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Review of presentations from the Climate and Energy Symposium: Imperatives for Future Naval Forces (updated)

The slide presentations have been posted from the recent symposium on Climate and Energy: Imperatives for Future Naval Forces, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and the Centre for Naval Analyses (March 2010).

This review examines three of the presentations which focused on oil supply problems.

The conference home page outlines the objectives of the symposium:

1. Introduction (L. Dean Simmons)
The introductory presentation by conference chair L. Dean Simmons addresses oil supply concerns and specifically mentions peak oil (slide #10 provides a graph from ASPO-USA).

Simmons correctly points out, “Changes in petroleum supply – to include source, quantity, and price – will have significant effects…” (slide 12).

2. Economic Impacts of Global Petroleum Supply Shocks (Jeffrey F. Werling)
The first half of this presentation examines the much-neglected issue of oil supply shocks.

The first slide shows Canadians as top per capita energy consumers (and therefore among the most vulnerable to interruptions, our tar sands notwithstanding).

Werling points out the exponential nature of the effects of oil shortages: a doubling of the volume or duration of a shortage is likely to inflict more than double the economic damage.

He is also touches on the need to consider both price and non-price rationing, the need to consider “distribution decisions” and risks to vulnerable groups well in advance, and the importance of building resilience.

Werling mentions the impact of oil shocks on various sectors, but he might have mentioned the particular vulnerability of our food supply chain (which begins with farmers, most of whom are near the bottom of the income scale and thus unable to contend with a spike in fuel & fertilizer costs).

It is encouraging to see the issue of oil shocks brought forward (especially before a military audience) and some examination given to the economic and social impacts, and how they might be mitigated.

3. Integration and Synthesis Panel Introduction (John Benedict)
The slides from this summary session are packed with information, with several slides containing about 250 words (which approaches the limit for even the most literate audiences).

Slide #11 (which deals with energy supply- demand uncertainties) provides an accurate summary of key points surrounding the debate over “peak oil.”

Gen. Sullivan (slide #12) is indeed correct: things are interconnected and have become very complex. We must now contend with “a system of systems” (many of which we ourselves have disrupted).

There is a clear trend among military analysts toward confirmation of peak oil as a legitimate problem, both for defence forces and for the larger economic base which funds those forces.

The proceedings of this symposium give no hint that peak oil is viewed as alarmist nonsense. Rather, these presentations confirm the trend among military/security analysts that the peaking of global oil production is fairly imminent and presents very serious global challenges.

It is time for civilian authorities to acknowledge the increasingly unanimous concerns which are being expressed by military/security analysts, endorse these warnings, and begin to act on them.

Unfortunately, the presentation from the EIA to this symposium completely overlooked the issue of peak oil. This omission adds further evidence to the recent debate over the apparent disjuncture between military and civilian views of oil supply.

One obvious question is this: why do we have increasing expressions of concern from the military/security research community, while civilian authorities cannot bring themselves to acknowledge even the possibility of a near-term peak and the problems which that could present to an unprepared world?

The complete set of symposium presentations is available here:

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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