Everyone who is grappling with the Twin Terrors of Climate Change and Peak Oil, sooner or later comes across a graph like this one (which I hand-drew for a Transition Towns meeting this evening) :-
Since around about 1950, the developed world has pursued a deliberate path of Economic Growth, using the gearing of increasing Consumption and institutionalised Debt to drive wealth accumulation for some of the people in some of the countries of the world.
A lot of this development was driven by Coal, although the sharp increase in Energy Demand was for Petroleum Oil, and recently, Natural Gas.
In around 1970, the first significant changes in Climate began to be noticed : changing weather patterns, changes in species distribution and growing cycles, changes in the Arctic.
This is when the period of what I call “The Burn” began, as racing Energy consumption has been shadowed by racing change in the natural environment.
In a few short years, around 2015, this phase of excessive Energy consumption must peak and start a descent, to allow us to maintain control of an equitable Climate and manage the Peak in Petroleum Oil, Coal and Natural Gas production.
If we very rapidly invest in new Green Energy and reduce Energy waste in all processes, transport, buildings and facilities, then by 2050 we might be able to permit the same kind of Energy consumption as in 1950.
If we do not ramp up Renewable Energy by then, or if we do not power down our excessive waste, the permitted Energy available for consumption will be much lower, taking us back to perhaps the levels of the early 19th Century.
There are two things of note : first, Peak Oil means Peak Energy consumption, as we have not yet significantly begun to power up with Renewable Energy. The governments do need to start telling people this truth, and be plain about the consequences.
Second, we really are in a phase of burning – the longer we let this continue, the more we lose in the long term. And that can be measured not only in ecological losses and Climate Change. The more we burn Petroleum Oil, Natural Gas and Coal now, the less we will have of these precious resources in future.