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Posts Tagged ‘peak oil’

when the soil dries up…

January 7, 2017 Leave a comment

 

treeandsheep

January 7th: another day, another walk, but feeling stronger, I ventured out as far as the next village rather than just around my home village. The quietude of country lanes, the smells of damp leaves and grass, the soft squelch through muddy puddles, the glimpses of birds flitting in and out of trees and hedges, the sight of sheep grazing in nearby fields (as in the photo above that I took today), the sudden shafts of bright light slipping through scudding clouds. All, all mindfully present in my meanderings, evoking a soft, soothing joy within the heart. Priceless…

Meanwhile, the fun and games continues with the incoming Trump administration creating ever more controversy and consternation as the Presidential Inauguration comes nigh. Yet for all his keenness to maximise US fossil fuel exploration and extraction, he will be facing a world that is not only rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy technologies (my walk today took me past the first wind farm ever in East Sussex, only just becoming operational). But he is also facing a crisis within the fossil fuel industry itself as peak oil production and peak oil demand start to overlap and interact with each other in dramatic ways over the next few years, leading to severe economic shocks of various kinds as economies around the world struggle with the reliance they still have upon infrastructure that is still dependent upon fossil fuels. Oh, it would be so much simpler if those in power could just accept and adapt to the obvious trends, especially in the fields of energy and climate change!

And it does matter very much what Trump, and people who support Trump, say and do with respect to climate change.  Why? Because people’s lives are ruined by climate change, and by the lack of government action in the high carbon-emitting countries to deal with it. As this video from a US reporter in drought-ravaged Mozambique reveals:

I’m lucky to live in a land rich enough to adapt to climate change by investing in technologies like the wind farm I passed on my walk this morning to enjoy a hot soup at a nearby farm-shop cafe. But people living in poor countries like Mozambique are not so lucky, for they wonder where their next meal will come from as global warming dries up their land. When they’ll see their first wind farm is probably the last thing on their mind…

soil turns into sand

as heat dries up the land;

pity the poor who stand at hunger’s door,

wondering if there’s room for hope any more.

 

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New Year predictions for a wild year ahead

January 1, 2012 2 comments
Reduction of flood and associated extreme weat...

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The start of a new year is a traditional time for making predictions about the coming year, so here I go with mine. Not that I usually make predictions, but the ones I’m making are about trends so massive and important, in my humble opinion, that I feel the need to emphasise those trends by making predictions about them in order to highlight the pressing imminence and intensity of those trends.

The most important prediction is that global warming will manifest in 2012 in the form of even more extreme weather events than last year, or any previous year, for that matter. That does not necessarily mean that the frequency of weather events will increase, although it is worth noting that some places in the world had a record-breaking sequence of extreme weather events, most notably the USA. But I do feel that whatever extreme weather events that do occur will occur with record-breaking intensity and especially in places not used to such extreme events. Climate scientists predict that global warming will make droughts and floods more extreme and frequent and the increased heat energy of the atmosphere will make storms and  heatwaves more extreme than they would otherwise be. We saw these predictions amply borne out by the extreme weather of 2011 , so it’s a no-brainer that 2012 will see more, perhaps a lot more, of the same, especially now that it is so clear now that there is massive (and, in places such as the Arctic, exponential) loss of ice occurring across the world. This throws into sharp relief the complete inadequacy of the Durban deal in the most recent round of the IPCC COP climate summit talks.  We simply cannot wait until 2020 for a legally binding deal for reduction in carbon emissions to kick in. Given the present lack of global political will to deal with climate change now, what will reduce carbon emissions quickly enough? At this stage it looks like  only a massive global economic recession will do the trick. Not that I would welcome that, but it is a fact, according to the Global Carbon Project, that global carbon emissions dropped significantly only in 2009, at the height of the global financial crash that started  in 2007, and that drop has probably only lasted one year as a recovery of sorts began in 2010.

That brings me to the next prediction of 2012: that there will be a severe recession within Europe which will have a severe impact upon the USA, especially given the rapidly growing sovereign debt problems of the US, and there may even be a severe impact upon the ability of the Chinese economy to maintain its own growth. The irony of the present situation is that the agonies of economic recession will have the unexpected, unintended effect of increasing the chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change, or at least delaying it, which would impose the most severe economic catastrophe of all as the natural capital we all rely upon – such as fertile agricultural land, reliable rainfall patterns, etc. – would be irreversibly damaged and unable to sustain the basic indsutries we depend upon, especially the food industry.

Of course, the zero-sum game of economic growth versus planetary salvation can be massively mitigated by an immediate and sustained shift towards a zero-carbon economy that is primarily based on renewable energies and more efficient use of scarce resources, with less emphasis on growing GDP and more emphasis on increasing quality of life. But few places in the world have shown the political will so far to push on with such a long-term, sustainable strategy. Instead, the overwhelming focus of most politicians and government officials is on how to regain the economic growth rates of the recent past, as their perceived urgency is to reduce the debt burden that consumers, banks and countries have built up and which cannot be maintained, let alone paid off, unless there is enough new revenue  created to at least pay the interest on that debt. But most of that debt is simply unsustainable and has to be written off somehow. Debt forgiveness will have to feature large in any realistic scenario for containing the debt problem. The global financial crisis of 2007/8 has left a toxic legacy so great that it cannot be overcome without massive change to the global financial and banking system, which is now in a chronic state of crisis. Indeed, because governments and policy makers are now so focussed upon dealing with the immediate debt and banking crises, the focus is not on the even greater challenge of dealing with the threat of catastrophic climate change, a threat much greater than that of a collapsing Euro or a string of banking failures.

But here’s the thing: what will prevent GDP growth rates returning to anything like the historical norm for the most advanced industrial societies is the rapidly growing impact of peak oil. Peak conventional crude oil as a geological fact occurred in 2006, according to the International Energy  Agency in its 2010 report. Crude oil production rates globally have been declining at over 4% a year since then, so it is no surprise that the price of oil has risen from about $20 a barrel to over $100 a barrel since then. So my final prediction for 2012 is that the price of oil will go even higher. That’s not much of a prediction, but what I think we might see is that the price will go even higher despite a major recession in much of the industrialised world. Why? Because India and China are still industrialising so fast and their demand for oil is so great, and still increasing, that whatever reduction in oil consumption is achieved by the OECD countries is more than offset by the increase in consumption by China and India. Plus there are so many growing constraints – goelogic, economic and political – on the ability of the major oil producers to maintain present oil output let alone increase that output, and many of them, especially within OPEC, are reducing the amount of oil they export in order to fuel their own growing economies and populations. Particularly pertinent here is an analysis by Chris Skrebowski, one of the best peak oil analysts, that shows that 2012 is bound to be another oil crunch year because of the lack of new oil production megaprojects coming on stream this year. And, of course, there is always the danger of political crises erupting which create an immediate spike in the oil price to economically devastating levels; think of an attack on Iran by Israel and an immediate closing of the Straits of Hormuz by Iran.

But again, as in the case of a debt and financial crisis induced economic recession that leads to a decrease in carbon emissions, a sustained spike in the oil price could be the catalyst for a dramatic decrease in the consumption of oil as unintended price rationing crushes demand, and that in turn would lead to both a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions and a faster switch to non-oil dependent forms of transport, such as electric cars, than would otherwise be the case, thereby further contributing to a delay or prevention of catastrophic climate change. Yet again, short-term pain could lead to a massive, unexpected long-term gain, always assuming, of course, that this is facilitated by a political will to drive through the necessary social and economic changes.

But what I cannot predict is how all these three factors – global warming, the debt crisis and its associated banking crisis and suppression of economic growth, and the onset of peak oil – will actually interact with each other in 2012 to mitigate or enhance the effects of each, or manifest in various political, social, or economic crises. Who would have predicted that the Arab Spring occurred when it did, or where it would manifest next, or how it will still evolve? But what is clear already with hindsight is that oil price rises ultimately led to food price rises, which were a powerful factor in creating the social and political tensions that led to the Arab Spring. These are indeed turbulent times, with wild weather, wild economic oscillations and wild fallout from peak oil. You could ask the same question that W.B.Yeats asks: “and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

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Nuclear hubris in Japan is lesson for the entire world

March 13, 2011 1 comment
Internationally recognized symbol.

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The tragic consequences of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are truly awesome and demand the greatest of all compassionate responses. The power of natural forces is once again made manifest in the most brutal of ways. But what is making this tragedy all the more tragic is the man-made catastrophe that is the nuclear emergency consequent upon the earthquake/tsunami damage to several of Japan’s nuclear power stations. The catastrophe is man-made because there is no absolute necessity to build nuclear power stations at all. And certainly there is no necessity to build such stations in a zone vulnerable to earthquakes. It has to be the height of hubris to claim that you can design a nuclear power station to safely withstand any earthquake, let alone one that is combined with a tsunami. And the biggest recorded earthquake ever to hit Japan will forever be proof of that hubris. Even if complete nuclear meltdown is avoided in all of Japan’s stricken nuclear reactors, the sheer amount of effort and resources that have to be devoted to managing the nuclear situation is compounding the consequences of the natural tragedy, because the last thing anyone wants is the diversion of attention and resources away from helping the victims of the earthquake itself.

Then there is the lasting shortfall of power generation that will result from the nuclear emergency, because those stricken reactors will probably never be usable again (for the simple reason that most of them are now being flooded by sea-water, a truly last-ditch defence against meltdown). And for a country like Japan to be so reliant on power from nuclear reactors, the lack of power now will weaken the ability to help the recovery and rebuilding work in the affected areas as well as weaken the resilience of the Japanese economy and society generally. Indeed, according to the BBC website:

The triple blow of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident is set to damage the world’s third largest economy possibly more deeply and for longer than initially expected, analysts have said. Following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Japan’s economy shrank by 2%, followed by a V-shaped recovery. But if the power supply is affected nationwide for a long period, it could lead to a sharp contraction of production. Oil prices are also significantly higher than after Kobe, the Yen is stronger, and the public finances are weaker“.

The prospect of Japan temporarily increasing its dependence on oil in order to deal with a tragic over-dependence on nuclear will only add to the increasingly dire peak oil problem for the whole world and may lead to Japan having to pay ruinously high prices for whatever oil it gets hold of, further weakening the resilience of the Japanese economy. Nuclear power may perhaps be safe enough if none of the worst-case scenarios of nuclear energy planners ever arise, but if they do arise in the form of black swan events, then nuclear power is catastrophically unsafe, and only adds to the unintended consequences of the black swan events themselves. Japan will hopefully be rescued from nuclear catastrophe, but it cannot be rescued from its overdependence upon nuclear power unless it radically changes course and transitions as soon as possible – as all nations should – to a truly resilient society based on renewable energies, free from nuclear power altogether. What better way to safeguard the future of the tsunami-hit areas of Japan than to rebuild those areas as exemplars of such a resilient, low-carbon, non-nuclear society; in that way, they would become beacons of hope for the whole world as well as guarantee the residents of those areas a secure future in the post peak oil world that is surely coming. But whatever Japan does about its future recovery, Japan’s present nuclear emergency is the starkest possible warning to the rest of the world that a nuclear future is always a uniquely perilous future that is forever at the mercy of unforeseen natural forces of unimaginable ferocity and power. Even in areas apparently free from earthquakes and tsunamis, Nature will always have a surprise or two in store, out-smarting the best-laid plans and calculations of mankind’s technological wizards.

mood-altering your way to happiness?

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished reading The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks, an ebook just released by Amazon as a Kindle Single, and I’ve just seen his TED talk about the ideas embodied in that book, which summarises much of the work he has done with nef (new economics foundation).

Both the book and the TED talk are deeply inspiring and illustrate to me how the Buddhist idea of happiness as being the basic goal of human beings, more important than any of their other goals, is finding a resonance in the research and thinking of science and the intellectual world of academia and social commentators. ‘Happiness’ is now the buzz word of the intelligentsia and is a respectable part of cutting edge thinking, and what I find interesting is that the present new-found emphasis on happiness, and trying to identify exactly what it is, so closely mirrors what Buddhists would regard as necessary, certainly as more important than trying to, for example, focus on what will generate more economic growth and more material prosperity. That there is now so much talk about happiness is just as well because the present socio-economic turmoil is only going to get worse, especially with the onset of peak oil and the increasing impacts of global warming, so if one’s happiness is based primarily upon those socio-economic conditions getting better or returning to the normal levels of the recent past of  ‘the boom years’, then one might have to wait for a very long time for happiness to arrive! It would be like Waiting for Godot

For example, according to Nic Marks, research from positive psychology shows that giving is a source of happiness, because spending money on oneself has been shown to produce less happiness for the spender than if the same amount of money was spent by him/her on others. Does that not remind one of  the Buddhist refrain that giving is the real source of wealth, not just the wealth of external resources but also, and more especially, the inner wealth of happiness? And happiness is not just being discussed, but the research on it is also being turned into social movements and public campaigns. For example, the Action for Happiness movement is rolling out a popular movement to translate the research findings on happiness into actual programmes or activities for people to get involved in so as to help empower people to consciously create happiness in their own lives.  And this happiness is increasingly being perceived as capable of being monitored fairly precisely by individuals themselves, given the right tools to work with, tools which are increasingly being generated using the powers of the internet.

For example, there is a way of tracking one’s mood closely and seeing what affects one’s changes of mood; it is called Moodscope. I have been using this tool myself for a few days, and it is a brilliant way of monitoring one’s own overall sense of well-being, using a technique derived from social scientific research. This tool reminds me of the story of Geshe Ben Gungyal, who was a Tibetan monk who did none of the usual activities expected of a monk, but engaged in such activities as just sitting in a room tracking what his mind was doing and maintaining his level of happiness by mentally intervening whenever any mental factor arose that threatened his level of happiness; this is not what you need to do with Moodscope, but Moodscope is a secular tool for mind-tracking that empowers one to become aware of what leads to happiness and unhappiness, and although it may appear to be a little rough and ready from a Buddhist mindfulness perspective, it is a stepping-stone on the road to such detailed, real-time reflexive analysis, and more importantly a great way to introduce the general public to the idea, and value, of monitoring one’s own awareness.

As a Buddhist, I find such awareness of how happiness has definite causes –  causes that can be initiated within each individuals’ own awareness of those causes and willingness to work with that awareness –  a great confirmation, in secular terms, of much of what the Buddha was trying to say. Therefore, as someone trying to be a Buddhist practitioner, I feel it is only proper that I should support such enlightened secular movements and thinking, and learn from them so that I can help to create a better bridge between the Buddhist cultural world and the larger, secular cultural world that Buddhism in the West must adapt to if it is to speak in a language that connects with most people.

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how to make a politician happy: give him a bright idea

January 31, 2011 2 comments

Below is the text of an email I sent to my Member of Parliament today, who also happens to be a Minister of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the present UK coalition government:

Dear Gregory Barker,

Given the importance of your job in helping the UK to meet its statutory target under the Climate Change Act to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050,I am particularly keen to ascertain your view as to how this target – ambitious,and rightly so – can be met. I am hoping that you perceive the idea of TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas), as outlined in the report recently issued by the All Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, as being an invaluable contribution towards ensuring that the UK’s emissions targets are met. I feel sure that you already know about TEQs but just in case you don’t, there is an excellent summary available at: http://teqs.net/report/summary/

Given that peak oil is already making the price of petrol and diesel, and domestic heating oil increasingly more expensive – and rapidly too expensive for many, especially the poor and small businesses – then a scheme like TEQs is an obviously fair, equitable, and manageable way of moving towards a low-carbon future whilst allowing a free market in energy quotas to emerge which will help people to use their own initiative in adjusting their own energy consumption patterns in the way that best suits their own situations. And, along the way, TEQs will help stimulate the green energy businesses and jobs that would maintain the UK economic recovery. Also, TEQs would ensure that everybody sees that we are indeed all in it together and that we all need to play our part in reducing fossil fuel energy use.

With that in mind, I urge you to support the call for a full feasibility study into TEQs to be urgently undertaken by the government. The previous government’s decision to delay such a study has been criticised by the Environment Audit Committee, The Institute for Public Policy Research, the Centre for Sustainable Energy and the Lean Economy Connection.

Furthermore, if the peak oil crisis worsens considerably over the next year or so, as I believe it will, leading to another crucifyingly high oil price spike, this will guarantee that the UK economy will tip into a severe recession. At that point, you will need to move quickly to a scheme like TEQs, otherwise you may have massive ‘fuel protests’ like the one in 2000, and you may be forced to do things which impact severely on government tax revenue, such as reduce the fuel duty, just to stave off the protests. A TEQs scheme will have to be fully worked out and ready to go at government level so that you can bring it in quickly; hence the need for that full feasibility study to be done now.

I don’t want the fuel protests to happen, and I don’t want oil prices to rise, but peak oil is here and hurting now. Why not turn peak oil to advantage and use its inevitability, and the fact that no government can prevent it, to underscore a publicity campaign by the UK government for a scheme like TEQs in order to transition quickly to the low-carbon economy that is the only way to maintain a sustainable standard of living for us all? Oh, and we save the planet from runaway climate change in the process too. A win-win situation!

The full report on TEQs is available at:
www.teqs.net/report

I urge you to promote this report amongst your colleagues in government, as it is the fairest method I have yet come across that not only helps ensure the UK can cope with the twin threats of peak oil and climate change, but also ensure that the low-carbon UK economy of the future is a prosperous and stable one. Thank you for your consideration of this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Durling

The perfect storm has arrived…

January 30, 2011 2 comments
Mean surface temperature change for the period...

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I have just read the latest post on the Climate Progress website, which is just about the most powerful post I have ever read on what is, for me, the best climate blog I have found (and is worth following daily because of its brilliant compilation of most of the latest information and news about anything to do with global warming and the various responses to it). The post summarises clearly what I have been stumbling ineptly towards trying to articulate. Namely, the factors of global warming, peak oil, rapid rise in the global population, and the global financial crisis caused by the ‘too big to fail’ banks and the associated sovereign debt crisis that followed, are now remorselessly combining with ever growing frequency and intensity to spawn, or intensify, new crises, such as the social and political upheavals sweeping across the Middle East. There have been so many extreme weather events around the world over the last few months, particularly in crucial food-producing areas of the world, and all this at a time of rapidly increasing oil prices, which means the cost of producing and transporting the food also ratchets upwards. And rising food prices have pushed many millions of people around the world back into extreme poverty and a desperate struggle to survive.

The starkness of the global crisis is mounting month by month. We simply have no time left to think about how to adapt to the problems of climate change and peak oil. We just have to adapt right now, using whatever solutions and technologies are available to implement on a mass scale right now, and we need to make the financial investments in such things regardless of the immediate impact it might have short-term on our usual standards of living, especially the level of affuence we have in the developed industrial countries. The consequences of global warming and peak oil are with us now, and those consequences will only get worse with time and the rapidly rising population. None of this was discussed in detail at Davos, where the financial and business elites and developed world policy-wonks gathered for their intellectual talkfest and tried to talk up the chances of a global economic recovery coming to the rescue. They still mostly talked as if there were time to think about the problems of global warming and peak oil after the present financial and economic problems are solved. But there is no time. Time has run out for talking. The time to act has come. The time for the rapid transition to a  zero-carbon civilisation has arrived. Otherwise we are doomed.

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The winds of (climate) change…

January 26, 2011 1 comment
George Osborne MP, pictured speaking on the la...

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This snippet from the Guardian newspaper caught my eye:

Yesterday, government ministers were shaken by the unexpected drop in GDP for the final three months of 2010. But George Osborne refused to change the pace of the government’s austerity cutbacks, blaming the contraction on December’s snow.

“There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month. That would plunge Britain back into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather,” Osborne said.

According to the BBC, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the snow had knocked 0.5% off the economic growth figures, which is a considerable amount of lost growth.

So George Osbourne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, has said that Britain will not be blown off course by bad weather. But it already has been: the ONS confirms that the bad weather in December knocked 0.5% off GDP. And it will be again: the bad weather in December was extreme, and there will be more extreme weather in the year ahead. Why? Because climate change induced by global warming is making bad weather more extreme and more frequent. The only question is: what kind of extreme bad weather will we get in the UK this year? Extreme rainfall leading to massive floods? An extreme heatwave? Very stormy gales? Or all three? We are not expecting economic growth to be very strong anyway in 2011 because of the spending cuts, the Eurozone crisis, and the rising oil price courtesy of the peak oil energy crunch, so what growth there may be is extremely vulnerable to weather events made much more extreme by global warming. And there is a lot of evidence from climate scientists that the heavy December snowfalls in the UK were very much related to the increased precipitation we can expect from global warming, an effect exacerbated in the UK by the excessive warming in parts of the Arctic this last summer and autumn, which disrupted normal Arctic  weather patterns, leading to much cold air spilling southwards to the UK. The extreme weather in the UK was not a one-off event localised to the UK. Extreme weather happened all around the world at the same time, and is still going on: severe rainfalls and flooding in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, all simultaneously.

I would claim that December 2010 was the moment when Britain began to be blown permanently off course by climate change, and that moment can be measured in hard cash: 0.5% of GDP. Whether George Osbourne realises it or not, all his economic plans are now hostage to the one thing he cannot control: weather. And even if the weather is kind to him, there is another factor over which he has very little control, if any, and which will increasingly choke off any economic growth: peak oil. Extreme weather and extremely expensive oil is an extremely toxic combination for a Chancellor extremely tied to his plans for extreme spending cuts, cuts which could well kill off economic growth anyway even before climate change and peak oil kick in bigtime!

George, I think you’re going to need a Plan B! I’ve got one (well, everybody’s got one, haven’t they?) and I’m sitting by the phone. Just call me anytime…