Staying on message

December 15, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We were recently informed that advocates of green products now talk of their products’ virtues while ignoring their environmental merits and the need to change consumer habits to protect the health of the planet. The changing sales pitch is based on the notion that environmental merits now turn the public off, and they will no longer listen to such talk.

It leaves people to wonder how to justify green products if their environmental merits are ignored. Such an approach appears to be another form of denial and avoidance of the adverse consequences of our excessive consumption of environmentally-damaging products.

If we followed that line of advice, we would be very reluctant to bring up the issue of peak oil once again. It is the concept that oil production has reached its peak. As a finite resource, its rate of extraction will continue to decline with major consequences for industrialized societies based on low-cost and readily-available liquid fuel sources. The vast majority of industrial society’s products are oil-based, including the oil needed to manufacture the components and for them to function.

Peaking oil and its increased scarcity has major implications for the world and should arouse public concern. It is a matter that needs widespread recognition so society and citizens can implement appropriate changes to the new oil realities.

One of the most telling figures on oil supplies comes from the International Energy Agency (IEA). As of 2010, the world’s liquid fuels production tops out at roughly 83 million barrels of oil per day and will begin a long descent to 43 million barrels per day within 20 years.

The IEA projects that as existing liquid fuel sources decline, nearly half of the liquid fuel requirements, about 40 million barrels per day, will come from “unidentified projects.” Rather than ignoring the potential shortages and wait for timely implementation of “unidentified projects,” members of society would be better served if they changed their lifestyles now.

Considering the gravity of the situation, not talking about it leaves the public ill prepared to deal with the emerging reality. An ignorant public will not elect politicians who openly state that economic growth as we have known it is ending and that we need to change our lifestyles to adjust to the new realities.

The recent comments by Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, indicating that unemployment levels will not improve for another four to five years, is a surprisingly candid reminder of our grim short-term economic future. Many peak oil commentators see these conditions as a time of transition to an economy based on less, but more expensive, energy.

We have long known that we needed to cut our energy consumption and how to do it, but our political leaders and the public were unwilling to implement less energy wasteful policies. It now appears that economic conditions will force us to implement what we should have been doing for years.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Dec. 15-21, 2010 issue

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