PowerSwitch held a peak oil conference on the 16th of July at the BedZed zero emission urban development in Hackbridge, London. PowerSwitch was established in Autumn 2004 with the intention of raising awareness and discussion in the UK of the consequences of global oil depletion following the imminent peak in global oil production, and how to deal with it -especially within a context of global warming and sustainability. The conference, titled Peak Speak, provided a platform to discuss the causes, consequences, and mitigation of the peak and decline in global oil production, and action that can be taken. Attended by approximately 50 people with seven speakers the event was well received with vibrant discussion after every speaker. The event opened with James Howard of Powerswitch introducing Powerswitch and the conference, setting the tone for day.
The new documentary Peak Oil: Imposed by Nature had it’s first public screening, inevitably compared to the familiar End of Suburbia the new film is shorter at just 30 minutes but covers the material well featuring Colin Campbell, Matthew Simmons and Chris Skrebowski amongst others. The DVD can be purchased from PowerSwitch here: http://www.powerswitch.org.uk/order.htm
Areas covered by the main speakers were:
Norman Church – Systems and Interdependencies
Norman highlighted how all the major systems of society are interdependent of one another highlighting the three core systems of power, banking/ finance, and telecommunications. The 2000 fuel protests and their effects were described in detail offering a glimpse of how fragile the system is today. Norman ended with a fantastic analogy comparing a big ship and lifeboats with our current civilisation and off-grid self sufficiency. Even a big ship in trouble is far better than a lifeboat on the high seas, taking to the lifeboats should be the last resort, though when trouble looms it would be wise to be prepared. Man the life boats, learn how to row, prepare to leave the big ship but don’t leave prematurely only to see the big ship sail over the horizon without you.
Tully Wakeman – Oil & World Agriculture
Tully Wakeman of East Anglia Food Link spoke on the impact of peak oil on the world’s food system. Our food system is currently highly energy-intensive, using around 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce, process, distribute and prepare each 1 calorie of food. Clearly in a post-fossil world food needs to provide more energy than it consumes. Energy is used approximately 1/4 in production, 1/2 in distribution and processing, and 1/4 in the home. The good news is that it will be fairly easy radically to reduce the energy consumed by moving to local, low-input, seasonal, unprocessed food. The more difficult questions concern the world’s ability to feed its current population without oil, and at a time when a number of other ecological constraints are beginning to make themselves known (climate change, depleted freshwater supplies, depleted soils etc). On balance Tully was optimistic that much of the world could adapt through a combination of market pressures and government intervention (eg rationing), although there would inevitably be ructions and there would also be particular parts of the world which would really suffer. But the changes will be major, and in particular imply a shift of the population towards rural areas (to reduce food transport but also to facilitate nutrient recycling) and also into farming (achieving high productivity without chemicals is labour-intensive).
David Fleming – Nuclear Power / DTQs
David covered two topics, nuclear power was considered from a waste management and uranium supply point of view. Clear arguments were presented that our current application of nuclear power is unsustainable since the waste is currently filed in the ‘too difficult pile’, not dealt with at all and that there isn’t enough uranium in sufficient quantities to be mined anyway. There are many reasons why a world facing peak oil shouldn’t turn to nuclear but the key point was lack of uranium trumps them all.
David also presented Domestic Tradable Quotas (DTQs), a scheme for rationing, and rapidly reducing, the use of fossil fuels, by sharing out access to fuel among every individual and organisation in the economy. They are intended as an effective, efficient and equitable means of reducing carbon emissions in the context of climate change and fuel rationing in the likely event of deepening scarcities in the supply of oil and gas (the oil peak).
The scheme is designed to be equally suited to both these purposes, providing ways of regulating demand for fuel both for climate reasons, and fuel supply reasons, as required. It includes all participants – consumers, industry, Government departments – within a single market, to which they all have access and on which they can buy and sell carbon units within a single Carbon Budget. The Budget is a guarantee that targets requiring the political economy as a whole to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels will actually be achieved. Further informaion is available on David’s DTQ website: www.dtqs.org.
Chris Vernon – Britain’s Energy Future
PDF of slides
I presented the UK energy mix, concentrating on electricity supply. The UK’s aging nuclear fleet currently providing 23% of electricity is soon to be decommissioned and the 38% provided by North Sea gas is in jeopardy due to rapid indigenous depletion. The balance currently made up from coal faces CO2, SO2 and NOx emission limits requiring very large capital expense to clean the current infrastructure or a switch to expensive, scarce, foreign very low sulphur coal. One point of note is that the existing nuclear plants are built on the coast, many only just above sea level. Decommission is projected to take 200 years before 100% clean, pessimistic sea level rise could see many of these old reactors under water before fully decommissioned!
Rosamund McDougall – Optimum Population
Rosamund McDougall of Optimum Population Trust (OPT) spoke of the need to reduce human population size suggesting it will be unable to sustain current population levels to the end of the century let alone support the projected increase in light of fossil fuel, fresh water, top soil and other resources become scarce. It seems obvious that populations can not continue to increase indefinitely yet still the government hasn’t defined it’s position on population rise. OPT aims to research and raise awareness of over population whilst opposing the views that perpetual population growth is a good thing and that an aging population does not call for mass immigration or increased birth rate.
Julian Jackson – Local Currency
Julian suggested that peak oil could be accompanied by a collapse or at least personal unavailability of government backed currency systems. However in this event the requirement to exchange products and services with your local neighbourhood will still exist. A local currency allows local trading in a far more flexible way than bartering. Julian recommeded Short Circuit by Richard Douthwaite (free).
Clive Smith – Personal Preparations
Power Point Presentation
Clive presented some very sound advice on personal preparations. One of the key points being that many items that are readily available now may be scarce or very expensive in the future. It makes sense to stock up on such items now and it’s important to try and convince friends, family and neighbours to do like wise unless you are able to stock up enough to share for when they come knocking on your door.
Material from all presentations will be available at www.powerswitch.org.uk shortly.