From ABC RN Ockham's Razor, 27.7.08
Speech by Ian Dunlop
Listen to the speech or download the full transcript at –
IN the UK in 1945, my mother handed me my ration book with the far-sighted admonition 'Keep it safe, you will need it again'. Fortunately I am a hoarder!
But as if peak oil was not enough, there is another problem: global warming and the need to radically reduce our carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, probably to completely decarbonise the economy by 2050, far more than is being admitted politically. This will itself raise fossil fuel energy prices as carbon is properly priced, via mechanisms such as emissions trading, to reflect its environmental cost.
There are solutions to these converging issues, but they take time to implement, and we should have been planning for this year ago. We did not do so and we are now facing the consequences. Some obvious solutions, for example increasing coal consumption, or coal conversion to liquids as Martin Ferguson recently proposed, are carbon emission intensive, and in the absence of carbon capture and storage, which is still unproven for large scale application, would be extremely detrimental to solving global warming. The two issues are inextricably linked and need to be treated with consistent and holistic policy. So what would that policy look like?
First, we need an honest, public acknowledgment by the government and business leaders of the real challenges we now face.
Second, urgent education campaigns to inform the community and gain support for the hard decisions ahead.
Third, we must establish an emergency, nation-building response plan to place the economy on a low-carbon footing, minimising the consumption of oil, akin to a 21st Century version of the 1950s Snowy Hydro Scheme, but much bigger and broader, or the Marshall Plan, which reconstructed Europe post World War II.
The components would be
1. major focus on energy conservation and energy efficiency;
2. large-scale conversion to renewable energy;
3. major investment in efficient public transport, rail, bus, cycling, etc and an immediate halt to investment in freeway and airport expansion;
4. rapid phase-out of high carbon emission facilities such as coal-fired power stations unless safe carbon capture and storage can be introduced within 10 years;
5. urgent introduction of high-speed broadband to minimise travel and improve communication efficiency;
6. continued investment in low emission technology;
7. rapid reform of the tax system to remove the perverse incentives which encourage oil use and carbon emissions.
We face major changes to our lifestyle. It is not just high oil prices and global warming but the very question of the sustainability of humanity on the planet as population rises from 6.-1/2-billion people today to 9-billion in 2050, all aspiring to an improved quality of life. New technology will undoubtedly come to our aid but that will not be enough; our values must also change. Conventional economic growth in the developed world will have to be set aside in favour of a steady-state economy where the emphasis is on non-consumption and the quality of life rather than the quantity of things.
There will be far more focus on local food production, opening up new opportunities for rural areas; cities will be redesigned using high-density sustainability principles to avoid urban sprawl, and properly integrated with public transport to minimise energy consumption. Work centres will be decentralised. Rail, powered by renewable energy, will become a major transport mode for both freight and high-speed passenger traffic. Air travel will reduce unless new technology develops jet fuel from, for example, bio sources, and even then emission constraints may limit its use. The internal combustion engine will disappear in favour of electric vehicles for many applications. Cycling and walking will become major activities for both work and pleasure - obesity and diabetes will decline!
The challenge is enormous, but it is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to place the world on a sustainable footing, for what we are doing currently is not sustainable. We must not waste this opportunity, but it needs far bolder and broader thinking than we are seeing at present.
Which raises the question of the ability of our democratic system of government to implement such change. It will require statesmanship of the highest order, a quality sadly lacking in both national and global debate. Different forms of government will be needed, but that is a discussion for another day.
Deputy Convenor of the Australian Association
for the Study of Peak Oil
Presenter - Robyn Williams