Today's crisis's include the threat of the Aids virus, global warming and the serious threat of terrorism to our top heavy economy. One that isn't yet given the status of crisis but still needs to be taken seriously is the looming energy crisis which marks the end of the petrol / diesel engine era. Britain's oil imports have recently overtaken its exports1 . A new energy crisis, more severe than that of the 70s is now inevitable. This time it will be on a devastating world wide scale. On top of the cost of the war in Iraq the USA spends $30billion-60billion to ensure a continuing supply of oil from the Middle East2 . However relative to the money spent on securing new supplies of oil nothing has been spent on research into alternative energy sources for domestic use. If the United States were to show some interest in alternative sources of energy then poorer countries of the world would be encouraged to prepare for a future without oil or at least reduce their growing dependence on oil as a fuel. But North America has shown no real initiative when it comes to reducing it's dependence on oil3 and instead has abandoned the Kyoto treaty, refused to increase taxes on petrol and has started to invade and occupy countries harvesting the few remaining reserves. The United States of America is becoming more dependent on imported oil - using military force they intend to secure those reserves which are currently controlled by non-nuclear governments. In the case of Iraq using a poorly disguised pretence such as the threat of terrorism. No connection has yet been found between Sadam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden. The United States plan is to extend their control of the oil rich countries in the middle east using Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as a bases. In order to ensure a constant supply of oil President Bush will risk another world war. He knows that those who control the fuel, which the world has grown so dependent on, will control the world. When the USA has a tight grip on the last of the supplies the world will have no choice but to dance to their tune even if this means disarming. But now new countries are now challenging the USA and it appears that there will probably be four or five superpowers by the end of the next decade. Alliances will form between oil rich countries and the dollar will almost certainly collapse giving up world dominance to the Euro. A fundamental shift to the east and the Euro will occur within the lifetime of todays University students. Having grown up in an oil-powered world, a world in which we have plastics, dyes, polythene, nylon and many other polymers I have no idea what life was like before the advent of oil. The petrochemical industry, driven by synthetic polymer production, is one of the largest in the United States. And yet we simply take crude oil and it's by-products for granted. A move from petrol driven vehicles to electric powered vehicles would be more than a culture shock, it would take the co-operation, understanding and patience of the nation. We must look to Iceland as an example of a nation undergoing this transition, bravely, the Icelandic government is now phasing out all fossil fuels and taping into natural sources of energy such as hot springs for hot water and wind power for electricity. However the use of oil derivatives has permeated the lives of each and every person in the west to such an extent that life could not continue normally without oil even if we met the all demands for energy using alternative sources. Without oil derivatives we couldn't manufacture cars, televisions, computers, CDs, phones, paint, shoes or anything made from nylon, polyester or plastics. More importantly, because fertilizers are made from oil derivatives, we would struggle to grow enough food to feed the ever-increasing population.
In this world where people have little or no patience anymore a carrot and stick approach (using taxes as the stick) will be required. Of course fuel taxes have never been very popular with motorists but it is the big industries that should suffer most. If we cut consumption by two thirds, we would only be postponing the peak by about 30 years4 . A great reduction in fuel consumption is needed and soon but too drastic a cut made too quickly could destabilise entire continents. I would like to see governments imposing fines on companies not making improvements to the fuel efficiency of their plant and vehicles and even closing down factories that had been fined three times.
There is currently a reduced level of tax for LPG fuel and this encourages the use of a fuel with little harmful emissions. That helps the environment but it still relies on a finite resource, a fossil fuel. In the hydrogen fuel cell technology is moving rapidly toward an alternative power source for cars (a possible solution if the fuel cells can be mass produced at a tenth of their current cost). Nuclear power has become popular again and I have read numerous articles suggesting that power stations will be constructed to fill the gap in the energy grid when oil wells run dry. However not one new power station has been proposed for England and no private investor is likely to want to risk billions of pounds or dollars on something that might blow up or be blown up. We badly need to produce electricity using alternative sources of fuel on a global scale. Planes of the future may be fuelled by hydrogen and oxygen like the space shuttle and people may one day wear solar panel hats to power their mobile phones but I doubt it. The alternative to finding no alternative is to take a step back into the dark ages.
Energy Conservation Message c.1978
Published in the back of a paperback.
(Click image for a larger picture)
1. Michael Meacher (Environment Minister UK 1997 to 2003) Article in the FT 5th January 2004.
2. A Dangerous Addiction ( The Economist ) December 2001
2. Matt Savinar, JD. The Oil Age Is Over (Published 2004)