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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peak oil reported in mainstream NZ media -- a sea-change ?

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Peak oil has been discussed in the mainstream New Zealand media in the past week. What is pleasing and maybe a sign of a sea-change is that unlike previous flirtations with the subject which have been disparaging and condescending, the latest articles take the issue seriously.

First up the Christchurch Press printed a feature article by John McCrone called "The End of Consumerism" with a byline
"cheap energy has driven the past century of un-checked economic expansion. All our glittery possessions and technological marvels have depended on the basic fact that a vast pool of easy-to-tap oil has been available. But now it's drying up"

The article contains much information familiar to peak-oilists, including graphs showing how oil production and GDP have tracked, and how conventional oil is set to decline rapidly. There is discussion on "energy return on energy invested" together with several quotations from Clint Smith's Parliamentary report "The Next Oil Shock"

There is also extensive discussion on limits to growth and how reaching those limits might lead to the end of consumerism.

In a related article the "Signs of Change" conference involving many Transition Towns folk is mentioned with examples of how building local resilience is being tackled around New Zealand.  A Conference statement is here

This is by far the most comprehensive and informed NZ article I have seen on peak oil.

Is it something in South Island drinking water ? -- the Christchurch article was backed up by this article, this local TV report, on the Dunedin Peak Oil study. There has even been a supportive editorial in the Otago Daily Times stating...
Peak oil is an issue over which individual communities, this city and region included, will have no control.  Identifying how the council might play its part in managing its economic impacts and potential risks, in particular with respect to energy efficiency, is a responsible approach to local government, regardless of intervening technological innovation.

Surprisingly the New Zealand Herald business pages also had a "passing" reference to peak oil,
although those dreaded words were not used of course. Lian Dann quoted from a report by independent oil economist Mamdouh G. Salameh, stated ...

"One of the scariest commodity stories this week was, somewhat predictably, about oil. As pump prices in New Zealand creep back towards $2 a litre a report from independent oil economist Mamdouh G. Salameh this week predicted that this year's projected supply shortfall of almost 5 million barrels is likely to widen to 9.2 million by 2015.

That'll mean new record highs - topping the last peak in July 2008. But, Salameh says, the gap between supply and demand is likely to be too big to reconcile with even higher prices.

His best-case scenario is shortages curtailing economic growth. His worst-case scenario is conflict and potentially war."

Interestingly the peak oil reference was buried amongst reports of a spike in the price of other commodities such as rubber and cotton.

I would have thought that a report on oil which said shortages will curtail economic growth and may lead to war, would have warranted a special NZ Herald feature -  like the Press article.

But it seems this is still a bridge too far for the Herald. Its time they caught up. Even the super-optimistic International Energy Agency has admitted that global conventional oil production peaked in 2006, and the US military Joint Command warns of the global security risks of peak oil.


Dave Kimble said...

Expect the Government and media to continue to downplay the problem because they have no real solutions to offer, and bad news doesn't win votes.

The fossil energy needed to build a renewable energy system, and a new transport system, and upgrade the grid, and to keep growing the economy, is too high - especially when the fossil energy is going to be so expensive.

The pricing mechanism is an auction system, and if no one stops bidding, the price spirals ever upwards. The bidders that are eventually forced to drop out are, as always, the poor countries. Meanwhile the rich countries continue to drive to the corner shop in their 3 tonne gas guzzlers, while moaning about the price of everything.

The logical conclusion is that Peak Oil means Peak Civilisation and Peak Population. Even the Greens can't sell that.

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