22 Oct 2007
New Report on Peak Oil Argues That We Have Already Peaked…
The Big Melt report that caused me sleepless nights last week showed that climate change is happening far faster than anyone, the IPCC included, had predicted. Over the last week the peak oil argument has similarly sped up, exceeding predictions almost on a daily basis. It crashed through the $80 a barrel ceiling, which set experts talking about $90 a barrel sometime next year, but before the end of the week, there it was. Now the mythical $100 a barrel level could be as little as days away. It is worth remembering that when prices are adjusted for inflation, the highest oil prices we have ever had were during the last oil crisis in the 70s, and were around $102 a barrel, and that caused a major recession. Beyond $102 we are into new terrain; all bets, as they say, are off, with regards to what we might find when we get there.
This morning’s Guardian appears to have beaten the rest of the media to the story of the imminent release of a report by the Energy Watch Group which argues that in fact we peaked in 2006, and that annual decline rates from hereonin will be 7% a year. This is chilling stuff. The report, rather than make guesses about total world reserves, focused instead on global production data, which it sees as being a lot more reliable.
Given the EWG’s previous work assessing uranium and coal reserves, room for optimism in the report is also dampened by their forecasts that both of those ‘alternative’ fuels are close to their own peak, and offer no long term solutions. This report will be explosive. Although the article states that it will be released this afternoon in London, the EWG website shows no indication of when it will become available. I’ll let you know as soon as I track it down, as I suspect it will be a ‘must read’.
The report’s author, Joerg Schindler, is quoted as saying, “the world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life.” However, this rising oil price is, ultimately, great news. I am reminded of this quote from Ted Trainer in his essential book Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society;
>“If a significant petroleum crunch occurs, as is very likely, that will concentrate minds wonderfully. We are so extremely dependent on petroleum that any significant increase in scarcity or price will surely jolt people into the realization that radically different social arrangements will be turned to. Without petrol it will be glaringly obvious that only localized economies will make sense”.
EWG founder and German MP Hans-Josef Fell is quoted in the Guardian as saying “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have talked a lot about climate change but have not brought in proper policies to drive up the use of renewables. This is why they are left talking about nuclear and carbon capture and storage”.
I refuse to see this report as bad news though. It is chilling, and it gives no further room for putting doing things off for a few more months while we get one more cheap flight to Prague in, but it is, ultimately good news. The Oil Age has brought many benefits, but mostly to us in the world’s wealthier nations, and at a huge cost. As the Big Melt study set out, we need to cut emissions to zero yesterday, and if the EWG report is correct, the illusion that we can choose what we do at this point just crumbled to dust. We need to plan now for contraction, for relocalisation and for a decoupling of happiness and economic wellbeing from the amount of fossil fuels we consume. Lester Brown’s concept of a ‘wartime mobilisation’ keeps returning to the front of my mind, we need this, but clearly cannot wait for Governments to do this.
David Strahan’s recent interview with Robert Hirsch is also essential listening, Hirsch argues that peak oil means peak economy, that once we pass the peak the economy contracts in line with the depletion rate. The rebuilding of local resilience is key and is of the utmost urgency, and the viral spread of the Transition concept is evidence of the hunger out there for facing this problem with creativity rather than denial. As these two great issues accelerate before our eyes, we can choose to, as I did as a child watching Dr Who, hide behind the sofa waiting until the scary bits are past, or read what’s happening as the best opportunity we have ever had to actually get to work and rebuild local economies, bringing people together again and starting to relearn the essential skills we will need. As the great South African poet Mark Mzwake put it “Now is the Time”.