INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP ON OIL DEPLETION
Uppsala, Sweden, May 23-25, 2002
Organised by Uppsala University and ASPO,the Association for the Study of Peak Oil
|Building Limited Fossil Energy Supplies into the World
by Richard Douthwaite.
My paper will open by telling how the use of fossil energy started to change the way people lived when sea coal, collected on the beaches of Northumberland, began to be shipped to London to be burned to relieve a growing scarcity of fuelwood there caused by the expanding population.. That seemingly harmless step initiated a chain of events which led to increased populations around the world, industrialisation, urbanisation and a massive increase in the complexity of life as measured in terms of the number of different jobs people do or the range of artifacts they produced.
The paper will then look at how the economic system which emerged as a result of this increased fossil energy use will have to be modified to cope with a steadily declining fossil fuel output whether this decline is a result of restrictions imposed to slow climate change or because of resource depletion. Historically, there has been a very close link between gross global product and fossil energy use and the current economic system needs to grow continually, consuming increasing amounts of energy, if it is not to collapse. This system will therefore find it very difficult to cope with lower levels of fossil fuel use unless renewable energy sources can not only make up for the decline in fossil fuel production but can also provide the additional energy an expanding economy requires. I will review several studies which suggest that renewables will be inadequate for this task.
The paper will argue that the reason the global economy
has to expand each year is primarily due to its debt-based money system.
If the economy does not expand, less borrowing is undertaken, the overall
amount of debt falls and the money supply shrinks, causing economic activity
to fall and setting off a positive feedback loop which pushes the economy
deeper and deeper into depression. I will suggest that a non-debt-based
international money system based on carbon dioxide emissions rights would
be the best way of ensuring that the global economy keeps within resource
and environmental constraints, while allowing individual countries and
districts to continue to develop their local economies to the extent that
they are able to do so using renewable sources of power. The paper will
explain how such a system, by limiting world fossil energy demand, would
prevent the oil and gas-producing countries from reaping massive profits
from the growing scarcity. Instead, the financial proceeds of the competition
in international markets to secure the dwindling supplies would be redistributed
on an equitable basis throughout the world.