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Category — Hubris/Conceit

Joe (Romm), Where Art Thou? (my peak oil bet deserves an up or down)

In a post on his blog and then again on the Huffington Post, Joe Romm challenged me to a wager on oil prices, claiming prescience concerning the price rise in the past decade compared to my 1996 forecast of low prices for two decades.  He seems to be implying that that I have refused to wager him, having closed the webpage to any further comments.

I find myself taken aback, as my experience with the blogosphere is somewhat limited.  My experience is primarily as an academic, writing articles for refereed journals and books, as well as working papers, with an intention to make them carefully sourced and referenced.  A blog can consist of nothing more than a rant, and the comments appended to them often worse (and usually anonymous).  I will not however yield to the temptation to follow suit (even if our illustrious moderator would permit it, which he won’t).

Having put up approximately 20 posts on the subject of peak oil, it might be thought that Romm is an expert on the subject. But so far as I know, he has a grand total of one article on oil, his famed, “Mideast Oil Forever” Atlantic Monthly piece (co-authored with Charles Curtis), which is the source of his pride on the subject.

A careful reading of “Mideast Oil Forever” shows that his argument was not so much that prices would soar, but that global dependence on Middle East oil would soar, which has not happened.  My argument was that the forecast of rising Middle East market share was likely to be incorrect, and it was (see Figure), so that economic fundamentals would not imply ever rising prices.

Forecasts of OPEC Market Share from 1996/97

Which is a far cry from saying my forecast was wrong and Joe’s correct.  In my testimony, I specifically stated,

“The reality is that prices may go up in the future.  And Persian Gulf oil production and exports will rise.  However, the most likely scenario, given what we know about oil supply and demand and what we have learned about forecasting in the last 10 to 15 years, is that OPEC is going to be under continued pressure for at least the next 10 years, possibly for much longer, that they will be fighting with each other for market share.  And, it’s going to require some very substantial changes in the world to see prices rising.” (See my opening statement on pp. 127-128.)

Arguably, the price collapse leading to the rise of Hugo Chavez, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are those ‘substantial changes’.  Certainly, not the soaring Middle East market share predicted by Romm.  (Since he downloaded the transcript of the hearing, it’s not clear how he missed this.) [Read more →]

March 5, 2010   1 Comment

Countering Sen. Kerry’s Catastrophic Climate Claims (Part 2)

Editor note: On November 10, 2009, Mr. Green testifedbefore the Senate Committee on Finance about global warming. During the course of his testimony, an obviously agitated Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) challenged Ken on different aspects of the climate debate. His responses are printed here. [Part I of this series ran yesterday.]

1. Peer-Reviewed Publishing Revisited

Kerry seemed to think it somehow damning that I do not choose to publish in the peer-reviewed climate literature. First—as I pointed out when I introduced myself—while I am an environmental scientist by training, I have chosen to work on policy analysis, which I believe is as important as, or more important than, the science.

However, I would challenge his very premise, which is that peer review is a meaningful indicator of trustworthiness. Plenty of research suggests that peer review is deeply flawed, biased in favor of both extreme and “positive” claims, resistant to nonconfirmation studies, and highly incestuous, because review committees regularly screen out divergent viewpoints and consist of peers who coauthor work with each other. While most research on problems with peer review involves medical literature, there is every reason to believe the same problems plague climate research.

As Drummond Rennie, M.D., deputy editor (West) of the Journal of the American Medical Association writes, “There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.” Peer review determines where rather than whether a paper should be published, Rennie says. However, from time to time, “shoddy science” ends up even in the most prestigious journals.

Examining peer review in the context of genetically modified food, Robert Horton, editor of the medical Journal Lancet has observed that “the mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability—not the validity—of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.”

For additional information on the limitations of peer review, I point you to the following papers: [Read more →]

December 24, 2009   4 Comments

Climategate Did Not Begin With Climate (Remembering Julian Simon and the storied intolerance of neo-Malthusians)

A powerful argument against climate alarmism is the failed worldview of modern neo-Malthusianism, which has promoted fear after fear with an intolerant, smartest-guys-in-the-room mentality. Remember the “population bomb” where many millions would die in food riots? Well, obesity turned out to be the real problem.

Remember the Club of Rome’s resource scare? In 1972, 57 predictions of exhaustion were made regarding 19 different minerals. All either have been falsified or will be.

Remember the global-cooling scare promoted by, among others, the Obama administration’s science czar, John Holdren? (Yes, global cooling was a big deal, although it was not a “consensus.”)

And all of the above doom merchants were uber-confident and still are loath to admit they were ever wrong. Holdren, for example, is sticking to his prediction that as many as one billion people could die by 2020 from (man-made) climate change. That’s about ten years, folks.

Climategate/Climate McCarthyism

Now to today. Error and intolerance rule in the global warming scare. Read the flaming emails from the principals of Climategate. Read about Joseph “Climate McCarthyism” Romm by his critics on the Left.  Read the latest from (non-Climategater) Michael Schlesinger, who lost his cool against New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin.

And of course there is John Holdren, now science advisor to President Obama, who said this to me when I asked him to critically review my essay evaluating his 2003 criticism of Bjorn Lomborg, “The Heated Energy Debate.”  Holdren responded:

What exactly entitles you to the evidently self-applied label of ‘energy expert’?  …. You are of course entitled to (verbally) attack me in any legal way you like, but please don’t then pretend in personal notes to me that we are colleagues, each doing our best to get at the truth…. [Y]ou appear to be … lacking both discernible qualifications in the real world and the ability to tell a good argument from a bad one. I want nothing further to do with you.

A strange intellectual dude.

Remember Julian Simon

Today’s Climategate is predictable with some of the same players at work–and many new ones as well. Remember how Paul R. Ehrlich treated his intellectual rival Julian Simon? The Stanford University biologist refused to debate Simon or even meet him in person. He insulted Simon repeatedly in print. Ehrlich even scolded Science magazine for publishing Simon’s 1980 breakthrough essay “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of Bad News,” with the words: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off this shoes to count to 20?” (quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource II, 1996, p. 612). [Read more →]

December 8, 2009   9 Comments

Horsepower Sure Beats Horses! (Part I: remembering what came before cars–and the failure of the electric vehicle)

The energy policy debate is well informed by history. So many ‘silver bullets’ being proffered by the Obama Brain Trust (‘smartest guys in the room’?) energy interventionists/transformationists are yesterday’s failures. As F. A. Hayek would put it, the Holdren-Chu approach to energy suffers from the ‘fatal conceit’ and cannot expect to be cost-effective in addressing the alleged problem.

Whither the Electric Vehicle

Take the electric vehicle versus the internal combustion engine. The market verdict of a century ago still holds–and for the same reasons. Thomas Edison was correct to pronounce the verdict to Henry Ford in 1896.

Edison himself labored to make batteries more economical for the transportation market, but the problem of weight and poor energy density could not be overcome.  A news splash in 1914 by Ford Motor Company of an “experimental” car, the  “Ford Electric” that would sell for $900 and have a range of 100 miles, based on Edison’s work, described as “Mr. Ford’s personal project” and “experimental” by Ford Motor Company—never got off the ground. Edison’s alkaline battery that penetrated the truck market was rejected by car makers because of its size and an incremental cost of between $200 and $600 per vehicle (1)

So it was back to 1896 for Ford and Edison despite the latter’s $1.5 million effort to commercialize batteries for the car. (2) 

Horse Pollution

Consider horse transportation and what supplanted it.

The quotations below should remind the reader of how big a step it was for transportation to become energized by affordable, plentiful, transportable, dense, reliable energy–and that was petroleum.

“In New York City alone at the turn of the century, horses deposited on the streets every day an estimated 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine, accounting for about two-thirds of the filth that littered the city’s streets. Excreta from horses in the form of dried dust irritated nasal passages and lungs, then became a syrupy mass to wade through and track into the home whenever it rained. New York insurance actuaries had established by the turn of the century that infections diseases, including typhoid fever, we much more frequently contracted by livery stable keepers and employees than by other occupational groups, and an appeal to the Brooklyn Board of Health to investigate resulted in the institution of new municipal regulations on stables, compelling more frequent removal excreta and disinfecting of premises. [Read more →]

September 29, 2009   10 Comments