14 March 2008

The Future of Oil

Spurred on by the international oil price touching US $110 per barrel, the price of petrol in New Zealand set a new record today: it reached $1.77.9 a litre for unleaded 91. This strikes me as a good time to draw your attention to an article I first had published in the Dominion Post in November 2007, The Future of Oil.

The Future of Oil describes a problem which has kept on getting worse since the article was published. But what should we do about the problem?

The first requirement, as a nation, is to start taking oil depletion / Peak Oil seriously, and not delude ourselves any longer that rising oil prices will magically make new oil production come onstream to meet rising demand, or make alternative fuels for the internal combustion engine materialise in huge quantities. We're going to have to get used to living with less oil.

For ideas on what we need to do, especially in the field of transport, see the papers on the topic produced by the Sustainable Energy Forum at http://www.sef.org.nz/papers.html - for example, Peak Oil: A Major Issue for New Zealand (PDF, 60 KB). There's the beginnings of a wider discussion on what it will take to move New Zealand to a low-fossil-energy consumption future at the Transition Towns website, http://www.transitiontowns.org.nz/ (is your town a Transition Town?)

What there hasn't yet been is any systematic official consideration of the ways in which New Zealand will be affected - not just in transport, but in trade, tourism, food production, and all other aspects of economic and social life - by the end of the era of cheap and readily available oil, nor of what New Zealand as a country should do to face up to this issue. The Green Party and the Maori Party have both issued calls for a Commission or similar body to investigate this and recommend action. So far, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. With the 2008 general election campaign approaching, it's time for the major parties to start paying attention.

You can read The Future of Oil, and the discussion that followed it, on the Be The Change web site.

2 comments:

harvey molloy said...

I'm also worried about how the loss of mobility will also increase social fragmentation. Each day, I travel from Karori to Cannons Creek, Porirua. I know that I'm burning carbon when I do this trip to and from work. If I stopped burning carbon then that would be a good thing for the environment but it would also mean that there's less contact between myself and others. Do you see what I mean? You only work in your neighbourhood: and that's not necessarily a 'good thing.' But there's nothing we can do: in the end, we have to move away from our dependence on oil but we haven't really seriously thought about some of the effects of this change. Interesting article, Tim.

Tim Jones said...

You're right - and a related issue is that it's poor people who are being hit by this first, since they can least afford to pay the increased prices.

Greatly enhanced public transport is needed. But msny people are going to need to live closer to work, or work closer to home - and that represents a big upheaval in social patterns.

The external circumstances that lead to these changes are now unavoidable, I think - as a society, we must start planning and working now so we can deal with them equitably and effectively.