The media madness and hype has whirled around the topics of peak oil and peak energy – there have been the deniers, and apparently any argument that goes against the mainstream business as usual case needs to have it’s fair share of deniers. More power to them, freedom of speech and all that.
But what baffles me more than anything is that there are numerous localized examples of oil supplies peaking around the world, and most governments are only seeing fossil fuels as part of the great carbon equation and global warming that has been the flavour of the day in recent months. At every level, politicians are making decisions that will have impacts far into the future, on how their jurisdiction will use energy for years to come.
This week I read an excellent article by author George Monbiot, discussing the challenges of peak oil and agriculture. Feeding an ever increasing population has been described as one of the greatest challenges humanity could possibly face, but when you add declining fossil fuel resources into the mix, it starts sounding like a nightmare pitched against all of modernity…
Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he pumps it from the digester onto nearby fields. He’s replaced his tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only around 25%.
Reducing diesel use on the farm by 25% is a good thing, possibly something that can be achieved on many farms around the world, but the labor equivalent, in manhours, in the remaining oil used on the farm and in our society in general is staggering. Assuming 25,000 manhours per barrel of oil, and to maintain our current lifestyles, we use about 10 barrels of oil a year – the oil we consume is the equivalent to having 120 slaves doing everything needed to manufacture goods, power our vehicles, produce, store and cook our food, dispose of our waste and everything else in between.
The question remains, do we sit about, waiting to see if we are going to run out of cheap abundant oil? Or should we be concerned about how our lives will run in the event that oil prices skyrocket, or availability rapidly declines?The deniers, and those in power that are doing nothing to prepare for a long term situation where fossil fuel availability will decline against demand, need to ask themselves what the risk is if they are wrong in their assumptions.
It seems that in the UK, some heavy hitters in the business sector are crying for answers from their government…
An industry organisation that includes Virgin and Yahoo has called on the government to “urgently” reassess its dismissive view about the potential threat and impact of oil shortages.
The call from the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security comes after revelations in the Guardian that there is dissent inside the International Energy Agency (IEA) about how soon the world may run out of supplies.
As can be seen from the farmer example above, all the technological solutions available only reduced diesel usage by 25% on the farm. Imagine that every industry in the nation may need to make that same reduction in the next twenty years, possibly because of global warming, but definitely because the availability of fuel is declining and prices are forcing innovation and practice away from oil. Should we rely on a technology solution that we might invent in time to stave off economic or other disaster? Or should we prepare to change based on the technologies we have available today.
The IEA’s error has been to radically overestimate the rate of future oil production from undeveloped oilfields and fields yet to be discovered. They also overestimated the amount of “natural gas liquids” associated with future natural gas production and have overestimated the rate at which oil can be produced from unconventional sources (such as the Canadian tar sands).
and the Australian Federal Senate voted down a motion to plan for peak oil…
The Government and Opposition today voted against a Greens motion calling on the Government to plan for peak oil in the light of the most recent global figures showing that a shift from oil power to coal power is increasing global greenhouse emissions.
“The global financial crisis drove manufacturing from the developed world into the developing world, thereby replacing oil with coal and increasing greenhouse emissions,” Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne said.
“If we don’t start planning now, peak oil will repeat that process many times over with disastrous outcomes. Australia needs to kick the oil addiction before peak oil kicks it for us by driving prices sky high.