Friday, September 29, 2006

Peak Oil: Preparing the Mind.

In my last posting, I intended to be modestly upbeat on the subject of oil-depletion. My message is that we should not simply throw-up our hands, and accept a sacrificial outcome as a forgone conclusion. Indeed, some perception of self-sacrifice is necessary, but that is not a draconian overnight switch which when thrown, puts us back to the stone-age. There is time left, but we must begin to act immediately, in order to avoid the worst case inference. It is both sad and telling - shameful even - that it has been clear for a good three decades that our oil provision is a finite resource. We have even seen examples of sky-rocketing oil prices, but these came about as a result of political and artificial restrictions on supply and monopoly control. Yet, while money was being made, the facts of it were not acted upon. Arguably they were swept under the carpet, and even now, there remain deniers of Peak Oil, and as the Christmas fanfare seems to blare ever earlier, there appears to be no shortage of consumer goods, or urges that we should swap our cash for them. In truth the oil bonanza is still at full rein.
As I noted in my previous article, we are on a kind of gravy-train, which if it is not accelerating, more passengers are trying to climb onto its back, since all the seats are taken - by the West. However, China and India want what they perceive we have, and who can blame them. In its stringent effort to sell the culture of 'more', advertising has not been slow to portray essentially the same (but with some cultural adjustments) plastic picture of 'wealth' that is the flavour of our daily consumption from the media. The fact, however, is that we need to begin applying the brakes steadily and firmly, rather than crashing them on at some later point of anarchy, when our fossil reserves are depleted to the point that attempting to implement alternative strategies is no longer possible. You do need energy to provide new energy. I am sure that 'the markets' will resist this as long as cash is flowing into pockets, and that will make the jolt rougher when it comes.
In any event, the oil-shift will be an uneven slow-down. It is unlikely to come over days or even a few years, and perhaps will take a few decades. Resources will become more expensive, once it is no longer possible to artificially restrain the costs of oil (as a basic manufacturing feedstock and as a fuel), and then the markets and the shops will have to take-up the slack. As fiscal tensions urge, there is a real danger that the markets may panic, and that could have very serious consequences. I remember the petrol rationing in September 2000. I had been working in Switzerland and returned to the U.K. in the midst of it - I remember thinking that society really does walk along a fine line close to the edge of instability, and it wouldn't take too much to ease it over into anarchy. So, panic is to be avoided, on all levels, and maintaining some essential baseline of supply is mandatory to realising that.
So, as a corollary to my last posting, some clear strategy will be necessary, and we should be able to look to our elected government to provide it. It needs to be done quickly at that. I remain convinced that we can be O.K., but not by continuing as we are. Cutting energy use is a priori, in any sustainable scenario, and probably can be achieved through a combined strategy of efficiency, technology and a degree of frugality. But let's not just give up, and turn ostrich, ignoring the catastrophic consequences of continuing to squander the irreplaceable resource of oil or meekly accepting them as an inevitable fait accomplis.

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