Climate: Is the debate shifting?

October 17, 2017 by Denis Pombriant

The number of people concerned about climate change has risen in the wake of September’s major hurricanes causing politicians to take notice and many are now focusing on the effects of global warming like storms and rising sea levels by calling for greater resiliency in the face of severe weather. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Sen. Brian Schatz D-Hawaii said a change is noticeable,

The conversation is shifting. Because even if you don’t believe liberals, even if you don’t believe scientists, you can believe your own eyes.

But this may not be the shift that’s needed to counter the effects of climate change and produce a more resilient country because the flip side of the climate coin is that fossil fuels are running out. The major energy source for the planet is based on dead organic matter but that matter, while still abundant, is rapidly declining as the world consumes more than 100 million barrels of oil per day.

The condition called Peak Oil is having an effect in addition to climate change and the two are related. Burning fossil fuels including oil, coal, and natural gas contributes to the climate problem while also reducing the reserves available for the future. According to its 2014 annual report, BP Corporation, the oil giant, there are 1.687 trillion barrels of oil reserves but it is uncertain if there’s any more beyond this.

A recent editorial at, “The Era of Oil is Over,” said,

Since the early 80s, the world has consumed oil four times faster than they could find it. 90% of all oil reserves are already in production and we are well advanced past the peak point and is [sic] now at a plateau. The world has consumed over 2.3 trillion barrels of oil or well over half of all known oil reserves. No new oil reserves have been found since 2003 in the world.

Also, a 2013 article in The Guardian states,

Official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil [production] had most likely peaked around 2008.” The article quotes Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 until retiring in 2008, saying, “We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply. . . .New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover—but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].

So the problem of Peak Oil is real though if one can deny climate change one can just as easily deny oil depletion. Or can one? The idea of running out of something is a lot more tangible than trying to conceptualize what lack of resiliency can mean for the average person. Oil depletion may be a bigger issue for many people because they can more clearly envision what it means to not drive, for example.

Nevertheless, the world is facing not one problem in climate change, but two when you consider diminishing fossil fuels. Together these twin issues may force the hand of at least some people concerned about the perils of doing nothing regarding climate change.

At a minimum converting to more abundant renewable energy supplies will reduce and ultimately curtail additional carbon reaching the atmosphere. It will also prevent the inevitable when oil supplies get low and prices skyrocket. But since there’s already too much carbon in the air and seas, we’ll also need to consider how to remove some of that carbon to return the climate to something like the planetary long-term average. That’s a topic for another post.



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