I want to draw your attention to the excellent and deeply important work that has been undertaken by Richard Douthwaite of FEASTA and Phoebe Bright of VividLogic under the banner Energy Scenarios Ireland. They looked at how peak oil would affect Ireland through the examination of four scenarios, Business as Usual, Enlightened Transition, Localisation and Fair Shares.
In essence, under the Business As Usual scenario, oil continues to be cheap for the next 25 years until oil production peaks in 2030 and we allow the market to dictate our changeover to alternative sources of energy. With Enlightened Transition, oil does not peak until 2030 but we take a proactive approach, ensuring security of supply above economic growth. In the Localisation scenario, oil peaks soon and rise rapidly causing a recession. The market is allowed to dictate behaviour and we enter a period of cyclic recessions followed by every shorter recovery periods. The fourth scenario, Fair Shares, is that oil peaks soon but we are proactive and instigate a system of rationing to ensure fair distribution of remaining recourse. The outcome is much better than localisation, but there is little money for capital investment, so energy prices remain high for the foreseeable future.
The basis of the work explores how the rising cost of fossil fuels will affect the decisions that are made in society. Clearly whether we have to work for 2 hours to fill our cars with petrol, or 5 hours, will have a big effect on our lives, and knock on effects for the whole economy. The rising price of oil has knock-on effects across all areas of our lives. It is really worth exploring the findings of this study, they are as relevant to the UK as to Ireland.
When I spoke to Richard at the end of September he said that one of the most interesting things about the research is that from the time they began the study (January) until the time they reported (around now) the price of oil had risen so much that the first two scenarios were already redundant! Richard said that what he takes from the findings is that the two scenarios that remain, fair shares and enforced localisation, ultimately both point to the same conclusions, that we have to localise the economy. It is instructive to put the findings of this study alongside those of the Hirsch Report, with its assessment that;
“…the peaking of world oil production presents the US and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking” (Hirsch 2005).
I would argue that localisation is really the only choice left to us. Tony Blair seems to have decided on the nuclear path, see today’s Times newspaper. It is clear that only token support will come from Government for a program of relocalisation, and that the work has to come from the ground up. I’ll be writing more in the next few days about the madness of the nuclear option. It is very well Blair announcing that he wants a new programme of nuclear power stations, cast your back to the Reign of the White Witch, or the Thatcher Years as it is known, the omnipotent leader who announced when she came to power that she would build 10 new nuclear power plants and only built one. It is from a community level that the solutions have to come.
The argument for relocalisation is growing both in strength and urgency. I was very interested to see Mike Ruppert of From The Wilderness’s take on the recent ASPO USA conference in Denver. Ruppert felt that this was the first peak oil conference to take a positive perspective (he clearly didn’t attend Fuelling the Future which was much praised for its positive perspective), and to see that the task of the peak oil community has moved on from trying to wake people up to the scale of the problem to designing solutions and focalising a vision of life beyond oil. He writes;
It may not want to, but the Peak Oil movement is destined to become the premier forum for the now-essential debate on the holistic future of mankind. Every part of human civilization will rightly be on that table sooner or later, and under a microscope. The sooner the movement accepts that daunting mandate, the sooner will we all see more edible and nutritious produce from its table. With Denver, that process has clearly begun.
I feel that this is of the greatest urgency, a feeling only reinforced by the above. I hope it has the same effect on you!