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Issue #12, March 3, 2003.  

The following speech was presented by Sustainable Energy Institute founder Jan Lundberg at the week-long annual conference of The Institute of Petroleum in London on February 17 (read the press release).  Two days before, two million people marched against war for oil outside the stately buildings of Westminster, which may help explain some of the attentive response to Lundberg's speech.  To support Sustainable Energy Institute's follow-up of its London Oil Campaign, click here.

Appreciating Petroleumís Global Role at Civilizationís Crossroads
Can Conservation Make a Real Difference?

by Jan Lundberg, from London

I thank The Institute of Petroleum for honouring me with the invitation to spend time with you today.

What the world went through in 1979ís oil crisis, which my former company warned of in the U.S., based on our projection of a 9% shortfall in gasoline deliveries, can happen again. The difference will be that global production of oil will be falling instead of increasing. Thinking about this has made me consider alternative energy sources in a critical light, oddly enough.

I support technological efficiency in energy. But, unlike most of my conservation colleagues, I lie awake nights thinking how to use less energy, rather than how to substitute fuels. Hereís why: our small Sustainable Energy Institute has concerned itself with global warming, for example. The implications of a cutback in fossil fuels combustion, along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeís 60-80% called-for estimate, has had us wondering what is really feasible long-term. Can the world return to the bygone days of little regimented work, when the world was a Garden of Eden for hundreds of millennia? The results are in: Civilization as we know it, i.e., involving most of over six billion people, is married to petroleum, and other fuels are secondary mistresses. No one in his or her right mind wants the kind of conservation that would accompany a shutting down of petro-distributed food and water. The infrastructure may be overgrown, as in Los Angelesation of towns and farmland, but it cannot be severed from life-giving petroleum without disastrous, unprecedented consequences.

Below: Jan Lundberg (at left) with industry representatives in London.

We are in an historic moment. Before I suggest what we can do, in our respective for-profit and nonprofit roles, I want to distinguish between conservationistsí visions. Our organizationís projects have to do with basic changes in transportation, land use, and electric power consumption. Our group is bent on using more, clean human energy, for example, and thatís partly because I donít foresee todayís world rolling along into a hydrogen economy, for several reasons. That position alone would prevent my appearing before groups not just similar to you folk, in the U.S., but among funded environmentalists as well on panels across my country. I conclude there is more enlightenment on this side of the Atlantic amongst those having perhaps an opposite point of view--that opposite view which holds conservation to be mainly bad business.

The act of simply observing with honesty is the main requirement to understand critical changes in the big picture. What I want or what you want is beside the point, when we first must understand what is coming down the track. We are all in the same boat, and we can address todayís leaks and the rocky shoals ahead. I would be most content to see a large portion of the public know some of what the international oil industry knows: first, the dynamics of the marketplace in the event of tight supplies. When a panicking public just wants plentiful supplies at cheap prices, and blindly suspects the oil industry of manipulation when demand outstrips supply, this does not lend itself to conservation or revising an energy policy. Second, oil and natural gas are feeding the world. That is a mind boggling reality that whole nations-indeed all modern ones-need to understand at least half as well as you do.

The petroleum chemist Maurice Green wrote Eating Oil in 1978, and I believe it needs to be re-released. Although petroleum is used in agriculture less significantly than in transportation in highly industrialized nations-16% compared to 66% in the U.S.-Green made clear that over three quarters of the energy involved in agriculture is devoted to transporting the food. I have not seen any comprehensive substitution plan for petroleum overall, covering its many uses as energy and feedstock for materials. Thus, in the context of U.N. meetings such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development which we attended in Johannesburg, we are alarmed at the claims made nowadays by environmental groups that petroleum can just be switched for so-called clean forms of energy-no mention of feedstock aspects of petroleum.

So, we have issued a challenge to non-governmental organizations: what would be the energy mix for what size population, at what level of consumption over a sustained period? No one has thought it out or provided a clear model, apparently, so, some of us watching Hubbertís curve of petroleum production cannot jump on the Utopian technofix bandwagon. One learns that alcohol fuels donít pack the Btu punch of petroleum, and in terms of net energy, alcohol and some other fuels and technologies have little to offer on a huge scale, once the energy input has been accounted for. I have not seen comprehensive descriptions of net energy of renewable energy systems that take imbedded energy into account. Some in the renewable energy community practice promotionalism when they claim that their energy products and systems are as unlimited as the sun-how much petroleum energy and material went into the parts and transportation, how much goes into the support systems, how centralized can systems be when transmission lines lose so much power with every mile of cables strung between towers?

I have a mission here today. That is to start putting petroleum industry expertise closer to the public, and to have the public in return appreciate petroleum reality from experts. I propose every nation and community to have its own interfacing committee of cooperation made up of industry people, consumers and conservationists, to serve as an advisory commission to all governments. Interdisciplinary talents must be gathered from academia and working personsí skills, so as to survey the present vulnerabilities and opportunities, and come up with questions and solutions for our common energy/agricultural future, from the local to global level.

Citizen Petroleum Councils have been described and advised for the public, first for my organizationís international audience last month. This conference inspired the concept, and perhaps The Institute of Petroleum will join in helping to form the Citizen Petroleum Council of this part of London.

We may as well accept social trends such as Congestion Charge in London, and millions of peace marchers. Iíll go further to suggest that the controversy of human rights trod upon by some oil companies is a sad distraction when the bigger picture implies a coming possible holocaust that so few people could anticipate.

The flow of food from country to town is the precondition of modern civilization. Iíd like to hear from anyone present on the possibility that this flow is headed for disruption. Upon such a disruption, if widespread, we would witness disruption of much of society, more so than an electrical energy blackout would shut down communication and most business for a time.. There is no need for panic when the means are present, as they are, to modify distribution systems and prepare communities for greater self-sufficiency and "new" ways of providing for our individual and collective survival.

Conservation is not a goal in itself, but a responsible use of limited resources. Much of the world dismisses worry about meeting future energy and food requirements, by assuming "they will think of something." Who are the "they?" You, probably. But in an age of specialization we must guard against offering up one authority for an interdisciplinary task over the many, and besides, people should do for themselves rather than sit back to be provided for and then complain. The petroleum industry therefore must be appreciated as never before. Environmentalists are often concerned with restoration of the land. Just as the renewable energy infrastructure will require beaucoup petroleum, restoration of degraded landscapes on a massive, timely scale will require lots of oil burning also, such as in bulldozers taking out abandoned logging roads which has begun back in my own neck of the woods.

There are arguments on how much of a warís aspect is petroleum driven, but where does that get us? Oil use is oil use, no matter what it is used for or by whom. Climate change is real, caused mainly by fossil fuels combustion, so the world ecosystem does not hinge on a particular geopolitical drama. The first Gulf War represented a spike in global petroleum use which I calculated as a 5% demand-boost for several weeks. The environmental movement focused on the oil spills which were large indeed, the worldís biggest. What the Gulf War represented to many around the world is that conservation was not a serious part of U.S. policy.

We of the industrialized world are all caught in commodified, fast-paced living that hinders planning and implementing improvements and new systems. Technological change often takes us further away from simpler solutions for managing resources and sharing what the world has to offer. Business pressures, whether at top management in transnational corporations, or at the head-of-household level, prompt us to take the fast, easy ways out of a long-term contradiction. Too much borrowing isnít healthy, on the corporate or household or ecological level. It only puts off the day of reckoning, such as bankruptcy.

People are expected to work as machines. Material insecurity drives almost all decision making. Questioning the source of oneís food, as to its petroleum input or distance traveled, is swept under the rug or dismissed as a detail of "progress." With oil supplies threatened, as they will be someday again, our debt will be ignored all the more despite risking painful consequences. Withdrawal from the earthís capital of energy, i.e., fossil fuels extraction, is not the same as living off the interest. Thereís nothing like oil, as you know, for its energy content and flexibility of use. But bankruptcy awaits society as to its energy balance. If in the 1970s the U.S. had responded to the oil shocks by following Jimmy Carterís sweater-wearing, alternative energy trend, we might have a different economy today approaching sustainability. Now, we may be at a crossroads whereby the needed transition to a sustainable way of life might be further put off and thus perhaps precluded. Ignoring petroleumís importance is not a mistake we can afford.

A government energy policy should appreciate deeply the role of petroleum today, and make sure a transition to a conservation-oriented and renewable energy-based society is begun with full respect due to todayís petroleum industry. If government and the public just want all you can give them, and then bite the hand that feeds them when the market gets tricky, there is instead of an energy policy a mere hope for extending growth in the economy. By the same token, energy industry leaders of the future need training today in non-petroleum approaches, to address and complement petroleum dependence, a la "beyond petroleum" (BP).

To many energy analysts and environmentalists, conservation means still using a lot of energy and maintaining all present energy-intensive systems. They rarely advocate not owning a car. The average north American motorist goes under 5 miles per hour, when the time required for earning money to buy the car, repair it, pay for insurance and fuel, etc., is factored into how many miles driven over the long haul. So, although fuel efficiency could conserve a lot of oil, most conservationists also forget that growth in population cancels out per capita improvements in conservation.

How did I come to these conclusions as part of a career, you may wonder. I decided I would no longer pay people to do market research at gas stations if I didnít myself enjoy it. With that attitude, and with my having already achieved freedom from the family business, Lundberg Survey, I decided I would work on conservation and energy policy in the nonprofit field.

What was first imagined with our Fossil Fuels Policy Action Institute (now Sustainable Energy Institute) was a clearinghouse for data and policy on energy. Instead, after finding that there was plenty of information available that society was not acting on, we became a think tank on the questions of why the U.S. was basically not conserving energy, and what would get people conserving.

I had been concerned with national energy security. In the mid 1980s my company did a study on the ramifications of oil drilling off the coast of California. Our report stated that absent serious conservation, the offshore oil would be relied upon if a modest shortfall was at issue. So, Congress, having our report provided by oil industry lobbyists, voted by a margin of one to lift the moratorium on drilling.

In 1990 our nonprofit group called for a national paving moratorium, as a means of aiding AMTRAK, the national passenger railway. Transportation funding was (and is) given generously to more highways, but not to AMTRAK. The increased road capacity just captured the potential train customers and kept them behind the wheel. Free marketeers claim AMTRAK is a subsidized elephant, while they ignore the subsidy for driving which approximates the size of the U.S. Defense Department budget. The paving moratorium was promoted as a way to conserve oil that our inefficient motor vehicle system was wasting. During Operation Desert Shield, we raised the issue of national energy security by pointing out that oil supplies are a strategic commodity, and that more road building in effect lengthens a nationís (oil) supply lines. Conservation could be achieved in the double digits if people could take the train in droves, rather than drive, and, in so doing, favor a safer and convivial way to travel. Nowadays, as we approach another Gulf War, more and more people are pointing out that SUVs are unpatriotic because the use of such vehicles for just shopping and commuting wastes fuel that may be derived from Iraq.

A book, Beyond Oil: the Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades, taught me three things: that the Hubbert Curve on oil depletion was operative and on schedule, that agriculture was heavily petroleum-oriented and would be the priority for future petroleum consumption, and, that there is no technofix for replacing petroleum, due to net energy shortcomings of the alternatives.

I try to get across those three points from Beyond Oil to the public. Our biggest project was the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. We have not been terribly effective-stopped a few unpopular highways-because the environmental movement is a funded movement. The foundations issuing grants are tied into the stock market, and why would they want to fund somebody to stop the bulldozers and save farmland from real estate speculation and development? This spurred me on to personally changing my activities to petroleum-dependence education and song writing.

Let me close by reiterating that the publicís education of petroleum issues should be paramount. The people who think they understand oil, including many in government, the food sector, the sciences and the environmental movement, seem to have blind faith in technologyís abilities. More understandably, few people grasp peak oil production. Peak oil means more than, geologically, production inexorably declining permanently at some point. (It does appear the world is near that point.) Colin Campbell, formerly of Petroconsultants, is a guru for peak-oil enthusiasts, but the movement is smaller probably than the audience-size of the least popular game show on TV. Reaching peak oil theoretically means that there is a second half of a bell-curve of extractable oil that will provide just what the first half of the bell-curve of production did. Iím not an exploration or production expert whatsoever, but the most easily obtained oil, and the low-sulfur low-viscosity oil has been passed on to the market first. Plus, more and more energy is required to extract remote petroleum. There could be huge new finds, but not to throw off the Hubbert Curve by much, right? The ride down the bell curve of declining production will be bumpier than the ascent, what with larger population and intensification of world trade interdependence. Conservation and planning have been neglected too long. Thank you for listening.


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



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