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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Peak Oil

Back in April 2005, John Vidal, The Guardian's Environment editor, told us that the end of oil is closer than you think, predicting that oil production (sic) could peak "next year" (i.e, in 2006). But, according to an internet post by Professor Kenneth Deffeyes (the acclaimed author of Hubbert's Peak and Beyond Oil) on February 11th, the peak was passed in December 2005.

I don't want to get too alarmist about this; we'll struggle on obliviously for the next few years, maybe even increasing "production" along the way.

But that will be but a temporary blip, to be followed by a rapid decline in oil "production". Part of the problem here is the mindset which calls our extraction of oil from the reservoirs of the earth "production". It is no such thing, of course. The world's oil was produced over geological timescales, and what we're doing is consuming, not producing. This is a monumental error of perception, blinkering us to what we are really doing.

Colin Tudge gave us a very good summary of the mess we're in in the review pages of yesterday's Guardian, in an article ironically entitled "Help yourselves". We've been helping ourselves to this planet's resources without a thought of the damage done or the impact on future generations, and now it's crunch time.

As Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey, has pointed out, our problems can't even begin to be solved until we address the issue of this planet's sustainable human population. Rapley notes that "so controversial is the subject that it has become the 'Cinderella' of the great sustainability debate - rarely visible in public, or even in private." There isn't a mainstream politician on this planet who'll stand up and say that, as a matter of urgency, we need to reduce our population down to sustainable levels. Or that we're facing a real crisis over oil. That's left to the Greens and, rather surprisingly, the British National Party.

Some say that nuclear power will save us from this, but there are very practical limits to the supply and use of Uranium too.

So now's the time to think, very carefully, about what we're going to do. Are we going to go voluntarily, or will we be dragged down screaming? In the end, some balance will be found, but mother earth owes us no favours, and the balancing process is likely to be more painful than peaceful the longer we keep our heads in the sand saying "crisis, what crisis?"

Mankind fiddles while the oil burns.

Posted by Phil at 3:16 PM
Edited on: Sunday, February 19, 2006 6:39 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment