Modern Day Cassandras

The GEM Energy Summit  presents a custom cartoon to Robert Hirsch - Nov. 7, 2012

The GEM Energy Summit  presents a custom cartoon to Robert Hirsch - Nov. 7, 2012

In Greek Mythology, Cassandra was bequeathed with the gift of prophecy, but cursed because the people would never listen to her warnings.  And that's what it feels like sometimes to be on our side of energy matters. Robert Hren wrote of this in a new article this week titled: "The Reward for Being Right About Peak Oil: Scorn Heaped with Derision."

The photo above is from a presentation Dr. Robert Hirsch (of the "Hirsch Report" fame) gave to the GEM Energy Summit last November. The talk he presented was similar to the one he gave later that month at the 2012 ASPO-USA Conference, but right at the end, the conference organizers were nice enough to present Dr. Hirsch with a custom cartoon that showed three panels. On the top panel is someone reading Dr. Hirsch's book "The Impending World Energy Mess" (and sitting in front of a statue of Cassandra). In the bottom two panels, are two alternate futures: In one, the world is in a terrible state and people are saying "Man, we should have listed to Robert Hirsch a long time ago!" In the other panel of the future, the world is fine and people are saying, "Hirsch sure turned out to be wrong, the world is doing quite well."

The funny part about the second future is that Hirsch was probably right in that one too - that may have been a future where people DID listen to Hirsch's warnings, got in front of the problem, fixed it, and created a better tomorrow. Even then, no one would thank him, they'd probably just look back and assume he was wrong.

When I first moved to DC and worked as a consultant for DOE and EPA, I had a coworker whose father did a lot of work in the computer industry in the late 1990s - mostly working on the Y2K issue. It's endlessly frustrating to my friend's father that history remembers Y2K as "that thing people warned us about, but they were wrong about its consequences" - but he would argue that the worst predictions didn't happen precisely because  investments were made and we got in front of those issues before they became big problems.

Peak Oil is like this. We know, at the end of the day, that this is kind of a "no win" situation for people who try to educate others about these issues. Sometimes people suggest that those that talk about Peak Oil somehow want  the terrible future to come to pass. Obviously this isn't true. Believe me, we want that second future - the one where people look back and say "Wow, those Peak Oil guys sure were wrong" - either because cold fusion or other developments came along and indeed proved us wrong, or because people actually listened to us and society addressed these challenges ahead of time.  There's no recognition, or status, or rewards for us in that future - but if the result is a better and more prosperous world with a healthy energy economy, that's reward enough.

Under no circumstances do we want the first future, where people in difficult times do remember us only to say "They were so right. We really should have listened to them when we had the chance..."