Friday, 26 September 2008
Peak oil - Western Mail article
Here is the article that I wrote for the Western Mail which appeared this week.
Weathering the storm in uncertain times’ - by Plaid’s Sustainability Spokesperson Leanne Wood AM.
The global economy faces a triple crunch of high oil prices; soaring food and energy bills, which is accelerating climate change. We have had an awful summer and it has been particularly distressing for those who have suffered the flooding of their homes. This summer or lack of it illustrates the need for all of us to take climate change seriously because it is an issue that threatens our planet, our children’s future and our way of life.
Climate change is happening at a faster rate than was first thought by scientists. It is now becoming climate chaos. We must move to a much more sustainable way of living before it is too late.
Across Wales we are all feeling the pinch. Petrol we put in our tanks and the electricity bills dropping through our doors and the amount we have to handover at the supermarket checkout. Ruthless speculators in the City of London are still making a great deal of money during these difficult times. They should however take note that even they cannot insulate themselves from the dire consequences of peak oil.
The problems of climate chaos and peak oil are now affecting our everyday lives here and across the globe. The world’s economy is driven by oil, but soon there will be not enough to go around.
Peak oil does not mean the end of oil, but that about half of the total amount available has been used up. The oil that is left is more difficult and costly to extract. One of the consequences of peak oil is a rapid rise in oil prices.
In the short term Plaid is looking for more fairness on fuel prices. We are putting pressure on the London government to minimise the impact of high fuel prices, particularly people on the lowest incomes. If we don’t regulate the burden of rising fuel costs on working people, then fuel poverty will continue to rise – and that means more people dying this winter.
However regulation alone is not enough. Our children and grandchildren need to inherit a world that they can live in. Without a change in our way of thinking, our way of working and our way of living, we will not be able to provide that for them.
The Centre of Alternative Technology in Machynlleth has shown how the UK could adapt to the challenge of peak oil and create a low carbon economy.
Wales as a nation has so many sources of renewable energy that it is well suited for a future after oil.
A serious shift towards renewable energy has the potential to provide a huge boost to the Welsh economy. We must maximise our energy sources which surround us: waves, wind and the water running in our streams. A community based approach to energy would mean that ordinary people can benefit from the energy that is created around them. Small scale off grid energy installations and micro-generation could provide up to a third of our electricity needs according to the Energy Savings Trust.
We could develop biomass crop production on relatively unproductive pasture land across the nation to supply local combined heating and power plants for villages and towns.
Some would argue that Wales could not survive in a world without oil. Cuba has survived an end to oil supplies and with some planning and changes to our thinking so could we.
When Cuba lost access to its oil supply in the early 1990s, the country faced an immediate crisis feeding the population along with an ongoing challenge: how to create a new low energy society.
Most of Cuba’s oil was used to produce food. Cuba moved from large fossil fuel intensive farming to small less energy intensive community organic farms and urban gardens, and from a highly industrial society to a more sustainable one.
City dwellers were encouraged by government to turn to urban agriculture.
The result was that Cuba had 1,000 kiosks selling local food in cities, 50% of the big city vegetable needs were met through urban agriculture, and 80-100% of small cities’ needs were met with their own supplies.
Cuba provides a good example of how to address the challenge of peak oil. If Wales is to follow this example we need to have a real Parliament to ensure we have the tools to do the job. Only then can we have a Welsh approach to the triple crunch that affects us all.
Postscript - in response to comments
You are right Draig, the only parliament on offer is what is specified in the Government of Wales Act. It will not include new powers over any area that's not currently devolved. Powers for energy consents over 50MW on land will not be devolved. Although a law-making parliament will be a start, we can't transform Wales until we get all powers over everything.
Interesting take on peak oil in that article Tom - thanks. Wouldn't one way of avoiding such a scenario be to switch to renewables? I accept that capitalism is nonsensical for the reasons outlined in the article, but in the here and now we have rocketing fuel prices which are having a greater impact on people on low incomes and the oil reserves are in "politically unfavourable" countries. The price may come down after an economic bust, but what do people do in the meantime?
Peak oil is an interesting and believable theory, supported by many well-respected environmental activists. Oil is finite, so it will run out at some point. If the current price rises can be used to persuade people to demand energy from renewable sources, wouldn't that be a positive in terms of climate change? It is a big risk that the demand will be to find more oil, but surely our challenge is to make sure that we make that switch to renewables?
And I'd like to remind readers that I do not publish anonymous comments.