Friday, March 03, 2006

Fire in the Caucasus.

I am pleased to note that my conclusions that the days of burning oil-based fuels with profligate abandon are numbered (e.g. my posting: "Peak Oil") have now been confirmed by the government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir David King. He also thinks that this state of affairs will lead to a drastic reduction in transportation use, certainly by 2055, and as I have illustrated in this series of listings ("A Hydrogen Economy - is it Economic?; "Bio-hydrogen: a Preposterous Idea"; "Biofuels - How Practical are They?"), substituting oil or gas by hydrogen on the scale that would be required to meet current demand is simply impractical using renewables, and probably so using nuclear. The need to develop localised communities and economies is now paramount, and our elected leaders need to make tough decisions about how we all do in fact live, and may thus continue to do so. By living in relatively small communities of perhaps 10,000 - 20,000, which provide and are provided for by local farms and enterprises, we could save about 90% of current fuel usage. Additionally, if our activities were to be conducted (no pun intended) in thermally much more efficient buildings, perhaps 50% of the total national energy budget could be saved (e.g. the "40% House" being researched at Oxford, and the "Passivhaus" concept in Germany).
As I have stressed, electricity provides only 18% of the U.K.'s total energy, and is generated using mostly gas, but also coal, nuclear (22%) and a miniscule amount (not more than a couple of percent) of renewables; the remaining 82% of total energy in produced also mainly from gas, but 26% of that national total is costed in terms of liquid petroleum fuel for transportation and significantly (6%) for the growing aviation market. It is not thought that a peak in gas production will occur prior to about 2100, and so it is "Peak Oil" that is our most pressing issue, though gas supplies, which the U.K. now imports following the substantive exhaustion of our North Sea reserves, might become artificially restricted by political or market actions, as happened in the Ukraine recently.
Although the Ukraine is not on the Caucasus (in contrast to the title of this article) it was subject to a massive turn-off of its gas recently and it seems now to be the case in Georgia too, which is part of the Caucasus region; hence my title, and according to my connection with the Republic of Armenia, which lies on that central geography too. Armenia is a small land-locked country, of remarkable charm, despite widespread poverty. The northern part is a rugged landscape of light-brown porous rock, comprising large deposits of "tuff", a mineral rich in zeolites. Gas supplies into Armenia from Georgia are a precarious affair, as the pipeline is frequently blown-up by various factions with their own agendas. The only stable gas pipeline to Armenia is from Iran and runs into the South of the republic.
Conspiracy theories abound about the recent explosion which ruptured the gas pipeline from Russia into Georgia, and now Chechnya has suffered a similar injury to its supply, for which acts of sabotage are blamed. Supplying fuel inside the Caucasus is all a complex web of supply and dependence, of restriction and diversion, of delivery and determination, of politics and power, of coercion and will. Meanwhile, those caught in its strands survive by the fire of kerosene and wood, as happened in Armenia in the especially harsh winter of 94/95, when the forests became devastated.
Providing fire in the Caucasus is a microcosm; a warning of what is to come for us all. A shift of economic and political fuel, according to resource, and a shift of world power into the grip of countries which command the primary resource of supply. It is already on its way to the West, in the planned gas pipelines from the Caucasus into Germany and Italy. Whatever the precise mechanism we will all ultimately be faced with a similar situation to that which occurred in Cuba, who were forced to deal with the aftermath of its abrupt curtailment of fossil fuel supply from Russia. The consequence was the rapid adoption of sustainable living in small communities. This is our future, either by choice or by default. We have no choice in this outcome.

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