George Monbiot has written a cracking article which I am paying tribute to. I don't always like his take on things but this time he has it just right. He points-out that although smallpox was eradicated in the western world many years ago, the British government has produced a 122 page document of central plans to deal with an outbreak of it, and there are smallpox centres running across the country with listed staff to be drawn on in times of emergency, five Smallpox Management and Response Teams, and a Smallpox Diagnosis and Response Group in each of the nine regions of England. Naturally, all this costs millions even though other than the potential use of the disease in germ warfare, for which both the U.S. and Russia are well-provided, the odds of an outbreak are vanishingly long. However, in respect of probably the greatest single threat to humanity, there is no policy or obvious plans whatsoever, namely peak oil.
He also refers to the strange quirk of the government in its attitude to risk. For example Gordon Brown (actually "Dr" Brown as he has a Ph.D in political history from Edinburgh University) told the City of London bankers (I don't intend this as rhyming-slang) in his 2004 Mansion House speech that "in budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk-takers." We have seen in abundance the consequences of this, possibly a minor calamity in comparison with the impending oil debacle.
I am convinced that peak oil is not merely a theory. It is obvious that if western concepts about the origins of oil are true, there was only so much to go round in the first place and we have got through the first half, leaving the second installment far more difficult to wrestle from the earth. The Russian/Ukranian theory is that petroleum is formed within the earth as a mineral product, rather than by the decay of dead flora and fauna. In one respect it doesn't matter who is right, since it is the rate of recovery that is key: even if oil is produced continually, if we can't pull it out of the ground fast enough to match demand the world will descend into a supply-demand gap which I referred to recently as "gap oil". I suspect there are many different origins for petroleum, both abiotic (mineral) and biotic since hydrocarbons are energy minima and are to be expected as thermodynamically stable products of equilibrium.
The precise date when world oil production does peak is a matter of some debate, but I recently heard it was last year (2008). Other estimates are up to 2012 (an interesting coincidence with the end of the Mayan calender), and longer durations offered mainly by the oil industry. The critical information with which to anticipate the event is lacking, namely the closely-guarded figures for the OPEC nations' true reserves - a state-secret. Indeed, we will only know retrospectively when the oil did peak but all evidence is that it can be expected soon.
Thus why are there no clear plans offered by any governments, British or elsewhere, for how we are to run our societies without plentiful cheap oil, without which everything we regard as normal - our entire way of life - will collapse? Perhaps the blueprint will be forthcoming, or maybe there is no longer time to do much except let the "market forces" do their work, in this most significant of human affairs, as in all others. Perhaps, like the Emperor Nero, they are all fiddling while Rome burns?