Transition Norwich is officially the world's first Transition City (unleashed 1st October 2008) and is part of the global Transition Towns network which was set up to facilitate local design and construction of a resilient low carbon future in the face of some inevitable changes which will affect all our futures. Namely those are: Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Downturn, all of which are explained below...
The world has finite resources of oil (as well as gas, coal and other fossil fuels). World oil production has risen rapidly over the last 100 years, in line with population growth and economic growth. However, production from individual countries, such as the USA, UK or Norway, has peaked - that is to say, it has levelled off and then declined....
The world has finite resources of oil (as well as gas, coal and other fossil fuels). World oil production has risen rapidly over the last 100 years, in line with population growth and economic growth. However, production from individual countries, such as the USA, UK or Norway, has peaked - that is to say, it has levelled off and then declined. For example, the UK’s North Sea production peaked in 1999 and is currently reducing at the rate of about 8% per year.
Production from other countries is bound to peak in the same way, and therefore total world oil production must also peak and then decline. There is a degree of disagreement as to when this will happen, but even the most optimistic forecasts put it no more than 20 years into the future. Careful analysis of reserves and actual production, country-by-country, by organisations like ASPO suggests that it is much more likely that the peak is imminent.
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that we may already have passed peak production. For example, data for total world oil production from the US Government’s Energy Information Administration shows that production has been almost constant from 2005 through 2008, and has been reducing since July 2008. While it is possible that this is a temporary lull on an otherwise upward curve, putting it together with the findings of ASPO and others suggests a more credible interpretation is that the current ’plateau’ is indeed the final peak, and that world production can only turn downwards from now on.
What are the implications of this shortage of oil, and the rising oil price, for our everyday lives? Some examples include:
- Travel will become more expensive, and air travel may quickly return to be a luxury enjoyed only by the very rich;
- Food is already becoming more expensive, as our modern food system uses around 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce each calorie of food on our plates; and as food crops and land are diverted to make biofuels;
- The economy will suffer as households and businesses, struggling to pay for food, utilities and petrol, default on mortgages and other loans, leading to a credit crunch.
Climate Change is be a highly debated and hotly contested topic but overwhelming scientific evidence supports the fact that our climate is being destabilised and that it's primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels. Climate Change doesn't just equal Global Warming, there's a whole catalogue of environmental feedbacks, like the shifting of ocean currents, which in turn may cause the weather patterns we've been accustomed to in our lifetimes begin to change radically.
For the time being, we'll leave you to make up your own mind on this topic, suffice to say that having burned up around half the world's fossil fuel supplies in just over fifty years, which took some 40 billion (40,000,000,000) years to create, it would be hard to imagine this not having at least some effect on our climate.
"Why did nobody see it coming?", the Queen was heard to ask recently of the economic downturn that hit the world quite suddenly in the autumn of 2008.
The fact is that many people did see it coming - they just weren’t being listened to because their views did not fit the economic orthodoxy. Some of us had already put our money where our mouths were and moved our investments to cash a few months beforehand.
In fact, at least two groups of commentators saw the crash coming. One was the economists who saw that huge levels of debt were being created and that that debt was unrealistically inflating asset values. An example would be Ann Pettifor, whose book "Real World Economic Outlook 2003" foresaw future events very clearly, five years before they happened.
The second prescient group were those with an understanding of peak oil. See for example this posting by Gail Tverberg on the Oil Drum blog, of a lecture she gave in Spring 2008 (and many other postings from Gail on similar themes, many posted well before autumn 2008).
The truth is that the purpose of money is to represent real goods and services. The total volume of goods and services WILL decline as the natural resources used to produce those goods and services (notably oil) decline from 2008 onwards. (Some commentators have noted that the net energy available from fossil fuels may have been flat or declining since around 2000, meaning that the volume of real goods and services has also been flat or declining since then.)
In the absence of growth in real goods and services, the illusion of growth can be maintained by pumping in more credit, but that extra credit has nowhere real to go. All it can do is artificially inflate asset prices. That creates a bubble which eventually must burst - and in this case did burst as a result of the spike in oil prices in autumn 2008.
It seems entirely possible that the mainstream economy is now "too broken" as a result of the vast amounts of debt loaded on top of it. Also, as the economy is likely to shrink continuously from now on (with declining energy supplies), the "rules" of that economy, such as paying interest on capital, may no longer work.
It may be that we need to build a new, alternative, grassroots economy, based on small family businesses rather than giant corporations. This economy may grow up from underneath the mainstream economy as the latter winds down, and as people find themselves short of work and apply themselves to "informal" economic activities like growing vegetables, baking bread or mending bikes to trade with their neighbours. These are the kinds of enterprise Transition Norwich would like to encourage and support.