A post-oil world gets less sci-fi by the day  

Posted by Big Gav in

Some more peak oil media attention, this time in The Guardian trotting out the old Mad Max meme, following the issuing of a report by Global Witness - A post-oil world gets less sci-fi by the day. Speaking of Mad Max, apparently Mad Max 4 is due to be filmed soon.

It is 30 years since the film Mad Max was made, launching the career of Mel Gibson.

The film made a big splash at the time for its terrifying view of a world without oil, where gangs of grisly looking people roam deserts in a post-apocalyptic world, killing each other to get their hands on the few drops of petrol that some have managed to produce in makeshift refineries. Social order has completely broken down.

Great film if you like that sort of thing but complete fiction, of course. Or is it? Three decades later, and I wonder if the film was, in fact, years ahead of its time.

Just think back to summer last year when oil prices spiked to $150 a barrel – 10 times the level of a decade earlier. In petrol stations in some European countries, people started to drive off without paying and drivers had to be banned from filling cars before they had paid up. In Britain, people stole heating oil out of the tanks that sit outside many houses in the country.

Imagine what would happen if prices rose, say, to $300 a barrel. Or higher. Not only would it become too expensive to drive unless absolutely necessary, but food would become prohibitively expensive to transport, goods from China would be too expensive to ship, and plastics, which come from oil, would be unaffordable. The cold turkey after more than a century of cheap oil would be painful indeed. For developing countries it would be fatal – many could not afford energy at those prices.

Oil has fallen sharply in price since last summer, but this is only because the world tumbled into its worst recession in decades, clobbering industrial output and trade volumes, and therefore oil demand. What is curious, though, is that oil prices, having tumbled below $40 earlier this year, went back above $81 a barrel last week, their highest for a year.

There are plenty of possible reasons, such as the continuing fall in the value of the dollar, in which oil is priced, or the piling in of speculators who think a recovery will push up oil prices. Or you could reach for the old chestnut of supply and demand. Demand has fallen a lot, sure, but maybe supply is not what it used to be. Indeed, take a graph of the oil price over the past couple of decades, chop off last year's spike to $150 and this year's plunge to $35 and you can see that oil prices have been on a steady upwards trend for a decade. The question is why?

An excellent new report, Heads in the Sand, released last week by the non-governmental organisation Global Witness – the group that first brought "blood diamonds" to the world's attention – looked in depth at what is happening to the supply of oil. And it is frightening.


For a less sensationalist but very sobering report, UKERC's latest is very interesting (http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=293). This is a serious and credible organisation, and reckon 2030 is our absolute latest - but there's a good likelihood of major problems before 2020. This report is not about prices per se, but simply production vs demand. We all know what happens to the price when these are even threatened to out of step by 1% or so....


Seen the trailer for 'Collapse'?


See the review over at Dangerous Minds:



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