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WHEN CHAOS REPLACES OIL

by Kathy Webb, 02.08.2006

 

Peter Lloyd is preparing for a ghastly future. The world he foresees is one in which it will cost $700 or $1000 to fill the family car if petrol is available for private use.

It will be a world in which the scarcity and expense of oil, widespread pollution, environmental ruin and climate change will bring down modern civilisation in terrible anarchy as countries go to war over oil, fresh water or arable land; as ordinary people try to adjust to living primitive lives without the medicines and technology that support their lives in the 21st century.

Dr Lloyd, an anaesthetist at the Hawke’s Bay Hospital, estimates about 80 percent of the world’s six billion people will die of hunger, disease or «slaughter on a scale never before seen in history».

New Zealand will be one of the best places to be while all this unfolds, he says, because although it will take some refugees from Australia and the Pacific Islands, it is geographically too isolated to be invaded and over-run by hordes from Asia, Africa and Europe.

He insists he’s an optimist, and he is in a way. He believes there’s still a chance to prepare to survive what is going to happen. While resources based on oil are still available, the world must prepare to live without those same resources.

How do you make and run wind turbines or solar panels without machinery that uses oil? Dr Lloyd asks. How do you import and export if fuel for ships and planes is too expensive or unavailable?

It’s no good depending on bio-fuels, he says, because the world couldn’t grow enough crops fast enough to provide for existing, let alone future, energy demands.

The world’s population stood at one billion by the beginning of the 20th century. Then we started burning oil and coal to make life more comfortable and efficient; to build global transport networks; to run machinery to grow more food to feed more people.

We began to chop down the rainforests that act as Planet Earth’s lungs to clear more space to graze more animals to feed more people; to invent new materials such as plastics; to make drugs that cure diseases that once would have killed us.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the global population stood at about 6 billion, all highly dependent on the exploitation of fossil fuels and other natural resources. The ordinary lives of ordinary people in developed countries have become remote from the basic sources of life, Dr Lloyd says. In the US, every item of food is transported an average of 1500km to its point of consumption.

He wants to see New Zealand promoting local production for local consumption, and every New Zealand house with at least solar water-heating, but preferably solar electricity generation as well.

He’s setting an example with an extensive solar-panel system on his roof. It sends surplus electricity into the national grid, while at other times, his household draws off the grid.

He’s installed a 25,000 litre rainwater tank in his backyard, planted a modest kitchen garden, sold his beloved fuel-guzzling Land Rover, and now rides a bike to work. Electric cars are the way of the future, he says.

In the past 100 years, vast areas of Earth have been polluted and killed, stripped of vegetation and turned into desert or bare land that washes away as mudslides in flash floods; the ocean floors have been dragged, scraped and vacuumed of their fish life, clean and adequate water supplies have become a precious asset. The Amazon rainforest, which is being cut down at an alarmingly rapid rate, is now into its second year of drought. That will quite likely kill the forest that plays a pivotal role in controlling global climate. And if it does, trees will be replaced by grassland or desert, causing much of the world to become hotter and drier, and global warming to spin out of control and eventually make Earth uninhabitable.

Another consequence of uncontrolled exploitation is Peak Oil, Dr Lloyd says.

Peak Oil is a theory that mankind is using up oil supplies faster than they can be replaced, so oil will inevitably become increasingly scarce and expensive, even without the aggravating effect of war in the Middle East.

«We’ve been burning up four to six barrels of oil for every one we discover. There are no sceptics left about Peak Oil. Geologists range from it having already happened to its happening in 2010.»

Oil shortages added to environmental ruin effectively spell the end of modern civilisation, Dr Lloyd says.

«In the past, it used to be nutters who talked about the end of the world. Now a huge body of scientists are, but unfortunately the public are ignoring them.

«We are now a global civilisation, so there is nowhere for us to go. So when we spoil our own nest, we are going to suffer massive collapse. Why don’t people behave more intelligently?»

It’s time to nail down the politicians, he says. Ask them what their plans are; demand they sit up and take notice, look beyond the next election, make real plans.

«Suddenly, a whole lot of us are waking up to the trouble we’re in, and it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.»

The effects of a world increasingly hungry for natural minerals and fossil fuels are clear.

Hurricane Katrina caused a surge in oil prices last year by disabling a lot of oil rigs near Florida. That immediately translated into price hikes at petrol bowsers all over the world, and chomped into household budgets.

China’s economy is undergoing explosive growth, gobbling up all the steel the world can produce. It’s importing vast amounts of oil and coal to fuel industries and the millions of new cars replacing millions of bicycles on its roads each year. Factories, vehicles and coal-burning power stations some using coal imported from New Zealand have created a shroud of lung-choking smog that obscures the sky and sun.

There are those who firmly believe the US went into Iraq for nothing more than its oil wells. But while terrorist insurgents do their best to drive out the imperialist infidel and take control of the oil wells and those practising the “wrong” brand of Islam, while Israel rains bombs down on the citizens of Lebanon, and Lebanon’s Syria and Iran-backed Hizbollah (Party of God) fires rockets over the heads of Israelis, while Iran is intent on developing “peaceful” nuclear capacity, and the terrorism-abetting dictator Kim Jong Il fires “test” missiles out of nuclear-equipped North Korea, it’s clear there is unlikely to be any hope for global co-operation over oil or other natural resources.

Some analysts predict oil prices will double or treble in the next few years. Dr Lloyd goes along with those expecting $US200 a barrel for oil by the end of next year.

«It will cost $500-$1000 to fill your car,» he says. New Zealanders are already paying 35 percent more for petrol than they were a year ago, with the price reaching a record $1.77 a litre last week and suggestions it might hit $2 before Christmas. Diesel is up 50 percent on last year.

These fuel price rises have been the main factor in tipping inflation over 4 percent.

A leaked copy of a report prepared for the Ministry of Economic Development by applied economics company Covec Ltd indicates New Zealand’s government is looking ahead to some extent.

Entitled Oil Demand Restraint Options for New Zealand, the report discusses car-pooling, compressed working weeks, working from home, tyre-pressure checks, more fuel-efficient cars, cancelling some travel, car pooling, car-less days, and lowering the speed limit on the open road to 80km/h. It says that if the shortage of oil were greater than 25 percent of normal supply, and lasted for more than three months, rationing would have to be introduced, and ways found to prevent people hoarding petrol.