Saturday, April 25, 2009

Governments Must Cooperate for "Power-Down" as Oil Runs Out.

It is anticipated that beyond the point of peak oil, production of the world's oil will contract by around 3% per year. Widely, this is perceived as an unquenchable and imminent disaster of planetary proportions, and the "End Times" movement, mostly Christian fundamentalists in the US, are rubbing their hands in anticipation of such "proof" that God really did tell us that the Tribulation would befall us, in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ, who would ultimately transform the Earth into paradise. A cynic might say that since these are mostly people who live in a nation that consumes vastly more energy, and has more cars than anywhere else on earth, such acceptance is really an act of inertia, and they would rather die than change their lifestyles to anything less energy consuming.

Being essentially an optimist by nature, I am trying to avoid falling by the wayside of apathy, although it is extremely difficult not to see things in a gloomy perspective, especially living in a country that has pledged itself to additional debts of around $1.2 trillion (£750 billion) over the next five years, and which will take so long to pay-off that the point when the balance sheet comes back into the black is really anybody's guess. If it takes 30 years, we can only speculate as to the kind of world and society that will prevail then, and having just turned 50, in all probability I won't be part of it.

There are many scary scenarios to be had, and which are gratuitously foretold, but mostly these involve wars over resources, mainly oil and also water. The two are connected inextricably in the matrix of energy and production that forms the web of globalisation, and oil-powered pumps move water around to bring desert into fecund crop-land and pasture: thus if oil fails, so does the land, and much of the food production especially in the mid-western United States, if it is no longer possible to extract water, much of which is of fossil origin, drawn up from underground aquifers, which are not refilled, but laid-down millions of years ago.

It is not worth elaborating such images of mayhem, including one where the governments are forced to bomb the inner cities to destroy the rapacious and desperate millions, before they become lawless and soulless roaming hoards, but to consider that there may be a solution, but only one, and that is for the governments of the world to unite in a voluntary and cooperative programme to reduce oil consumption by 3% per year, in line with the predicted fall in oil-output. Any other strategy will be tough, unpleasant and disastrous, and must inevitably abrade society into conflict and all-out wars between regions and between nations. In a nutshell, oil-producing nations must agree to reduce their production by 3% per year and oil-importing nations to reduce their imports by an exactly matching amount. Production will fall and must be planned to fall, while consumers take-up the slack in supply.

We need a clear strategy to gear-down our dependence on personalised transportation and on the carriage of essential goods such as food and water to the extent that should this mechanism fail, in Britain we have probably three days supply before the supermarket shelves begin to empty and the country begins to starve. To put it another way, a fall in oil provision by 3% per year means building more localised means that depend less on transport by that same figure, pro rata. Since the problem is a global one, the solution can only be found globally, and individual nations - under the leadership of their governments - must cooperate in creating an overall less fuel-dependent ideology and putting this into practice. Fuel rationing is key and a reconstruction of societies so that the means for shelter, work, food production, money and all else are not separated, but become part of the integrated hive of community.

Related Reading.


Mark said...

You are lucky to live in a nation where some effort is put into mass transit and there are alternatives to personalized transportation. During last year's oil spike I considered taking the bus to work, which is about 6 miles from where I live, but when I looked at the schedule I would have added at last an hour and a half to my total commute time. I figured the convenience of just driving outweighed by far any savings I would have received by taking the bus. This state desperately needs improvement in its mass transit but that must wait until our Governator, that's what we call him in this state and its not a typo, can find money from a bickering and childish state legislator and that is unlikely to happen.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Mark,

In fact, things are not bad here at least in terms of transport, and for that matter throughout Europe. Sad that we hauled-up all our (British) tram-lines years ago in many cities but they could be reinstated! However, in most other European cities, trams are an essential feature. Prague and Leipzig come to mind.

I have travelled extensively throughout the United States, and I know how difficult it can be to travel there.

hence there is such a reliance on the car! The distances are much greater too, and getting around America - e.g, for a lecture tour as I have done on a few occasions - does need air-flight. Over here we forget that America is not a country but a continent and of continental dimensions, and while you can get around Europe by train, it's not that easy over there!

Your points are well noted, and yes, installing decent public transport networks must be an essential part of the "gearing-down" strategy.



Anonymous said...

Could it be that your gloomy forebodings are a result of a limited-dimensional view of energy needs? We are all well aware of the environmental considerations which at “forbid” consideration of fuels other than gas, oil and nuclear. So, within those limits o discussion, we find that gas is almost finished, oil will soon be so and nuclear still has to find a bishop to exorcise it. There are wind turbines of course, which the rules of the game forbid that we tilt at, despite their tiny contribution to the global power scheme.
But is there any other alternative?
Perhaps Arrhenius bears some of the responsibility? Over 100 years ago he published the first known study of the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. He detailed the results of higher CO2 and these conclusions have been taken fully over by the environmentalists to support their claim that higher CO2 is bad for us.
But they never publish his final conclusion, that, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide could be beneficial, making the Earth’s climates “more equable,” and enabling more food for a larger population be produced.
We should be intellectually honest with ourselves and accept all of Arrhenius’ conclusions. This paves the way for the reconsideration of the use of coal fired power stations. The Earth’s coal deposits are enormous, and would certainly postpone the “peak fuel” crisis for a long time in the future.
There is no technology problem, just about every developed nation on the planet has the know-how to design, construct and operate coal-fired plants.
So how about it?
Peter Melia

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Dear Peter,

your acerbic sense of humour shines through!

As you have read on here, I am also ambivalent about the "it's all our fault" aspect to VCO2. I have also written about Svente Arrhenius, whose iconoclastic views about ions in solution almost cost him the chance of becoming a professor as the Swedish scientific establishment turned against him!

I am a professor in Physical Chemistry, and if you read my novel you will get some insight into how this world of academia works.

So, burn the coal is what you are saying? O.K. but how does this differ from what I am saying, in that the governments of the world need to get together to bring coal on-stream (if this is to be the solution) at a matching rate of 3% per annum to balance the rate of oil depletion.

Yorkshire miner has pointed out before that re-opening the Thatcher-closed mines would not be a simple task. If we are to go after coal then coal-gasification might be the way to avoid the necessity of digging it out?

Nothing is happening though, is it?



Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Ah yes, Peter,

I should add that Arrhenius won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903... despite nearly being "binned" by the Establishment.