“It’s the biggest challenge we have yet faced…everyone needs to be involved…”
Sir David Attenborough – BBC Interview, 2006
The Earth’s atmosphere acts like a ‘greenhouse’. It lets rays from the Sun through to warm the Earth, but gases such as carbon dioxide and water absorb some of the heat energy given off by the Earth as it cools down, thus trapping the heat in the atmosphere. We are lucky to have these natural ‘greenhouse gases’ as without them the Earth would be about 30°C cooler, i.e. life as we know it would not exist on Earth.
However, human activities have resulted in more and more ‘greenhouse gases’ being produced. Whenever, when fossil fuels such as gas, coal, and oil (petrol and diesel are from crude oil) are burnt, carbon dioxide is released. We are now burning fossil at an incredible rate as people consume more and more energy. This is upsetting the natural balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Although plants absorb carbon dioxide, we are cutting down huge areas of forest every day. As well as being felled for timber, the trees are often just burned to clear land for farming. This makes even more carbon dioxide. More carbon dioxide, plus other ‘greenhouse gases’ such as methane from cattle, is making the Earth hotter.
More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means hotter temperatures, resulting in climate change around the world. For the UK, climate change means hotter, drier summers (more heat waves), milder wetter winters , higher sea levels and an increased flood risk to coastal areas.
Across the globe, there will be more intense heat waves, droughts and more flooding. There may be severe problems for regions where people are particularly vulnerable to changes in the weather. Food shortages and the spread of disease are commonly predicted. The social, environmental and economic costs of climate change could be huge.
What can be done?
We can burn less fossil fuels by using energy more efficiently, which means more insulation in our homes, less wastage by turning off appliances not in use, and using our cars less. We also need to use alternative forms of energy, e.g. solar power.
A Climate Change Companion
Written by Transition Chepstow member Dave Hicks, this book is for the general reader, concerned citizen and all those with a responsibility for young people. It provides a clear understanding of what a more sustainable low-carbon future could look like and why this will benefit present and future generations.
Defra, UK – Environmental Protection – Climate change and energy
The Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science
A summary of the science of Climate Change.
Climate Change News Digest – “If you don’t get emotional about what’s happening to the earth, there’s something fundamentally wrong”
Climate Change News is an internet news portal that provides constantly updated links to the latest news on climate change.
Friends of the Earth: Climate change
Friends of the Earth.
Met Office: Climate change projections
Key results from climate-change experiments conducted using Met Office Hadley Centre computer.
The United Kingdom Environmental Change Network
A Climate Change Companion by David Hicks
The National Energy Foundation – Energy Advice – Saving Energy – Urban Myths:
Here are 10 popular hints on how to save energy – or perhaps they are misleading advice that could end up costing the earth!
The Energy Story – Introduction
Detailed guide explains what energy is and where it comes from.
Save energy – the future of the planet is in your hands – support renewables, efficiency and sustainable transport
European commission Directorate-General for energy and transport. Lots of information, activities and links.
Centre for Alternative Technology Home Page
The Centre for Alternative Technology offers solutions to some of the most serious challenges facing our planet and the human race, such as climate change, pollution and the waste of precious resources.
“We should leave oil before it leaves us.” Faith Barol, Chief Economist – International Energy Agency
The Independent, 2 March 2008
Crude oil is found trapped within certain types of rocks underground. When an oil deposit is located, a hole is drilled downwards. When the rock containing the oil is reached, the pressure from the trapped oil forces the oil out. As the oil is taken out (produced) its pressure gets lower, and so the production rate of that oil well drops off as it becomes more difficult to get the oil out. Eventually it becomes so difficult and expensive to extract the oil from the well that the company moves onto another one.
The life cycle of an oil well follows the Hubbert model, which shows that the production rate of a limited resource like oil will follow a roughly symmetrical bell shaped curve: oil production stops rising, flattens and then declines.
M. King Hubbert first used the theory in 1956 to accurately predict that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970. His logistic model, now called Hubbert peak theory, has since been used to predict with reasonable accuracy the peak and decline of crude oil production of many countries.
Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of oil extraction is reached on a global scale. After this time the rate of production continues to go downwards. Because the world’s petroleum supply is effectively fixed (there is only so much oil in the ground), if global oil consumption is not slowed down before the worldwide decline phase begins, a world energy crisis will develop because the availability of oil will drop, causing prices to rise further.
Clearly the timing of the global peak is crucial. If it were to happen soon, the consequences would be devastating. Oil has become the world’s foremost energy resource. There is no ready substitute and decades will be required to wean societies from it. Peak oil could therefore constitute the greatest economic challenge since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. (Richard Heinberg)
The energy in one barrel of oil is equivalent to that of 5 labourers working non-stop for a year. (New Scientist 28 June 2008)
Expensive fuel at the pumps is just the start. Battles over the price of oil could be the harbinger of something even scarier. There is a growing realisation that we are teetering on the edge of an economic catastrophe which could be triggered next time there is a glitch in the World’s oil supply. (New Scientist 28 June 2008)
Oil-producing nations that have already passed their peak
Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Benin, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Congo (Kinshasa), Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Surinam, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Yemen.
The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, © Greenbooks 2008
It is not just fuel that is made from crude oil!