent it becomes expensive to extract oil from the earth in sufficient quantities, we can be sure that entrepreneurs will work to make substitute sources of fuel based on legitimately promising technologies, such as natural gas or coal. . .”
Brilliant, once we use all the oil, we can then rely on other finite fossil fuels to give us power for maybe another decade!
“The upshot: we will never run out the energy we get from oil–unless we run out of freedom.”
What in the world does this even mean? If we have a free market, a finite resource will never run out? Did he really just say that? Yes, yes he did.
Myth #4 is pretty much about the claim that buying foreign oil is dangerous because they can cut us off. This is the only thing he says that actually has some coherence to it. Other countries survive on the fact that we buy their oil, so they can’t just cut us off without cutting themselves off.
Myth #5 says that the U.S. funds terrorist regimes by purchasing oil from middle-east nations. While this is true, we can’t really do much about it. Even drilling in the U.S. can’t help us, because we live in a free market—there is no guarantee that the oil will be sold to America only. Oil is sold to the highest bidder, whether or not that bid comes from within the Unites States. For drilling in the United States to directly benefit us in terms of oil autonomy, we would need to be socialist, otherwise it will get sent all around the world.
Myth #6 is revoltingly ignorant. It says, in no uncertain terms, that it is a myth to think CO2 is a deadly pollutant. His justification for polluting, even if global warming is true (it is), is that, well, read it for yourself. . .
“In America, we irrigate so well that deserts have become the most desirable places to live (think Southern California and Las Vegas). Economic freedom, not climate, is the fundamental determiner of human well-being. Left free to discover and harness energy, human beings can adapt to any change in weather.”
He imagines that human beings can adapt to ANY change in weather. Even if that were true, which it absolutely is not, the same couldn’t be said for every other animal on the planet. He thinks humans are separate from the ecosystem, and that what happens out there has no bearing on human well-being. He completely fails to realize that we rely on agriculture to survive. Sure, us humans could stay inside and turn on our air conditioners, but our entire agricultural industry will be decimated. How can one overlook this? Humanity does not exist in a vacuum. We are intimately dependent on natural systems, which are extremely delicate. Also, I am not sure that most people would consider Los Angeles and Las Vegas “the most desirable places to live.” Yuck!
I thank Jeebus that his article wasn’t “The 10 Myths About Oil.” I can’t really take much more of it. Once again, Faux News maintains its rank as the world’s #1 misinformer.