Letters: The end of cheap oil
Tough times ahead as we adjust to the end of cheap oil
Saturday, 7 June 2008
Sir: It seems highly likely that the inexorable hike in oil-prices does indeed reflect proximity to the point, if not of "peak" production, that at which supply can no longer keep pace with demand. There were predictions as far back as 1956 that we would arrive at such a time, and around now, but no one took any notice.
When the Opec nations were persuaded to crank-back production by around 5 per cent in 1973 (and the Iran-Iraq war had a similar effect in 1980), the price of oil rocketed. Now it is a geological, not a political problem, and cannot be solved simply by policy or economics.
Then cheap oil came back on to the markets and everybody forgot about the various schemes to seek alternatives to the eventuality of no more cheap oil. This is a great tragedy. If the world had taken the consequences of Opec as a wake-up call and begun in earnest the search for alternatives that the world has no choice but to scramble for now, we would have got through far less oil, still have a comfortable period for R&D and possibly have a sustainable energy mix by now.
None of these things happened, and hence we are in for some very tough times now: trying to implement new, sustainable energy sources against the backdrop of conventional energies most likely being unable to hold fast against existing demand, let alone meet the flow of bringing new technologies on stream.
Transportation will be the first use of energy to go, with the happiest scenario being a relocalisation of society around local, sustainable economies; or complete social disintegration, at worst. I try to remain optimistic that the former outcome will prevail, but without clear government policy – from any government in the nations of the world – how can it?
Professor Chris Rhodes