Sometimes you just have to stand in awe and wonder before the all-knowing wisdom of The Market. Common sense would say: Hurricane Gustav (even considering the fact that it never achieved its advertised category 4 status before landfall) is likely to result in 40% of US Gulf of Mexico oil production being taken off-line for 30 days, with longer outages for some rigs, terminals, and refineries; therefore, given the fact that fuel supplies in the US are already tight, this is a good time to load up on oil futures.
But Noooooo. That’s not how the market works. Because the expectation of storm damage was higher, Monday’s trading was actually dominated by a sell-off.
This tells us just how important the market and price signals are in helping us prepare for the inevitable decline in world oil production. To wit: not very.
When the oil price was above $140 and commentators were forecasting a continuing spike up past $200, it was easy for Peak Oilers to feel vindicated and to hop on board the giddy Ferris wheel ride. Newspapers, television, NPR—everyone was talking about Peak Oil.
But now as the oil price drifts toward $110 or maybe $100—even though this is still a historically high price range—the excitement is over. Page views on Peak Oil websites have fallen. All that talk of the party being over was just so much scaremongering.
The price of oil is a single number. The media want information that can be summarized in a short phrase. But reality is complicated. World oil supply is only understandable in terms of the production histories of dozens of countries, thousands of oil fields, and decades of trends in discovery and depletion.
Moral of the story: In the task of waking humanity up to the plight of resource depletion, the market is not very helpful, even if it occasionally does give useful warning signs. It’s a bit like the broken clock that tells perfect time twice a day.