Monday, 23 August 2010

UK government alarmed about peak oil, but doesn't know what to do

Well, that's the way it looks to me, after reading a story brought to my attention by James from PowerSwitch:

Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good".

Experts say they have received a letter from David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to the DECC, asking for information and advice on peak oil amid a growing campaign from industrialists such as Sir Richard Branson for the government to put contingency plans in place to deal with any future crisis.
The article, from The Guardian, goes on to remind us that the IEA, which the government regards as the ultimate authority in energy supplies, is itself split over peak oil, with insiders saying that the official projections of oil supply will be impossible to achieve.

But in response to Freedom of Information requests, the government is saying that the need for ministers to have private discussions on sensitive issues is more important than telling us what the government knows, and what it plans to do about it.

My suspicion is that the government has no idea what to do. The impact of peak oil and the measures that will be required to deal with it will immediately lose any government an election, or perhaps even a vote of confidence. Quite how we'll get out of this situation I don't know. The only thing that's certain is that the clock is ticking, and if nothing is done then the scenarios in Alex Scarrow's novels become ever more likely....


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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Can we solve two problems at once - unemployment and preparing for power down?

Interesting discussion thread over on The Oil Drum, suggesting that if there's work that needs doing, and people that need work, then we should put the two together:

Over the next twenty years the US and the world will need to transition from an industrial agriculture model to one based on permaculture and more organic, labor intensive approaches to growing food. Oil is going to decline, meaning that diesel fuels to run tractors and combines will become increasingly costly. And natural gas, meaning fertilizers, will also go into decline. The era of agribusiness is coming to a close sooner than anybody might have imagined. And we are not prepared for what follows.

The work that should be started soon and will be labor intensive is relatively straightforward enough. We need, literally, millions of men and women reconditioning and building soils capable of sustaining permaculture and local production/delivery of food. The Green Revolution has done a great deal to degrade so much of our natural soils through the increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides as well as irrigation. Now, without these petroleum-derived inputs, it is likely that food yields would drop significantly. Some land areas currently under cultivation might even fail completely. As far as oil-based transportation is concerned, the world is going to grow very large once again, and very round, once long-distance hauling is no longer cost effective. Foods will have to be grown and consumed locally and the only alternative to industrial agriculture that might hope to produce sufficient calories and nutrients to keep huge numbers from starving is permaculture. That is where the jobs will be. And the sooner we get started developing our skills and knowledge of how to do this, the better off we will all be.
Go to TOD to read the whole article.


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Saturday, 14 August 2010

Peak oil is the villain governments need

Interesting article in the Guardian, pointing out a view I've agreed with for a long time:

"Determined action at the global level will become possible only when climate change is no longer some scientific prediction, but a reality that people feel … A world incapable of preventing climate change will have to live with it."
What effect would a barrel price of $200 have on industrial economies, should that spike be sustained for any length of time? We would witness endemic global market disruption, reductions in agricultural yield, increased transport costs for both finished goods and raw materials (true pessimists would add an oil war or two for good measure). The shockwaves would be felt everywhere, although as ever, the poor will take the brunt of it. And yet when the price of oil shoots up, we use less – meaning we output less CO2.
Peak oil is inevitable. Something has to give, and it's consumerism. Governments know this perfectly well. What they really need is some externality, something abstract they can blame – deflecting the public wrath from the ballot box. Western governments need a villain. Oil at $200 a barrel fits the bill perfectly.
The impact of passing the peak of global oil supply is far more immediate than climate change, and the effects are much more visible and easy to understand. The solution - using less oil (and gas and coal, as they ultimately face the same resource constraints), is also pretty common sense for most people.

Fortunately most measures that might help us cope with peak oil will also help mitigate climate change, but the important point is that it doesn't really matter if you believe in human influence on the climate - we have to deal with peak oil anyway.


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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Wheat prices reach 22-month high

According to the BBC:

Wheat prices have hit a 22-month high after a severe drought and ensuing wildfires in Russia devastated crops.
Prices have risen 50% since late June.

Russia was the world's fourth largest wheat exporter in the 12 months to June behind the US, the EU and Canada, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And along with other former Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan, it accounted for about 25% of the world's wheat exports last year, said Richard Feltes, senior vice president and director of commodity research at Chicago-based MF global. He added that while there was uncertainty over the volumes of crops being lost, such drastic change in production would severely cuts into global supply.

Of course, this isn't anything to do with peak oil, but rising oil and gas prices caused upward pressure on food prices a few years ago, through rising prices of fertilisers, pesticides and diesel, and also through competition for land from biofuel crops. With droughts and heat waves in various parts of the world there's that much less slack in the food system, and further rises in oil prices over the coming year could again increase food prices.


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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The religion of technology

Now I know you'll say this is what you expect from the Guardian, but I think it's an interesting point, and one I've agreed with for many years now:

If there is one true religion in the US, it leads us to worship at the altar of technology. Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist, we accept the doctrine of this shared faith: that technology provides the main path to improving our lives and that if it occasionally fails, even catastrophically, it will just take another technology to make it all better.
As a society, we do seem to have this blind faith in science and technology. The news says "top scientists have developed/discovered/etc." as if they're the high priests of our religion. True, some new technologies appear to help the environment, using less energy and recycling resources, but we aren't selective - the overall picture is always more, faster, better. This endless growth can't continue on a finite planet, so we'd either better start mining asteroids or figure out a way to get off our technology addiction...


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