Sunday, November 06, 2011

You only lose once

Prompted by RC's post on some oil development thingy...

I'm sure it's been said before, but it seems to me that there is an obvious inevitability about these things, which is basically structural and independent of the specific details at hand. The development will happen, the oil will get burnt, and the details of the local, national and even international politics don't matter much overall. The underlying reason for this is that in order to prevent development, the opponents have to keep on winning, for as long as anyone tries to develop the area. In contrast, the developers only have to win once, and then it is (as RC puts it) "game over".

The same dynamic plays out all over the place, for example when Tesco wants to build a new supermarket (or expand an existing one). They can keep trying for as long as it takes, and they only have to win once. This happened in our home town, where strong local opposition to an edge-of-town development was worn down, and the new supermarket was soon one of the most profitable in the country. Last I heard, they were hoping to expand it into an adjoining greenfield site, against more local fact I'd be surprised if they haven't by now (there you go).

IMO the only way the Athabascan oil development won't happen is if it becomes uneconomic for some reason, and the most plausible reason for this would be the development of some alternative energy sources (of any type). So delay may be worth pushing for, to allow time for this to happen. But other than that, it's simply a case of when, not if.

Optimists may point to a few reserves such as Yellowstone, where development really has been (almost) prevented. But although it's very beautiful and interesting, it is also desolate and economically low-value land in a region that has an abundance of space. If someone found a Saudi-sized oil field under it, they'd be in with the drills before you could say "it's not a buffalo, it's a bison".


Nick Barnes said...

Which is why we must struggle on several fronts: (a) campaigns against particular plans for fossil fuel extraction or burning, (b) widespread efforts to shift the discourse such that fossil fuel use becomes socially/culturally/economically unacceptable, and (c) engineering development to provide replacements (which I am increasingly sure will be solar).
Oh, and (d) science to back up (a)-(c).

tonylearns said...

I think you post is a little simplistic. though in practical terms that might not make a difference. There are instances where the do have to win more than once. In my small town after much resistance a home depot was opened. there are 4 local hardware stores in a town of 12,000 and much fear that at least some of them would go under. After about 4 years the home depot closed and all four stores remain. I think this was do to the value the other stores provided beyond lowest price. In a similar way i think Nuclear has been stopped int he US (until now) because of a similar concern about cost benefit. Whether rational or not. As committed as I am ideologically to renewable energy, my house burns oil and I have two gas powered cars. I cannot afford to completely redesign the steam heat system or add solar in my location in VT. I am part of the pressure to develop those tar sands. But i am one that would jump at the chance to change that, when and if viable options, even somewhat more expensive, would present themselves. part of this is organization. There is a post oil group and an energy co-op that are trying to find economic answers to the problems of energy. Just not enough yet, economically to make a huge difference. But there is pent up demand, and at some point I think there will be a tipping point that I will be able to make that switch away from carbon intensive energy use

Magnus said...

Not folowing Japan that close... is it possible that they put a tax on co2 high enough to move it out of the system?

P. Lewis said...

While Tesco wins much more than it loses, it does lose, as in their recent decision to withdraw their planning application in Ledbury (which is not to say they won't at some future date resubmit changed plans -- it took them 10 years to get a Tesco Metro, or whatever they call them, into Ludlow). And while the Ledbury decision might technically not be called a loss for Tesco because the application was withdrawn before a decision, it was abundantly clear the application was never going to be approved in any form approaching what was submitted.

But back to Athabasca (and similar planned developments). As you say, it will go ahead eventually. But I'd say it would go ahead regardless of whether new energy forms become practicable and more economic, though its development might well delayed with any such new energy forms. And the reason I say that is that it will likely be needed as a materials feedstock into the plastics and chemical industries for quite some time to come. It's always been criminal just to burn the damned stuff (even though as petrol/diesel the energy density is largely practicably unsurpassable by anything else currently), and not just because of its combustion product input to GW.

James Annan said...

Well that's the thing - they may have lost the current battle, they can come back at any time in the future. And while Tesco stores can also close, once the carbon is burnt, it won't get put back under ground any time soon (at least, not through existing technology).

Of course I accept that my post was somewhat simplistic. Perhaps the main point is that it's important to not just say "don't do that" but to actually generate an alternative that makes it undesirable.

I also agree that a change could come quickly, if some alternative/renewable source becomes genuinely competitive. So delaying tactics do have some value...but within the current situation, I feel that the objectors are very much fighting a rising tide.

petyer2108 said...

Getting pregnant?

Unknown said...

Although I own a Greenpeace T-shirt that says, "Stop the tar sands", I've always advocated more specifically for a ban on expansion. I don't think we will ever get them shut down completely. I've been there. There is too big a sunk investment already but it's throwing good money after bad to expand. There isn't enough water. Forests regrow too slowly (and they take even longer to become real ecosystems again, if ever). It's an enormous waste of so-called 'clean' natural gas. First Nations treaty rights have been ignored and trampled.

At the present time I would say civilization is virtually doomed this century. Apparently the Harper dictatorship in Canada plans to pull out of the Kyouto Protocol. All over the world the big money is firmly behind lighting the fuse on the carbon bombs in all their forms.