Peak oil and fuel price

August 29th, 2011 atam Posted in Climate change, Earth, Peak oil No Comments »

A few years ago a local website set up to draw attention to the issue of peak oil declared that its objectives had been met and therefore there would be no further updates on the site.

Which is surprising, considering there is no sign whatsoever that “the Hong Kong Government and other key stakeholders” had taken note of its suggestions for protecting the city against the effects of peak oil.

And a year later, its founders clearly changed its mind, because fresh updates were back online. The founders, however, conceded in its November 2010 newsletter that they had no idea “whether it will be continued or whether this is a one off…time will tell…”

Meanwhile, the general public remains blissfully ignorant that their lifestyle is about to change rather drastically. Hence the recent protest against high prices at the pumps. Do the oil companies manipulate prices? Sure, but it hardly matters, given it’s high time we look at our oil dependence.

In places with poor infrastructure high oil prices can cause riots, because the people don’t know how else to fill up their vehicles so they can make their journeys to jobs and markets in the absence of reliable and cost-effective alternatives. In Hong Kong, the compactness of the city and the excellence of the public transport system mean this is not the case, so why the protests?

The protesters, as it happens, are container truck drivers. Just think: we could have a freight rail connecting manufacturing zones in southern China with the container terminal and they wouldn’t have to worry about high fuel prices anymore. Except, of course, this powerful lobby group would then also lose their jobs. So how come, despite the government’s love of megaprojects, a freight rail that’s been talked about on and off for so long never got off the ground?

Fuel prices may ease up further if a double-dip occurs in the world economy, but make no mistake: the long-term trend is all the way up for oil prices. We are at the peak of production now or close to it; hence the joy at the defeat of Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi – the world is desperate to have a producer responsible for only 2% of world oil supply to come back online.

We’re so desperate to get the last drop to fuel our literally sickening lifestyle and poorly designed cities, a commentator has urged Americans to embrace Canadian oil sands despite its impact on global warming because, hey, if the Americans don’t get their hands on it, somebody else, like the Chinese, would.

It all makes a mockery of the international negotiations to tackle climate change. Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban…. it’s as though the negotiations are happening in a vacuum, with the delegates delicately shielded from the critical issues of oil dependence and overpopulation.

In what is now known as the Hirsch Report, the world is advised to plan 20 years ahead of this occurrence to avoid severe disruptions, yet what is being done other than a geopolitical scramble for the last drop while the average man-on-the-street knows nothing of the disaster that’s about to hit him?


A runway to hell

December 6th, 2010 atam Posted in Climate change, General, Peak oil No Comments »

What did British Airports Authority do as soon as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in the UK in May?

It scrapped plans for building a third runway at Heathrow as well as plans for a second runway at Stansted.

Activists who had campaigned against the previous Labour government’s move to approve BAA’s proposals had pointed out that doing so would force ordinary people and businesses to shoulder most of the burden for reducing the country’s carbon emissions in accordance with its commitment.

Alas, even as the Hong Kong government announced a new, more drastic commitment to cut the city’s carbon intensity by 50-60% by 2020, against 2005’s level, there are those who remain ignorant of the impact of aviation on climate change and, in the name of the city’s economic interest, are calling for the construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok.

This in a city where air travel already accounts for half the per capita carbon emissions of its citizens. If this share is allowed to remain the same, never mind increase, how is Hong Kong supposed to be able to make a genuine contribution to tackling climate change?  Interestingly, the government’s per capita emission figure doesn’t include aviation emissions – suggesting a lopsided view of the sector’s contribution to global warming or, worse still, its propensity to fall in line with vested interests.

But these are not the only reasons why a third runway is such a bad idea. Quite apart from the adverse impact its construction and operation will have on Tung Chung residents and marine life, there is also the issue of peak oil.

What is peak oil? It refers to the point at which global extraction of oil, ramped up to the max, still fails to meet global demand. After that, production will go through a precipitous drop. Experts disagree on the exact date when peak oil is reached – some say we’ve already passed it – but there is broad agreement that, given global economic growth trends, we will hit that date no later than 2015, with 2020 being a hugely optimistic projection.

That doesn’t mean we will run out of oil in 2015, but it does mean that supply will be so constricted even as demand continues its inexorable rise that oil prices will hit the roof – which will severely impact all kinds of economic activity. Now, according to the authors of the pro-runway study, the runway will take about ten years to build – meaning it will be completed sometime when oil prices and the cost to the environment will have become so high that people will either not be flying half as frequently as they do today or are simply too preoccupied with coping with expensive food, electricity and other daily necessities to seek another holiday overseas.

That will mean taxpayers will have wasted billions of dollars on a third runway when they will need all the money in reserve to help them cope with rampant inflation.

Besides, by then, the express rail link will have been completed, ensuring a steady stream of arrivals from Hong Kong’s biggest source of tourism revenue, right in the heart of the city. If the government is wise, it would devise a strategy to encourage use of the rail link instead of air travel as a way to reduce the city’s carbon emissions. Why then does Hong Kong need a third runway?

Hong Kongers love to fly around and the aviation lobby is powerful, but if we genuinely care about climate change and a sustainable livelihood ten years from now and beyond, we’d do well to focus on the grim reality confronting us – and say no to a third runway.


Peak oil and climate change: making the right links

October 14th, 2010 Mar Posted in Climate change, General, Peak oil 1 Comment »

George Will writes in a recent issue of Newsweek that “peak oil” – or the idea that the world will run out of oil and therefore should start conserving energy – is a sham.  He argues that every previous prediction of oil “running out” has turned out to be false, and current predictions of oil drying up will meet the same fate.  As a result, the world does not need to “get off the oil habit.”  In addition,  we don’t really need to look at renewable energy technologies, which he portrays as give-aways to vested interests.

He may have a point that government subsidies often have more to do with politics than anything else.  But his blase approach to energy security is misguided.  The reason to get off our oil addiction is that it is causing climate change, which will do us all in.  The fact that energy supplies are dwindling is a good financial case for action on energy efficiency and the low-carbon economy, as decreasing supply affects price.  But, high costs are not in themselves  insurmountable; they simply promote a re-ordering of priorities.  Unfortuantely for us, climate change IS insurmountable.  Once it happens, there’s no turning back.

George Will quotes the CEO of Exxon as saying that we will have plenty of oil for “at least” the next 20 years.   But whether the world will still have enough oil in 2035 is a moot point, if by that time, catastrophic climate change has already set in.


Peak oil in five years

October 4th, 2007 atam Posted in Earth, Peak oil 1 Comment »

If you read the earlier blog entry “Life hangs in balance over contradiction” and felt sceptical, please check this report about the world reaching peak oil production in 2012.

Never mind plastic bags, anything made of plastic will come at a premium when that happens. Just imagine. Natural gas will run out too, and so with all the fossil fuels that took the earth millions of years to form. Gone in just one and a half centuries.