There is no 'quick fix'.
The scale, duration, and impact of recession should not be
Slow, long time-frame, but essential steps
Aggressively promote energy efficiency
While many countries have already 'cemented in' energy
efficiency regulations since the 1979 - 1980 second oil shock, some
gains can still be made. Reducing electricity demand helps conserve gas
and coal to power electricity generation plants. Extremely
electricity-energy intensive industries taking a disproportionate share
of national power may need to be closed. While savings overall may be
relatively trivial, public attention to energy saving helps innovation
in energy saving devices, planning, and mind-set. This helps
public acceptance of dramatic measures, such as establishing hydro
plants in national parks.
Aggressively promote small scale, widely dispersed energy generation
Small scale micro-hydro schemes, wind farms, wave energy
generators, small scale supply to the national grid from domestic
photovoltaics - these and many other initiatives have to be worked on.
Some will require major changes to energy distribution - for example
the change from transmission via AC current grid lines to direct
current grid lines (requiring much thicker lines) - but create a huge
potential to enable local, distributed, generation.
For example, reserachers at Oxford University estimate that
intermittant power supply from wind (important in high-demand winter
and at night), from high tech "domestic combined heat and power"
(dCHP) boilers (important at night), wave power (important as it is
strong in autumn and winter), plus daytime 'smoothing' from a
relatively small amount of daytime solar power
could ultimately substitute half of UK's current and evolving
electricity energy needs. The big proviso is that the power sources
must be a highly distributed network, not concentrated in a few area.
Aggressively change the power
distribution grid to both deliver and receive energy
Widely distributed micro-power generation from wind and sun will need
the ability to feed excess power into the national grid as well as draw
from the national grid. For example, a household with photovoltaic
cells on the roof may feed power into the national grid during the day
when the occupants are out and not using power, and draw power from the
grid at night when the sun is down. Those households with small wind
turbines would have a different pattern of supply to the grid, but
similar patterns of draw.
Without a grid that can both deliver packets of energy to the household
user and draw packets of energy from that same user to be delivered
elsewhere, distributed renewable power supply cannot work.
If you don't have them, build a small fleet of state-owned LPG carriers
to guarantee supply
Demand for oil tankers probably won't change much - it may
reduce - but demand for LPG tankers is likely to increase. It is all
very well to convert domestic fleets to LPG, but if specialised tankers
are unavailabe or unreliably available, supply cannot be assured. A
combination of on-shore storage and independant and flexible
community-owned shipping helps manage risk of running out of gas.
While coal liquification to create a synthetic petrol is "an
established technique for producing clean substitute fuels from the
world’s abundant coal reserves", it is very inefficient. Every calorie
must be extracted for use, not wasted in inefficient conversions to
pander to the driving public. Coal is a one shot. It represents
millions of years of solid sunshine. It does not renew itself. It may
be better to begin directly applying coal to efficient transport by
converting diesil trains to sophisticated steam engines, and commence
the expansion of public transport by train. Long term, train, inland
waterways, and coastal shipping will be the backbone of both commodity
commerce and mass transport, so the time to start the long slow
conversion is now.
Change to energy efficient vehicles
For many countries (and particularly the USA) it is too late, and will
have too little effect. There are more than 200 million cars,
light trucks, vans, and gas-guzzling SUVs in the USA today. One
estimated the cost of replacing even half the nations vehicles with
smaller engined and more efficient diesel versions at over 2 trillion
loan a deeply indebted US government this sum is not explained. The
same authors conclude that the transition to this more efficient fleet
would take 15 years. Given the greatly increased unemployment, and the
greatly increased aversion to risking loans, it is likely that
conversion would take a great deal longer. In fact, of course, fifteen
years from now oil supply will be even less than today, and prices for
oil, at least, may well be even higher.
In the medium term, every possible advantage should be given to
technically sophisticated diesil cars, as they are by far the most
truly energy efficient vehicles on the road.
Change to gas
It is sometime pointed out that there are enough gas reserves - mostly
in the Middle East - to
substitute for current automotive oil use to last
about 45 years. What isn't pointed out is that there is intense
competition for gas to power industry and electricity, and it is very
inconvenient to ship, unlike crude. Gas is viable as a transport fuel
in the medium term -
But if gas
is found locally, contract for it to be supplied locally,
even when world prices have to be paid. This maximises the
'step-through' time available for when the gas fields are effectively
exhausted, and food prices are very much higher.
large amounts are not burnt to produce electricity.
large amounts are not wastefully converted to synthetic liquid
sudden world 'substitution demand' is not so vast that it pushes the
price up to oil-like levels.
pipelines of sufficient volume exist to take the volume demand to
where it is wanted.
enough LPG ships and terminals exist to meet sudden world-wide
private power companies have not built so many new gas-powered
stations that all existing and new domestic gas fields have already had
all their gas pre-sold
to meet existing and expanding demand for
Move people closer to ports and rail lines. Re-vitalise small towns
with local public-labour infrastructural (meaningful) work. Encourage
'managed poverty' in rural small holdings not too distant from small
Change farming practises
The price of natural-gas based nitrogenous fertilisers will make them
expensive. (Nitrogen is the 'mission critical' component needed to grow
grain and nearly allother crops. Nitrogen is extracted from the
nitrogen gas present in air, and made solid in conjunction with natural
gas used as a feedstock. Every tonne of nitrogen fertiliser uses about
half a tonne of natural gas.) The use of large farm machinery will be
maize seeds to feed to cattle will be far more expensive than grassland
Build a 'Sustainable Living Culture'
- Expand the use of nitrogen fixing clovers and other legumes in
- Lower the number of animals carried per hectare
to help long term sustainablity.
- Return to cycles of alternating
cropping of grain producing land, with nitrogen-fixing crops used in
the off year, enabling much lower rates of natural-gas dependant
mineral nitrogen use (eg urea and sulfate of ammonia) in the grain-crop
- Encourage smaller farms where nitrogen is applied conservatively
and effectively, where nitrogen capture techniques are
assiduously and expertly applied, and where every nitrogen source
(including human waste) is carefully marshalled and used.
Measure economy by its ability to sustain healthy people in healthy
work far into the future. Recycle, repair, improve, devise, conserve,
re-grow, re-think, adapt, attempt, revise, revalue.
There is little that can be done until long-term projects such as new
hydro power, 'solarisation', port and rail expansion, decentralisation,
and huge public works to 're-jig' and localise infrastructure start to
bear fruit. The changes in attitude and values through public education
and social responses will be the determinant of success or failure in
the long run. Humans are vastly resourceful and intelligent, so long as
they use their intelligence and don't slip into reactive child-like
The long-term successful transition will be immensely painful. But
people will adjust through a thousand small and large changes.
1. Hirsch, R.L.,
Bezdek, R.H, Wendling, R.M. 2005. Peaking of World Oil
Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk. Management.
© Copyright 2005 version 2
A Sustainable Living Organisation Publication