Please read this first...

If you want to know what I'm on about in the shortest time then please read the introductory first post and my current action plan. Comments are very welcome. And if you like this blog, please tell a friend. Thanks!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

When I was a kid, we had something called a "car"

For the average Aussie nothing on this blog so far would have been too surprising. I've talked about global warming due to CO2 emissions, the terrible drought we're suffering and some fairly obvious approaches to reducing electricity and water consumption. So far I'm pretty much in the mainstream.

But to live up to the title of this blog we're going to have to go quite a bit further. Time to get back onto the topic of oil, I think, and how utterly dependent we are on the energy it provides us for transportation.

To recap, there are two essential problems with our oil supply: our burning of it is a major contibuting factor to global warming, and we're burning it so fast it's probably not going to last more than another couple of decades anyway. What's more, there aren't yet any technologies which we can confidently say will be ready to step in to keep our vast fleet of vehicles moving as the oil wells dry up and/or global warming gets so serious we don't dare drive any more.

Stop for a moment, and try to imagine a world with only half as much fuel available for transport as we have today, and at twice the price. Imagine that every second airline flight was cancelled. Imagine that you could only drive your car to work every second day (or for two car families that one car had to be taken off the road). Imagine half of all road-based goods delivery being cut. Half of the bulk cargo ships permanently anchored.

It should be immediately obvious to you that any significant decrease in oil supply is going to have a huge impact on the civilisation we call "the developed world". And in stark contrast to the basic assumptions of economic growth, the availability of oil would continue to decrease quite rapidly.

Civilisation in 2050 will either be based on some revolutionary transportation technology... or it will have dramatically restructured in a kind of reverse-globalisation. Actually there's already an accepted term for this: "localisation".

This idea is going to feature pretty prominently on this blog in the future. I know there's already plenty to worry about with the warming and the drought, but I think this one's probably just as important and equally urgent.

Tonight I'm going to add permanent links over on the side to two other blogs. The first is Chris Rhodes' Energy Balance and it's become essential reading for me. It can be a bit technical/analytical at times but frankly that's the value of it: Chris manages to put actual numbers against things like the comparison of present oil consumption vs the amount of land required to grow the equivalent amount of corn etc for producing ethanol. He helps separate fantasy from reality. And he has a great grasp on the implications.

Please take a moment to at least skim some of Chris's posts - this link gives you about half a dozen of them which include reference to localisation.

The other blog I would like you to check out is also from the UK. There's a fascinating movement springing up over there in which small communities (mostly rural but there's also some city action) are quite deliberately adapting their local economies and infrastructure to become vastly less reliant on oil. They're operating under the moniker of "Transition Towns" and there's a blog called Transition Culture dedicated to documenting their experience and promoting the broader adoption of the idea.

Now none of us can say for sure what will happen in the next forty years. Maybe we'll develop the technology to permit us to continue something like our current society in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. But that's a bloody short period of time. It seems smarter to me that we should look for wisdom in the culture of our pre-oil ancestors rather than gamble the future of everything on us actually pulling off a technological miracle.

For the time being, my vision of 2050 involves a lot less moving about of people and products. We'll still have the ability to travel... but as with so many other things we'll have learned to appreciate it more and will use it much more wisely.

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