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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bomb Thrower?

Investigative journalist Greg Palast makes it a habit of getting people to think and perhaps get a little annoyed at the same time. Somebody at PeakOil.com posted a Palast article that made it look like he had become a peak oil denier.
Nevertheless, like believers undaunted by the failure of alien spaceships to take them to Mars on the date predicted, Peak enthusiasts keep moving the date of the oil apocalypse further into the future. In the new, revisionist models of Hubbert's prediction, the high point in the curve of discoverable oil on our planet will come in a decade or so. Though we have a reprieve, goes the new theory, still, we're running out of crude, dude!
I figured that Palast had too much of a common-sensical streak to believe all of the anti-PO arguments and figured he had just engaged in a bit of rabble-rousing, so I wrote this quickly in his defense:
I think it rather smart for Palast to come up with this bombshell of sorts. You have to remember that progressives know how to deal with this kind of "wedge" issue. Liberals and progressives always deal with uncertainty and shades of gray. Now of course I don't agree with what Palast thinks about this in a long-term, strategic sense, but in a tactical, short-term sense, I think he can make some headway. The headway comes because he can open up the discussion and expose some gaping holes in the 'minionist ranks. Imagine when the Cheney's of the world start attacking Palast and forget to protect their soft-white underbelly and all the maggots start crawling out. "Errr, Hubbert was right, ... no, strike that, he was wrong". Really, all that matters is getting the power mongers of the world to show their cards.

On the other hand somebody like Corsi becomes an open-sore to those in the conservative ranks. They do not allow dissension and these kinds of wedge issues drive their flock absolutely insane. A significant fraction will either all move to Corsi or move to some other POV. In the end, the conservatives will split, and you will see this happening with a host of issues, from ethanol to the rise of China as an energy consumer.

Think about it, do you really believe the questionable utility of ethanol and its rather poor EROEI has the liberals up in arms? No, because it serves as a rallying point. The shades of gray in the ethanol debate attract progressives, whereas it completely alienates the conservatives, and they go wingnut crazy over these issues.

Progressives => open to dissension, tolerate wedge issues
Conservatives => closed to dissension, sensitive to wedge issues

More power to Palast for being a bomb-thrower. He's going to rattle a few cages and stir the vermin out of their hiding holes.
Based on some of his recent articles and appearances, I had a feeling that Palast would bring a peak-oil denying argument up because of our problems in distinguishing between (1) peak oil as a convenient excuse for raising prices and (2) controlling oil-rich regions as a means to set prices.

In this "offensive" article, Palast essentially adds a needed viewpoint to the mix. I had read some of his recent articles on using the Iraq conflict as a controlling mechanism. He had to write the peak oil article to clearly demonstrate the schism. He might have gone too far in his zealousness but it certainly left a mark.

But hold on, I almost go punk't.

He had also written as a companion piece, this article, Why Palast is wrong : And why the oil companies don't want you to know it, as an excerpt from his recent book "The Armed Madhouse". So all his talk of a Hubbert Peak scam in the previous article turned into a clever strawman and devil's advocacy for the payoff article.
A closing note of caution: I fear that some may take my noting the super-abundance of oil remaining on the planet as approval for our using it. Far from it-getting off the oil habit is an urgent working- class issue. First, because cheap, good air and water are in limited supply. We can't keep pooping combustion contaminants into the sky unless expect we expect our children to grow gills that will metabolize sulfur. There's lots of arsenic on the planet. Don't eat it. There's lots of oil. Don't burn it.

Second, massive oil use is like any other addiction-it sickens the user and only enriches the pusher; in the case of oil, that would be ExxonMobil, OPEC and Vladimir Putin. Get the petroleum needle out of our veins and we get the extra bonus of watching Citibank go through agonizing petro-dollar withdrawal.
Go to GregPalast.com for his latest rants, and to see how he set up the strawman that fooled more than a few people into really getting PO'd.

For an interesting twist on some real bomb throwing, check out this weirdness in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Somebody left a 2-3 ft tall artillery shell on a highway bridge (a dummy it turns out).

An improvised non-explosive device left by a non-terrorist I presume, just in time for sweeps week.


Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno. I think you may be seeing too much cleverness in Palast's piece.

He's just plain wrong. Palast misunderstood the peak idea (Hubbert predicting an END to oil in 2006?), and portraying the crusty Hubbert as a tool of the oil companies.

As a journalist, I protest. You've got to get your facts straight before you launch into speculation and opinion.

Leftists have plenty of real issues to talk about with peak oil; why waste time on this bogus anti-Peak tirade?


8:40 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

I have to disagree that Palast is on a bogus tirade.

He might have made a mistake separating out the pieces from the book. The deceit falls apart when someone references the first anti-PO article without referencing the second pro-PO article. We perhaps can disagree on his sense of humor; I happen to think Palast is a great speaker and his wit comes through in his writing. His journalism may be more of the Hunter S. Thompson mold than the Sy Hersh style.

Secondly, I also believe that Palast likes to point out aspects of the "dismal sience" of economics. His priorities are to first get the lying bastards out of office and from policy positions and then go from there. George Monbiot prefers the opposite route -- discussing the science, and letting the readers deciding who the crooks are.

3:19 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

wht, you're right that Palast seems to write in the vein of Hunter S. Thompson. It reminds me of Alex Cockburn's anti-peak oil piece in Counterpunch in which he talks of the "revolutionary duty of gas guzzling."


I don't take it too seriously. Either he's putting us on or he was sloppy. Probably a combination of both. The result is a lot of turmoil for nothing. I think he can do better.

Others on the Left show that you can be funny or hard-hitting, and still get your facts about PO right. For ex: Robert Newman, Stan Goff and John Bellamy Foster.


10:05 PM  

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