INTOUCH : Resources running out

Businesses suffering from recent petrol price rises be warned – it ain’t going to get better any time soon as the spectre of peak oil starts to hit home.
That’s the message from visiting American author Richard Heinberg whose latest book Peak Everything urges people to wake up to 21st century declines not only in global oil supplies but in climate stability, yearly grain harvests and fresh water. It’s message falling on increasingly receptive ears, says Heinberg.
“Because it’s becoming clear to just about everyone now that the peak of oil production is not decades in the future – we’re seeing it happen virtually before our eyes. Basically demand is up and supply isn’t and that’s why the price per barrel is rising.”
He is encouraging government and business to act urgently to reduce what he describes as an unhealthy dependence on finite resource.
“Businesses that take energy constraints seriously and invest in energy efficiencies now will be the ones that survive.”
While big chemical companies like Du Pont are looking very seriously at alternative feedstocks for chemicals other than fossil fuels and some car companies are embracing hybrids and recyclable parts, most are not going either far enough or fast enough, says Heinberg.
“Most of our present industrial system is unsustainable in that it relies on resource streams that are non renewable or renewable ones that are being extracted at higher rate than nature can replenish them.”
New Zealand, he says, has lot going for it in ‘post-carbon’ future because so much of our power is already produced renewably with plenty of development potential from wind, tide and wave generation. But our real vulnerability is in the transport sector because that is almost entirely liquid-fuel based.
“So the sooner New Zealand can change that situation, the better. As for localisation – this country could easily be self sufficient in food and most basic materials so you’re better placed in that regard than many countries.”
As to our dependency on exports – more of that trade will ultimately be shipped, reckons Heinberg.
“There are no good alternatives to jet fuel currently and there’s not likely to be any time soon and transport over water is 50 times more efficient so over the long-term New Zealand’s export future is water-based.”
Heinberg, who was in New Zealand to run workshops and brief Members of Parliament says his primary message is that resource constraints are coming much sooner than most people would think but if we are proactive in reduction or consumption and making the economy more efficient, then we could actually be better off in the long run.

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