Friday, 29 October 2010

Oil - The glass is half empty

This week saw the publication of 'The Post Peak World' by Dr Colin Campbell of the Institute for Policy Research and Development. It says that we have already passed the peak of oil discovery and that production of oil and gas from fossil sources will inevitably decline. Given much of our civilisation is based on fossil fuels this is disturbing reading. The concept of peak oil is well established and has moved from a concern of environmentalists to well informed former oil company insiders. The oil companies themselves play down the peak oil debate and their own brand of denial pushes the issue down the political agenda. But it is coming.

Dr Campbell outlines a future where oil goes up to 100 dollars a barrel and where the world population falls by billions to a level half what it is today in 40 years. All pretty apocalyptic stuff.  Modern food production is highly dependent on oil and therefore food production and prices are highly sensitive to the cost and availabity of oil. It seems crazy that we are actually using oil to produce plastic bags and useless plastic rubbish from mainly China when oil should be used carefully and sparingly. It gives an additional push for renewable energy in a post oil world.

Today I've been in a Council briefing on the Kirklees budget issues we face and quite rightly we are looking at how we deal with the cuts being passed down by central government and it is truly horrendous. We are as we know 'in a deficit situation' a financial deficit and the Tories (and Lib Dems) tells us we are living way beyond our needs. Whereas money is an artificial construct, oil is a very real commodity and a limited resource which we have been using at an alarming rate. We are effectively in an 'oil and gas deficit' with consequences which affect our very civilisation. We have to really understand and accept there's a problem before it can be addressed. We have a long way to go in a short time.

We have been here before of course back in the 70s with the OPEC crisis which prompted a flurry of concern about oil depletion and apocalpyptic films which the deniers point to as 'proof' that the peak oilers are crying 'wolf'. The other charge of course is that there is some sort of hankering to live in the past and that talk of  a transition to a low oil (and carbon) economy is anti - progress. This sort of talk is just dodging the issue, the problem exists and we have to find ways of dealing with it some of this will be using technology  to take us to a low carbon future and yes there will probably be some old skills that we have to employ to boost local food production. Anyway to reinforce a few prejudices about peak oilers here's 'Heavy Horses' by Jethro Tull from 1978 about a time when the 'Oil Barons have run dry' and when we will be using horses again to work the land.


  1. Splendid Blog.
    It brings out one EXTRAORDINGLY "hidden" point, that our world food production is HEAVILY dependent on OIL! Very few people seem to be prepared to face up to this, and gradually change our farming to NON chemical dependency and LOW animal foods This is the MOST inconvenient truth that most people are afraid to talk about. Animal farming is , after transport, the largest producer of global warming gases, and the wastage in land, food and water is unbelievably high, But FEW, except vegetarians & vegans are prepared to even CONSIDER that diets have to change to a VERY low animal intake. We have to grow food for humans not cattle and birds. there will be no other way to feed the world. Organic farming will be a necessity, not a high priced way of living for the better off.
    Apart from the fact you more or less passed this by, your blog is GREAT

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I accept the argument and was a vegetarian for 9 years but now sadly lapsed I'm afraid. Limiting the amount of meat we eat has to be a good thing for all sorts of reasons and the Meat Free Mondays campaign is a start. If we accept that we are not going to all become vegetarians overnight or even want to then I think we just need to get people to value meat more and like oil use it sparingly.