Image borrowed from Raise the Hammer - Image credit Trevor Shaw
Peak Oil, or the inevitable peaking and then decline of global oil supply, has become such a topic of conversation in environmental circles that it almost rivals climate change. As Lester Brown noted on TreeHugger, there is no doubt that it is coming, and that it will be a "seismic economic event". It is amazing then, that we do not hear more in the mainstream media or business world about how to prepare for the coming challenges. All that, however, may be starting to change. As David Strahan notes over at The Guardian, even leading oil executives are starting to acknowledge the problem. Some are actually talking about the need for reduced consumption:
For many years, the idea that global oil production will soon start to fall, with potentially catastrophic economic consequences, has languished on the fringes of the environmental debate, with nothing like the recognition of climate change, and shunned by the industry itself. But when the history is written, 2007 is likely to go down as the year the issue of peak oil production went mainstream. In Cork, the former US energy secretary, James Schlesinger, used his keynote speech to tell delegates that they were no longer a tiny minority crying in the wilderness: "You can declare victory . . . and prepare to take yes for an answer."
It was a bold claim, but true. Although most senior oil executives continue to deny publicly what is becoming more obvious by the month, the industry-wide "omerta" is beginning to crack. Thierry Desmarest, chairman of Total, declared last year that production would peak in 2020, and urged governments to suppress demand to delay the witching hour. In Cork, the former Shell chairman, Lord Oxburgh, told me he expects demand to outstrip supply within 20 years, and that the oil price may well hit $150. He warned: "We may be sleepwalking into a problem that is actually going to be very serious, and it may be too late to do anything about it by the time we are fully aware."
Strahan goes on to point out that it's no surprise that many of the international oil companies are worried — they are largely exluded from areas such as the Middle East, where there is some potential for continued growth, and much of their extraction is based in the more mature regions such as the North Sea. Strahan acknowledges that there is one country where the chance for significant growth in production still exists, only there seems to be a minor problem:
The one Opec member with the capacity to raise its oil production dramatically - in theory at least - is Iraq, where for many years production was held below its natural potential by war with Iran and UN sanctions. The country's pivotal importance was recently recognised by IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, who warned: "If by 2015 Iraqi production does not increase exponentially, we have a very big problem, even if Saudi Arabia fulfils its promises. The figures are very simple, there's no need to be an expert."
The war it seems was not just "largely about oil" as even Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve, now concedes, but all about deferring peak oil. But if so, the strategy has failed miserably. With almost daily attacks on Iraqi oil pipelines, output languishes at about the pre-invasion level, and chances of a significant increase in the foreseeable future are close to zero - with or without the introduction of the long-disputed oil law.
Whatever the realities behind the smokescreens of OPEC and the oil companies is, it is 100% inevitable that peak oil will come, and the chances are looking increasingly likely that it will come sooner rather than later. This fact combined with the increasingly urgent threat of climate change should make it obvious that kicking our oil habit, and fossil fuels in general, should be a top priority for every politician, every CEO, and ultimately every citizen around the world
Luckily there are folks out there attempting to do just that — check out our interview with Rob Hopkins of the Transition Towns movement, for example, or the pioneering work of the RMI. While you're at it, take a look at Sweden's bold claim to be going oil-free by 2020, or read up on our guides on How to Green Your Car Use, How to Green Your Public Transportation, or of course How to Green Your Meals. Why not also educate yourself on the potential of Plug In Hybrids, or get involved in campaigning to get the darned things made. In short, the challenge is dire, but we have the tools and the know how to get started. The sooner we do it, the more chance we have of avoiding catastrophe. ::The Guardian::