George Monbiot is giving the peak oil story another run, in typically gloomy fashion, declaring "It’s probably too late to prepare for peak oil, but we can at least try to salvage food production" - If Nothing Else, Save Farming .
I don’t know when global oil supplies will start to decline. I do know that another resource has already peaked and gone into freefall: the credibility of the body that’s meant to assess them. Last week two whistleblowers from the International Energy Agency alleged that it has deliberately upgraded its estimate of the world’s oil supplies in order not to frighten the markets(1). Three days later, a paper published by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden showed that the IEA’s forecasts must be wrong, because it assumes a rate of extraction that appears to be impossible(2). The agency’s assessment of the state of global oil supplies is beginning to look as reliable as Mr Greenspan’s blandishments about the health of the financial markets.
If the whistleblowers are right, we should be stockpiling ammunition. If we are taken by surprise; if we have failed to replace oil before the supply peaks then crashes, the global economy is stuffed. But nothing the whistleblowers said has scared me as much as the conversation I had last week with a Pembrokeshire farmer.
Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he pumps it from the digester onto nearby fields. He’s replaced his tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only around 25%.
Well - he could try generating biofuel (probably co-operating with other farmers in the region) to fuel his machinery - or install wind turbines and/or solar panels and look to acquire electric machinery. In both cases his need for (oil derived) diesel would plummet a lot more than 25%.