The Independent (UK): THE PRICE WE PAY FOR PETROL: “Should we panic? Visibly, our rulers have begun to do so, though their efforts to secure the Iraq oilfields "the world's largest remaining reserve " have so far proved counterproductive. Perhaps, on the contrary, we should rejoice. The $100 barrel (not to speak of the $200 and $300 barrels that will surely follow) may prove to be our saviour " the only solution to the impossible bind in which we now find ourselves.” (ShellNews.net) 19 April 05
By Ruth Brandon
IN 1956 M. King Hubbert, a research scientist with Shell, produced one of the world's most notorious graphs: a bell-shaped curve describing unrestrained production of a finite resource.
The curve peaks when about half the resource is gone, and thereafter declines. Hubbert fitted his curve to American oil production statistics, predicting they would peak in 1972. People scoffed, but Hubbert was proved right; and, in 1973, when the Middle East cut back production, America was caught short.
When Hubbert's formula is applied to world oil production, the overall peak, after which production will begin to decline, occurs any time between 2003 and 2010: that is, just about now.
Given that this coincides with a huge increase in demand as China starts to motorise, it is hardly surprising that oil prices have begun to rise sharply. Even energy analysts, who until now have proved oddly resistant to Hubbert, have begun to concede that the $50 barrel, far from being a mere blip, will probably foreshadow ever higher prices.
Should we panic? Visibly, our rulers have begun to do so, though their efforts to secure the Iraq oilfields "the world's largest remaining reserve " have so far proved counterproductive. Perhaps, on the contrary, we should rejoice. The $100 barrel (not to speak of the $200 and $300 barrels that will surely follow) may prove to be our saviour " the only solution to the impossible bind in which we now find ourselves.
The bind is this: we know that the reality of climate change, in which we have perhaps 10 years to stabilise atmospheric CO2 before changes become irreversible, means we must stop using fossil fuels. But it is almost impossible to internalise this. Psychologically and physically, our lives are constructed around cheap, abundant energy.
Transport now accounts for about 30 per cent of CO2 emissions. We have grown up with the assumption that all of us can travel anywhere in the world, at whim " the first generation to whom this has applied. And the constraints that used to control where we lived " proximity to schools, work, shops " no longer apply. The car is our pram, our shopping basket, our link to the world; it is autonomy on wheels. Statistics show that, as soon as anyone can afford a car, they tend to buy one.
We must be persuaded out of our cars, but this is extraordinarily difficult. Money, however, may finally be the key to reducing car use. In Propolis, a recent piece of research financed by the EU into land use and transport policies, it was found that of all the various sticks and carrots " additional investment in public transport, lowering public transport fares, parking price increases, congestion charging, and increasing car operating costs by 25, 50, 75, 100, and 300 per cent " the only scenario that consistently reduced car use " reducing length of journeys, ownership, distance driven and the number of journeys " was the drastic 300 per cent increase in operating costs, either by itself or in conjunction with one or more of the other policies.
And since something of this kind must happen if our planet is to stay habitable, perhaps we should welcome rather than fear the inevitable $100 barrel of oil.
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