by Kevin Moore — July 26th, 2004
|26 July 2004|
Regarding sustainability and environmental policy
As a longstanding member of the AA, I am writing to express my extreme concern regarding the failure of the Automobile Association to comply with the terms of the Environmental Policy statement, as supplied to me, and its failure to address the impending crisis of peak oil, a crisis of monumental proportions. The actions of many AA employees, and particularly the actions of associated companies are in such utter contradiction to policy and reality that I was prompted to enquire whether the Environmental Policy had been rewritten or abandoned. I understand that neither is the case.
Perhaps I should begin by acquainting you with a few scientific facts with which you may not be familiar, since an understanding of the facts makes discussion of appropriate action much easier.
There is irrefutable evidence that the worldwide supply oil will fail to meet demand very soon. Experienced oil geologist who have spent their entire lives going over this planet with ‘fine tooth combs’ have become so alarmed by the lack of action by governments and by the proliferation of misinformation regarding peak oil that they have established an organisation to promote the study and understanding of peak oil -ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. This organisation held its first conference in Paris in 2003 and its second conference in Berlin just two months ago. The almost unanimous view of oil geologists is that the world production of oil will peak before 2008; a very large percentage of oil geologists believe the peak will occur before 2006; some go as far as to suggest that peak oil will occur this year (2004). Our own Energy Minister, Pete Hodgson, is now coming under increasing fire for believing in what informed analysts refer to as delusional projections, based on totally unfounded expectations that additional oil fields will be found, when in practice no significant oil fields have been discovered this century and that fields that supply the bulk of the world’s oil were discovered more than 40 years ago! The more informed analysts in NZ are now pointing out that the Energy Minister’s assertions that supply will be comfortable till 2030 are quite simply ludicrous.
There is irrefutable evidence that China is purchasing ever-increasing quantities of crude oil on the world markets and this additional consumption is placing additional strain on a supply situation that is at best precarious and at worst about to fall over completely. Concurrent with China increasing its consumption exponentially, the rest of the world is also using increasing quantities of oil. Even if there were no increase in demand for oil, the numbers would not stack up in the long term, but when increased demand for oil is taken into account, it is very clear that we are about to enter a period of severe crisis very soon. Unfortunately nobody knows exactly how much oil lies within the Earth’s crust, nor what portion of it is extractable, but all the evidence points to the ‘easy oil’ having been largely used up and the oil that remains becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to extract.
It is perfectly clear from an analysis of overseas markets that New Zealand would already be facing massive increases in fuel costs were it not for the increase in the value of the New Zealand dollar, which has appreciated from around US$0.45 to 0.65 over the past two years. How long this cushioning effect will continue is debatable, since the price of Brent Crude has risen from around $36 to around $40 over the last month. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the price will go down more than a few cents in the short term and there is every reason to believe it will continue to rise, probably quite spectacularly, unless there is a massive global recession.
There is irrefutable evidence that global warming is completely out of control. The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere increased by a record amount last year (up from 376 to 379ppm a rise of 3ppm), which prompted Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government to warn recently that, unless current trends are reversed dramatically, Antarctica will be the only inhabitable land mass by the end of this century. At around the same time, Sir Jonathon Porrit of the UK Sustainability Council produced a damning report citing the UK government for failing to address out of control carbon dioxide emissions.
Against this background of impending collapse of our entire society do to rapidly escalating energy costs and out-of-control climate change I have already presented seminars to two city councils and am working with the Auckland Transport Authority, pointing out the sheer lunacy of construction of motorways, due for completion at a time when there simply will not be fuel at an affordable price for vehicles -clearly a recipe for economic disaster.
Contrary to popular myth, it is a well-documented scientific fact that there will never be a hydrogen-based economy. Although the technology exists for the conversion of hydrogen into other various form of energy, none of the promoters of these ‘gadgets’ have addressed the irrefutable fact that there is no hydrogen available to be used and to make hydrogen requires a lot more energy that is obtained from it. Indeed, the energy equations are nothing short of appalling, with around a 30% loss in energy being quite typical. Irrespective of this matter, hydrogen is notoriously difficult to handle or store and has presented insurmountable problems to those who would wish to promote its use.
Against this background of collapse of oil supply and collapse of the environment’s ability to process exhaust gases we must ask the question ‘Where does the AA stand?’ Unfortunately, the answer is that it currently devotes a large portion of its energy to promoting greater consumption of fuel and greater production of greenhouse gases and to the promotion of ludicrous expectations of ease of travel in the future.
One has only to look at the Directions magazine to see advertisements promoting overseas airline travel, motor vehicle reviews focusing on how quickly a vehicle can reach high speed (i.e. how quickly it can consume fuel and therefore how quickly it can produce exhaust gases), whilst completely ignoring the fuel economy aspect. Further drivel, such as the article in Autocar suggesting that ‘The hydrogen economy is on the horizon’ is quite typical of what the AA presents and promotes to its membership. It is very noticeable that an SUV has selected as the vehicle undergoing inspection in television advertisements for inspection services, yet I remind you that SUVs are the epitome of the kind of vehicle we do not want on our roads, requiring up to three times the amount of fuel to cover the same distance as a city car. None of us have any illusions about the presence of SUVs on our roads; they have been deliberately produced, initially by American manufacturers in order to circumvent pollution regulations. Subsequently manufacturers discovered that the sale and maintenance of such vehicles generates handsome profits for all involved. The fact that SUVs have a deplorable safety record and an even worse environmental profile is of no consequence to that sector of society that is purely driven by the profit motive.
To be quite blunt much of what the AA is currently doing can only be described as irresponsible, both to members of the AA and to the New Zealand public at large. Hence articles lambasting the AA are starting to appear in the print media. The current situation appears to be the result of the organisation having been hi-jacked by the ‘rape and plunder brigade, who have a consumption agenda and are prepared to sacrifice their own children’s future in order to achieve it; this madness is not isolated to the AA, but has taken hold of much of New Zealand society since the ‘reforms’ of 1980s and we are now in the hands of the irresponsible group who are ‘about to push New Zealand off the cliff environmentally, socially and economically’. The redeeming factor is that the AA has devoted some effort to the promotion of healthy and non-destructive activities such as cycling and walking.
Quite clearly, if oil supplies are about to become very tight or about start to collapse completely fairly soon , it is the duty of the AA to forewarn members, so that they may make suitable preparations such as downsizing vehicle size, rather than to promote illusions about technical fixes that have been discredited or to promote the oversize vehicles that consume precious fuel, generate excessive global warming and put additional strain on our roading system, whilst getting the owners into debt in order to purchase vehicles that will have no resale value. To continue to promote the unsustainable and to promote the destruction of the next generation’s future in the face of irrefutable evidence would amount to criminal behaviour that would surely ultimately result in court action.
I have enclosed a graph of the price of Brent crude oil and draw your attention to the fact that the current price movement is very different from that which occurred in the 1970s: the population of the world was around half what it is now; the amount of oil in the ground was very much higher than exists now; the price rises were prompted by turning on and off of supply valves. At this point of time, the valves are fully open, but supply is only just managing to meet demand. There is every reason to believe that increasing demand is about to ‘break’ the system.
I must apologise for the delay in writing to you, since I raised these matters with the AA two years ago by telephone, but at that time I allowed myself to be fobbed off and I failed to follow up. I have had had many other urgent matters to deal with in the ensuing time, but now I note that the matters of oil depletion and global warming have taken on a much greater urgency and there is no time for further procrastination.
I trust that this letter will be prompt an urgent review of AA policy and its implementation. I will be very happy to assist the AA in that review, should you require assistance.
Energy Analyst and Educator