Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Go read this.

I don't know whether to be pleased that what I've been describing in my talks (not original to me of course) is now being acknowledged within the most influential levels of our government, or more frightened because the chances (hopes) that I am wrong are receding.

"During the next 30 years, every aspect of human life will change at an unprecedented rate... Over the next 30 years, the resource-related challenges to global stability will be diverse, wide-ranging and significant...Increasing demand and climate change are likely to place pressure on the supply of key [food] staples...The Golden Age of cheap energy has passed. Competition for energy supplies will dominate the economic landscape during the next 30 years...The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states...."

All this, and they are taking a very optimistic stance on future oil supply.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I've uploaded about 60 TBTMs/TBTEs to Flickr, if you're interested, please do take a look. It's quite interesting seeing them all together like that...


A very wet and dull morning.

On the other hand, following PCC approval of my suggestions, we now have a temporary faculty to explore re-ordering the sanctuary at WM parish church. The picture below shows the present arrangement (previously the altar and choir stalls were swapped, with the choir stalls facing each other).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Katharine Jefferts Schori on Dar es Salaam

A twenty minute talk from her here (HT MadPriest again). Worth listening to.

She points out that ultimately +++Rowan has to decide who he is in communion with (which has all sorts of legal consequences in the US of course). I just can't see him breaking communion with TEC. Maybe I'm wrong.


It is a terrible thing to lose one's sense of proportion.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Finally got round to seeing this; it has been talked about quite a bit in Peak Oil circles, but as I hardly ever get to the cinema these days, it had to wait until it as on special offer from the Virgin Megastore before being watched. Which is fine - I'll watch it again. Quite absorbing portrait of the oil world in its several aspects; a very interesting sub-theme about fatherhood in family relations; but either I missed something or the director missed something; something known as a point - though I suppose still life and portraiture doesn't need a 'point' still I like my narratives to carry that weight.

Clean, spontaneous and dark

Very interesting quiz exploring your sense of humour (HT Gospel of the Living Dead) Seems accurate to me. (Click full post for details)

the Cutting Edge
(52% dark, 42% spontaneous, 26% vulgar)

your humor style:

Your humor's mostly innocent and off-the-cuff, but somehow there's something slightly menacing about you. Part of your humor is making people a little uncomfortable, even if the things you say aren't themselves confrontational. You probably have a very dry delivery, or are seriously over-the-top. Your type is the most likely to appreciate a good insult and/or broken bone and/or very very fat person dancing.
PEOPLE LIKE YOU: David Letterman - John Belushi

The 3-Variable Funny Test!

Religion a la Eddie Izzard

(HT Res Publica in a comment on this post)


How much do you want the prize?
How much will you sacrifice?

PS Happy Birthday Mum!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Practice gives the words their sense

The family have been sequentially laid low this week - #1 at the weekend; #2 from Monday night; beloved followed, and now I am suffering. We have been ministered to by various angels from the congregation - the Spirit has been especially busy - but today I'm spending most of my time on my computer (when not sat somewhere less congenial) - but I'm finding my stomach even more churned up by the Dar es Salaam stuff, which I'm sure I've read more about today than is good for any sane person. So this is a bonus rant, to follow the earlier post of today.

First, one of my favourite quotations from Wittgenstein: "A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer. (Karl Barth) It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense."

In other words, it is what we do with the words that matters, that give to words their meanings. Words in and of themselves are inert, mere flotsam and jetsam above the sea of human nature.

So when there is an agreement in a communion that certain words should be followed, and other words should be denied, we should attend to what is going on through the use of those words as much as (if not more than) the use of those words themselves.

Take this form of words: the Lambeth 1998 declaration "calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals". In one primates case, this involves supporting a law criminalising precisely such ministry - how this can be reconciled with the words of Lambeth escapes me.

This is hypocrisy; more, it is hypocrisy in the service of power and prestige. It is fitting for a gay man to die for the sake of the people, and so on.

"This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."

Seems to me that throughout Scripture there is this constant tension between the life - the actual living out of divine abundance - that God is calling his people to, and the way in which the religious authorities short-change that vocation in order to preserve a comfortable status quo. They want the proceeds of the vineyard for themselves.

With YOU is my contention O priest!

Here we have a mentality that uses all the right words and phrases but whose heart is so far from God's commands that the discrepancy is shocking. This evil of fundamentalism, get the passwords right and you gain access past the pearly gates. No sense of Revelation: "I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds."

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."

And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before your God?

Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

This awful, awful spiritual sickness. Time for it to die; then perhaps there is a chance for resurrection.

"Vicar in a van"

This is my friend Stephen (who sometimes comments here as 'Ricey'), on whom I was privileged to join in the laying on of hands on Tuesday, as he was commissioned as a Fire Safety Evangelist (Church Times report here). This was one of those occasions where everything seemed incredibly right, and God's blessings were both abundant and evident.
Stephen had his hands anointed - may God prosper the work of his hands; saving lives, saving souls.

Trying to think straight

Pondering the shenanigans at/after Dar es Salaam. (If you don't know what I'm referring to, give thanks, and move along swiftly). These are more interim thoughts. (Click Full Post to read).

1. What I have written before (here) still represents my understanding of the underlying issues at stake. However, I'm now not so sure about item 6, that the CofE will remain in communion with TEC. My impression of the conclusion to Dar es Salaam is that a plank has been placed on the edge of the ship, and TEC has been invited to step onto it.
2. On the fundamental issue, my perspective has been steadily solidifying in favour of authorising same-sex blessings. (NB I have a pretty strong view on the importance of ordination vows, one of which involves not using unauthorised services, so I don't expect to be carrying any out any time soon). I'm not persuaded that there is no merit in the traditional teachings prohibiting rectal intercourse, nor that this is simply a matter of personal preference, but I am more and more convinced that this is a) none of my business, and b) something which can be established from within the gay Christian context, and does not need to be imposed from outside. (I take for granted that a gay man can be as immersed in Scripture as a straight man). It also, of course, completely ignores female homosexuality, where I suspect the traditional prohibitions have no purchase.
3. Whilst TEC might, therefore, have underlying justice on their side, I think they have repeatedly undermined their own position through a reckless disregard for the 'bonds of affection', most especially with regard to +Robinson. More than that, I find much of the theological perspective articulated within TEC to be bafflingly bad, and barely Christian. It seems to me now that there is a very strong case for TEC to make a prophetic witness - but that witness will be compromised through dilution with extremely bad theology. There is also the distinct smack of self-indulgence in some quarters.
4. Having said that, nothing from TEC seems as monstrous as that emanating from Nigeria. With TEC I have arguments; with +Akinola there seems a heart of darkness, which is quite clearly not Anglican in any sense that I have understood it. Thank God for the South Africans, and the other sane African voices, otherwise my PC conscience would be descrying my own racism - which would play in precisely to +Akinola's own satanic manipulations. (I'm using satanic there in a Girardian sense.)
5. I had hoped that the half-dozen Akinola devotees would have walked out, leaving the remainder to continue a recognisably Anglican communion. That had always been my perspective on Rowan's strategy. However what now seems to be opening up is a great abyss of schism - not the departure of TEC from the Anglican Communion, for however messy that might be, it would still be a substantially whole church separating itself off. No, what has now opened up in a way that I had really not been expecting, is the sense that the CofE itself will split apart. Establishment will soften things, and slow things down, but I know that there are people within the CofE making contingency plans on this question. Which is really very depressing. It will make the arguments about women priests look easy. Several more substantial lacerations on the road to the death by a thousand cuts.

I hold on to Keble's idea: even if the Church of England were to fail, it would still be found in my parish.

America doomed?

Very interesting interview with an Islamic expert, Saad Al-Faqih on Al-Qaeda here (HT John Robb).

I'm not persuaded that America is as week as Faqih believes. I agree that it is about to suffer a severe setback, but I think that what will happen is that the underlying strength and resilience of US culture will then emerge out of the crucible. In contrast to Faqih I think the long term comparison of cultural strength favours the US. It is Islam that faces a true existential crisis.


Two boys and a dog.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Or, more precisely, WOBbing, is the sin of placing white text on a black background - which apparently makes things difficult to read. So I'm going to experiment with some changes to the look of the blog - I'd be most grateful for feedback from people about the look of the blog, both it's present format and any of the alternatives that I'll experiment with in the next couple of days.

NB if you use Firefox (and I imagine if you use IE) you can automatically change the text size by using the 'view' options.


Light up your light tonight

I wanna see you shine

Fight despair

Don't let it get you down
Don't let it tie you down

There's a man with a wife and three children

Who's been told he can't work

There's a boy who's been told there's no future

He's been led by the blind.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saw 2

Better than I thought (after having had hints of reviews).

I do think that the unconscious emerges in film - and that something like the Saw franchise is saying to our society: what do you really value? For the culture as a whole is trapped in a room with a tape recording saying 'Let's play a game....' The walls of the room are made from energy, and Peak Oil is the lock.


For some reason, I'd never seen this before (tho' I had seen some sequels). So this was catching up. I can see why it became so influential (especially on Nightmare on Elm Street); it had some very good moments; but there wasn't enough back story/ mythology to make it really interesting. Apparently the sequel goes into that more, but I'm not sure I'll bother.


You don't believe me, but it gets better...

Overpopulation and human freedom

VERY good article over at Casaubon's book, well worth a read (and it's so good I've added the author to my blogroll). Extract:

"What the bathroom metaphor actually does is equate "freedom" with "no limits" - it says that freedom and dignity are constructs of privelege and lack of constraint. That is, you have the perfect freedom of the bathroom when you never have to wait, or accomodate anyone else, adapt to or respect anyone else's needs. But that is *not* what freedom is - and I think this is an important point, because our consumer culture tells us over and over again that freedom is the ability to have whatever you want, whenever you want it. Freedom is "freedom of choice" and that is the equivalent of 63 choices of soda on the grocery store aisle, rather than the freedom from want, or freedom from repression - freedoms that only work when other people are aware of and attentive to others. Freedom, according to Dick Cheney, is the American way of life being "non-negotiable" rather than an egalitarian, shared and just life that extends beyond the borders of America. The bathroom example perpetuates the "freedom is choice" notion - that being free means never having to say, "excuse me."

I think that's truly and deeply wrong, and if we think this way about the population issue, we are perpetuating our most foolish habits of thought."


Dear Sir,
I have photographic evidence, from an approved device, that the driver of _____ failed to comply with a red light at the date and location contained on page 2. I hereby require you to furnish within 28 days of the date of service of this notice the name and address of the driver.

[Essex Police Camera Enforcement Office]


Friday, February 16, 2007


But I hope you never prosper, and I hope you always fail
In every thing you venture, I hope you ne'er do well
And the very ground you walk upon may the grass refuse to grow
Since you have been to me the very cause of my sorrow, grief and woe

Thursday, February 15, 2007


LUBH 3 - The Accelerating and Accumulating Crises of our time

This is the third talk in my series on Christianity and Peak Oil, and looks at the wider problems that we face, concentrating in particular on the problems of exponential growth within a finite environment. Power point slides for this talk can be accessed alongside the audio, via the link on my sidebar.

We had two very appropriate lessons in Morning Prayer today for the theme and I just want to quote from the ending of the reading from Acts of the Apostles where St Paul is saying, “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet, Go to this people and say, you will be ever hearing but never understanding. You will be ever seeing but never perceiving for this people’s heart hath become calloused, they hardly hear with their eyes and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and I would heal them.”

As you might expect from such a verse this morning’s session is probably going to be the most depressing one that I do, and to be honest if your blood isn’t running a little colder at the end of it then I will consider myself to have at least partially failed in my intentions. Having said that I am not pessimistic myself, but all the positive signs and signs of hope and reasons for trusting in God etc. will come in later sessions. Today I just really want to emphasise the down side, the dark side. OK, so bear that in mind, expect that today will be worrying, but bear in mind that there will be reasons for hope given in later sessions.

Now the key thing I would like to look at today to begin with is something called exponential growth, hence the graph, which I am sure you all can recognise, and this is a quote from Professor Albert Bartlett, he’s the now retired professor of physics at the University of Colorado, and he has been trying to get people to understand this problem of exponential growth for about thirty plus years and he has given a talk world-wide more than a thousand times. A bit like those of you who saw “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore’s been wondering around giving a slide show, well Albert Barlett has been going round giving a slide show on exponential growth. He says this, “A misunderstanding of exponential arithmetic is one of the most dramatic shortcomings of mankind.”

Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with what it is, a quick run through. Exponential growth is – imagine you are talking about the economy, the economy is growing at 3% a year – that is exponential growth because the growth is applied to a body which is growing itself. So compound interest in your bank account. If you have got £100 in your bank account and it’s 3% interest a year, after one year you get £3.00 added, the next year you get £3.00 and a bit added onto £103, so what you end up with is this growth – it accelerates. And roughly speaking if you divide the percentage growth into 70 you will get a rough approximation of how long it takes for the original quantity to double. So this is really the key thing about exponential growth, the doubling time, how long it takes to double in size. So that £100 in a bank account, if it was growing at 7½% a year, in ten years it would be £200, ten years after that it would be £400, ten years after that it would be £800, you see it’s doubling. If there is a fixed rate of growth there is a doubling.

I’m sure you will all have heard the story about the chess board and the Persian king, sometimes its an Indian king, sometimes it’s a Chinese king, it’s always some exotic foreign potentate. And a peasant who happens to be rather cunning and good at maths, saves the life of the king’s daughter, and the king says what would you like for your reward. And the cunning peasant says “Take a chess board, on the first square place a grain of rice, on the second square place two grains of rice, keep doubling, OK, until you go round all 64 squares.” And the king says, “Oh that’s easy of course you can have that right, I’m sure our granaries will give you what you need, and then they work it out and they realise that there would be many more times than a lifetime’s worth of the grain harvest in the whole kingdom, so I am sure the king chops the guy’s head off.

Another example, think of folding a piece of paper and in practice you know you can’t normally fold more than six or seven times but how far, how thick would that paper be after you had folded it forty times? It gets you as far as the moon, according to the sources I had. If you fold a piece of paper and double it’s thickness forty times it’s the distance between the earth and the moon. Ok there’s your chessboard. Another example getting a bit more concrete now, the lilypad. A lily in a pond is growing exponentially and doubling in size, and we know that it will fill the pond in thirty days, so at what point is the pond half covered? Day 29. Now imagine on day 29 those people who were in charge of the growth of the lily, discover three new ponds. What wonders, amazing new resources available. How much extra time does that give the lily to grow? Two days. Three new ponds gives two days, so instead of dying of at day 30 it dies off at day 32. Because at the end of day 30 you have got one pond covered, at the end of day 31 you have got two ponds covered, at the end of day 32 you have four ponds covered.

So the issue is: to keep the system running the discovery of new ponds has to accelerate. Make sense? Well that is the problem that we face. Now one example. Reindeer introduced onto a island in Alaska in 1945, 29 were introduced, by the summer of 1957 they had grown to 1,350, by the summer of 1963 they had grown to 6,000, summer of 1964 there were less than 50. That’s what you’ve got, exponential growth, zoooph and a crash. Because the resources available ran out suddenly, and you’ve got a crash.

The one interesting bit, there’s evidence of a slow down in population growth in the year or two prior to the crash, in other words, there were some signals coming through to the reindeer population, the resources aren’t so abundant as they used to be. There are actually lots and lots of stastical examples of reindeer in Alaska, this is just for one island, but there are lots and lots of examples where reindeer were introduced in the 1940’s, 1950’s to these remote islands, remote territories and the same thing happened time after time. There is a temporary abundance of resources then the population shoots up and then there’s a crash. And of course once there’s a crash there are different ways in which the crash can happen. Does it return to a stable state of equilibrium, so that population of 40, 50 reindeer carries on at 40 or 50? Do the reindeer get driven to extinction because they have actually used up all the food and there isn’t enough to sustain anyone? Or is there a bounce, is there sort of a crash because there were too many reindeer competing and once the excess of reindeer has been eliminated perhaps they can grow up to 40 to 400 reindeer, some sustainable level? And in terms of what happens at this end of the exponential curve, you have lots of choices, it can bomb down and collapse, it can bomb down and stabilise, or it can bomb down and bounce back up and stabilise. And of course, humans have more options than reindeer. Keep that in mind.

Now the problem, and what causes overshoot (that’s called overshoot in ecological terms, when the population of organisms goes beyond the sustainable capacity of the environment. OK?) Now what causes overshoot, principally it’s an absence of feedback, there are no messages getting to the population saying “Hold on you’re going too fast, if you carry on going too fast you will crash.” So the feedbacks aren’t getting to the population. And so the system goes beyond its limits. You have this shoot up and then the crash. The point is that one limit is enough to cause the crash. OK so with the reindeer on the island, it was the absence of lichen, because all the lichen had been eaten up. But there is only, you only need to have one element missing. It’s not that there’s a complete devastation and the whole island got destroyed, there was the absence of the one critical thing which was the food for the reindeer, which brings me to something called Liebig’s Law.

Liebig was a German chemist living in the nineteenth century, very creative, did a lot of work on fertiliser. His company also established the Oxo cube. That’s Liebig. Now he proposed a law, which is generally accepted, called the law of the minimum. And’s this is Liebig’s barrel. Imagine a barrel of water with the staves in the barrel at different lengths. You can keep pouring water in but as soon as the water reaches the shortest stave, the water starts pouring out. So the shortest stave sets the limit of how much water can be held in the barrel. You can have an abundance if you like, you know great long staves on the other ones, but if there’s one that’s missing, that sets the limit as to how much water in the barrel. And so for plant growth, which is what he was concerned with, the growth of any organism is limited by the scarcest resource. And that can be lots and lots of difference resources might be needed in terms of fertiliser and sunlight and water and so forth for the growth of a plant, but when the growth hits the limit of one of them, then the growth stops. OK? And so that is what sets the capacity limit for a plant, for an eco-system, for a population. The lowest limit.

Now – something which I sure you are familiar with, human population is growing exponentially, growth is beginning to slow down, we’ll come onto that, but I am sure you are familiar with this exponential curve. And oh look, what a coincidence, as it happens when the carbon, when the fossil fuels become available, there is suddenly a resource available which enables the population to rapidly expand. OK? Have you heard of “The Limits to Growth”, published I think in 1972, actually that book was published but the club of Rome did the work in the years leading up to it, and essentially the conclusions were – if we keep on going the way we are, within 100 years the population will crash, for the reasons I have just been outlining. In summary, it was very optimistic, it said there were lots of things that we can do. If we shift actively onto a sustainable model of development, abandon the idea that we can grow materially forever because exponential growth shows that’s nonsense, if we shift then all sorts of things can happen but if things carry on as they are, then the system of human society, of human population will crash in less than 100 years. That was the message of “The Limits to Growth”.

As I say the models that it was using, computer models, have been shown correct, because as you I am sure are all aware, there was no shift in human society and consciousness away from the unsustainable growth towards something that was more environmentally sound. And so the last 35 years, that’s a third of its projected timeframe, has been simply following the path laid out in that book in that research. And the issue is that once one problem affecting the human population growth is solved, because they did all sorts of tweaks on the models, at one point they said, what happens if we double the resource base, just arbitrarily? What would happen in the models? Instead of the resources being run dry in terms of energy and so forth being the constraining limit, it ended up being pollution being the constraining limit. And this is what I’ll be going through but the issue is there are manifold different problems but they are all common syptoms of one underlying cause, the exponential growth of human population.

Now human population, the actual additions peaked in 1987, growth is starting to slow down. So each year in terms of what’s added to the population there is around 2 million less. So it’s starting to taper off a bit, and so we’ll probably now peak around 2030, 2035 if that trend continues. But the issue is what you might call – that’s the net decline in growth. In other words if there was 100 million people added last year, there will be 98 million people added this year. No. In terms of the expected growth, you can think of it like this, that it’s going from say 3% to 2.9% to 2.8% in terms of the growth each year. So the growth rate is slowing down, which translates into 2 million less than expected, compared to what it would have been if it had been left constant. Does that make sense? It’s not a very helpful little figure, actually, I think I might cut that out.

You probably saw last week or two an issue about the resources used, because there is now a body which calculates at what point in the year has the earth used one earth’s unit of resources, in terms of what’s renewable. And of course, each year it gets earlier and earlier in terms of the year. It was on the front cover of the Independent last week – anyone who reads the Independent? How many earths in terms of the sustainable resources are needed to sustain human population? And a rough calculation is round about late 70’s, early 80’s we started eating into the deposits which can’t be renewed, so our growth is running ahead of what can’t be sustained. http/ - if you go to that site, you can tap in all your details it will tell you how many earths are required to sustain the lifestyle you presently lead, and for most of us it’s probably about two. To sustain our present lifestyle in terms of energy resources, water resources, etc. etc., we actually need two earths. But of course there’s only one.

And the real crucial question is – what is in fact the sustainable human population on earth? And this is guesswork, we don’t actually know because there are so many assumptions that go into working it out, that it’s guesswork. But three billion doesn’t seem unreasonable in terms of what we’ve actually developed in terms of technology and farming and so forth. But it could be six billion, it could be eight billion, we don’t actually know for sure but given that we are using more than we’ve got, we’re running down our deposit account if you like, rather rapidly, chances are we can’t sustain what we have got.

So some sober conclusions, just from those abstract bits really – either we change our way of life and abandon growth and the expectation of growth in material terms or we carry on blindly, we hit the wall and the human population collapes. Either way God is bringing our present way of life to a close, that’s why we fall in line with what God’s intentions are or we suffer God’s wrath. One key thing to bear in mind having said that is that growth is not the same as development. If you like the enriching of human society and culture doesn’t necessarily require greater and greater physical growth or physical use of resources. It’s the physical growth, human population and so forth and the use of physical resources that will hit a limit. Not, if you like, the richness of civilisation. They are two distinct things. So development is not the same as growth.

So what might the possible limits be? Energy, which we talked about last week. Which I think will be the first one, I think that’s the lowest stave, I think that is what will trigger the problems. OK, we went into that in some depth last week. How about water? A third of the population of the planet is now in the condition of what’s called water stress. The next step is water scarcity. I don’t know if any of you follow the news from Australia. They are in their sixth year of drought in the Murray-Darling Basin, which is their bread basket and their wheat harvest is collapsing, and because Australia is one of the main exporters of wheat, it means that the world community is drawing down it’s stocks, which are at it’s lowest for twenty five years according to the FT last week. We are drawing down the reserves.

Lima in Peru. This is one of those glaciers which is vanishing, but Lima - a city of 10 million people - gets the majority of its water from this glacier. When this glacier isn’t there any more, where are they going to get their water from? You are going to start getting human migration of millions of people. And Lima is just one example. How about the Ogalalla Aquafar in the United States, on average being used up four times quicker than it’s being replenished. In the southern areas it’s being used up a hundred times quicker than it’s being replenished and it’s responsible for irrigating 6 million hectares in the States, their bread basket.

Well, what about the Middle East. Out of the fourteen Middle Eastern countries, eleven are actually in water scarcity, not water stress, water scarcity, and Saudi Arabia obtains threequarters of it’s water needs from it’s own ground water stocks. It’s mining the water and that physical resource will run dry, literally. And of course that feeds into all sorts of issues about conflict.

How about another one? Food. Per capita food production peaked in 1985, food per person worldwide. One in eight world wide are considered mal-nourished, in other words they don’t get enough food to grow properly, which is 30% of the sub-Sahara and African population. These are UN figures. And 40 million a year die of absolute starvation. Now the last bit is from “The Limits to Growth” which was predicting an absolute peak of food production before 2020. So there’s getting more food at the moment but the rate of population increase is going faster. So food per person is going down. Of course the Western world is massively over-consuming of food, so remember what Gandhi said, “There’s enough for people’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Bear in mind there are political aspects to this.

Other possible limits, soil, lots of top soil. There’s a little figure there, 1900 the amount of top-soil per person in 1900 was four thousand and now it’s less than one thousand. It’s exponential growth in reverse. The amount of top soil being driven off by erosion and pollution and so forth. And again land, cultivatable land per person world wide is now less than half what it was in 1950. It was starting to encroach upon physical limits.

Pollution, as I mentioned earlier, “The Limits to Growth” model doubled the amount of energy available to be exploited by the human system and they then found well the next thing, if they had raised that stave on the barrel, the next lowest one was pollution, the world simply became too toxic to support the right number of people. But I think we see that in terms of disease, which is one of the things that we do need to be very aware of. Asian flu, those are not the most likely to transplant, it’s just particularly horrific, you can fill in all these as you wish, what’s the superbug in the hospitals, MRSA and so forth. That’s an index from that.

And of course, global warming, which is also on this exponential line. Those of you who saw the Al Gore film, remember him getting onto the platform so that he could extend how far the carbon missions were expected to go. So this is why we can talk about the accumulating crises of our time, or even perhaps the accelerating crises of our time. That wherever we look we can see problems developing. Now there is an Institute which devotes it’s life to exploring and monitoring all these trends. It’s called the World Watch Institute, they release a book each year, “The World in 1990”, “The World in 2000” and so forth. Lester Brown is one of the main people there and you can describe the book as a litany. A litany of where everything is going wrong and there are some predictions embedded in it. Unfortunately the litany is often wrong, especially the predictions, the predictions keep saying it will be collapse, in ten years time it will be collapse, but we keep ticking on and ticking on.

But the issue is not really about the time scale of those specific predictions so much as the broad picture that exponential growth can’t continue, because the World Watch Institute tends to focus in on each specific issue. Oh, this water is an issue, or grain is an issue, or pollution is an issue, global warming is an issue, and it doesn’t actually step back and say these are all different staves on the water barrel. And the issue is the rising water, OK? So bear in mind that a lot of this material, a lot of this evidence needs to be placed in this broader context here. If global warming doesn’t get us then deforestation and the collapse of the top soil will. It’s that sort of point which we need to absorb. Not “hey we can do all this and this will solve global warming”. You know, those things may be necessary but there is a systemic problem.

Bjorn Lomborg, who you may have heard of, wrote a book called “The Sceptical Environmentalist”, which is very good. It’s a very good book, very thorough, very well researched, lots of very important and useful information in it, it’s also unfortunately missing the big point. Remember what I said about peak oil. That at the moment our system has more energy available in cheaper and useable form that ever before, and what The Sceptical Environmentalist does is look at the last fifty to hundred years and say on the whole things have been getting better. Yes, for most people, most of the time, in most of the world, things through the twentieth century have become solidly better. But that’s because we are still on the upswing of available energy, and when he starts talking about oil, he’s really very wrong indeed. His forecast, the edition I’ve got is 2002, his forecast from then is that oil would remain because of this continued abundance, oil would remain in a price of ten to twenty dollars a barrel until 2020. And in the next four years after that was printed it went up to seventy eight. It’s now dropped back to just under sixty, but the trend is fairly clear.

So, in terms of retrospective, be aware that the story is not all doom and gloom, there are all sorts of good and positive things, things like the green revolution, OK, which significantly enhanced our ability to provide food. That was the equivalent of finding another pond, we found another pond in the green revolution. Hey we have got so many more resources!

OK, some consequences. The signs of the crises are all around us if only we have eyes to see and interpret it correctly. You know, it’s not that global warming is the issue, it’s not that peak oil is the issue, it’s not that migration is the issue, these are all of them symptoms. And its developing a way of seeing the world that sees all these as symptoms of stress in the system. As the system starts to bump up against tight limits, that’s the real issue. But, we are blinded by idolatry. And I’m going into this, this is what next week’s session is all about to focus in on this particular point, what is idolatry?

And idolatry we can understand as the inability to receive feedback from the system. We are wearing blinkers. You know, that fact that a third of sub-Saharan Africa is suffering from malnutrition is not something which impinges on the way the western world structures it’s civilisation. I’m going into that in more detail when I talk about poverty.

But this is ultimately a spiritual problem, which is why I am going to be doing idolatry and what it is next week and then in the middle chunk of four, going through specific examples of where that idolatry, that refusal to listen to the word of God, actually has a practical application, in terms of how we farm, in terms of how we have our social and economic relations, how we have our foreign affairs and so forth.

But some consequences that I think are reasonable to expect. As I mentioned last week, resource wars, oil wars are certainly not out of the question. US Army report last year. If they attack Iran be worried. Something else, a phrase which one or two of you might have heard of – fourth generation warfare. Israel, a military successful and powerful state, invades Lebanon this year, and was effectively defeated by a guerilla army. This is the way the world is moving, that the state, despite it’s monopoly, or near monopoly of the most powerful uses of violence, is not actually able to defeat a motivated guerilla force. And perhaps some of the military experts here can comment on that later.

Something else which is worth reading if you get a chance although it’s a big, heavy, technical book, but it’s very good, The Shield of Achilles by Philip Bobbitt, and he basically advances an argument that states developed in contract with the citizens. And he goes through the legal framework through which states have developed over the last three or four hundred years. And his argument is that the very powerful states that we have at the moment are only able to continue through the consent of those being governed because they are meeting their side of an implicit bargain. In other words, the state is providing lots of services in terms of the safety and welfare of the population. And his argument appears that the world is developing in such a way that states will not be able to continue meeting that side of the bargain and therefore what we are going to have is the development of what he calls the market state. But you know, much, much slimmer, smaller because they can’t do all the things that so far they have been able to do.

But what that also means is that many more states will collapse, the centralised authority, I mean this is the whole issue with Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda had formed this sort of symbiotic relationship. That sort of thing is going to become more and more prevalent. But one of the practical consequences from that is that organised crime will become more entrenched, because they will be going from the bottom up, they will have the equivalent of the local mafia, who are able to provide local services in terms of security, protection, if you like, and even some welfare services. Look at what Hezb’allah is doing in Lebanon, they are provided all sorts of social services where the main state isn’t able to do it. Funded by drugs, one of the main arguments it seems to me for legalizing drugs, because you suddenly take a black economy funding source for criminals and shift it into the main economy and you can monitor it.

There are issues of human trafficking and slavery which people are aware of. And therefore terrorism. The point is that the states, this is an argument, the states are becoming top heavy, they have been built up over time through the access to lots of easy energy, in particular, and they have been over-mighty at the top with feet of clay. This is the argument.

Right, now let’s get really worrying. What’s going to happen in the third world when their environments degrade and they can’t feed themselves and their states collapse? You are looking at extensive human migration on a vastly greater scale than has yet been seen. All the improverished people in Central Africa, in Asia and so forth will head north and west. Did you see, I think it was last week, two weeks ago, George Bush signing into law, funding for building a wall along the Southern United States. See this? The rich want to put walls up, because it’s only unconscious part of the time, they can see what’s coming.

But of course, you are going to have hordes of starving millions outside and hordes of frightened westerners inside and the wall won’t last, and I sometimes think that the unconscious, the collective unconscious works through cinema. Think of the film “Titantic”. This wonderfully plush luxury liner, filled with people and they think it’s unsinkable, we’ll carry on as we are because it’s fine, and of course, it hits the iceberg and catastrophe follows. But another example is I think, George Romero’s zombie films, which are all centred on there being a group of frightened westerners, people like us, and outside the wall there are hordes and hordes of people who want what they’ve got. And eventually the wall fails, I just think there’s something in the unconscious emerging there.

Final biblical example: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are the ways in which chastisement comes. The white horseman: conquered from without, the red horseman: death in battle, the black horseman: famine and the pale horseman, with hell following with him: pestilence and disease. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague.

A final quote from Thomas Hardy – “If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.” Which was my aim today. Comments, questions?

[Q: is it not more appropriate to say that we are bringing our way of life to an end?]

In part yes, and in fact that’s the theme of my talk when I do the Wrath of God, because I think the language of the Old Testament talking about the wrath of God descending on a population, it is possible to understand that language as describing a natural process. So yes I would agree with you, but I will go into that in quite a bit of depth, because I think it is one of the most important things, but yes, our behaviour is unsustainable and therefore our behaviour will bring as a necessary consequence, the end of that behaviour.

[Q: a military comment on states and guerrilla war – a hugely complex subject – and quite a few states have taken on guerrillas and defeated them, so it’s not quite as simple as you think [Sam: Agreed!] so in Malaya in 1950s against communist insurgents, they were completely successful, and in fact they eradicated communism from Malaya, when all around them, states were falling. The example with Israel and Lebanon is a very peculiar one in many ways because Israeli expectation was that they were going to push back Hezbollah very hard indeed, they thought they would get away with it by a massive use of force on the border, as they’ve done before, and I think they got a very nasty shock, but I don’t think we can actually call that a straight guerrilla war. It wasn’t that they took on Hezbollah, it was a straight conventional war, what they did was hit the Lebanese in Lebanon, the Lebanese government, which of course had three Hezbollah ministers serving in it, very hard indeed, because they thought this was going to completely pull the rug from under Hezbollah’s feet. And to a certain extent they have done that. I wouldn’t agree with you that the Israelis lost the war – it’s an uncomfortable stalemate and nobody quite knows what is going to happen next. The interesting thing is where Iran is going to jump, who underpin Hezbollah, which is why all these ‘guerrilla’ things can’t be just taken simply.]

The argument that Bobbitt makes is that it a trend that we are seeing the first signs of it, and we talked about Afghanistan as being the lead example but I agree with what you said, I think it is very complex and the situation is blurred.

[But Afghanistan has itself been severely skewed by the action in Iraq which has seriously damaged it; or damaged what we thought we were going to achieve in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Here we are with the Taliban seriously cosying up with Al-Qaeda….]

But what about what happened in the nineties before all that took place? Would you say then that Al Queda’s relationship with the Taliban was as a result of the state failing because of what communism had done, because of what the Soviet Union had done? Right, that make’s sense. But I think the thing about hearts and minds is the most important bit, because actually a lot of this is about changing expectations and cultural behaviour, and it’s this issue about hearts and minds which underlies the whole spectrum of problems. I’m doing one session on foreign affairs where I’ll pursue that in more depth then, but I agree.

[Q: impact of high cost energy – there won’t be suburbs… population is going to crash?]

I’m outlining today what’s called a doomer perspective. Doom and gloom, which I don’t hold with one hundred per cent. I do think we need to be aware of the risk of the doomer point of view coming true, because I think it is a real possibility. The Limits to Growth book is updated every so often, and they say even though thirty years of inaction has closed down our options, we still have options available to us which will minimise the bad consequences. So, how far there definitely will be a population crash, especially in England, our population hasn’t increased through the twentieth century anything like the rate which the developing world has. I see the real areas of stress being Central Africa and Asia, India, China and so forth. We will get the knock-on, the secondary consequences from them, because those stresses what impact in those areas first. And for example, the Middle East about water, and we mentioned this the other day. The amount of water stress in that area is feeding in, look at what Turkey is doing with its damming of the head waters of the Euphrates and Tigris and so forth, which is not making them popular, but again all these things feed into each other.

[q: looking at India and China and the way the population is changing its nature, whereas it was a triangle of population, with lots of young supporting a few old, now the triangle is becoming inverted, now many more elderly….]

In our country in western worlds, I think the population of Saudi Arabia under 18 is something like a third [interjection: Indonesia is 75% under 20] and I think this is one of the real problems, you’ve suddenly have – I mean look at China, there is a real imbalance of the sexes there - you’ve got, coming into adulthood, millions and millions of young men, and young men are not really all that cheerful if they’re not given food, resources, if the expectations they were raised with aren’t met. You know, look at the people in Saudi Arabia, raised in a comparatively affluent society, looked after by the central state, if all those entitlements get taken away, what are the knock-on consequences? I think this, this is actually one of the reasons why I am more hopeful, because I think the social impact will hit before the physical impacts, so paradoxically, if there is lots of war that might be better for us in the long run. That might sound a really strange thing for me to say…

The key figure on poverty and starvation is 30% of sub-Saharan Africa; as a proportion of the population, malnutrition is prevalent, so the acute area for suffering is sub-Saharan Africa even if, in pure quantity of numbers, there are more people starving in Asia.

Q: How much is politically driven? How much could be put right by political change?
I think most starvation at present is politically driven rather than resource driven. At the moment there is enough food to go round – the quote from Gandhi, there is enough for people’s need, but not for the greed. The present situations can be dealt with, by and large, in principle. But it doesn’t affect the accumulating, accelerating problem – we come back to the thing about per capita food production peaking in 1985. That is a leading indicator – the trend has been in place for twenty years – per capita food production declining. At some point that needs to stabilise, either because the number of people stabilises, or we continue discovering new ponds and making more food and so forth, or there is going to be a drop.

[Q: there wasn’t enough food 100 years ago – what I worry about is that the fact that we are now able (technically) to feed everyone… this suggests it is not the overuse of resources that is the problem, but the underuse of resources by those who need them.]

Partly, yes… I think that’s true. One way of thinking about population and its relationship with food is that if you don’t have enough food there won’t be people; so therefore, simply because there are many, many more people, there must by definition be vastly more food available. But the issue is this exponential growth – because there are now that many more people growing exponentially, there must by definition be enough food for those people to live on, and the food is growing exponentially - but the point is that exponential growth hits limits. The limits that we are seeing, the signs of stress, that are politically derived; what I was saying about Bjorn Lomborg and the World Watch people – looking backwards, the twentieth century is a story of unalloyed progress; most people, in most parts of the world are materially vastly better off, vastly better fed, better educated, better covered in terms of health and welfare and so forth. The story of the 20th Century is a story of progress, things getting much, much better, which is Bjorn Lomborg’s point. But it doesn’t address the arguments of the Limits to Growth, and the Limits to Growth model and analysis still holds true. That’s my argument. I wouldn’t dispute that, so far, things have been getting better and better, but the issue about exponential growth is that we hit a limit, and when we hit the limit what happens after exponential growth can be – and without adjustments almost certainly will be – catastrophic decline. But there are options available to us. But I don’t think we can embrace those options without a spiritual revival. Because it is a spiritual problem – and that’s what the next coming weeks are going to be exploring.

The relationships between states and sub-state organisations and especially the ‘hearts and minds’ perspective – in other words, the question about which community has the strongest will to live – is going to have a very big impact upon things, and just to give you a foretaste, one of the main things I’m going to talk about is the way in which the Islamic community has a much stronger will than the Western society, and therefore the Islamic community, despite being materially weaker, and in terms of state governments, weaker, is actually in the long run much stronger. And I’m going to be talking about the way in which Islamic theology draws upon the same sorts of analysis that I’m going to be making with you, in terms of a prophetic critique of Western society, to give itself that strength. And I think unless Western society can recover some sense of spiritual strength, and re-embrace the prophetic critique of our Western way of life, Western society will be conquered from without – the first horseman of the apocalypse, being conquered from without. It’s what General Dannatt was talking about the other day – the Army Chief of Staff, interviewed in the Daily Mail? It’s what he’s talking about, it’s real! But we’ve hit half past ten, so with one bound I shall escape from this conversation. Next week we shall be talking about idolatry, because it is the key concept to understand which will then be applied in different areas, so I look forward to seeing you next week.

Celsius 7/7

Critique of Western foreign policy from a (newish) Conservative MP, who is reputedly close to Cameron. Encouraging that someone that high up is so well-informed about Islamism. I found the material on Sir Iqbal Sacranie fascinating - perfect illustration of what is wrong with the prevailing attitudes.


Where there's a mine or a hole in the ground
That's where I'm heading for, that's where I'm bound.
I'm leaving the county behind, and I'm not coming back...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


This was not taken this morning - it was taken two days ago. For some reason my batteries failed without warning on my camera, and as I am still waiting for the recharger unit to arrive (having ordered it quite a long time ago) I might have to use Mrs Rev Sam's camera for the next few days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On culture and conservatism

I greatly enjoy reading Bryan Appleyard's blog, and his articles, which never fail to either inform or entertain - and often both (he was the man who switched me on to peak oil). There is an interesting interview with him at the Independent today: "The only thing I'm sure I am is culturally conservative - the only way you have a culture is being conservative."

Or as Show of Hands have been singing: we've lost more than we'll ever know, round the rocky shores of England.


De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
Is all I want to say to you
De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
They're meaningless and all that's true

Saturday, February 10, 2007


This is the second of my talks on Christianity and Peak Oil: Let us be human! This is an overview of the Peak Oil issue itself.

Powerpoint slides, notes and the audio are all available via the link on my sidebar.

I would like to talk this morning about the imminent energy crisis which is often referred to as peak oil. I want to talk about what peak oil is, what it actually means and talk a little bit about the challenge for the church. Now you have actually got some written material on the challenge for the church linking it to what’s called the prophetic ministry. I don’t propose to spend too long on that this morning, simply because it is the foundation for the whole sequence, in a sense the whole sequence of these talks is spelling out the implications for the church and how we should live, so today is going to be more what peak oil is and what it means. Those who came to my talk in January will have heard at least half of this before but it is something that is worth covering more than once.

Let’s begin with a biblical image. Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat interpreted dreams for the pharaoh. You will remember the dream that pharaoh had of seven fat cows who were then eaten by seven thin cows, and seven fat ears of corn eaten by seven thin ears of corn. Well we are facing a situation of seven fat barrels of oil being consumed by seven thin barrels of oil and the thin barrels consume the fat. But the trouble is there aren’t many Josephs around to be wise stewards of the resources and we are actually at the end of year seven of the fat barrels. We are not beginning the seven years of the fat barrels, we are in the year seven, that in some way is what peak oil means.

Let’s talk a bit about energy. Energy can’t be created – it can only be transformed from one form into another and energy always degrades into lower and lower quality. Organised life we can think of as being the delay of entropy, capturing some of that energy before it degrades in ways that enable life. Another way to think about energy is the ability to do work. Think of an organism, an animal requires food in order to carry out all it’s bodily functions and then get more food. Now think, just to give you an idea of how significant oil is as a source of energy, a wonderful example about the Eiffel Tower – the energy of an average car’s fuel tank could lift fifty such cars to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Oil is very dense as a source of energy. Or a different image – the average European has the equivalent of a hundred human beings working on their behalf. Think of what it would take to take your car into Colchester if you had to rely on human or animal power. Think of the weight of your car, you have a team of people or animals pulling it. That’s the sort of issue. It’s not a accident that slavery was abolished when it had become economically possible through the invention of the steam engine, industrialisation and the availability of coal in particular.

So oil is a very good, dense source of energy, it’s also very easy to use, it’s liquid, so liquids are easy to pump, easy to store. So there are all sorts of benefits about oil. It’s a much easier fuel to use than for example coal, you can actually do more with the same energy content of oil than you can with the energy content of coal. So oil is the best source of energy that we know, it’s wonder fuel, wonderful, wonder-fuel. Now at the moment oil provides 43% of world-wide energy use but 95% of energy used for transport – hold on to that figure, 95% of transport uses oil to drive it. Now as you know oil is a fossil fuel, this is just a diagram of an oil field, there is a pocket which is sealed water-tight or oil-tight, and the oil rests upon the water and there is often gas at the top, that’s why you often get gas and oil together. And basically what happens – drill goes down, sucks up the oil, the water table starts to rise, that’s called the water cut, and sometimes you get either water or nitrogen gas pumped in order to drive the oil up to capture more oil, which is something significant if we have a conversation about Saudi Arabia for example, remember that. But that’s the simple schematic of how oil is drawn up. OK. So you’ve got oil trapped with the boundaries, oil floats on top of the water and you’ve got gas on top of the oil.

A good way of thinking about oil and coal and gas is that it is a captured form of ancient sunlight. Remember energy can’t be created, the energy in oil is literally fossilised, that’s why it’s called a fossel fuel. It was laid down over millions of years as ancient forests and lagoon beds compacted under great pressure in the earth’s geology. OK. So it’s a one off inheritance. These things were laid down over millions of years and we are now drawing it down. It’s not something which is spontaneously renewed in the centre of the earth. And something else a bit of background context which sounds – I never know how to pronounce it – eroei – stands for the energy return on the energy invested. Basically unless you get more energy out of a process than you put in, it’s not worth doing, unless there are other mitigating factors, for example, a battery in a torch has negative eroei, but that battery is portable and self contained and there are circumstances where that makes it worthwhile pursuing. But in broad terms, in terms of what keeps an entire industry and civilisation going, you can’t base it upon something with negative eroei, because you are eating yourself, you will necessarily shrink. OK.

Now oil when it was first discovered and used, the energy return was about 100 to 1. You’ve seen images of drilling into the ground until the oil shoots up under it’s own pressure, OK, so it was very easy to access when it was first discovered, and as I say, it’s a wonderfully useful fuel. Over time as you draw the oil up, the pressure in the oil wells decreases and it takes more energy to get it, so in Saudi Arabia – it’s running at about 30 to 1, it’s still a wonderful, useful energy source. OK? So it’s still fairly easy to get to in comparison coal started off around 80 to 1, and is now about 15 to 1. What happens is you pick the easiest stuff first. Think of the Pick Your Own in East Mersea. Imagine it’s the middle of summer, fields of strawberries. The people go round and fill up their basket with nicest, juiciest strawberries and during the day people will start having to work harder and harder to get hold of the strawberries, so at the end of the day it’s only the smallest strawberries that people are getting. The same thing applies with oil. The low hanging fruit, the best fruit, was obtained first and so over time the oil industry is forced to look in deeper and deeper, more exotic areas, like the north slope of Alaska, like deep water off the Gulf of Mexico, to try and get the same amount of oil. So the best fruit was taken first.

So what is peak oil in sum. It’s all about flow, it’s not about the quantity available. Now as an analogy for this think about running your bath from your hot water tank. To begin with you can open your tap a little and the water comes out at great pressure and you can increase the flow by widening the tap, and then as the hot water in the tank goes down, the pressure drops and the flow through the tap drops, so you end up with that curve that I had at the beginning, a bell-shaped curve. You start off with a small flow, you widen to get a good flow and then that flow drops down and fades to nothing. So imagine the tap, open the tap wider, flow increases, the reserve is drawn down and then the pressure drops and the flow decreases, that’s effectively what peak oil is. And it looks like that as a curve. This is called the Hubbert curve after an American geologist who worked for Shell in 1956 and did some research on this and he says that basically in an oil field you have got lots of individual wells. OK? So you put down a well and you get a flow of oil in that one, in this one, in this one. When you aggregate all the oils together in a field you end up with this bell-shaped curve. It’s called the Hubbert curve after this American geologist M King Hubbert.

Now in 1956 he predicted that the American oil supply would peak in 1970 – give or take a year or two and everyone in the oil business ridiculed him. They said “Nonsense – there’s always more oil out there.” Well he was right. American oil peaked in 1970 and has been declining relentlessly ever since. It’s now running about 50% of what it was in 1970. I have got a graph to show you in a moment. But this story will come up again and again. Some of the authoritative voices within the industry say “It’s nonsense, there’s loads of oil out there.” And yet they are always proven wrong. For example, in the North Sea, which I will also come on to, in 1999, the oil majors were saying “Well, there’ll be a peak, but it will be in 2010 or 2015.” But 1999 was the year that the North Sea peaked for Britain.

It’s a geological fact: of the top 65 oil producers in the world, 54 have now peaked. The major ones that haven’t are – in fact the single major one that hasn’t is Iraq. Just to go back to the analogy - the tap for oil is not at the bottom of the barrel, it’s not at the bottom of the hot water tank. In other words there is always going to be oil left embedded in the ground, which can’t be accessed, or it’s not worthwhile in terms of energy to access it.

North Sea as I say, peaked in 1999 and is declining as around 7½% a year, which means that it halves in the course of about 10 years. OK? This is why by the way your gas bills and electricity bills are going up. The United States, as I say, that’s the green line is discovery, and that’s the production. This bump is Alaska, the north slope of Alaska. You can see that in America there is a vast amount of oil. We are about here now, it’s gone down half, and that’s the projected oil produced in the United States. So, quick link in terms of discovery, this is the oil that has been discovered, you can see it peaks here, that one is Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest oil field in the world. You can see there is a rough bell-shaped curve there. That’s how much oil has been discovered. Now obviously, you can’t get oil unless you have discovered it first and one of the things which Hubbert says is that there is a time lag of around 30 years where production of oil mimics the discovery of oil. And so what we’ve had, that’s what they expect to still discover. So they are expecting still to discover billions of barrels of oil, you know, there is more oil out there to be discovered, but in terms of the scale, that’s what we are facing. And that’s production, the black line, basically the area under the black line has to be the same area as what’s been discovered, because you can’t pump what you haven’t discovered. Which is why this will come up and come down. So the area will be the same.

A bit more detail and really this is where it kicks in, where it bites. Projected oil demand by the world, this is by the Energy Information Authority in the OECD and things, projected oil demand to keep the economy ticking over goes up like this and this is the projected supply of oil. Which is why the oil price is going up. I’ll skip this one I think because otherwise I’ll run out of time, I’ll come back to that one if you want.

Supply and demand. So far in 2006 world supplies trending down by about 3% which if we run with it, there will end up being about 50, 55 million barrels a day compared to at the moment about 85 million barrels a day in ten years, so it’s quite a significant chunk. But the interesting thing is not necessarily actually the peak production of oil, because there are various reasons for example the militants in Nigeria capturing Shell oil workers, that’s causing some oil not to be pumped, the situation in Iraq and so forth, there are various reasons why oil’s production might increase from where it is at the moment. But the best educated guess is it will peak before 2010 if it hasn’t already. My suspicion is that it has already, simply because if you look at the trend, there are two times when the oil supply has dropped before. The first one corresponds to the Asian currency crisis and the drop in demand from Asia, so it is preceded by drop in price, and then the tech stocks crash after the Millennium, again preceded by a drop in price. This is the first drop that has been preceded by a rise in price, which suggests that it’s not a response to market forces. It’s a response to the geology. That actually they can’t pump enough to keep the price down.

So good news – we’ll never run out of oil. Bad news – it’ll become so expensive that we won’t be able to afford it. At the moment it is ridicuously cheap, for what it is – it is ridicuously cheap. It is cheaper than bottled water. That situation will not continue and it will get chaotic. That’s the oil price as you can see has been rising consistently since 2002, with wobbles. It’s currently in a wobble at the moment. And what happens of course is that the oil price rises, you get what economists call demand destruction. People can’t afford it so the economy’s contract a little which forces the price to drop until they can afford it again but this process will become repetitive and ratchet-like, and the economy slowly as the price continues to increase, people will try and shift to alternatives but there will be contraction of the economy. But I will come to back to that.

A question – when is the peak guess-work? Educated guess-work? But there is a pretty solid consensus that it’s within five years, if not already. There are some out-lyers, some people say it won’t happen until about 2030 but the data on which those estimates are made are open to really quite profound questioning. It comes from the United States government, which isn’t in itself a reason for doubting it, but it’s based upon an assumption that there are actually two trillion barrels of oil left, whereas most of the industry say there is one trillion barrels of oil left. They have doubled the amount of oil still available, but even then we still peak within 20, 25 years. I don’t believe that we have two trillion barrels of oil left. Not many people do.

Another question is – how steep is the descent? Remember there is the decline rate, North Sea decline is running at 7½% per year and, I’m coming on to say about technology, just to give you a range, if it declines gently, we will probably be alright, it will be manageable, we probably be able to adjust, there will be pain but not vast pain. If it runs at 5%, things start to get quite choppy, and difficult. If it starts running at 8% or more then the system as a whole begins to collapse.

Now I have got a visual to describe that so if there is a decline from where we are now, is in this sort of area, we can manage, we might even be able to grow in different ways. If it’s in the middle zone then the economy contracts as a whole but society copes. We don’t have a resurgence of anarchy or something. If it’s faster then we are looking as serious system wide collapse. Now as I say, technology is the enemy. Because the more technologically advanced the utilisation of the oil resource in a particular field is, the quicker it declines. So North Sea, around 7½% an annum, there is a field in Oman I think it is called the Obal field which collapsed from 250,000 barrels a day in 1998 to 88,000 barrels a day in 2005, which took the industry by complete surprise, you know this is again a repetitive theme. Many voices in the oil industry are taken by surprise. Other voices in the oil industry completely embrace the idea of peak oil, for example the National Iranian Oil Company’s chief executive recently retired, completely embraces peak oil, the Iranian government embraces peak oil, that’s why they want nuclear power. Because in 20 years time they won’t have any oil. They want to keep their civilisation ticking over. They have a perfectly legitimate reason, it’s not just about nuclear weapons. So we are living in this time, a time of abundant and easy energy where oil as I say, is cheaper than bottled water and the thing is that all alternatives to oil are worse in one respect or another. So either we need to invent an new energy source today or energy will become very expensive, it will continue to rachet up in terms of price.

Some good news. Going back to the net energy return, wind is significantly positive, it’s a proven technology, we can get electricity from large wind turbines, small wind turbines and it is a very good, within three or four months of turbines being established they pay back the energy cost required to install them, and if they last for twenty years, you have got about nineteen years of effectively free energy. OK? So wind is a very good source. Solar is pretty good, can’t be worked on quite the same sort of scale as wind but in terms of domestic supply, solar is a very good option. So are tidal, wave, HEP, possibly bio-diesel. I put the possibly there, because in Brazil it works. They have a net energy return of about nine to one but that’s because they have got the climate, they grow sugar-cane and the stalks of the sugar cane can be processed into Ethanol. And as a result of their oil discoveries in the deep water off Brazil, Brazil is now energy independent, but they have been working to that goal for twenty to twenty-five years, and they have succeeded. Brazil is very well-placed. So it can be done, but remember that figure of twenty to twenty-five years.

Coal sands, when I hear talk about “Canada has got more oil than Saudi Arabia”, in one sense it’s true, but the net return is very, very low. And there’s this chap Matthew Simmons, who I might mention a bit later, who describes the process of turning the bitumen, the oil tar sands in Saudi Arabia, in Canada, into workable oil. Now this is a process which turns gold into lead. Because in order to turn this bitumen into fuel for a car you have actually got to heat it up using natural gas, and natural gas is the best source of energy we have got because you can simply pump your natural gas into your house, into your cooker and use it directly. And it is a wonderful fuel in that sense, very low carbon emissions. And to have this vast industrial process turning this wonderful fuel into the product from the oil bitumen which is equivalent to what’s called sour oil, as he says, it takes gold and turns it into lead. It will work for a while but the coal sands in Canada are not an answer. It will never get beyond about three or four million barrels a day, compared to current world-wide demand of 85 and growing.

Nuclear. Ignoring for a moment issues of pollution and safety. Purely in terms of energy there may be a short term role for one more generation of nuclear power, just in terms of energy. But even if that happens, it doesn’t solve the problem, because actually uranium is a finite resource. It requires energy to be mined and processed and if you start demanding more uranium than is presently being used, that will run out in about ten years. Nuclear is not an answer. It might have a short term role in purely energy terms, it’s one of the issues which this community in particular might have to have a conversation about. But it is not a long term answer. The only long term answers are renewables.

Now as I say, exisiting technology, can at least in theory and principle, provide sufficient energy for many of our really necessary domestic needs. I mean that future in winter will be wearing more warm jumpers. That’s unavoidable. But many of the things which we think of necessary for civilised life, for example a fridge to keep milk fresh. These I think are potentially long-lasting, we can have them. But not transport, this is really where peak oil is going to hit.

I want to talk about something called the Hirsch Report. The Hirsch Report was a piece of research which was done for the American government and they reported in the spring of last year and what impact peak oil would have on the American economy and therefore what needed to be done to safeguard the American economy from the impact of a contraction of the oil supply. And they basically said that if there was a settled political will, investment of around a trillion a year for twenty years, begun in advance of the peak then the American economy would be alright. If it was begun with that much vigor ten years before peak oil happened it would take ten years to recover. If that mitigation plan was put into place at the time of peak oil it would take twenty years to recover. Coming back to that figure of twenty years. And their key quote is this in the executive summary, “The world has never faced a problem like this, without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and long-lasting.” Previous energy transitions from wood to coal, from coal to oil, were gradual and evolutionary. And they were also from an energy source which is worse than the one replacing it. So from wood to coal was going to a better energy source. From coal to oil you are going to a better energy source. We are shifting to worse energy sources. Their summary, “Oil peaking will be abrupt, and discontinuous.” It’s not going to be gentle. It’s going to be chaotic.

That’s why I call it the great discolation. Because that twenty years of preparation hasn’t happened. Do you remember Jimmy Carter? American president, very concerned about energy issues. Saying to the American people “We need to change our way of life.” And he got kicked out, Ronald Reagan comes in and it’s sunshine and good morning America, and all this sort of stuff. If at that point in time there had been a serious political will pursuing alternatives, peak oil would not be a problem today. Didn’t happen so it is a problem.

We are facing, as I say, the great dislocation, and it will bite in terms of transport. We don’t have anything which can replace oil as a liquid fuel driving our transport system. Remember the vast majority of our transport system is powered by oil, 95% of oil is used for transport. And there is a huge investment in the existing infrastructure. Not just all the cars and lorries that are being built, but the petrol stations, all the oil pipelines pumping things around. There is a vast amount of embedded investment in the existing infrastructure. And so a change to alternative fuels is problematic to say the least.

So, quote from the Hirsch Report, “It’s not primarily an energy crisis, although it is an energy crisis, but it’s primarily a liquid fuels’ crisis, the transport system is going to break-down.” That’s what I think one of the sharp choices will be. Do you try and pursue a programme of bio-fuels, so you grow grain to keep the economy ticking over so people can still commute in their cars, or do you use that grain to feed people? I think that is faced more by America than by ourselves. But that’s where I think the choices will come.

Some quick figures about transport. Megajoules per ton shifted a kilometre. The key things to look at – container ships are remarkably energy efficient and if you shift to, I was looking recently at the design of this amazing, I think it was a Norwegian designed ship, which is wholly renewable powered. It’s sail, it’s covered in solar panels on the surface, it’s got wind turbines, it has it’s own hydrogen generator, it takes water from the sea, it uses that renewable energy to turn it into hydrogen and the hydrogen can then be used to power propellers. It’s a very huge ship as well, which they are piloting and I think that in five years it will actually be launched. It’s an entirely self-contained transport system, which doesn’t require any external energy coming in, expect obviously maintenance and so forth. It’s even better than that. So I think shipping will largely be able to continue – I mean there will be shocks and transitions, but shipping around the world will continue.

What you won’t get is the air. Air transport, air freight. We will not get kiwi fruit flown to us from New Zealand for us to eat, we will not get the beans flown to us from Kenya to eat, nothing that requires intense energy in terms of storage, refrigeration for example, nothing that needs to come to us swiftly will be maintained. But if, for example, you’ve got a ship bringing cases of wine from New Zealand – that will continue, because that’s not … I was going to say that makes me very happy. Lay & Wheeler are very well placed because they have been buying up properties in New Zealand to get excellent white wine and that trade will continue. I don’t see that trade as being one of the ones that is most affected.

But it’s the stuff that’s reliant upon air freight and light truck movement – the local stuff, those are what’s going to go. Look at the short haul air costs, up to 40 compared to 0.2 on the shipping. There is a vast disproportion, that’s why airlines are most vulnerable. Another figure: organic farming uses half of the energy of fossil fuel based farming for the same amount of food. This is why organic farming is the way forward.

As few side points by the way, recognise where that is [The Straits of Hormuz]. The American government has been doing lots of research, the American Army has been doing lots of research into peak oil and from their report, also released last year, “oil wars are certainly not out of the question”. This is from Colin Campbell who is one of the lead scientists, former Vice Principal of Chevron. He says “I have had discussions with leaders in China with advisers to the president about peak oil and they said they know about peak oil and will act accordingly”, as they have been over the last several years going round the world signing up long term contracts with various countries including Canada, Sudan, other places in Southern Africa. And Iran. There’s a huge investment of China in Iran for the supply of their oil.

OK - Just working through the economic impacts that will work through.

Transport will become extremely expensive. To begin with we will respond by forming car pools to keep the system ticking over, people will share cars much more. And the electric rail will continue. But food is going to start becoming very expensive unless we set up local food sources. I think it is one of the most important things that we need to do. We need to ask ourselves the question, “Where is our food going to come from?”

Talking to one of the Mersea farmers the other day, and talking about the possibility of shifting to organic production of food on Mersea Island, he said, “Well the thing is, if you take away fossil fuel fertiliser, to get an indication of what the result will be, look at what was farmed a hundred years ago.” And basically Mersea Island had sheep. The soil isn’t good enough to grow crops on without the input of fossil fuels. So Mersea Island is not going to be independent in terms of it’s food supply. Interesting thought.

Heating is going to be expensive. You have already noticed this in your bills because the gas peak is also imminent, and whereas oil declines gradually in a safe world, gas falls off a cliff. So much more house sharing, grannies will live with parents. Electricity will become very expensive. All these labour saving devices are only possible when energy is cheaper than human labour. That ratio will reverse. Human labour will be cheaper than electricity. Following that through, lots of businesses will fail, airlines are the canaries in the coal mine. Four out of six American airlines are now in chapter eleven bankruptcy proceedings. Caravans. Unemployment will rise initially as all the businesses fail but then there will be a great demand to go back to the land. The stock markets will contract so think about pensions, think about stipends, what’s going to happen to the housing market – I haven’t got a clue, is there going to be inflation?, is there going to be deflation? Who knows? But we are looking at minimum a re-run of the 1930’s in terms of the scale of what’s being faced.

A third “by the way”, global warming. I will come back to that if we have time for questions. So that does this mean we are simply back to 1900 in terms of the energy available to the economy. That’s what we are really looking at by 2030, 2035, there will be the same amount of energy available as we had in 1900, which is not so bad, and in addition we have used the oil to get lots of permanent things, like our metal roads, which by and large will last for quite a long time, especially when you don’t have the really heavy trucks thundering along it. OK so we do have some assets. The big hazard is that in 1900 the world population was 1.9 billion and it’s now 6.6 billion. And bear in mind that we eat fossil fuels, for every calorie consumed in the West, ten calories of oil energy has gone into producing it.

Something to frighten you, I don’t fully agree with this but it’s something to ponder. It’s the argument that’s called the Olduvai theory, after where humanity began in East Africa, which has this gorge and the idea is that this is an inverted gorge. Basically, industrial civilisation which is dependent upon the extensive use of fossil fuels, especially oil begins really in the ‘30’s, and will end in 2030’s and this bit is the rise in population and that bit is the fall in population. That’s why it’s called “die off”. I find this too pessimistic but I think that a vast amount of analysis has gone into this, which I think needs to be taken seriously. I think we will see some die off. The core of this, the peak that it gives here for 1979 is the energy available per capita world wide, which has been declining since 1979. As the population has increased the amount of energy per person world wide has actually been declining gently, and once peak oil hits it will start declining rapidly. So I find that too pessimistic, but what he is basically saying is that in the middle, when there’s all this wonderful energy, we have computers and cell phones and things and the light switch goes on, he’s saying as the available energy per capita drops the energy switches off and you get black outs and the power grid break down. Power grids by the way, something like two thirds of the energy is lost through transmission through the national grid. We can only run that in a time of such cheap and abundant energy. When energy becomes expensive we are not going to have a national grid which is so wasteful, we are going to have lots more locally based power systems. Look at what’s going on in Woking. Exciting things are happening in Woking, didn’t you know?!! Woking is effectively energy independent because it has this wonderful combined heat and power system in the town centre. It takes all their waste and processes and the energy which is used to create electricity has the by-product of hot air and hot water, which is then used to heat housing. There are solutions which can, at a minimum, make the down slope easier to copy with. You know, there are lots of good answers available. But it requires, going back to the Hirsch report, it requires a settled political will and in fact, you know, movement from the ground up to shift our way of life.

I’m going to stop for questions I think in a moment. Yeah I’ll stop there, because what I was going to go on and talk about is the role of the church, but that will come in throughout the coming session, so you have got peak oil, you now understand what’s described by peak oil, that we are living at the moment at the top, which is the time when the energy is most freely available, it is most abundant, and this will not last, and as it contracts, certain consequences will follow.

Now I’ve outlined something rather pessimistic, which is deliberate, because the risk of it becoming quite dark in every sense is a real risk. But there are options that can be done, but I don’t think that our present way of life where energy is effectively free, can continue, so all the things that depend upon free, effectively free energy, like much of our car use – you know, me driving in a Volvo estate, great heavy car which can carry five or six people and often it’s only one person driving it – that will not continue, because it will become much too expensive. But we will get for a while cars being shared, car pooling, but actually I think in the longer term we are going to shift towards things like bicycle power. So invest in bicycles. So questions, thoughts?
[Inaudible question, poss. about govt subsidy]
They are not in this country, I mean in Germany for example, they are rapidly pushing solar panels, you get all sorts of grants to put solar panels on in your roof. Because they see, which is strictly true, it is cheaper for the government to spend billions of pounds on giving everyone solar panels, than to build another power station. It makes more sense in terms of money and energy distribution and so forth. I think solar panels are definitely part of the solution, undoubtedly. I don’t think they will be the solution on their own, partly because you have to ask how far are fossil fuels needed to make solar panels, because it is a very high powered industrial process to make the solar panels. I think with these things that there are lots of things that can be done, especially in terms of domestic life, in terms of insulation, put solar panels in, put wind turbines in the back garden and so forth. I think our domestic way of life in terms of having a place which is safe, sheltered and so forth can be preserved. I don’t see that as being where the issue will come. I see the real issues coming in terms of transport first. The economic implications coming from transport breaking down and food. We need to think about food.

Question: Fair trade? Fair point and I don’t know the answer to that, I think there are some things which can only be grown in some areas of the world and I do think that the trade, the international trade in foodstuffs which don’t require rapid transport or refrigeration will continue. So if for example fair trade sets up processing plants in the third world countries, whereby they actually produce a finished product – like Geobars which I happen to really enjoy, if they are produced in the third world, they can be shipped and that can continue, but to have, as I say, the green beans grown in Kenya flown across and on the supermarket shelves three days later, that is not going to continue. This is why I don’t like Tesco. Or Sainsburys, it’s not that I’m anti-Tesco, I think that the supermarket system needs to shift and to be fair to them they are getting the message and they are starting to shift. They are pushing organic more. I mean Tesco, all Tesco’s new stores are going to be neutral in terms of energy because they are going to put solar panels and wind turbines and so forth on the roof. They say they are – I mean let’s wait and see, but they are certainly aware of the issues and making sensible decisions to move forward. So you know, new Tesco’s superstores, they will be energy neutral. They won’t actually draw from the grid.

Next week I will talk about grain in detail because it is a problem in terms of world grain stocks, you know how much grain is produced and where it’s needed. The point about the choice I think is really addressed to the United States because at the moment they are building up their Ethanol industry through subsidies and the American Ethanol has at best a neutral EROEI. It’s probably negative but what you could do in America is cease exporting their corn and grain in order to produce the Ethanol to keep the American cars running. Using it wholly within the United States, ceasing to export grain in order that cars continue to run. That or feeding the world. I think that is the issue because a rich westerner can afford more than a poor third worlder and therefore the rich westerner can afford to pay a higher price for fuel to keep their cars running, that’s my point. Ok I will go into that in detail next week.
Short answer yes, America is actually in an incredibly weak position in all sorts of ways. China I will talk more about next week because China is being fed by America at the moment. That’s where most of the American grain goes, so I will go into that in more depth next week. The politics of this are things to be nervous about which is why I have got a whole session on foreign policy, because it impacts everywhere. Next week is all the other contributory issues which are going to kick in.
[Q:Global warming/ newspaper coverage]
The two are very closely linked. There has been quite a bit of media coverage in the last eighteen months, for example there was a whole newsnight programme on peak oil, there was a issue of The Independent which had a eight page supplement all about peak oil. So it is starting to become more mainstream. I mean global warming as an idea is really ten, fifteen years ahead in terms of public awareness. In ten to fifteen years everyone will know about peak oil. But they do feed into each other.

I gave this talk at Colchester’s deanery synod on Wednesday night and the same questions came up about global warming. Really they lock into each other, because the solution to global warming is investing in renewable low carbon technology, which is the same answer to peak oil. However, that’s the good way out. That will be the thing that most helps us. OK? There is an alternative answer to peak oil which is called the Fischer Tropsch process which converts coal into liquid fuel. It’s not as good as simply getting your oil out of the ground but it can be done. Nazi Germany did it in the thirties and forties, South Africa did it to rebuff sanctions in the seventies and eighties. It is an established process, you can turn coal into liquid fuel. OK? Of course if you do that any hope of stopping global warming is dead. So and even then there is still a peak, it just pushes the peak off for another twenty years to keep us consuming for twenty more years. But if we go down the path of renewables, solar, wind, conservation, reducing our consumption then we can preserve a liveable habitat. If we go down what might seem an easier route, choosing to use coal to power our cars and keep the system going for another generation, then the atmosphere will get really screwed up badly and we will do more on global warming next week, and hopefully see Al Gore and his movie we will talk about it.

But you know, the bit I quoted from Deuteronomy, I think it’s Chapter 30, God saying to the Israelites “I have laid before you a choice this day, choose life that you and your descendants may live.” That’s the choice we are facing. And how are we going to choose life? We have to change our way of life in order that it goes more closely to God’s will and intention for us and we abandon the Western way of life, all those elements of the Western way of life which are destructive. Let us be human. That’s where it hangs together.

On the reading list there is a book by a guy called James Howard Kunstler called “The Long Emergency”, which is a wonderful, readable discussion of peak oil. He’s an architect and he calls suburbia the greatest misallocation of resources in human history. Because suburban houses can only function with cheap energy. If you take away the cheap energy, they will collapse, you know within a generation, they are not designed to last for generations and in terms of the amount of space made they have got high ceilings, lots of floor space in the rooms and so forth, thin walls, they will cost a fortune to heat. Kunstler is quite pessimistic. He thinks that in twenty to thirty years time the suburbs in American will have been abandoned because they have all been built up around the car and you won’t have the car, and basically there will be people making a living from strip mining houses for the copper piping. Things like this. Anyway that’s his vision and it’s not implausible. You know we are going to shift back to the classic sense where you had a town to trade and surrounding agricultural land. It’s the bits in between which are only built up through the availability of easy energy. When that easy energy is taken away they will contract. So will continue to have town centres and trade and commerce, and you are going to have much for dependence on agriculture, but the suburbs, built up around the car, that’s what is going to pass.

Any Douglas Adams fans, I think it’s the second “Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” sequence where he’s describing a cricket match taking place at Lords, and an alien spaceship lands and nobody pays any attention. Because each of them says “It’s somebody else’s problem.” So the SEP field surrounds the alien spaceship and makes it invisible. Somebody else’s problem. These are the things we face. Do we say, “It’s somebody else’s problem, I can’t cope with it, I’m not going to worry about it.” Do we way, “Something’s going to turn up.” You know, what are we putting our faith in? That there will be a technological solution, which is worshipping a different God. We’ll say “I’m alright Jack.” George Bush, his ranch in Crawford in Texas is entirely energy independent. Most, I say most, a great number of the American leadership have independent houses which have been covered in solar panels and wind turbines and so forth. The American government has known about this for quite some time.

I can tell you this, the Army and defense needs will be placed higher than civilian needs in the amount of oil available contracts. Do you remember December 2000? The fuel protests. How quickly the supermarkets emptied. After that, because it took the government by surprise the government, this government drew up plans to safeguard the supply of oil, they have drawn up a list of who gets oil first, it’s a reasonable list, you know, the emergency services should be given petrol, of course, the Police services would get given petrol. The people at the bottom of the list are independent commuters, which is why independent commuting is going to break down.

The last one is just roll over and die which I don’t really think is viable. HEP? Hydroelectric power, dams, which are renewable in one sense obviously you need quite a lot of energy to put it in to begin with and they do have a particular life span in terms of the silt, which will eventually accumulate, lessening the power, but HEP that’s in place can certainly last for quite some time. We have gone past half past ten, a lot of these themes will come back in next week. If you want to go and see “An Inconvenient Truth” on Wednesday afternoon, please do sign up on the list at the back.

One final plea please, could I have a hand putting things away, thank you very much for coming.