On Monday, 3rd of August, The Independent ran a front page article entitled,” Warning: oil supplies are running out fast”.
As the actual warning came from no less a person than Dr Fatir Birol, the chief economist of the respected International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries, it should have been big news in the rest of the media, but got hardly a mention.
Do most people have no idea of the implications of this for the future of food supplies and everything else the modern world depends on to function?
Dr Birol said that the public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted.
The first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves , has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.
The IEA has concluded that the consumption of oil was “patently unsustainable”, with expected demand far outstripping supply.
These are not the ramblings of some far out pressure group, but still, will governments listen and take the huge and collective steps needed to reduce our need for oil by encouraging extreme energy efficiency, and the collection of a greater proportion of the abundant solar energy reaching us each day.
There are many reasons why food production cannot keep up with population growth in the medium and long term such as loss of land, water shortages, improved diets and the use of cropland for biofuel production; but a real problem is modern farming’s huge dependence on finite resources including oil and gas.
There is of course an ongoing debate about the timing of Peak Oil. Some experts say that it is already here and that world production will soon go in to rapid decline while others say that new discoveries and the exploitation of shales and tar sands will allow production to keep up with demand for some time. Whatever the truth, the very high prices of the last few years have not caused the expected rapid production response and some big fields such as Cantarell in Mexico are in serious decline. We should realise that although there will be fluctuations in prices, the age of cheap oil is over.
In agriculture, the recent high prices are causing farmers all over the world to try to increase production, but it’s not all that easy. Most suitable land, and some that is unsuitable, is already being farmed. Rain forests are being destroyed, but mainly for biofuel crops while old cropland is being lost at the rate of 25 million acres every year.
Demand for the inputs needed to increase food production has sent the price of nitrogen, phosphate and potash fertiliser from about £145/tonne to over £300/tonne since last June. Pesticide prices have also soared and some products are hard to obtain. The price of land is also rising but the amount available here is not increasing although in eastern europe some neglected land is being brought back in to production.
We can, I think, expect some short term extra food production provided that climatic changes do not cause too much disruption, but like the oil industry, we do not have the resources to constantly keep up with increasing demand and any serious oil and gas shortages caused through Peak Oil or geo-political events would cause a similar or greater shortage of food.
We have allowed food production to become dangerously linked to the production of ever greater amounts of finite resources. If nothing is done to reverse that, disaster is inevitable.
Andrew McKillop on petroleumworld.com shows how the oil stocks of the US and some other countries are declining. It is interesting that some reserves do not add up to many days supply.
As food cannot now be grown or distributed without plentiful supplies of oil, this should be ringing alarm bells.
Here is part of his article:
“As already noted, many times, the media finds it is not ‘politically correct’ to explain high prices as due to oil – very simply – depleting and running out. So they prefer to cite storms, technical problems, refinery accidents, rebellion and wars in Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, the Iraq war, al Qaida, Vladimir Putin and the ‘anti western Kremlin’ now menacing pipeline routes in Georgia, the Kazakhs or Venezuelans applying ‘resource nationalism’ to their oil reserves and demanding higher taxes and shares of profits, the greedy and wasteful Chinese importing too much oil, the Indians doing the same, very hot weather (or very cold weather), and why not earthquakes ? – anything will do as long as NO mention of Peak Oil is made. It is however politically OK to cite declining or shrinking inventories as an explanation of why oil prices are high.
“Why are inventories declining? One reason is Peak Oil, driving up prices and making Read the rest of this entry »