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‘We have to leave oil before oil leaves us’

event-horizonHow worrying is it when the pronouncements from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which had always tended to be on the more optimistic side, grow increasingly dire?

And dire is pretty much the only way to describe today’s comments from Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, published in The Independent under the headline, “Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast.” Not only do oil supplies appear to be on the decline faster than even the IEA expected just two years ago, Birol warned, but governments around the world seem blithely unaware of just how serious the situation is.

Officials need to wake up, and wake up now to devote the investment — and the time — needed to be ready for the point at which oil supplies tighten, with wide-ranging effects on society and the economy, he said.

“(W)e have to leave oil before oil leaves us,” Birol said.

A world with constrained oil supplies doesn’t mean just that petrol becomes more expensive: it also means there’s that much less affordable, available energy for making the transition to clean energy sources. (Manufacturing photovoltaics, batteries, wind turbines and tidal energy devices, after all, still require the input of fossil fuels today.)

Add to that challenge the looming spectre of climate change — another phenomenon that’s accelerating faster than scientists previously believed — and the world could soon be in for a very bumpy ride. Joe Romm over at Climate Progress believes today’s efforts to transition to clean fuels are likely “too little, too late to avoid $200 a barrel oil,” and even Birol says he’s “not very optimistic.”

What do you think? Can we get up the infrastructure needed for a society powered by electric cars, renewable energy and serious energy efficiency in time … or does the future bring us TEOTWAWKI (“The end of the world as we know it”)? Let’s hear your thoughts.

1 Comment

  • BC Boy
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 3:39 am

    We have our work cut out for us. My experience is that most western people, especially comfortable ones, simply don’t have the capacity to comprehend the changes that are coming for them. I’ve noted 3 primary responses to my tendering the data. 1, the data is actually just my opinion, and very questionable indeed. 2, when overwhelmed with peer reviewed papers from respectable institutions, the time-line is shifted to a point where “I’ll be dead by then and a challenge will be good for my children, builds character, you know” and 3. Upon data that they themselves will be caught up in the depletion and reduction of all things we felt wrongly were an entitlement; I’M JUST A NEGATIVE PERSON. I DON’T LIKE YOUR DATA AND THEREFORE ALL OF IT IS AUTOMATICALLY WRONG, PERIOD. I WILL ALWAYS BE LIVING IN AN ERA OF ABSOLUTE ABUNDANCE AND OVER-INDULGENCE. So we need some luck and a place to hide.

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