by Kevin Moore — January 18th, 2005
|Hon Jeanette Fitzsimons
|18 January 2005|
Dear Miss Fitzsimons
Regarding your speech on Peak Oil
It is most encouraging to see that the media have reported the speech you made recently on Waiheke Island, highlighting the fact that our society is predicated on cheap and readily available oil, that many of the environmental problems we now face are a direct consequence of the use of oil (and other fossil fuels) and the fact that this [cheap and readily available] oil will not be available for much longer. I am in complete agreement with your comments.
It is also encouraging that you have pointed out that the government’s ‘best guess’ for Peak Oil [of 2037] is entirely unrealistic (we might say delusional), though you did not go as far as most energy analysts and point out that it is based on fraudulent claims made by oil companies and [perhaps deliberately] erroneous statistical analysis by the IEA.
What concerns me about you speech is your own claim that ‘we may well have less than ten years before we reach this terrible tipping point … Only the Greens are planning for how to cope’. Could you please explain how you arrived at a time frame of 10 years? Ten years does not correspond with the best available analysis, as supplied by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas or the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, nor with the work of Matt Simmons, probably one of the best informed energy analysts in the world. The consensus view amongst oil geologists seems to be that Peak Oil [conventional] will occur within 3 years, whilst numerous analysts with extremely credible reputations regard the oil supply as already extremely precarious and likely to fall over within one year; minor increases in production over coming months could very easily be outstripped by demand, in which case effects similar to those of Peak Oil, of rapidly escalating prices and possible interruption of supply, are going to be felt within a matter of months, not years, as you have suggested. Quite clearly New Zealand should have been preparing for Peak Oil from the first moment it was alerted — way back in 1998! We have seen 7 years not just of inaction, but of counterproductive policy i.e. the importation of tens of thousands of gas-guzzling SUVs, racing cars, jet skis and speed boats etc., right down to uncountable leaf blowers — all chewing through petrol and diesel like there is no tomorrow and filling our cities with choking exhaust fumes that have resulted in uncountable deaths and illnesses. During the past seven years the Green Party has not only been more or less silent on the issue of peak oil, but it has also supported a government that has been committed to greater energy use and increased emissions. The Precautionary Principle appears to have been thrown out long ago and it appears that we are going to pay the price for this folly. Or perhaps I should say our children and grandchildren are going to pay the price of little or no oil and a planet that will be largely uninhabitable.
To my mind, to suggest at this late stage that we have a decade to prepare for peak oil is both delusional and irresponsible; it reinforces the complacency that has characterised energy policy for the past four decades. In reality, it is probably already too late to opt for a soft landing and we are almost certain to experience the kind of hard landing that brings mass unemployment and starvation. Unfortunately, you failed to note in your speech that of the order of 80% of businesses are going to fail, once peak oil hits. Yet, even as I write, Transit is pushing ahead with motorway construction for vehicles that in all probability won’t be there because fuel will be either unaffordable or unavailable. This sort of misallocation of resources is nothing short of bizarre!
You might note that Nymex crude rose from around $27 this time last year to a peak of $55 around October last year and, after a short lived drop, is currently trading at $49. Petrol has risen from $0.93 to $1.19 and will undoubtedly rise again should current market and exchange rate trends continue. You say that Labour acknowledges the reality of peak oil and global warming: unfortunately this acknowledgement does not extend to policies to deal effectively with either and the government still encourages petrol-head mentality.
Although you correctly point out that nobody knows when peak oil will occur and it is only after the event that we can be certain it has occurred, all the signs are already there that peak oil could strike later this year, far faster and far harder than anyone is prepared for. Of course, we would all like to think that those analysts who put peak oil at late 2005-early 2006 are wrong and I therefore repeat: we would be very interested to hear your explanation for the ‘10 year’ time frame. Peak Oil is clearly the second most serous matter that humanity faces (second only to the prospect of abrupt climate causing a 5 to 10°C change in average temperature, brought on by self-reinforcing global warming, as carbon dioxide is released from melting tundra and methane is released from methane-hydrates): to pretend that we have time to alter the course of society is actually quite delusional. You correctly identify the failure of other political parties, but grossly overstate the successes of Labour: under Labour we have seen increasing (basically out of control) emissions, particularly in the transport sector and contrary to your assertion that matters have improved, they have actually got far worse (the increased speed limits for commercial vehicles — resulting in increased fuel consumption, the refusal to address inconsistencies in road user charges, the downward trend in fuel economy, as more over-powered 4-wheel drive and automatic vehicles hit the roads, are cases in point.). To imagine that New Zealand will make any progress whatsoever with a party at the helm that rates GDP growth above all else is to deny reality: the reality is that New Zealand is being driven straight off the energy cliff, not only with regard to oil of course, but gas and electricity as well.
In the meantime, the appointment of a new Minister of Energy, Trevor Mallard, who has no qualifications to speak of in science, is indicative of politics of failure that are the hallmark of Helen Clark’s government and we must surely anticipate yet another period of failure, right up to the point that the economic system fall apart completely — which, if the oil geologists are right (and why should they not be?) will occur within the next three years.
Energy Analyst and Educator