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Category — Zimmermann, Erich

Depletionism Reconsidered: A 2004 Article Revisited

[Editor Note: This nearly decade-old article, Are We Running Out of Oil?, is reprinted by the author for its relevance today. A likely error in the article (even Julian Simon adherents can be too pessimistic!) is conceding that M. King Hubbert correctly predicted the 1970 peak of U.S. oil production (9.6 mmb/d then vs. 5.7 mmb/d in 2011). However, domestic output has increased 13% since 2008 and is rapidly rising. A March 4th article on the failure of peak-oil predictions inspired this look-back.]

“Vainly, economists working in the fixity paradigm have looked for a ‘depletion signal’ in the empirical record—some definitive turning point at which physical scarcity overcomes human ingenuity. A new research program is in order. Applied economists should focus upon institutional change to explain and quantify changes in resource scarcity.”

“This time it’s for real,” says the cover story of the June 2004 issue of National Geographic. “We’re at the beginning of the end of cheap oil.”

Books and articles written by geologists, environmentalists, and others regularly announce a new era of increasing oil scarcity. 1 Today’s resurrected hero of the depletionists is M. King Hubbert (1903–89), a Shell geologist who a half century ago presented a bell-shaped curve depicting oil production over time.

His model correctly predicted that U.S. oil production would peak around 1970. A sister prediction, that U.S. gas production would peak in 1970, was errant, however. And his prediction that global oil production would begin an irreversible decline around 2000 is off to a poor start (Hubbert, 1956). World oil production in 2003 was about 2.5 per cent above 2000. [Read more →]

March 6, 2013   No Comments

Dear Peak Oilers: Please Consider Erich Zimmermann’s ‘Functional Theory’ of Mineral Resources

The peak oil movement, now trying to turn itself into a pro-government-intervention political movement, draws the wrong conclusion by logically progressing from the wrong assumption.

This post revisits this wrong assumption: fixity. From mineral fixity, it is concluded that every act of production and consumption leaves less supply. In this Harold Hotelling world, costs must go up and prices must go up….

But going from the natural science, perfect knowledge, hypothetical world to the real world, just the opposite is true. There is not a fixed supply, known or unknown, from which extractions leave less supply for the future. Costs do not have to go up, and neither do prices.

Try answering this question to see how the peak oilers have it wrong for the business/economic real world. Do we have more or less oil today than when the nation was founded in 1776? Does the world have more or less oil in 2010 than in 1910?

The natural-science answer is that in a physical sense, there is less oil today that then by the amount of extraction. But in a social science sense, we have much more oil today than in 1776 or in 1910 because today’s supply is inventoried and produced from known reservoirs. The same promises to hold true in the future in a consumer-driven, entrepreneur friendly world. [Read more →]

October 22, 2010   41 Comments

Just Say No to a Gasoline Tax Hike

Word on the political street is that a 15 cent increase in the federal gasoline tax may well be included in the final draft of a bill being prepared by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and John Kerry (D-MA) to address global warming.   Shell, British Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips – are said to support the tax because it’s a less costly intervention in the transportation fuel market (for them anyway) than alternative interventions that might otherwise find their way into this prospective legislation.  Shell et al. may be right about that, but be that as it may, this would still constitute lousy public policy.  A gasoline tax hike ought to be resisted.

Higher Taxes Will Not Alter Climate Under Anyone’s Math

The proposed gasoline tax increase will have no significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s because the demand curve for gasoline is rather inelastic.  Hence, a 15 cent increase in gasoline prices – presuming that the entirety of the tax is passed on to consumers, which may not prove to be the case – would not discourage very much fuel consumption at all. 

While I don’t have any calculations at hand to translate the likely amount of reduced oil consumption into a percentage reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions (although that would be a fine project to undertake if this idea ever finds its way into the bill), the figure is certainly below 1 percent.  How much cooler would the planet be given that emissions decline over the next 50, 100, and 150 years?  That figure would certainly be too small to even measure.

Regardless, the uninternalized “negative externality” associated with the impact of gasoline consumption on the climate is likely to be rather small in monetary terms.  After a review of the pertinent economic literature by economist Ian Parrry, Mr. Parry concluded that a gallon of gasoline likely does about 5 cents worth of damage to the environment via its impact on the global climate, assuming that the conventional narrative about anthropogenic climate change is correct.  Accordingly, a 15 cent increase in the gasoline tax to address climate impacts would likely do more economic harm than good even if you believe the scientific arguments forwarded by the IPCC. [Read more →]

April 20, 2010   6 Comments

Energy as the Master Resource: Where Left, Right, and Center Agree

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”

- John Holdren, “Memorandum to the President: The Energy-Climate Challenge,” in Donald Kennedy and John Riggs, eds., U.S. Policy and the Global Environment: Memos to the President (Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 2000), p. 21.

Julian Simon (1932–98) is an inspiration to many of us here at MasterResource. Indeed, this blog is named for Simon’s characterization of energy as the master resource. In honor of Simon, I have reproduced some quotations from the vast literature on that theme.

The primal importance of energy is recognized across the political spectrum as the views of John Holdren, Paul Ehrlich, and Amory Lovins attest. Affordable, reliable energy is thus the starting point for public policy debate. And oil, gas, and coal are the backbone of energy plenty, as even politicians are realizing now that government-forced energy transformation (energy rationing) is under debate.

“The future belongs to the efficient,” it has been said. And the foreseeable future belongs to the carbon-based energies.

Here are some quotations, beginning with Julian Simon’s classic. [Read more →]

July 3, 2009   4 Comments