Friday, July 13, 2007

Peak oil - peak madness

The sharp rise in the price of oil to almost $80 a barrel, coupled with evidence that production is nearing or is already at its peak, is a dangerous indicator of the unsustainability of the global market economy. As oil runs out, the corporations are expanding production as if there was no tomorrow, with dire consequences for the rest of us. They will diversify into other sources of energy only if they are tradable as commodities – like oil is - and facilitate profit-making in the production and sale of commodities. This is already creating its own set of problems. A switch to using corn and wheat to create biofuels like ethanol, for example, is having an impact on food prices throughout the world. There have already been riots in Mexico following a sharp rise in food basics, and the trend is now revealing itself in the major capitalist countries. Over 20% of the maize crop in the United States is used for the production of ethanol. The knock-on effect on the price of wheat on the international markets is "only headed one way," says agricultural accounts at Deloitte. The firm also predicts that the era of cheap food that has lasted since 1945 is coming to an end. There is always the nuclear option, of course, which is the one that New Labour favours for Britain. This in turns creates massive storage and other problems, especially for those living near nuclear plants.

Some environment campaigners and groups hope that as oil runs out, the economy will contract, less carbon dioxide will be emitted, global warming will ease and, lo and behold, problem solved! This is dreamland, unfortunately. A more likely scenario is that oil prices will continue to rise, food prices will soar, unemployment will grow as energy supplies dry up, the financial system will become unstable and more resources wars, like the one in Iraq, will develop. Addiction to oil and the use of private cars comes with capitalism. The system is based on individual/family units with one or more cars for work and leisure. The "American" model has become the global model, sweeping Latin America, China and India. There has to be another way. The nature and reason for production of commodities has to undergo a fundamental transformation, beginning with immediate action to address energy supplies and climate chaos. An action plan could include:
  • An immediate halt to car production; existing models to be made more fuel efficient and use other forms of fuel; introduce social ownership and use of cars
  • Reserving oil for essential transport which benefits humanity – for example, shipping and food production
  • Setting an upper limit on the number of air miles flown in and out of Britain; supporting campaigns fighting airport expansion
  • A complete overhaul of public transport – reducing prices, bringing rail and air back into public ownership and using dial-a-ride to get people to hubs so they can get to work
  • Heating homes with gas or locally-produced renewable electricity sources; bringing energy companies back into public ownership
  • Using resources currently spent on wars, nuclear weapons for researching alternative fuel and power systems
  • Recycling on massive scale at all levels of production and consumption
  • A curb on long-distance transport of food, and a switch to not-for-profit production of food and other commodities.

All these need to be agreed and implemented by local, regional and national democratic bodies in a direct challenge to the status quo of corporate madness and business-friendly governments.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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