Of All the Pretend Arguments, "Google Trends" Remains the Dumbest

Mark Perry sure does like riding this one. The "Google Trends" issue popped up around this time last year when the Oil Drum website shut down. And sadly we had to spend a lot of time (here, here, and here) reminding everyone of the obvious: the only true measure of Peak Oil is rate of oil production. We don't measure the importance of things in internet popularity.

This isn't fourth grade.

Judging by google trends, we should spend more time talking about fracking than climate change. Heck, judging by google trends, we should really just cease all talk of energy, ISIS, Ukraine and others - and just spend all our time talking about Justin Bieber and Beyoncé.

There are three concrete reasons why Peak Oil searches have fallen in recent years, but none of them suggest that Peak Oil has become less important of an issue (also see Ian Chapman's excellent article "The End of Peak Oil? Why this topic is still relevant despite recent denials."):

  1. Oil price volatility has calmed in recent years. History has shown that one thing that gets people talking about Peak Oil are large swings in the price of oil. However, volatility has decreased in recent years due to calmer foreign markets and the dramatic increase in U.S. production. This is great news overall. But lack of volatility doesn't mean the price is not still high and can cause economic damage.

    Recall the old "boil a frog" analogy from An Inconvenient Truth. Throw a frog into boiling water and he'll jump out immediately. But place him in room temperature water and slowly increase the temperature and he'll just cook there to his doom. The Peak Oil and resource depletion series "How to Boil a Frog" takes its name from this. And it means that low oil volatility is both great for the economy, but can also lull us into complacency as rising prices slowly "cook" us. One of the great fears in Peak Oil and Climate Change circles: what if we NEVER get that big spark, that giant motivating event that compels society into massive action. Large price spikes get people more interested in oil markets, and by extension Peak Oil, but the lack of price spikes does not mean the problems have vanished.
  2. Attacks by opponents. Quite simply, the Peak Oil misinformation campaign has been in full force ever since the price spike of 2008, and has been quite successful. At every turn, many voices seek to confuse and mislead the public about Peak Oil and those who discuss it.
  3. Decline in use by advocates. Partially because of #2, many voices that understand Peak Oil and what it means, have chosen to talk around it. I call it, "talking about Peak Oil without talking about Peak Oil." Steven Kopits and Robert Rapier come immediately to mind as two well-known writers in Peak Oil circles who have publicly said that they try to avoid the term. Others like Chris Nelder have expressed a growing reluctance to re-fight the same battles repeatedly (which also is one of the reasons the Oil Drum website shut down). Here in Washington DC, the organization Secure America's Future Energy discusses the implications of Peak Oil all the time, but they never actually use the term. 

    Personally, I disagree with this route, but I absolutely understand why they do it. Talking about Peak Oil means spending a lot of time dealing with pre-existing baggage, correcting misunderstandings, and providing proper background information, and you have to do it over and over and over again. Simply not mentioning the term saves an author a lot of time, and allows them to immediately get to the core of what they want to discuss: the future of oil & gas production.

    My view is that I don't believe everyone has to use the term "Peak Oil" but that SOMEONE must. Someone or some organization has to be the entity to hold the line, to steadfastly stand against misinformation and ensure that the public and policy makers have a correct understanding of our energy past and our energy future.