Emergency declarations empty gestures

LETTER

We have recently heard much about declarations of a “climate emergency”, yet there is clearly zero real understanding of the true nature and scale of the threat to the biosphere.

As I see it, the crisis has several strands, but public acknowledgement of any of them by politicians would be electoral suicide:

• We have built an entire civilisation on a finite resource — fossil fuels. Everything we make, move and eat depends on this once-only gift of “fossilised” solar energy — oil, coal and natural gas.

• Each barrel of oil contains about 6GJ of energy — equivalent to 12 years human labour, yet it costs under $100 a barrel. Each New Zealander uses the equivalent of several hundred “energy slaves”, as much as emperors had in times gone by — yet we think this is normal (!), and cannot (or more likely refuse to) contemplate life on an energy-sustainable basis.

• Aside from global warming, the era of cheap fossil fuel energy is coming to a close anyway — most of the “low hanging fruit” has been discovered and exploited, and we’re now on to the hard-to-get stuff — tar sands in Alberta, fracking, deep sea etc. The energy that has to be spent to get a barrel of oil has been increasing steadily for decades — in the 1930s it was possible to get over 100 barrels of oil for every barrel “spent”. The world average is now about 15, and is continuing to decline. Once it gets down to below five, there isn’t enough energy left over to pay for health, education, the arts, and all those things we consider “essential” to modern life.

There’s no better illustration of our denial of reality than the recent public declarations. Cities all over the world are falling over themselves to declare a “climate emergency”. The word “emergency” evokes the need for drastic and immediate action, but such declarations are merely empty gestures.

Either we deal with reality or reality will deal with us.

Martin Hanson, Nelson

We have recently heard much about declarations of a “climate emergency”, yet there is clearly zero real understanding of the true nature and scale of the threat to the biosphere.

As I see it, the crisis has several strands, but public acknowledgement of any of them by politicians would be electoral suicide:

• We have built an entire civilisation on a finite resource — fossil fuels. Everything we make, move and eat depends on this once-only gift of “fossilised” solar energy — oil, coal and natural gas.

• Each barrel of oil contains about 6GJ of energy — equivalent to 12 years human labour, yet it costs under $100 a barrel. Each New Zealander uses the equivalent of several hundred “energy slaves”, as much as emperors had in times gone by — yet we think this is normal (!), and cannot (or more likely refuse to) contemplate life on an energy-sustainable basis.

• Aside from global warming, the era of cheap fossil fuel energy is coming to a close anyway — most of the “low hanging fruit” has been discovered and exploited, and we’re now on to the hard-to-get stuff — tar sands in Alberta, fracking, deep sea etc. The energy that has to be spent to get a barrel of oil has been increasing steadily for decades — in the 1930s it was possible to get over 100 barrels of oil for every barrel “spent”. The world average is now about 15, and is continuing to decline. Once it gets down to below five, there isn’t enough energy left over to pay for health, education, the arts, and all those things we consider “essential” to modern life.

There’s no better illustration of our denial of reality than the recent public declarations. Cities all over the world are falling over themselves to declare a “climate emergency”. The word “emergency” evokes the need for drastic and immediate action, but such declarations are merely empty gestures.

Either we deal with reality or reality will deal with us.

Martin Hanson, Nelson

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Peter Jones - 2 months ago
You say the reality is this, we have built an entire civilisation on a finite resource - fossil fuels. I say if you use the idea of how much energy to produce 100 barrels, all alternative energy sources fail miserably.
To begin with, oil is not a fossil fuel. This is a theory put forth by 18th century scientists. Within 50 years, Germany and France's scientists had attacked the theory of petroleum's biological roots. In fact, oil is abiotic, not the product of long decayed biological matter. And oil, for better or for worse, is not a non-renewable resource. It, like coal, and natural gas, replenishes from sources within the mantle of earth. This is the real and true science of oil.
Fossil fuel is the greatest con ever inflicted on the people of this earth and you only have to see who the winners are in this story to see why the myth is perpetuated.
The world uses more and more every year but do we run out?
The answer is no.

Footnote from Ed: While the author treats them as fact, theories explaining the origin of petroleum as abiotic are generally not well accepted by the scientific community.

Peter Jones - 2 months ago
So how come Russia is turning into the world's major supplier using super deep wells at 30-40,000 ft ... well below the level of vegetational matter?

Phil Hunt, Picton - 2 months ago
There is no "Climate Emergency". There is "Climate Change". The earth has been in a cyclic change since its creation. Politicians are good at frightening the populace. It's a good idea to keep us worried. I am more worried about "weirdo" ideas put forward by them. I hear that Mayor Phil Goff in Auckland has declared a "Climate Emergency" in Auckland. Several other Councils in NZ already have. At the next local body elections (only months away) we will be able to vote out these people with the power of the ballot box. Yes! We can all help the planet by stopping consuming large amounts of anything that takes our fancy. Do you really need that flash new car, or are you just showing off to your neighbours? Live simply and you will still have a good life. You don't need heaps of "stuff" - de-clutter your house and garden. Look at what you have, do you need all of it, most probably not. Think where you can make a difference, and do it!

Phil Hunt, Picton - 2 months ago
Further to my recent post, above, my brother was in the oil industry in Oman and later Dubai. In places like Saudi Arabia, as an example, it is easy to put down a well for very minimal cost. The resultant crude could then be delivered by tanker to USA, UK, South Pacific for about $US3 a barrel. (2010 figures). Today that might be a bit more, but see how much profit the oil companies and Governments are making out of this! In NZ the Government takes, I believe, about 70c/litre in tax and then at the end adds 15% GST. Therefore about half the cost is tax. Billions a year! The profit margin that oil companies are making was, according to a recent Dominion/Post article 40c/litre. Even at 10c/litre they would still be doing very well. I doubt the Government enquiry into fuel costs will do any good, as the Government is as much to blame as the industry itself in the costs.
However, when compared to the cost of other liquids we buy, it is still not the most expensive per litre.
Note: The cost of crude is published daily in the newspaper, and it has varied recently between about $US60 and $US70 a barrel. The exchange rate then determines the final cost.

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