Peak oil and global climate revisited

Surest remedies are personal and local changes in energy efficiency and renewables

If global oil production is peaking and the global climate is warming, it is imperative to dramatically increase both the efficiency with which we use energy and our use of renewable energy sources. Increasing attention is being given to the global energy situation, which suggests the world is beginning to accept the reality of these major interrelated problems.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil insists global oil production is peaking, which marks the end of cheap oil. They argue that official world oil reserves estimates are far too optimistic. The recent 23 percent reduction in Shell Oil’s reported reserves has given their concerns increased attention. They question whether Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest source of oil reserves, will be able to increase their production by 3 million barrels by the end of the year. If the increased production fails to materialize, their position will garner increased support.

With the rising global demand for oil driven by the United States, China and India, oil prices appear set for a long-term increase if supplies fall short. Surging oil demand in China is likely to continue increasing. General Motors just announced plans to spend billions of dollars to increase auto production there to serve its emerging market. Ironically, U.S. air transportation executives warn that rising fuel prices will have adverse impacts on their industry’s economic viability.

Since transportation accounts for two-thirds of the United States’ oil consumption, rising oil prices in this sector will have dramatic impacts.

Over the short term, conservation will provide some relief. Walking, biking, carpooling and simply driving less will help ease the burden. Over the long term, major changes in transportation technologies, human behavior, tax policies and government subsidies will be needed.

The presence of global warming will call for more widespread changes.

The dramatic, nearly instantaneous climate change portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow is an attempt to arouse public interest in the link between increased fossil fuels emissions and increased extreme weather events around the globe. Last summer’s heat wave in Europe prematurely ended the lives of an estimated 20,000 people. The recent severe rainstorm in Haiti caused 2,000 deaths. Two leading reinsurance firms, Munich Re and Swiss Re, estimate that within a decade, climate change-related damages may run as high as $150 billion annually.

While the twin problems of peak oil and climate change are massive, some solutions offer immediate environmental and economic benefits. Efficiency, wind power, solar power and biofuels are available to help offset the unsustainable energy path we are following. While changes in individual patterns of energy use are essential and available today, changes in government policies at the local, state and federal levels must also occur.

Misplaced priorities also manifest themselves in the developing world where coal, oil and natural gas deals receive 11 times the funding levels that renewables receive from the World Bank.

While our energy problems are global, individual and local actions can be taken now to help alleviate the situation. Although we need policy changes at the state, national and global level, the surest changes are personal and local.

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