Permaculture . . . the not so good oil

“We are not good at recognizing distant threats even if their probability is 100%.
Society ignoring [peak oil] is like the people of Pompeii ignoring the rumblings below Vesuvius.” ~James R. Schlesinger

Following on from last week’s “if permaculture is the answer climate change is the question” … Part 2 of my research project for my Certificate IV Permaculture study via Tafe NSW Digital online studies to gain understanding about the why of permaculture asked me to share three resources useful to either explain or give more information about Peak Oil.

Confession time… I missed the popularising of the term “peak oil“. Up ’til now I thought we were heading for a plain old oil crisis. However, I was no less concerned after I did a few Google searches and found these:

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of crude oil extraction is reached, after which the rate of extraction is expected to begin to decline… forever. It simply does not matter why peak crude oil extraction is reached, the peak is the peak regardless of the cause. The cause could be geological or it could be economics but most likely it will be a combination of the two.” ~ Peak Oil Barrel

“Proponents of peak oil theory do not necessarily claim that conventional oil sources will run out immediately and create acute shortages, resulting in a global energy crisis. Instead, the theory holds that, with the production of easily extractable oil peaking and inevitably declining (even in formerly bounteous regions such as Saudi Arabia), crude-oil prices are likely to remain high and even rise further over time, especially if future global oil demand continues to rise along with the growth of emerging economies such as China and India. Although peak oil theory may not portend prohibitively expensive gasoline any time soon, it does suggest that the days of inexpensive fuel, as were seen for more than a decade after the collapse of OPEC cartel prices in the mid-1980s, will probably never return.” ~ Encyclopaedia Britannica

“They took all the cars, and put them in a car museum, and they charged all the people a dollar and a half to see ’em” ~  Joni Mitchell

And, seriously concerned by what I learned during my assignment research:

1. James Hansen
Climatologist and activist introduced to me when I viewed David Attenborough – Climate Change: The Facts, who, I learned, delivers the bad news that too many stakeholders are conveniently dismissing the science out of self-interest and that 30 years on, world is failing ‘miserably’ to address climate change. He holds energy corporations and business accountable because dollar-wise fossil fuels continue to be the cheapest energy source and advocates a carbon fee to make fossil fuel prices truly reflective of the cost to the environment, “Right now they are getting away with using the atmosphere as a free waste dump, where air pollution, water pollution, and climate change are not included in the price of fossil fuels.”
2. CSIRO
Given the CSIRO “is an independent Australian federal government agency responsible for scientific research. Its chief role is to improve the economic and social performance of industry for the benefit of the community” what I learned wasn’t what I was hoping for.
The CSIRO report Oil and Gas: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia “identifies four high-impact pathways to growth that are enabled by science and technology” and the content suggests that industry is committed to business as usual as much as possible while being willing to take onboard climate change considerations only necessarily. It’s not an entirely reassuring report.
The energy sector does its homework.
“This report was informed by industry consultation. The perspective on the future of the sector, including major opportunities and challenges, was based on the opinions of executives and managers from oil and gas operators, service firms and Government agencies. Dozens of interviews with technical experts from Universities and CSIRO provide the report with a solid perspective on technology developments. In all, approximately 80 interviews were conducted to inform this report during the first half of 2017. Analysis of the content of these interviews, and additional desktop research helped to shape this report. It therefore represents a consensus view of the trajectory of the industry, developed by synthesising executive opinions, technical expertise and scientific research.”
The energy sector is committed to remaining viable.
“What can the Australian oil and gas sector do, in the face of considerable obstacles, to remain viable into the coming decades?”
The energy sector is prepared to spend money to remain viable; costs I assume that will be passed on to consumers.
“What investments in science and technology are needed to prevail?”
The energy sector is pragmatic.
“Global citizens are increasingly adept at shifting public sentiment around issues important to them. Using such tools as social media, groups of people can create strong opposition to business interests, shape public discourse, and influence government policy. A key challenge for the oil and gas sector in this regard is earning and retaining social licence for its resource projects.”
The energy sector needs to become environmentally accountable not only financially, or decades of investment driven status quo will continue.
3. Four Corners
In 2006 Four Corners did a report about Peak Oil.
I learned that world leaders and consumers both tend to be primarily concerned with prices at the fuel pump and should there be lack, “up-ending comfortable urban lifestyles that rely on oil for the cheap transport of people and goods and for the manufacture of thousands of mundane household and office items – from mousepads, banknotes and drink bottles to carpets, clothes, cosmetics and deodorants.”
“The easy oil has already been produced. The remaining reserves, as significant and substantial as they are, are going to be more expensive and gradually more demanding to produce. Therefore, the future capacity is slower to come on stream than what it has been the traditional past.”
“Everybody in the industry realises that oil and gas are the backbone of global economies. Somehow, I guess politicians felt that this was not going to be an issue on their watch, that it was too far into the future, and therefore didn’t pay attention to it.”
I learned that the focus on are there or aren’t there enough oil reserves  has detracted from the greater consideration of what happens if… when… society continues its uptake.

What will happen? David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept, environmental designer, author & futurist, offered this in his interview with Adam Fenderson from Resilience in 2004 on peak oil and Permaculture:

“People are driven mad by the total continuous drive to consume and the hollowness of this sort of existence, the lack of community and identity. In an energy-descent world, a lot of those destructive behaviors are just set aside, because there are more important things to do. So, at the extreme it’s a bit like what happens in a society where there’s a natural disaster. Community is re-discovered, people set aside their differences and get working on fundamental things. A lot of the angst about alienation and all sorts of seemingly intractable problems almost evaporate. For a lot of people, I think this would be an enormous relief. Most people can’t get off the treadmill because of peer pressure and individual and collective addiction in society. Sometimes people recognize a problem, want to change, but they need a crisis, something that affects their peers, so they can all change together.”

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” ~ Joni Mitchell

Your thoughts? Comments welcome.


13 thoughts on “Permaculture . . . the not so good oil

  1. I first became aware of the concept over ten years ago when I read Jeremy Leggett’s Half Gone. It was one of those ‘cold water down the spine’ moments, and a contributory reason behind my move from Melbourne to a more sustainable life in country NSW. Not the only one, but definitely an impetus. I can see how hard it is for a society – and world – so fundamentally dependent on petroleum products to change. It makes me wonder at what point we’ll approach the tipping point, when petrol and diesel will simply become too expensive for ordinary individuals. We’re waiting for electric cars to become cheaper. At that point, we’ll rely chiefly on daytime solar for household power and to recharge the car, and use the car battery to power the house at night…

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    1. Another book to add to my list… I’m scheduling more reading hours into my timetable. I had thought about the causes of oil crisis but not the effects. Part of our motivation to treechange was a mild case of doomsday prepper… So focused was I on changing our circumstances I paid scant heed to the changing circumstances around me.

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  2. Good morning (my time) Dale. I sat in bed earlier, with my breakfast tea, catching up on your permaculture posts and squirming – mentally – uncomfortably. Yes, I know about peak oil. I regard myself as fairly environmentally clued up and indeed active to a degree, but what passed for acceptable – a changing condition – over the last fifty years is no longer enough. Outside the wind buffets the trees, they flap and bend, the rain pours and we have had monsoon like conditions at times in August and autumn temperature in summer. I have the heating on right now. But. My gas heating, just a few years ago acceptable, now is becoming unacceptable. We will, apparently, all be advised to change to electricity but the cost is beyond me for now and in this climate we must have heat. Big solutions should be enabled by businesses and governments but probably won;t be, so small solutions are the way to go for now. But it is so hard to know what to do for the best at an individual level- though opposing fracking is a start! I admire what you are doing and am partly envious. Could I emulate your lifestyle? No, if I’m honest. But I will do what I can not to place any more of a burden on the world than I need.

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    1. Thank you for reading, and touching base… I nearly always read your posts in bed, early morning with a cup of coffee. Funnily enough my intended post was about don’t try to do exactly what I do… be inspired by all means… but just do the best you can, which is all I have done, and hopefully change starts from there. Weather is baffling, climate change notwithstanding… Last night our weather was wintry, about 10 C, we had the house closed up and the woodfire lit. Tonight I’m sitting inside to escape the flying ants hatched by the sudden heat, at 7 pm it’s 31.3 C, every door is open, every fan is on. Solutions are baffling… what kind of electricity, among other quandaries… is something we have been trying to figure out… everything has a downside, including cost, a consideration for us also. The only solutions big business and government will offer voluntarily are those which will garner them power-influence and profit. Our reality is littered with offsets and trade offs for things we can’t change, the best we can do… the best anyone can do is try to do better than doing nothing at all ♡

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  3. Morning Dale, I haven’t read this post yet, but I will. However I have a question that I think you will know the answer to….I have an abundance of weeds and a need for mulch (because of the drought I just paid $19 for a bundle of mulch). Can I put the weeds straight on the beds or should I let them dry out first? There is a niggle in my mind that putting them on green will take nitrogen from the soil. ~ hugs~

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    1. Adding green weeds back as mulch will return nitrogen and other nutrients the weeds drew up as they were growing back to the soil. But make sure the weeds don’t have runners, nodes, rhizomes, seeds or they will spread. If you think the weeds might spread you can dig a deep a 50 cm pit and compost them, or make weed tea fertiliser. Similarly when you are pruning you can “chop & drop” to add mulch. For mulch this year we used leaves off our deciduous trees; maybe your neighbours’ or parks’ if you don’t have any, to supplement the sugarcane mulch we buy in.

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  4. “Sometimes people recognize a problem, want to change, but they need a crisis, something that affects their peers, so they can all change together.” Wow, this is so perceptive. Really interesting post, EllaD.

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  5. This is such a monstrous concern, that I find myself overwhelmed. I loved this post! It really got the old brain cogs working! The problems existing for you, are not so different for us in the US. To me, it’s not just a matter of making a change… it’s about looking at how to best make the transition while keeping balance. Here in the US, under the Obama administration, mandates to utilize wind and solar did not allow for an easy transition from natural gas and coal-fired generation. These are slow processes – sun and wind are not “for certain” and cannot be stored for on-demand usage. Current power generation facilities have huge turbines that are geared to run 24/7 to produce the power needed across the grid – and are not meant to be shut down or run at lower speeds to accommodate the hours mandated to allow for sun and wind production. But, that is what had to happen to meet government mandates, and of course the cost of all of this punches the consumer in the gut. We need to develop better technology before we jump right into going whole hog on green energy. The demand of this country and the world, for fossil fuels and what it takes to generate electricity, isn’t going to be done with sun and wind – not without the grid having numerous issues. I’m all about tightening the old belt and doing my part, but I do not see most people or industries cutting back on power usage.

    I’m afraid after the US government subsidies to construct these huge and numerous solar fields and wind farms end, we will be looking at a landscape of junk that no one can afford to fix or replace – just as we have had with the giant oil and gas refineries over the years. Everyone jumps in when there is money to be made, but when problems crop up, no one wants to pay and no one wants to clean up the mess left behind.

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    1. Thank you for a thoughtful synopsis of the big renewable energy picture which pretty much explains how I feel about green energy also… I’m all for it in principle but it’s the detail that I reservations about. Wind farms have been very successful in Australia and their infrastructure is viable as far as I know. However, in particular I’m sceptical about the resources needed to make and shelf-life of solar panels both industrial and residential. Mine is not always a popular opinion when I say I believe solar panels are yet another big appliance made from finite resources which will eventually end up as landfill after being marketed to consumers via schemes & methods that are often questionable, and which gives leverage to claims that climate change is simply a money making industry. I agree, first steps at all levels should be towards what we can do with what we’ve got to implement energy efficiencies. Unfortunately, economic rather than environmental drives government policy, so it’s up to individuals to create accountability.

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