Articles in Politics and Economics
Andris Piebalgs is the European Energy Commissioner with responsibility for shaping European Union (EU) energy policy. These policies may then be adopted by the European Parliament and will effectively shape Europe’s energy future.
I would like to invite all my fellow bloggers and all citizens to contribute your ideas.
Andris, I would like to thank you for providing us bloggers with this wonderful opportunity to relay our ideas and opinions directly into the heart of the European Parliament. But beware, not all ideas and opinions are born equal.
There’s more under the fold…..
I have left a lengthy comment trying to emphasise the importance of energy efficiency:
Andris Piebalgs said:
â€œI would like 2008 to be the European year of Energy Efficiency. Iâ€™m proposing to table measures to increase energy efficiency in our buildings, in our energy devices, in the way we consume energy. What are your ideas?â€
To which I replied:
I agree whole heartedly with this but need to draw attention to one glaring omission. The most important energy efficiency measure to consider is the efficiency of energy gathering / energy production systems. This must lie at the very heart of EU energy policy IMHO. And once this idea is taken on board then we will be on the road to our salvation.
The policy page says this:
Our sustainable future largely depends on increased use of renewable energies. The European Commission has proposed and the European Council has endorsed an overall binding 20% renewable energy target and a binding minimum target of 10% for transport biofuels for the EU by 2020. That means that in 2020 one fifth of the energy and one tenth of all transport fuels consumed in the EU will have to come from renewable energy sources.
My immediate reaction to this is one of unreserved endorsement combined with disbelief with respect to the biofuels targets. Until a way is found to grow temperate latitude biofuels with eroei over 7 that do not threaten our food supplies then my opinion is that further development of biofuels should be abandoned until such time. Internal combustion engines are at best 40% efficient. Thus taking bio ethanol with eroei of 1.5 and burning it in this way is tantamount to simply burning food piles for no beneficial reason.
This also caught my eye:
Technology will play a central role in achieving the targets of the new Energy Policy for Europe. For this reason the Commission will annually invest approximately â‚¬1 billion between 2007 and 2013 in energy technology research and innovation. Technology must help to lower the costs of renewable energy, increase the efficient use of energy and ensure that European industry is at the global forefront. The Commission will therefore prepare the first European Strategic Energy Technology Plan in 2007.
That is some â‚¬7 billion. Let us hope the money is spent wisely. I would feel inclined to replace “lower the cost of renewable energy” with “improve and prioritise the efficiency of renewable energies” – and then we will be on the right track.
And so if you were given an opportunity to give advice to the EU Energy Commissioner, what would you say? Post comments for discussion here or visit Andris Piebalgs’ blog to tell him directly what you think. Remember this will be a rolling debate that will take place over many months that may hopefully culminate in the building of a trans European HVDC grid and electrification of all our transportation.
On Friday 22nd February, I attended the above conference in Aberdeen. With presentations from the EU Commission, The European Parliament, Scottish politicians and leading academics, this was a high profile event. There follows an account of the key issues raised by the various speakers together with my own observations and opinions on these matters.
Peter is a member of the cabinet of Andris Piebalgs who is European Commissioner for Energy. He has particular responsibility for climate change targets, renewable energy and bio-fuels…..
Peter provided an overview of the EU framework for staged targets in CO2 reductions and reported on the progress being made by various countries in meeting these targets. I gather the UK is not doing so well. The core of EU energy policy centres on reducing CO2 emissions combined with attention to energy security. On paper they are admirable goals.
However, do actions match the rhetoric? Peter conceded that bio-fuels had recently received some bad press and I believe he said that the EU was intent on rehabilitating this tarnished image and would proceed with existing targets for bio-fuel production.
I believe he also said that bio-fuels have the capacity to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%. Somewhat misleading I believe? It may be the case that Brazilian sugar cane ethanol with eroei (energy return on energy invested) about 7, may deliver around 86% CO2 reduction. However, with temperate latitude bio-fuels where eroei may range from 1.2 to 2.5 the CO2 reductions are much lower â€“ roughly 17% and 60% respectively (assuming that fossil fuels provide the energy of production). And so the key question is this. Are these reductions in CO2 worth the cost of changing land use, soil depletion and the threat of famine caused by converting our food supply into liquid fuels?
No doubt new enzymes and cellulosic ethanol may address some of these issues. However, why not promote the simplest and most energy efficient route of putting renewable electricity in a battery in an electric car instead?
Professor Jim McDonald Chairman of the Energy Technology Partnership
Professor McDonald gave an overview of energy research groups in Scotland focussing on Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Hydrogen fuel cell research and CO2 sequestration were mentioned and since neither is to my mind an energy efficient way of dealing with energy decline these priorities leave me with a sense of frustration.
I hasten to add that using CO2 in miscible gas flooding of hydrocarbon reservoirs is a completely different matter and should be prioritised since the incremental increase in oil recovery adds to our national and energy security. There is a trade off between burying some CO2 at the expense of producing more fossil fuel energy that when combusted will produce more CO2. I sincerely hope therefore that a way is found to revive the currently dormant BP Miller â€“ Boddam scheme.
In the discussion session I made the point that energy efficiency needs to be applied to energy production as well as energy use and Professor McDonald endorsed that point of view. Personally I would like to see energy efficiency as the guiding beacon of all Scottish and EU based energy initiatives.
Alyn Smith MEP
Whilst Alyn represents the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the European Parliament he dedicated part of his speech to criticising the administrative mess that the SNP government recently inherited at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh citing the ability of small interest groups to block progress in new energy development projects.
Alyn is a full member of The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee of the European Parliament and is a substitute member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee.
Alyn provided details of truly vast sums of money available for energy research and development projects within the EU and invited anyone or organisation looking for advice or assistance on such matters to contact him or his office.
I sensed a genuine desire to help so if you are looking for EU funding contact Alyn here.
Malcolm Webb CEO UK Oil & Gas
Malcolm observed that the European Oil and Gas industry accounts for most of the primary energy production within the EU, is the main provider of energy security and yet receives little attention within the EU energy strategy.
A curious paradox indeed which I suspect is related in part to declining oil production that will shortly be followed by gas and the need to replace these historic energy resources with something new.
However, I happen to agree with Malcolm that sustaining indigenous oil and gas production within the UK and EU should be a high priority and I personally would like to see the burden of taxation shifted away from the producers and on to the consumers. In this way the incentive to consume is minimised and the incentive to explore and produce is maximised. That is the path to energy security.
Very difficult to sell this to the electorate I know.
Jason Ormiston CEO Scottish Renewables
Jason provided an overview of the progress made in renewable energy developments within Scotland that was laced with a sense of frustration at the slow pace of development.
Those who have pursued and promoted renewable energy developments in Scotland are to be applauded. The reasons for the slow pace of development need to be identified and cleared away. I sense the new SNP administration is on the job.
Rt Honourable Brian Wilson, former UK Energy Minister
Now retired from politics, Brian Wilson is one of the UKs most experienced and knowledgeable politicians on energy matters.
Good will and good intentions were on prominent display at this conference and Brian rather laconically observed that this had been the case for decades and voiced a sense of frustration at the slow pace of progress in developing Scotlandâ€™s non fossil fuel based energy economy. He observed a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. â€œWe are in the hands of destinyâ€.
In the discussion session I pointed out that the actual response of the UK to declining gas production had been to build pipeline links to Norway and 100 bcm per annum infrastructure for importing LNG. When the LNG cargoes do not arrive we will wish weâ€™d done something different.
I share Brianâ€™s sense of scepticism.
First Minister Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond is an economist, leader of The Scottish National Party and First Minister of the Scottish Parliament where he leads a minority administration with great skill. Throughout his political career Alex has worked tirelessly towards the goal of gaining full independence for Scotland.
Unfortunately I had to leave to pick up kids from school and missed the days keynote speaker. I gather he announced a new Green Energy institute would be built in Aberdeen â€“ maybe I need to prepare a CV â€“ I guess there is a first time for everything.
Euan Mearns BSc PhD
Editor The Oil Drum Europe
euan dot mearns at btinternet dot com
The first question of the day came from a rather nervous student, who had just submitted his PhD, who asked why a space program was not part of the EU energy policy. He went on to explain that Planet Earth is short of H3 (tritium) which is more abundant on The Moon. Sustainability of the human race lay at the core of this question which I imagine was lost on the majority of speakers and delegates. The scarcity and importance of tritium to nuclear fusion reactors is discussed here.
Brian Wilson mentioned the vision of those who built Scotland’s Hydro dams in the post-war years from which so much benefit has flowed. We once again require vision of this sort that stretches beyond where the next contract or research grant is coming from. I’d offer this student a job.
Late last week, ExxonMobil won a court order to freeze PDVSA (the Venezuelan national oil company) assets overseas, up to a value of $12 billion, as part of a dispute over oil fields in the country that Venezuela has nationalised, but for which Exxon has refused to accept the compesantion proposed by the Venezuelans. 6 oil companies are in that situation, and 4 of them accepted Chavez’s terms, Conoco being the other holdout with Exxon.
Today, Chavez hit back, by threatening to cut off oil deliveries to the USA
“If you freeze us, if you really manage to freeze us, if you damage us, then we will hurt you. Do you know how? We are not going to send oil to the United States,” Chavez said on his weekly TV show.
He’s also made a slew of other accusations:
Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) — The U.S., supported in part by factions in Colombia’s government, is selling cocaine and weapons in Venezuela’s low-income neighborhoods as a way to destabilize the country, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.
Now, as the first article notes, Chavez regularly threatens to cut off supplies to the US, but has not actually done so in the past, so that threat may be an empty gesture again. And it must be noted, as a first point of background, that the only way to cut off deliveries to the US is to cut off deliveries altogether, as any oil delivered elsewhere will be in the global market and no actual imbalance will have been created. So Chavez would need to be willing to take some pain (in the form of lower revenues) to hurt the US – and that would work only if supplies from elsewhere could not cover the difference. The question of what the worldwide spare capacity is today is a fraught one, but it’s likely that it’s quite small, so Chavez’s threat has teeth – especially as a lot of Venezuelan crude has technical specifications for which some US refineries are specifically adapted, and these would definitely be hurt more. Of course, the goal may simply be to get prices up, which delivery cuts would definitely achieve, but which the mere fact of threatening cuts also provides to a lesser extent.
Similarly, ExxonMobil’s action is not likely to prevent PDVSA from continuing its activities and its exports (and its debt service to foreign lenders); as many analysts have noted, it is but a legal manoeuver to put pressure on the Venezuelans and get them to pay more for the assets they nationalized.
For a breathless, “We’re Winning the War on Terra” description of Exxon’s stand for freedom and apple pie, you can go read this text circulated by CNN which I cannot resist to quote:
Exxon Mobil, a $440 billion company with operations across the globe, has for decades dealt with crazy, corrupt governments. It routinely does business with the likes of Chad, Russia and Angola and knows all about them. But it’s never run into a partner as outrageously bad as Venezuela. That’s why its unprecedented move to take Venezuela all the way to international courts over Chavez’s seizure of its assets is a big blow from the private sector against a dictatorship that otherwise seems to hold all the cards.
Exxon sends the message that playing within the rule of law is a far better means to succeed, win and play with the big boys than to break contracts, steal assets and violate internationally recognized norms, as exemplified in Chavez’s Venezuela.
Last year, the power-mad petrotyrant declared Exxon and Venezuela’s other foreign investors “robbers” and vowed to conquer them like Simon Bolivar taking the Andes. He hurled leftist nationalistic rhetoric against these private companies whose only “crime” was to invest in and bring jobs to Venezuela.
But what I found most intriguing and curious was this small paragraph buried in the first article I quoted:
Washington has distanced itself from the Exxon legal offensive in which the largest U.S. company won international court orders freezing up to $12 billion of the state oil company PDVSA’s assets.
Washington has distanced itself from Exxon legal actions against Chavez? I have been unable to find any other reference to this, but it is really strange, and I wonder if anyone else has seen more on this, or would have any explanation for it…
In any case, Chavez is ratcheting the rhetoric against the US government as well as against Exxon, so that point may be moot, and we can expect the oil markets to take notice as they re-open in the morning tomorrow.
As this happens in the midst of the US primary frenzy, it’s likely to be overshadowed by the discussion of the McCain-Huckabee-Clineton-Obama ratraces, but one can wish that the campaigns focused a little more on actual issues, given all that’s going on right now. Beyond this outburst you have in the background the pending IAEA report on Iran, the worsening credit crisis, and NATO allies profoundly divided over Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq, the housing collapse, global warming or doubts on future oil production levels….
Ian Dunlop has kindly given permission to post this article originally published in ECOS, CSIRO’s magazine on sustainability in the environment, industry and community. (Ian’s biography is at the end of the story).
If confirmation was ever needed, the recent federal election campaign has demonstrated just how dangerous our craven idolatry of â€˜here-and-nowâ€™ shorttermism has become.
After months with reality suspended, the new government now has to face the stark fact that we are in the midst of nothing less than a global emergency, brought about by the rapid escalation of human-induced climate change and the imminent peaking of global oil supply.
The news is universally bad:
- In Australia the drought is worsening, capital city water supplies are deteriorating and the bushfire season does not bode well. The latest CSIRO and IPCC assessments highlight the risk of
continuing climatic deterioration.
- Arctic sea ice is melting more rapidly than even the highest IPCC forecasts. This has serious implications for the warming of northern waters and global climate in general.
- Extreme weather events are escalating worldwide, from widespread flooding across Africa, to intense storm activity in the US, Europe, India and China.
- The price of oil could head north of US$100 per barrel, yet peak oil is barely on the agenda in this country, despite the first, grudging, official admissions internationally that it may soon become a reality.
Unfortunately the system we have created has rendered us uniquely illequipped to handle this emergency. Despite our impressive advances in science and technology, our ability to use the power these advances have bestowed responsibly has dramatically declined, bearing out Robert Theobaldâ€™s lament that â€˜as information doubles, knowledge halves and wisdom quartersâ€™.
Politically, in earlier eras we had statesmen and women, prepared, in the interests of humanity, to take a broader view than narrow national self-interest. Nowadays, spin and party loyalty dominate, with a time horizon no further than the next media poll.
Corporately, perverse incentives have led to a paranoia with short-term performance. Organisations previously highly regarded for their long-term thinking have dispensed with that expertise, in the process losing valuable corporate memory.
Research organisations, such as CSIRO, are under pressure to find external funding, which, given the current paradigm, means a focus on short-term projects, to the detriment of long-term fundamental research. At a time when we are in desperate need of a long-term view, we are moving in exactly the opposite direction.
In particular, we need an ability to â€˜jointhe- dotsâ€™, to develop inter-disciplinary, holistic solutions to the major issues that are bearing down on us, rather than treating them in separate silos as at present. We need scenarios, unadorned by political spin, that allow us to explore the futures confronting us, globally and nationally, and the extent to which we can create those futures. But it does not seem to be happening. Why not? It should be a national priority.
Part of the process is to re-think our values, to â€˜think the unthinkableâ€™! An ideological preoccupation with a market economy based on short-run profit maximisation is rapidly leading toward an uninhabitable planet. As inconvenient as it may be politically, conventional economic growth and rampant consumerism cannot continue. Markets are important, but they operate within rules.
Henceforth, the rules must change to ensure long-run sustainability.
Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive. He chaired the Australian Coal Association in 1987â€“88, chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998â€“2000 and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997â€“2001. He is Chairman of the Australian National Wildlife Collection Foundation (CSIRO), and Deputy Convenor of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil.
…. and Cresswell takes a pot shot at CERA…
Back in November I ran article highlighting Peak Oil in the Mainstream Business Press lifted from the monthly Energy Supplement from the Press and Journal, a broad sheet that serves North Scotland – including Aberdeen, the Houston of the North. This month, two stories by Dick Winchester and Jeremy Cresswell caught my eye.
My, my, Gordon, you really are losing the plot
By Dick Winchester
GORDON Brown has come up with a new way of doing things. What you do is go and visit your biggest competitor, who has saved a few hundred billion quid to invest in or simply buy companies you might own, and who is already making oodles of cash because youâ€™re subcontracting to said competitor most of the things you used to do, and then give them Â£50million to help them develop new â€œgreenâ€ technologies.
Yes, folks, Britainâ€™s PMâ€™s been at it again. In exchange for a couple of carry-outs and a tour of the Beijing Olympic village, heâ€™s offered the Chinese:….
The equivalent of one yearâ€™s worth of funding for the new UK Energy Technology Institute.
Or more than three times what Scotlandâ€™s Energy ITI gets in a year (not that they do much with it, of course).
And, as far as I can work out, roughly double what the Government is putting up via the BERR technology programme for developing renewable technologies.
Gordonâ€™s crackers. In fact, heâ€™s lost the plot.
China certainly doesnâ€™t need that Â£50million and, of course, our prime minister knows that. But he wants China to base the European centre for the China Investment Corporation in London.
This means more jobs in the financial services sector and additional access to cash for all those financial institutions. I understand heâ€™s very jealous of Tony Blairâ€™s Â£5million job for a US investment bank and is determined to outdo him. So heâ€™s taking Mandarin lessons and learning how to eat with chopsticks.
I doubt, though, whether China will comply. If I were them, Iâ€™d take one look at the Northern Rock thing and run a mile.
However, it is worth contrasting Brownâ€™s Chinese visit and what his aims were with that of President Sarkozy of France. The latter came back from China with a full order book for nuclear power stations. Brown came back having given away cash we could have done with using here.
Talking of nuclear power, Brown has now decided that heâ€™s going to build an as yet undetermined number of nuclear power stations in England (not sure about Wales, but presume so) at some as yet undetermined point in the future at sites that havenâ€™t been decided yet.
EDF â€“ the semi-state owned French company â€“ has already jumped in there and offered to build some of them.
Brown seems quite happy with this idea, which is bizarre given his apparent opposition to any form of state ownership or intervention, except of course if a Newcastle bank is involved.
In fact, I was highly amused by one columnistâ€™s remark with reference to Brownâ€™s chasing after Chinese state funding.
He said: â€œWe (the UK) are so non-interventionist that we donâ€™t intervene to stop interventionists (as in countries that nationalise their investment funds).â€
But, of course, there will be no new nuclear power in Scotland. This is a difficult one for lots of people in the energy sector to live with, but personally, and on balance, I tend to support that view, and Iâ€™ll explain why. Just like the Americans, Norwegians, Germans, French and just about everyone else on the planet except Gordon Brown, Iâ€™m a completely unreconstructed industrial patriot and I want to see us doing things that are going to benefit us long term.
Firstly, there is no UK, let alone Scottish, nuclear reactor builder. Brown has already made sure of that by selling Westinghouse to the Japanese.
So although there might be a lot of engineering work to be gained from building new reactors here by companies such as Doosan Babcock, Amec and some consultancy companies, the big valueadded stuff will have to come from overseas.
Overall, therefore, I believe the development of a Scottish renewables energy industry will, in the long term, be a better bet. Creating and growing indigenous companies is not only good for highvalue-adding jobs, but creates export opportunities. Regardless of your views on wind technology, as the Danes have found, renewables can be a huge business.
Oh, I forget to mention Gordon Brownâ€™s other triumph.
While in China, and seeing he had one of those cheap ticket deals, Gordon nipped over to India (a one-time subsidiary of ours and now also a major competitor) for the second stop on his worldwide tour of the takeaway industry and offered them an even bigger chunk of cash than the Chinese â€“ Â£875million, to be precise.
And following on from the theme he pursued in China, he also took the opportunity to lecture them as well about climate change and the need for India to clean up its act.
Not sure if anyone told him or not, but one of Indiaâ€™s biggest companies, Tata, is actually in the throes of buying those British icons, Jaguar and Land Rover, for a few billion quid.
Thatâ€™s embarrassing enough, but Tata has also just introduced the cheapest car on the planet.
This will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes, although it will also increase Indiaâ€™s oil demand, congestion and pollution.
Another setback for Government joined-up thinking methinks.
Editors note: Next time you’re in Aberdeen Gordon, bring your cheque book – I have half a dozen ideas on how you could invest a few million in energy research that will make a big difference to the UK and Global economies. After all, what’s a few hundred million between friends?
By Jeremy Cresswell
MEANWHILE, those idiots at Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) have their heads firmly embedded in the sand, judging by their latest â€œfreeâ€ crowing.
They have the arrogance to say that they have the â€œmissing linkâ€ for understanding the future of world oil supply. They say it is a â€œsolidly basedâ€ view of oilfield decline rates.
They claim that the aggregate global decline rate is 4.5%, rather than the 8% cited in many studies, based on CERAâ€™s analysis of the production characteristics of 811 separate oilfields that collectively account for about two-thirds of current global production and half of the total proved and probable conventional oil reserve base.
Of course, what you have to pay through the nose for is to discover which fields and to learn something of the methodology applied, therefore how they arrive at 4.5%.
Bizarrely, CERA claims that annual field decline rates are â€œnot increasing with timeâ€. That I simply cannot believe.
CERA director Peter Jackson is correct when he says, â€œGetting this right, and understanding the underlying dynamics, is key because the amount of new oil supply that will come onstream to satisfy present and future oil demand depends to a large extent on a comprehensive understanding of annual decline rates of existing fieldsâ€. But hang on a minute. Given the secretive nature of so many NOCs around the globe â€“ and they command by far the largest chunk of proven and probable reserves â€“ how can CERA make such claims? For solidly based, I suggest â€œquicksand-basedâ€.
I was pleased to note that Resource Investor picked up on this latest CERA effort. It reminds of this US outfitâ€™s prattling of 2007 when it attempted to slap down the notion of peak oil and talked instead of a decades-long â€œundulating plateauâ€. It would be great is CERA was proved right â€“ but I think its founder, Daniel Yergin, and his colleagues will end up with egg on their faces.
Editors note: I have to agree that such vital data should be in the public domain and wonder if Peter Jackson might accept an invitation to present a summary of their decline report on The Oil Drum?
Click the icon to visit the on-line version of Energy which carries diverse stories on the Energy Industries from the UK and World wide. Others stories of interest in this issue:
page 11 Saudi thoughts on oil prices by Tony Mackay
page 12 Shell’s van de Veer gets refreshingly honest by Jeremy Cresswell
page 13 BP opts for Abu Dhabi CC – quite right too by Brian Wilson
page 18 Helping to bridge gas supply gap with Tampen hot tap by Jeremy Cresswell
page 19 UK Energy Bill 2008: Implications for North Sea Oil and Gas by Penelope Warne
page 25 My, my, Gordon, you really are losing the plot by Dick Winchester
page 28 Carbon hungry bacteria make methane
This is a guest post by Ian Longfield from Peak Oil Awareness Campaign.
The new Australian government has announced a giant talkfest in April [also discussed here] in which 1000 experts will be gathered for weekend to discuss the big ideas of our times which will be manifest between now and 2020.
2020 of course, is as catchy as Kevin07, and provides a curious timeline which gives an approximate outlook of twelve years, about the same lifetime of recent federal governments, and probably a reasonable expectation of this one.
The talkfest reminds me of Gough Whitlams approach when he first came to power, promising to consult widely and govern in partnership with the people. Of course Whitlam soon found out that giving everyone a say was the best way to paralyze any sort of decision making and at least Kevin Rudd has made it clear that his ministers will pick and choose the best ideas to come out of the summit.
The hand picked thousand people will be divided into ten areas as follows and will be charged with presenting the
government with great ideas.
- Future directions for the Australian economy â€“ including education, skills, training, science and innovation as part of the nationâ€™s productivity agenda
- Economic infrastructure, the digital economy and the future of our cities
- Population, sustainability, climate change, and water
- Future directions for rural industries and rural communities
- A long-term national health strategy â€“ including the challenges of preventative health, workforce planning and the ageing population
- Strengthening communities, supporting families and social inclusion
- Options for the future of indigenous Australia
- Towards a creative Australia: the future of the arts, film and design
- The future of Australian governance: renewed democracy, a more open government (including the role of the media), the structure of the Federation and the rights and responsibilities of citizens
- Australiaâ€™s future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world.
In addition to those participating in the Summit, all Australians will be invited to make submissions on each of the 10 future challenges. These will be submitted to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet which will act as the secretariat for the Summit. An Australia 2020 website will provide a digital forum for this purpose, which is an excellent way for TODâ€™ers to at least have a say.
Peak Oil touches nearly every one of these areas to a greater or lesser degree. Each one of them could be the subject of an individual essay but it is the first four and the last which really require the greatest revolution in public policy thinking through the paradigm of peak oil.
Despite the press release making all the right noises about seeking ideas, listening to the experts and being generally â€œopenâ€, the explanatory background is rather prescriptive about what the government expects to hear. Take this gem under the Population, sustainability, climate change, and water heading.
â€œAs the driest inhabited continent in the world, Australia is more vulnerable to climate change than almost any other developed nation and we need a comprehensive plan to facilitate population growth.â€
Perhaps we need a comprehensive plan to limit population growth as the best response, but it seems that is not what the government wants to hear.
And this under the Future Directions of the Australian Economy:
â€œHow we best prepare for a global economy that will increasingly be based upon advanced skills, advanced technology, low carbon energy sources and integration with global supply chainsâ€œ
Some big assumptions here too, that the global economy will be increasing and will be based on virtuous skills rather than manufactured things. Of course the things that are made (in China) will magically materialize out of low carbon energy. Solar produced steel and plastics should be an interesting challenge.
The summit will also examine the design of our cities for maximum efficiency, rather than maximum livability, and will push the ubiquitous high speed broad band into every nook and cranny of our lives in the name of service delivery.
Pushing the Envelope
This summit presents peak oil activists with an opportunity to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions that policy makers rely on. Getting heard however is the first challenge.
The peak oil argument is not difficult to understand when you approach it with an open, but skeptical, mind. Skepticism is a useful scientific method for challenging assumptions that may be false and peak oil should be approached the same way. Peak Oil converts have mostly come to the realization that this is a serious issue because they have tested and challenged each piece of the puzzle and come to the logical conclusion that peak oil and its consequences are as real as it gets.
Many useful primers are available from TOD and elsewhere which explain clearly and succinctly the geological reasons an history of peak oil production in various fields and regions around the world. There is now also a weight of official reports from Hirsch, US GAO, Australiaâ€™s Senate Committee report from 2007, McNamara in Queensland, Energy Watch etc along with the guarded language from the International Energy Agency which is now trying to back away from its previous optimism. Even the oil majors such as Shell, Chevron, Total have all come out in recent years with veiled warnings that the easy oil is dwindling.
The challenge then is to prick the bubble firstly around two key assumptions that challenge the prickee to search for more information. Those two assumptions are:
- That oil and its finished products will always be plentiful
- That oil will always be relatively inexpensive
Think about your own experience in discovering peak oil. It is highly likely that the two assumptions were an intrinsic part of your belief system. It was only when you read, heard or were presented with something that challenged that belief, which made you sit up and say â€œHey that canâ€™t be right. That doesnâ€™t gel with my plans for a consumer driven life. I better find out about this so I can dismiss it and go back to sleepâ€. But as you peeled back every layer and discovered more, you became more convinced (and probably a little depressed) that peak oil was real, and your whole world suddenly turned upside down.
Getting to that tipping point can be a lengthy process, and a journey that many people are unwilling to take. Policy makers however do not have the right to remain uninformed simply because it threatens their agenda or position. That our elected leaders, and the non-elected but equally influential lobby groups that advise them, choose to remain ignorant or silent about long term oil supply is a failure of the democratic system, to fulfill its promise of long term relative peace, stability and economic benefit for the participants.
The Australia 2020 Summit, while flawed, is an opportunity for the Australian Peak Oil community to rediscover our democratic voice and speak up about the crazy assumptions upon which Mr Rudd wants to launch us into the future with.
My proposal for action therefore revolves around three things:
- Nomination of prominent peak oilers who can form a cadre of experts from which the selection committee can invite delegates.
- Grassroots campaign to flood the 2020 Summit Website when it is launched with Peak Oil information that specifically addresses the areas of concern.
- Creation of a Peak Oil briefing paper for distribution to all delegates to the summit if indeed that is possible.
Having an event like this summit to focus on is a great opportunity and can deliver both the embryonic stages of a concerted unified lobby group, among those peak oilers who are not yet ready to abandon all hope, and maybe, just maybe, we can prick a few bubbles and gain some influential new comrades in the process.
Your comments will be appreciated.