Matters Environmental

#1

I’ve been meaning to start this thread for a while, as I’m fairly interested in issues of an environmental nature, particulary Climate Change and Resource Depletion(Oil and fish are my main concerns on this front!). Here’s an interesting article from the guardian from a fella called George Monbiot- a fairly hardcore investigative journalist and environmenental activist. The position of the British Government on this issue is pretty much exactly that of our own, by the way.

King Abdaullah of Saudi Arabia

Your Majesty,

In common with the leaders of most western nations, our prime minister is urging you to increase your production of oil. I am writing to ask you to ignore him. Like the other leaders he is delusional, and is no longer competent to make his own decisions.

You and I know that there are several reasons for the high price of oil. Low prices at the beginning of this decade discouraged oil companies from investing in future capacity. There is a global shortage of skilled labour, steel and equipment. The weak dollar means that the price of oil is higher than it would have been if denominated in another currency. While your government says that financial speculation is an important factor, the Bank of England says it is not, so I don’t know what to believe. The major oil producers have also become major consumers; in some cases their exports are falling even as their production has risen, because they are consuming more of their own output.

But what you know and I do not is the extent to which the price of oil might reflect an absolute shortage of global reserves. You and your advisers are perhaps the only people who know the answer to this question. Your published reserves are, of course, a political artefact unconnected to geological reality. The production quotas assigned to its members by Opec, the oil exporters’ cartel, reflect the size of their stated reserves, which means that you have an incentive to exaggerate them. How else could we explain the fact that, despite two decades of furious pumping, your kingdom posts the same reserves as it did in 1988?

You say that you are saving your oil for the benefit of future generations. If this is true, it is a rational economic decision: oil in the ground looks like a better investment than money in the bank. But, reluctant as I am to question your Majesty’s word, I must remind you that some oil analysts are now wondering whether this prudence is a convenient fiction. Are you restricting supply because you want to conserve stocks and keep the price high, or are you unable to raise production because your fabled spare capacity does not in fact exist?

I do not expect an answer to this question. I know that the true state of your reserves is a secret so closely guarded that oil analysts now resort to using spy satellites to try to estimate the speed of subsidence of the ground above your oil fields, as they have no other means of guessing how fast your reserves are running down.

What I know, and you may not, is that the high price of oil is currently the only factor implementing British government policy. The government claims that it is seeking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, by encouraging people to use less fossil fuel. Now, for the first time in years, its wish has come true: people are driving and flying less. The AA reports that about a fifth of drivers are buying less fuel. A new study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature shows that businesses are encouraging their executives to use video conferences instead of flying. One of the most fuel-intensive industries of all, business-only air travel, has collapsed altogether.

In other words, your restrictions on supply - voluntary or otherwise - are helping the government to meet its carbon targets. So how does it respond? By angrily demanding that you remove them so that we can keep driving and flying as much as we did before. Last week, Gordon Brown averred that it’s “a scandal that 40% of the oil is controlled by Opec, that their decisions can restrict the supply of oil to the rest of the world, and that at a time when oil is desperately needed, and supply needs to expand, that Opec can withhold supply from the market”. In the United States, legislators have gone further: the House of Representatives has voted to bring a lawsuit against Opec’s member states, and Democratic senators are trying to block arms sales to your kingdom unless you raise production.

This illustrates one of our leaders’ delusions. They claim to wish to restrict the demand for fossil fuels, in order to address both climate change and energy security. At the same time, to quote Britain’s Department for Business, they seek to “maximise economic recovery” from their remaining oil, gas and coal reserves. They persist in believing that both policies can be pursued at once, apparently unaware that if fossil fuels are extracted they will be burnt, however much they claim to wish to reduce consumption. The only states that appear to be imposing restrictions on the supply of fuel are the members of Opec, about which Brown so bitterly complains. Your Majesty, we have gone mad, and you alone can cure our affliction, by keeping your taps shut.

Our leaders, though they do not possess the least idea of whether the oil supplies required to support it will be sustained, are also overseeing a rapid expansion of our transport infrastructure. In the UK, we are building or upgrading thousands of miles of roads and doubling the capacity of our airports, in the expectation that there will be no restriction in the supply of fuel. The government’s central forecast for the long-term price is just $70 a barrel.

Over the past few months, I have been trying to discover how the government derives this optimistic view. In response to a parliamentary question, it reveals that its projection is based on “the assessment made by the International Energy Agency in its 2007 World Energy Outlook”. Well, last week the Wall Street Journal revealed that the IEA “is preparing a sharp downward revision of its oil-supply forecast”. Its final report won’t be released until November, but it has already concluded that “future crude supplies could be far tighter than previously thought”. Its previous estimates of global production were wrong for one simple and shocking reason: it had based them on anticipated demand, rather than anticipated supply. It resolved the question of supply by assuming that it would automatically rise to meet demand, as if it were subject to no inherent restraints.

Our government must have known this, but it has refused to conduct its own analysis of global oil reserves. Uniquely among possible threats to the economy and national security, it has commissioned no research of any kind into this question. So earlier this year, I asked the Department for Business what contingency plans it possesses to meet the eventuality that the IEA’s estimates could be wrong, and that global supplies of petroleum might peak in the near future. “The government,” it replied, “does not feel the need to hold contingency plans.” I am sure I do not need to explain the implications if its forecasts turn out to be wildly wrong.

Your Majesty, I recognise that this is not among your usual duties as the ruler of Saudi Arabia. But I respectfully beg you to save us from ourselves.

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot

About this articleClose This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday May 27 2008 on p25 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:05 on May 27 2008. George Monbiot

#2

Good article that. I’ve read a couple of Monbiot’s books and he has loads of interesting stuff - he’s the lad that first got me started on negative interest rates as a socialist alternative to capitalism.

#3

FAO of @glasagusban and other planet-raping sushi fiends

#4

Was @Juhniallio having a laugh when he set up this thread I wonder

#5

The old peak oil theory seems to be going the way of the blue fin tuna

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#6

Nah. I still care but that was pre-kids when I had time to have a shit.

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#7

Food/animal wise and habitat wise we re still making a balls of things and are we are on course to kill off a rake of species but as far as global warming is concerned we are finally starting to wake up and get our act together. At this stage there are very few skeptics left and nearly all of the scientific community, and some of the business community, are tackling viable ways to slow it /reduce it.

Even the likes of sky news have jumped on board and have their own ocean crusade going.

We will win this war!!

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#8

Peak Oil theory is a classic example of human predictions being derailed by black swans. As Nassim Taleb said “what you don’t know is far more relevant than what you do know”. Unconventional oil production has blown up prior peak oil estimates (2000), oil production continues to rise and 80% of the global increase from 2008 to 2015 was from unconventional oil production in the US and Canada.

#9

Sigh.

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#10

What do you do nowadays, just shit your trousers? :fearful:

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#11

No. I use a toilet but rarely have enough time. I might sneak a shit in the downstairs jacks but I’d have to leave the door open and roar at the little fella not to hit the TV with his golf club or tell the little lady to keep him away from the cooker. it’s rarely a quality shit.
To be honest if I didn’t have a superb constitution and fantastic regularity I’d be snookered entirely.

#12

Peak oil was a myth anyway, the more expensive oil gets the less people use it and the more sense solar/wind/nuclear make. So in a situation where oil production couldn’t get any larger other forms of energy would fill the gap. It doesn’t look like oil production is anywhere near its peak though as you say, but if we’d any sense we’d leave it in the ground

#13

I tend to carry out the vast majority of shitting outside of the home environment. Anything done at home is subject to in depth interogation and strict inspection protocols

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#14

Christ… how old are your kids ?

#15

+1. I generally tend to bring a copy of the newspaper with me. As noone wants to see me before 10 am. It generally gives rise to a rather relaxed effort most mornings. Although Mondays can be a bit of a rush to get the car parked up as the overindulgences of the weekend tend not to wait as long as other mornings

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#16

Kids?

#17

Yeah you just said they inspect your shit…

#18

FFS SAKE, you just ruined my joke where I implied that it was actually someone else within my household that was inspecting my shit…

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#19

I think he ruined it on purpose because it was a shit joke.

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#20

cc @Tassotti

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