Better to cry wolf / Immediate Withdrawal From Iraq (27/9/2005)

1.It's better to cry wolf now
2.Immediate Withdrawal From Iraq

You won't be surprised by the suggestion that items 1 and 2 might be linked. The type of oil available in Iraq - light sweet crude - is of immense strategic significance: easy to extract and refine into 'gasoline' and heating oil and aviation fuel.

These matters, as the land agent Mark Griffiths has pointed out, raise new questions about sustainability. The impact of uncertain oil supplies is going to be less where there is lower reliance on these kinds of inputs. But also there is the issue of the global food distribution chain based on cheap transport (until now).

In the absence to date of suitable alternative transport fuels, Griffiths points out, this developing scenario must increasingly favour low input agriculture and a return to a more local food chain (food is a major element of the overall transport system).

This is bad news for the intensive cash crop economy that Monsanto's GM crops have been geared to, though doubtless the biotech brigade will be offering us endless GM techno fixes (GM tech for energy crops and the like). There's nothing like being part of the problem...

Items 1 and 2 also flow together in the war mongering GM crop promoting free marketers - Bush and Blair.

For more on peak oil:

"Oil is like a girlfriend - you know from the outset of your relationship that she'll leave you one day.

So that she doesn't break your heart, it's better that you leave her before she leaves you."

Fatih Birol, Director of Economic Studies, International Energy Agency
Le Monde, 23 September 2005

1.It's better to cry wolf now than to wait until the oil has run out
No one knows how much is left, but humankind can't wait any longer before coming up with alternatives
George Monbiot
The Guardian, September 27, 2005

Are global oil supplies about to peak? Are they, in other words, about to reach their maximum and then go into decline? There is a simple answer to this question: no one has the faintest idea.

Consider these two statements: 1. "Last year Saudi Aramco made credible claims that as much as 500bn-700bn barrels remain to be discovered in the kingdom." 2. "Saudi Arabia clearly seems to be nearing or at its peak output and cannot materially grow its oil production."

The first comes from a report by Energy Intelligence, a consultancy used by the major oil companies. The second comes from a book by Matthew Simmons, an energy investor who advises the Bush administration. Whom should we believe? I have now read 4,000 pages of reports on global oil supply, and I know less about it than I did before I started. The only firm conclusion I have reached is that the people sitting on the world's reserves are liars.

In 1985 Kuwait announced that it possessed 50% more oil than it had previously declared. Had it just discovered a new field? Had it developed a new technology that could extract more oil from the old fields? No. Opec, the price-fixing cartel to which it belongs, had decided to allocate production quotas to its members based on the size of their reserves. The bigger your stated reserve, the more you were allowed to produce. The other states soon followed Kuwait, adding a total of 300bn barrels to their reserves: enough, if it existed, to supply the world for 10 years. And their magic oil never runs out. Though extraction has long outstripped discovery, Kuwait posts the same reserves today as it claimed in 1985.

So we turn to the US Geological Survey for an answer, and find that its estimates of global oil supply are as reliable as the Pentagon's assessments of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. In 1981 it said we possessed 1,719bn barrels of oil. In 2000, 2,659. Yet the discovery of major oilfields peaked in 1964. Where has it come from?

It is true to say that oil reserves are not fixed. As technology improves or the price increases, oil that was formerly too expensive to extract becomes available. But the oil geologist Jean Laherrere points out that the survey's estimate "implies a five-fold increase in discovery rate and reserve addition, for which no evidence is presented. Such an improvement in performance is in fact utterly implausible, given the great technological achievements of the industry over the past 20 years, the worldwide search, and the deliberate effort to find the largest remaining prospects."

The current high oil prices are the result of a shortage of refineries - exacerbated by the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico - rather than a global shortage of crude. But behind that problem lurks another. Last week Chris Vernon of the organisation PowerSwitch published figures showing that while total global oil production has risen since 2000, the production of light sweet crude - the kind that is easiest to refine into motor fuels - has fallen, by 2m barrels a day. This grade, he claims, has already peaked. The refinery crisis results partly from this constraint: there aren't enough plants capable of processing the heavier grades.

And next in the queue? Who knows? All I can say is that George Bush himself does not appear to share the US Geological Survey's optimism. "In terms of world supply," he said in March, "I think if you look at all the statistics, demand is outracing supply, and supplies are getting tight." What has he seen that we haven't?

If the figures have been fudged, we're stuffed. That might sound extreme, but it is not my conclusion. It is that of the consultants hired by the US department of energy. In February this year the department released a report called Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management. I say "released", for it was never properly published. For several months the only publicly available copy was lodged on the website of the Hilltop high school in Chula Vista, California.

The department's consultants, led by the energy analyst Robert L Hirsch, concluded that "without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs will be unprecedented". It is possible to reduce demand and to start developing alternatives, but this would take "10-20 years" and "trillions of dollars". "Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash programme action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades", which would cause problems "unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society".

Of course, we have been here before. Oil analysts and environmentalists have warned of disappearing reserves ever since drilling began, and they have always been proved wrong. According to people such as the Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, this is because the industry is self-regulating. "High real prices deter consumption and encourage the development of other sources of oil and non-oil energy supplies," he says. "Since searching costs money, new searches will not be initiated too far in advance of production. Consequently, new oilfields will be continuously added as demand rises ... we will stop using oil when other energy technologies provide superior benefits."

It is beginning to look as if he is wrong on all counts. As the Economist magazine pointed out on September 10, "demand for petrol is pretty inelastic in the short term", because people still have to go to work, however much it costs. According to the analyst it cites, "it would take a doubling of petrol prices to reduce American petrol consumption by just 5%".

Lomborg's idea that companies can just go out and find new oil when demand rises suggests that he believes geology is as malleable as statistics. One day - or so we should hope - a superior technology will certainly emerge, but cheap alternatives to liquid fuels are currently decades away. Yes, the pessimists have been crying wolf for almost a century. But better that, perhaps, than crying "sheep" when the wolves appear.

The Hirsch report has no truck with those who believe in the magic of the markets. "High prices do not a priori lead to greater production. Geology is ultimately the limiting factor." There are plenty of oil shales, tar sands and coal seams available for turning into liquid fuels, but it would take years and a massive investment before enough came online. Hirsch compares the projections of the oil optimists to those of the gas optimists in the late 1990s, who promised "growing supply at reasonable prices for the foreseeable future" in the US and Canada. Today the same people are bemoaning the deficit. "The North American natural gas market is set for the longest period of sustained high prices in its history, even adjusting for inflation ... Gas production in the United States (excluding Alaska) now appears to be in permanent decline."

"The bottom line," Hirsch says, "is that no one knows with certainty when world oil production will reach a peak, but geologists have no doubt that it will happen." Our hopes of a soft landing rest on just two propositions: that the oil producers' figures are correct, and that governments act before they have to. I hope that reassures you.

2.Immediate Withdrawal From Iraq, Liberal 'Guardian' Blanks Public Opinion
From: Media Lens, 27 September 2005

We do not know whether Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote yesterday's leader on "Britain's post-invasion commitment to Iraq", but we assume that he approved it. ('Signposting the Exit,' The Guardian, September 21, 2005)

"No one is arguing for an immediate pull-out", the editorial claims.

Presumably those calling for an immediate withdrawal, including many in the anti-war movement, do not exist.

"No one" includes Caroline Lucas, Green Euro-MP, one of many speakers who called for "the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq" at a 'Troops Out Now' rally in central London on March 19, 2005. (Green Party news release, March 18, 2005)

"No one" includes Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War coalition. In a Guardian comment piece ahead of the same rally, he called for "the occupation [to be] brought to a speedy end, our troops brought home, and full sovereignty restored to the Iraqi people". (Murray, 'No escape from the war,' The Guardian, March 16, 2005)

"No one" includes Rose Gentle, who lost her 19-year-old son Gordon, killed by a roadside bomb in Basra. She helped form the Justice for Gordon Gentle campaign, and has been campaigning for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. She told a public rally in Glasgow last year:

"Gordon's pals came home last night and he could have been here. I feel his life was wasted by going into an illegal war. I will not stop calling for the troops to come home." (Cameron Simpson, 'Mother says she feels her son's life was wasted,' The Herald, December 8, 2004)

"No one" includes American mother Cindy Sheehan, who also lost a son in Iraq. Mrs Sheehan has been conducting a "Bring Them Home Now" bus tour in the US. In calling for troops to be "brought home immediately", she exhorted Bush: "You can't win the war on terror by killing more of our soldiers and innocent Iraqi people. You are breeding more terror." (Sheehan, 'My response to George,' August 24, 2005; http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/24483/)

"No one" includes more than half of the US public. When asked how long American troops should remain in Iraq, 52 per cent interviewed called for an immediate withdrawal, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. (Raymond Hernandez and Megan Thee, 'Iraq's Costs Worry Americans, Poll Indicates,’ New York Times, September 17, 2005)

"No one" includes Iraqis themselves. Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne observed last year that "polls show most Iraqis want foreign troops out now". ('If the US can't fix it, it's the wrong kind of democracy,' The Guardian, November 18, 2004) Does the Guardian think Iraqi opinion doesn't count?

"No one" includes the Guardian's new columnist Simon Jenkins who wrote this week:

"Don't be fooled a second time. They told you Britain must invade Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction. They were wrong. Now they say British troops must stay in Iraq because otherwise it will collapse into chaos.

"This second lie is infecting everyone. It is spouted by Labour and Tory opponents of the war and even by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell." (Jenkins, 'To say we must stay in Iraq to save it from chaos is a lie,' The Guardian, September 21, 2005).

One can debate what timescale is implied by "immediate" withdrawal. Many peace activists propose a deadline of Christmas 2005. A rally taking place this Saturday in Hyde Park will call for the withdrawal of troops to be completed by then (www.stopwar.org.uk). A letter in support condemning the continued occupation of Iraq as "an unmitigated disaster", was signed by 100 academics, MPs and activists, and delivered by musician Brian Eno and actor Julie Christie to Downing Street last week. Signees also included Richard Dawkins, Harold Pinter, Ken Loach, A L Kennedy, George Monbiot, Tony Benn, John Pilger and former UK ambassador Craig Murray. (Ben Russell, 'Arts world unites for plea to pull troops out of Iraq,' The Independent, September 16, 2005)

Calling for a rapid withdrawal of 'coalition' troops does not mean accepting that the people of Iraq will be required to suffer even worse chaos and violence. US historian and peace activist, Howard Zinn, comments:

"The UN should arrange, as US forces leave, for an international group of peacekeepers and negotiators from the Arab countries to bring together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and work out a solution for self-governance that would give all three groups a share in political power. Simultaneously, the UN should arrange for shipments of food and medicine, from the United States and other countries, as well as engineers to help rebuild the country." (Zinn, 'How to get out of Iraq,' The Nation, May 6, 2004)

But this is an inconceivable option for warmonger Tony Blair, his faithful retinue of ministers, and his supporters in the media who, on the evidence to date, include the 'liberal' Guardian.


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