Saturday, January 26, 2008

Peak oil & POLI 486

So, is it or isn't it the peak? Is peak oil "real"?

There are no doubt many who deny that this non-renewable resource will ever run out, and they're no doubt correct. The peak doesn't mean we run out. It means that "supply constraints" cannot be overcome, and that supply will decline. The price of oil will continue to rise, except to the extent that demand pressures are reduced. That may look like a break in prices. in reality it's economic slowdown, for which "supply constraints" must be held responsible (in part, at least).

I get the sense that many class members are reluctant to understand this phenomenon as significant. Of course, peak oil is not quite mainstream. But just the other day the European Union Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, used the phrase in looking forward to future supply constraints. According to this EurActive article,

"Piebalgs referred to varying predictions about when the oil production peak will be reached, with some experts saying it will be in 20 years and others arguing that the world is already at peak production.

Highlighting the potential gravity of the problem, Piebalgs noted that the oil crisis of the 1970s presented a discrepancy between oil supply and demand of only 5%, but that in a post-peak oil scenario, the gap between supply capacity and demand could widen by 4% annually, leading to a 20% gap within five years."

As this course (POLI 486J) will examine, the uncertainty as to the impacts of such a decline, and the energy demands to which it will give rise, may well be interpreted as a "security" problem. Just what does that mean? Whose security is at stake, and whose will be defended? How does energy security relate to climate security, and climate change? How does it relate to food security, and survival for the world's poor, especially? My research interest in biofuels is in this sensee a very personal interest too, given the tremendous threat that biofuels pose to global food security, and given the power I have to take food from others' mouths and fuel my car with it. This may not be a new development in the global political economy, of course, but perhaps it has never been so clear how the rich world's "middle class" demands the very stuff of life for so many others.

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