Steven Koonin & Unsettled: Cooking oil

Koonin who was chief scientist for BP, barely touches the elephant in the room (significant global oil depletion) in his anti-climate science diatribe “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters“. Checking Google Books for references to oil, it started out promising, thinking he would discuss why renewable energy was important, independent of any climate change considerations:

Page 3

Instead he discusses cooking oil, spread over several pages, in reference to a Richard Feynman parable on deceptive advertising.

Page 7
Page 10
Page 24

On page 33, a mention of crude (not cooking) oil, although the context is missing, perhaps referring to methane concentrations?

Page 33

But then back to cooking oil! Twice!

Page 119
Page 172

After 200 some pages, a few factual statements on supply and demand for fossil fuels and the difficulty of carbon capture.

Page 227
Page 243

That’s it. The book’s index only points to page 243 relevant to oil, which is consistent with Google Book’s search.


The book is a smokescreen, with the intention of smearing climate science so as to avoid discussing the obvious No Regrets strategy for addressing rapidly declining oil reserves. No discussion of this on Rogan’s podcast with Koonin either. Oil companies do not want this discussed so they can continue to squeeze investment $$$ to find the meager and scant remaining reserves.

Koonin’s book is a bait and switch, which is to put the emphasis on the least existential crisis. Today we are globally using over 35 billion barrels of oil per year, but discovering less than 5 billion per year. That’s equivalent to having an annual income of $5,000 while spending as if you earn $35,000 — not close to sustainable after the savings you have runs out.

The Oil Shock Model and Compartmental Models

Chapter 5 of the book describes a model of the production of oil based on discoveries followed by a sequence of lags relating to decisions made and physical constraints governing the flow of that oil. As it turns out, this so-named Oil Shock Model is mathematically similar to the compartmental models used to model contagion growth in epidemiology, pharmaceutical/drug deliver systems, and other applications as demonstrated in Appendix E of the book.

One aspect of the 2020 pandemic is that everyone with any math acumen is becoming aware of contagion models such as the SIR compartmental model, where S I R stands for Susceptible, Infectious, and Recovered individuals. The Infectious part of the time progression within a population resembles a bell curve that peaks at a particular point indicating maximum contagiousness. The hope is that this either peaks quickly or that it doesn’t peak at too high a level.

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Peak Oil Barrel

The first part of our book Mathematical GeoEnergy deals with the mathematics behind the depletion of fossil fuels, and specifically crude oil. One of the co-authors, Dennis, helps maintain and moderate the Peak Oil Barrel blog. Recently, Dennis posted a blog entry on Oil Shock model scenarios, which is based partly on the mathematics described in Chapter 5 (and elsewhere in the book, as the shock model is a fundamental aspect of modeling oil depletion).

There’s lots of commentary on the POB blog, including climate science topics on the Non-Petroleum comment threads, so worthwhile to have it bookmarked.