Wednesday night last saw an interesting session to kick off several days of the 15th Convergence Sustainable Living Festival, organised by Cultivate.
The two-hour session was entitled: ‘Planning our retreat from fossil fuels: exploring the ramifications of Peak Oil’ and featured a panel of three speakers, David Korowicz of Feasta (and author earlier this year of the jaw-dropping report, ‘Tipping Point‘), Richard O’Rourke, director of the Irish branch of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and Green Minister of State, Ciaran Cuffe.
As moderator, I opened proceedings with the only ‘prop’ of the evening, an A3 paper printout of an eye-popping ‘World Liquid Fuels Supply 2008-2030‘ from the US Dept. of Energy’s Information Agency. This projects a staggering shortfall of 43 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, with this Grand Canyon of demand to be met by something labelled “unidentified projects”. Filling this 43mbd chasm will take the discovery and rapid exploitation of not one but several new Saudi Arabias. Too bad, having already long since located all the easy-to-reach oil on the planet, we haven’t found anything remotely on that scale since 1965. Nor will we.
David Korowicz’s opening presentation was, frankly, apocalyptic. Summarising the clear conclusions of his published research, he set out a scenario of near-term system failure, leading to irreversible cascading collapses of the complex systems which, collectively, we describe as industrial civilisation.
Sounds OTT? Much as I’d earnestly love to pin David an an incorrigible Doomer, his analysis is as meticulous as it is compelling. Bottom line: while we’ve been (rightly) worrying about climate change, Peak Oil has crept up almost unnoticed, tiger-style, and is about to pounce on an extraordinarily ill-prepared public and political system. Richard O’Rourke underlined ASPO’s contention that, like it or not, our fragile financial and energy systems are bound together at the ankles; as one trips up, down goes the other.
Batting for that system, Ciaran Cuffe set out the stall for the government, though he did admit that consciousness around the Cabinet table about just how profoundly threatened we in Ireland are by the implications of Peak Oil is, let’s say, limited. Richard and Ciaran sparred a little about how effective or otherwise groups like ASPO are are preaching to the unconverted. The ASPO director was clearly not impressed, but this is was a minor kerfuffle in the scheme of a very useful exchange of ideas on an issue of the profoundest import. Richard has a detailed posting on the meeting here.
We also had nearly a solid hour of questions, comments and interaction from the very well informed attendees. I don’t believe any media were present and, minister apart, not a solitary politician either. Shame, on both counts. Fair play must go to Davie Philip of Cultivate, the brains behind the Convergence Festival for his energy and endeavour in pulling an event on this scale together.
Ever the glutton for punishment, I was back in this morning to give a 15-minute presentation titled ‘Reflecting on the converging challenges’. This was an attempt to thread together the climate change, resource depletion and peak oil threads and put these in the wider context of a public that seems indifferent and a media that is somewhere between tuned out and openly hostile to environmental and ecological issues.
Other contributors to today’s very well attended session included Brendan Halligan, Chairman of SEAI, with some sage overviews and insights, Tony Carroll of the ESB on smart grids, EVs etc, Simon McGuinness on how Cuba survived its “Special Period” and Aideen O’Hora of SEAI on the ‘Drogheda 2020’ sustainability project. Gavin Harte had a lively presentation on ‘The Energy Smart Community’ and we then broke into groups in a World Café style to discuss and debate the morning’s session.
You can view an extended segment from the Wednesday night meeting in the clip below: (with thanks to Eoin Campbell of JustMedia for the footage)