The Global View

Welcome to the cloak-and-dagger world of peak oil, climate

Who would’ve thunk it? As we ease into the second decade of the 21st century — a period that had promised a new era of technological advances beyond imagination — the issues of oil and climate are becoming less IEEE and more Tom Clancy.

First, of course, we have the hacking late last year of the emails at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. Rather than set off a storm of outrage over illegal intrusion into research with international security implications, the incident refilled the global warming denier crowd’s arsenal with fresh ammo. While the hacker or hackers today remain at large, climate scientists have become a collective whipping boy for much of the media and the anti-science world.

And then there was the revelation last fall that the International Energy Agency (IEA) had been — in part, due to pressure from US officials — deliberately overstating the case for ample global oil supplies and understating the risk of peak oil. The disclosure came from an unnamed whistleblower at the IEA.

Now we’ve learned how that whistleblower came to sound the alarm, courtesy of a fascinating blow-by-blow account at The Ecologist. Written by Tom Levitt, the article follows Lionel Badal from his days as an undergraduate at Exeter University working on a dissertation about peak oil to a lucky encounter with a source at the IEA who closed the interview with an admission that he was, in fact, quite concerned about the risk of peak oil.

From there, Levitt’s piece goes on to describe an arranged meeting between Badal, the whistleblower and French official Corrine Lepage; early failed efforts to engage the interest of key journalists in the UK; and, finally, the breaking of the whistleblower news story on the front page of the Guardian on the same day the IEA released its 2009 World Energy Outlook.

With real-life stories like these, who needs fiction?