Gegor McDonald is an authority on peak oil. Here, he is interviewed by GoldMoney, the gold bullion storage firm located in Great Britain, but run by an American, James Turk.
There are laymen who do not accept the concept, largely because of ignorance or because the complexity of a very large system requires some time and study to understand. But, there are also highly educated and experienced people who do not accept the concept either. In their case, a careful study of economic and resource history shows that humanity has been climbing the ladder of technological innovation and resource abundance for several hundred years. Their stance is as follows: why should that change? From a professional standpoint, if they are wrong about their stance from this point forward, they will not be blamed as such for any advice they’ve given because many will have also shared in their rationale. Predicting that a 200 year era of growth is about to end, therefore, has career risk. Interestingly, we know it is always the case that, historically, when an era comes to an end it is the group which understands the system best that is least prepared.
What do you say to those people who claim that Peak Oil isn’t a problem, because we’re finding huge volumes of oil under the ocean, in tar sands, etc, and that the combination of man’s ingenuity and the incentive of higher oil prices will lead to the development of economically viable ways of extracting these reserves?
In one sense, this is correct, because humans can adapt to radical changes and eventually tell themselves that everything is OK. We see this now: many US households are dropping ownership of their second car, and using bikes and public transport. People have time to read on the train, or perhaps there’s a revelation that one car rather than two cars cuts the headache of car ownership down by half.
However, there is the problem of what is called the Built Environment. That is, the total inventory of society’s infrastructure, much of which was built in the last 70 years and runs on oil. The highways, the bridges, the delivery systems, the suburbs. This represents an enormous and sunk investment that does not easily give itself over to being run on coal, or solar, or wind, or even natural gas. And so, the notion that Peak Oil is not a problem is, economically speaking, quite wrong. As I have said many times, do indeed bet on human innovation. But, you must also bet on a slower moving global economy. We ran at our highest levels on liquid fossil fuels. Running global systems on gaseous or solid fuels, or electricity, is inevitable but the transition will be rocky. And by the way, that rocky transition is what you see right now: disturbed economies, confused energy policies, and the escalating burden of trying to run the old system on a very high price of oil.
Other than crude oil, are there indications that man is starting to face supply constraints in other important commodities?
No question. I just put together a chart from the latest USGS data on global gold production and despite a 2-3 year uptick recently the last decade on the whole has seen a flattening of global gold production. This contrasts greatly with strong, previous growth especially in the 1980-2000 period.
And of course, it’s not just gold. Ore grades of copper have been in steep decline for decades. Eastern US coal mines are old, and the global price of both thermal and metallurgical coal reflects the late phase in global coal production we’ve now achieved. But really, should any of this be a surprise? Coal production began over 225 years ago. What’s critical that people understand now is that if the price of copper, oil, gold, or coal were to fall substantially, you would quickly and easily crash through the price floor needed to maintain the marginal supply that’s come online in the past decade. These recent tranches of oil and other commodities are only made possible by price. It’s really eye-opening to think what could happen to global copper supply at $2.00 a pound, oil supply at $60.00 a barrel, or gold supply at $1000 an ounce. You simply cannot create marginal supply at those prices.
Are we likely to see more “resource imperialism” in the future as a result of these difficulties, whereby countries attempt to corner supplies in strategically important commodities at the expense of other nations?
For the rest of the interview, click the link.