Heads in the Sand? Or, Why Don’t
Governments Talk about Peak Oil?
This is a guest post by Shane Mulligan. Shane is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Waterloo, and is working on a book on the security implications of peak oil. Shane writes on The Oil Drum as bioprospector.
There is a train crash about to happen from an energy point of view. But politicians everywhere seem to have entirely missed the scale of the problem… [G]overnments and multilateral agencies have failed to recognize the imminence and scale of the global oil supply crunch, and most of them remain completely unprepared for its consequences.1
Anyone aware of peak oil has had to wonder (at least briefly) why the world's governments seem to be ignoring the issue. The official silence is difficult to fathom in light of the fact that the IEA has decidedly come down on the side of a likely peak by 2030, while Fatih Birol (the Agency's Chief Economist) suggests it's more likely a “plateau” from 2020, or even earlier – a claim recently published in the influential magazine, The Economist.2 As the UK's Energy Research Council points out, “The growing popular debate on ‘peak oil’ has had relatively little influence on conventional policy discourse. For example, the UK government rarely mentions the issue in official publications and …..'does not feel the need to hold contingency plans specifically for the eventuality of crude oil supplies peaking between now and 2020'.”3 The report notes that “the UK is one of many countries that are failing to give serious consideration to this risk.”4 But are governments really ignoring peak oil? Are they unaware of it? Or are they aware and taking steps to deal with it – even while they keep silent on it in public? Indeed, is their silence a policy choice itself?
This research note is an attempt to map out the range of reasons for governments' silence on peak oil. These reasons can be seen along a continuum, from ignorance (“we don't know”), to disbelief, to conspiratorial silence (“we know well, and have plans, but we're not sharing them”). This post surveys some of the more common ideas regarding governments' lack of attention to the issue, in the hope of spurring comments from readers regarding which of the scenarios is more plausible in light of available evidence.
It is worth noting that it is not only governments who have ignored peak oil. As Charlie Hall and John Day point out, population and resource concerns have “largely disappeared, at least until very recently, from most public discussion, newspaper analyses and college curricula. Our general feeling is that few people think about these issues today... Even ecologists have largely shifted their attention away from resources to focus, certainly not inappropriately, on various threats to the biosphere and biodiversity. They rarely mention the basic resource/human numbers equation that was the focal point for earlier ecologists.”5 Governments are not alone, then, in avoiding the issue of resource constraints in general, and peak oil in particular. But given the emergence in the last decade of a well-developed discourse on peak oil, why are they still not talking about it?
Exploring the Range of Possibility
Governments just don’t “get it”
It is clear that peak oil presents an immense challenge in terms of governance, a challenge that seems to have precluded its uptake in policy and governance circles. This does not mean that states and their leaders are not aware of the problem, although many individuals within governments may not be. If governments are aware, as seems likely, their silence may mean that they fear that the public consumption of the scale of the problem may generate more problems than it solves. It may mean that there is a widespread cognitive barrier to examining the problem and prospects, and (in part as a result) they really don't know what to do.
However, it may also be the case that they are well aware of the problem and are indeed pursuing actions to meet it, in a way; but the distasteful nature of the response requires that the real reasons for decisions be hidden from view. The pillage of Iraq and Afghanistan, the wholesale robbery of the public in order to enrich capitalist classes, and the pretence of “saving the planet” - and the polar bears – may all be seen as unfortunate necessities for power structures seeking to preserve themselves under difficult circumstances.
If political actors seem to be acting with an awareness of peak oil, the fact that they don't discuss it is relevant only on that it stands as evidence that not discussing it is part of the policy response. (Ignorance is strength, or some such thing.) But whether sticking our heads in the sand will make the challenges of peak oil any easier for governments – let alone the rest of us – remains to be seen.
顧問公司Cameron Hanover董事長比特 (PeterBeutel)說。「氣