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15 Feb 2007

Aubrey Meyer on the Confluence of Peak Oil and Climate Change…

mh1**Aubrey Meyer** runs the Global Commons Institute and is the creator of the approach to climate change known as Contraction and Convergence. While he was in Totnes, teaching on Schumacher College’s Climate Change course, he gave a well-attended talk for Transition Town Totnes, where as well as speaking he treated the audience to some virtuouso violin playing. Prior to that I interviewed him at length about C&C and its relation to peak oil. Here is an extract from that, which explores the link between peak oil and climate change.

**How do you see the relationship between peak oil and climate change, and between Contraction and Converence and the Oil Depletion Protocol?**

The Oil Depletion Protocol originated with Colin Campbell and is a very sensible idea, essentially that countries should agree not to produce above their depletion rate, so you can stabilise that over the medium terms as peak oil bites everywere. It may be that countries are going to agree to do that, OPEC doesn’t always behave itself within its own group terms, people break the quotas and so on, but the point about Colin was that he was completely disinterested in climate change because, as an oil geologist, he regarded it as something remote and over the horizon, not immediate, and as essentially an Act of God rather than an Act of Man, that there was nothing we could do about turbulence at a climatic level, it is kind of a given, regardless of what human beings do.

The real issue here is if you do the total carbon arithmetic of oil depletion and gas depletion and the non-depletion of coal, and also the emergence of these exotics, tar sands, deep water finds and so on, there clearly, in all categories, oil, coal and gas, is more than enough to fry the planet. I see now they are even talking about going into this Nazi programme, we did it in South Africa, converting coal into oil substitutes and so on. At this point, in one sense, the Greenpeace slogan comes to bear, “we’re not running out of oil, we’re running into it

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Jason Cole
16 Feb 3:27am

Did he consider Peak Oil affecting the ability to mitigate the effects of Climate Change?

Silvia Vousden
19 Feb 5:49pm

I think most people are adaptable, and would accept working, living and growing food locally. Alot of what we NEED rather than what we want is acheivable after Peak Oil. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of vested interests that will not want this to happen, and will promote the Fischer-Tropp method of making oil from coal. It will be appealing to the majority, a way of ‘carrying on as normal’ without thinking about wheter or not what is ‘normal’ is necessarily right. If they do this, then any hope of ever averting the devestating effects of Climate Change will be dead.

People need to know about Peak Oil and plan sustainable, enviornmentally friendly ways to combat it. Have you told anyone about Peak Oil today?

Rob McLeod
22 Feb 11:54am

Aubrey has clearly considered the ability of peak oil to mitigate climate change and concludes that in the present economic paradigm it will make very little difference. Furthermore his talk was a plea for an end to the factious nature of divisions and sub agendas within the environmental movement. Aubrey is clearly saying that in order to avoid the catastrophic implications of runaway climate change in the narrow window we have remaining we must all unite on this one issue. Currently we are at 340 ppm CO2 e (now rising at 2.8 ppm/ year) therefore we have 7 years to act before we exceed a 50% probability of a 2C global surface temperature rise (with its massive implications of runaway feedback mechanisms). Even if oil(and even gas)did peak in this narrow time frame the nature of the bell curve and the 100 year+ atmospheric warming potential of these pollutants once released means that it is physically impossible for ‘peak oil’ to mitigate runaway climate change (as has been previously asserted). The fact that there are still a lot of even more carbon intense energy sources (coal,shale) to turn to in this narrow frame makes it certain that fossil fuel depleation will NOT prevent runaway climate. Furthermore global deforestation (for energy crops)is likely to INCREASE as a result of fossil fuel shortages and it is prudent to remember that fossil fuel use is not the only source of climate change. Therefore peak oil is merely a small part of a much bigger picture, one which we do still need to address but not at the expense of the bigger picture. This bigger picture (or ‘elephant in the room’ as Aubrey puts it) affects all of us and I totally support his plea that we should be united in addressing this over riding issue through an equitable international frame work such as C&C. If this is going to happen however we need to unite and strengthen our collective voice inorder to bring corporations and governments to task on this issue – rather than waving our own flags and singing out of tune.

Rob McLeod
22 Feb 11:57am

Oops I just spotted a typo in my last post I meant to say 430ppm CO2 e not 340 (must have been wishful thinking!)

Jason Cole
22 Feb 7:05pm

In being tunnel-visioned I think you’ve misunderstood my point. I’m not suggesting Peak Oil avoiding the breach of CO2 limits (for that I would have said Peak Oil mitigating climate change). This was a point mooted by someone a few years back and I don’t believe it.

I’m suggesting the lack of energy available brought on by Peak Oil will hamper efforts at dealing with the effects of climate change, which is a completely different discussion. For example, the loss of arable land due to climate change will cause a drop in food availability. The loss of oil and gas to provide fertiliser will subsequently make a bad situation worse.

Kate Dooley
22 Feb 11:57pm

Wishful thinking, but we don’t have any hope of dealing with the effects of climate change. We either unite globally in the next few years to produce a powerful political voice which brings about an effective international capping of CO2 emissions, or the party is well and truly over and no amount of oil based fertiliser will get us out of the mess we create.

Rob McLeod
23 Feb 11:44am

Jason, I apologise if I misunderstood your point. It was not intentional and I suggest that is a risk you run with ambiguous one line comments particularly where the personal pronoun ‘our’ (as in affecting ‘our’ ability to mitigate..) is missing from your sentance! I think the point I made was well worth making however as there has been a lot of confusion in the peak oil movement as to whether fossil fuel depleation could in itself mitigate climate change. Call me tunnel visioned if you like – but I prefer to call it focused on the bigger picture.