August 2008

The learned folks over at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas have published a really clear, well thought-out Guide to Peak Oil by Chris Nelder. This differs from a lot of Peak-Oil stuff I’ve seen, in that it doesn’t immediately suggest arming yourself and heading for the hills. It takes a powerful message and delivers it in a calm here-are-the-facts way. Here are some of the highlights for me:

  • We are not about to run out of oil – it’l be around for a hundred years.
  • We seem to be entering a plateau in oil production, and oil production is unlikely to significantly increase from this point.
  • Following the plateau – within 3-6 years – less oil and gas will be available to feed, clothe, transport and support an increasing – and increasingly wealthy – world population.
  • New sources of “oil” – Tar Sands, Shale Oil etc. require significant energy to convert them into a relatively slow supply of usable liquid fuels. This means that they are not likely to reduce the current oil prices, and will only be economical at significantly higher prices, if at all.
  • Within 10 years we can expect to be living with 12% less oil-per-day than we currently enjoy.
  • 11 of the top 21 oil producing countries are already past their peak, and production from mature oilfields declines at around 4.5% a year. Any new discoveries have to offset this loss before they give a net increase in oil production.
  • Event the International Energy Agency, who are on the more optimistic side of energy forecasting, have dropped their forecast growth in supply, while acknowledging that demand for oil continues to grow at 1.5% a year.

It’s pretty sobering reading, albeit nothing I wasn’t already concerned about. If you’re just starting to think about peak oil, and it’s effect on you, your children and and your community then this document is a good place to learn the basics – read it and pass it on to anyone who might have an interest in the future.

I’ve just seen a great idea over at Eco ‘Burban: List of changes they’ve already made, and things that they’re aiming to do – nice, simple, and right in front of you! 

It’s an interesting blog too – looking at how to live an affluent, green, family life. Her other blog – Affluent People Living Sustainably – is also interesting, and a little more confronting. It raises the interesting point that with affluence comes responsibility – a responsibility that will become only more important over the coming years as those of us that can afford it will still be warm, well-fed and driving, while those that can’t will get colder, hungrier and sick of public transport. Maybe I’d better ensure that strong community involvement is high up on my new list of aims.

Well . . nothing but food and basic toiletries. And used items are OK, as they don’t directly contribute to new production.

What a fantastic challenge to set yourself – and a good preparation for a post-peak-oil world. I’m not sure I’d be up for it at this stage, but that’s the challenge that  Amber has set herself in Canada, and is documenting in her blog Unstuffed. This is one of the most impressive efforts I have seen to really make a day-to-day difference. Not only is she not making new purchases, she is doing a tremendous job of buying local produce, minimising waste and – just as importantly – letting everyone know that this is possible.

It’s a really inspirational example, and one that I’d love to follow – just as soon as we’ve got through the next twelve months of re-equipping our lives after our move 🙂

I really loved this recent post of hers – what a fantastic day, and a great way to slip in a new purchase. Well done Amber – I’ll watch the rest of your year with interest.

Great reports in The Guardian and Independent recently talking about how rising fuel prices are driving cars off the road, and forcing people to drive more slowly and carefully. 

In the UK this has resulted in the first recorded drop in congestion, and an actual increase in average speeds as people sit in less fuel-sapping traffic jams. The really good news comes from the USA though, where traffic fatalities have fallen to their lowest levels since 1961!  They have fallen by 10% over the past year – saving thousands of lives.

A great vision of what we can expect as prices continue to rise . . and vehicle use and speeds drop further.

An interesting post on The Oil Drum has got me thinking that, in addition to needing to be warm and fed, we need to work out how we’re going to avoid drowning in our own waste. Seems to me that weekly rubbish collections will be a service that will rapidly become uneconomic for councils to provide, and that sewage treatment may not be far behind. So what do we do?

First off I think we should look at this problem from the other side – any “waste” leaving our system (house & garden) represents a loss of energy, and in an energy-poor world that will be hard to take.  So lets see a lack of collection as an opportunity to ensure as little of our hard-won energy is lost.

I’ll have a look at how we can recycle as much of our waste on site, to ensure that we loose as little energy as possible – I’ll see what i can find about composting, and even compost toilets & “humanure” to see what preparations we can make without appearing to be complete nutters!

Of course it won’t all be soup-soup-soup in my peak oil future – when I’m having a baking day it’d be great to throw a Vegetable Gratin into the wood-fired oven – but how to make the breadcrumbs? It might be that the mouli is up to this, but if not then one of these might the best option – a hand-powered Vortex blender. Plus I could use it to make smoothies!

OK, so I’ve accepted that we’ll be eating a lot of soup in my peak-oil future. Thats fine, I love a good vegetable soup. But it occurs to me that I do use an electric blender to make it. Here’s a blast of nostalgia though – a Mouli – the original 1940s-designed classic food processor. Vegetables go in, a little bit of elbow grease required, and then puree comes out! We had one of these when I was a kid, and it always seemed kind-of cool. So this makes it onto my Peak-Oil Christmas list – you can get a range of them here – and my favourite is the 2-litre stainless steel model – guaranteed to make soup through any global catastrophe.

Not very glamorous I know: not as sexy as a roaring fire or gently glowing Rayburn, not as high-tech as solar hotwater or a heat-pump, but it strikes me that insulation really is the key to keeping warm post-peak-oil.

Lets face it, as oil prices get out of reach, gas and electric will follow. People are putting in wood-burning stoves at an incredible rate so we can face “Peak Firewood” pretty rapidly too. Sounds like we’ll all be shivering unless we can really minimise the heat we need to heat the house.

That means looking at everything – floors, walls, roof, windows, doors, drafts – I’ll do my research and post everything I can find on here.

In a fascinating twist the new Lewes Pound will be available at Barclays Bank – from the site of the Lewes Old Bank which backed the original Lewes Pound in 1895!

This does seem to add new credibility to the Transition Towns movement and it’ll be interesting to watch their success. More details on the curreny can be found at the Transition Towns Lewes pages.

More energy companies increasing bills – The Guardian are saying that for the average customer, annual bills are £1,211-£1,328 a year, 5.4 million people are paying more than 10% of their income just for energy.

I love the comment from uSwitch:

Ann Robinson,’s director of consumer policy, said soaring bills posed “a huge threat” to standards of living. “Gas and electricity are essential commodities which have now become a luxury many cannot afford. The government needs to provide a strategic, regulatory, environment to ensure the lights stay on at an affordable price.”

Sounds like nationalisation would be a great idea – although then there’d be no need for price comparison websites like uSwitch!

This quote is clear and sensible, as long as you don’t have a peak-oil view of the world, as once you do you realise the challenges inherent with trying to reduce the cost of an increasingly scarce resource. Face it – bills are going to keep going up – gas, electricity, petrol/diesel, water. What we (and the government) can do is work out how we can live with those increasing bills – not waste time trying to turn back the tide.

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