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Why Transition?

Why is Transition important?

Transition from high energy to low energy lifestyle represents the most promising way of engaging people and communities to take the far-reaching actions that are required to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil and Climate Change.

You could say that Transition is essential for the continued survival of our civilisation.

1. Peak Oil and resource depletion

No doubt you will be aware of the steep increases in the price of fuels and food and transportation and perhaps that of fertilisers and animal fodder in 2008. Supermarkets are competing to keep price increases to a minimum, but as prices of the most basic materials, commodities and foods increase, the price of finished food and other products, including fuels, will just keep going up.

True, the current recession has decreased demand for oil by about 1%, causing oil prices to collapse back to their production base line. But as soon as the economy shows any signs of life, these increases will be back and at a higher level. That means that the current recession will turn into an extended depression lasting many years.

Why? One of the main reasons for these increases is Peak Oil.

(Yes, it is true that population growth and increased standard of living in some third world countries has also contributed. It is a sad fact that our so called intelligent species has found it impossible to keep our own numbers down to a sustainable level - but back to Peak Oil)

Peak Oil marks the 'peak' in world oil production and is all about the end of cheap and plentiful oil and the inexorable decline in future oil production. It is hard to realise just how our industrial way of life is utterly dependant on ever increasing oil supplies. However, these are about to start declining.

Throughout the last century plentiful and cheap oil allowed the coal-based industrial society to convert to oil and massively accelerate its 'development'. Each year, apart from the two politically inspired 'oil shocks' in the 1970s causing world wide recessions, the supply of oil has increased every year - until 2005.

Since 2005, world crude oil production has remain more or less static despite enormous increases in the price of oil from some $30 to $147 per barrel. The oil price will fluctuate wildly with increasing fears of depression. Since 2005, for the first time in history, we have not been able to increase the amount of oil reaching the market despite these massive increases in price.

'Why is that?' you might ask. Production should have been much higher as each producer takes advantage of the unprecedented price of oil. Alas, this has not been happening and here is why:

Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource. Discoveries of new oil fields have peaked in 1962 and have been declining ever since! In fact nowadays, for every ONE barrel of newly discovered oil we are consuming more than FIVE barrels.

It always was inevitable that demand would sooner or later outstrip supply. This point in time when world-wide oil production levels off and when it can no longer be increased to match demand, and after which production begins to irreversibly decline is known as Peak Oil. Peak Oil is not a theory; it is a geological reality that describes the problem of energy resource depletion.

And Peak Oil is with us now. Since 2005, after a century of almost continual growth in world wide production, crude oil is stagnating. Production data suggests that from about the end of 2009 world wide production of crude oil will actually start declining (for geological reasons, not just political or economic pressures) - for the first time in history. From then on we can expect to have some 4% of crude oil LESS each and every year, which means that our main source of energy will halved every 20 years or so!

Peak Gas will follow some 10 years later, say around 2015-2018.

Some people believe that other sources of energy will be able to replace the energy we now derive from oil and gas. Here is a list of those suggested most frequently together with the main reason why they cannot replace oil and gas and why 'business as usual' is no longer a realistic proposition(for a full discussion of each alternative please see www.powerswitch.co.uk) :

Hydrogen - not an energy source, only a carrier, like batteries. Requires greater input of energy than it produces. Materials required for cell construction in short supply.

Tar Sands - extremely polluting production, severe limits on total production due to extremely heavy use of water (each site requires a whole river) and energy (to boil the river to wash out the oil from the sand).

Solar, wind - unreliable, insufficient (Example: roughly 50,000 3MW wind turbines would be require to replace current electricity generation and the same amount again to replace fuel -Energy Beyond Oil, Paul Mobbs)

Wave/ tidal - difficult to harness, almost no commercial demonstration projects yet.

Nuclear fission - backlog of nuclear waste, huge decommissioning costs for old power stations and leaving a radioactive legacy for 1000s of years. Also Uranium would peak within a decade if the world switched largely to nuclear.

Nuclear fusion - experimental reactor planned for 2016, commercial reactors decades away. At best a possible solution for end of 21st century.

Biofuels - compete with food and need a lot of land (example: just to replace UK transport fuel consumption would require about three times the total land mass of the UK).

'Clean' coal - CO2 sequestration yet to be demonstrated on commercial scale and problematic storage of CO2. Coal also subject to peak production.

Geothermal - usable on a small scale. Large scale requires presence of hot substrata, which are geographically limited.

Here is a good guide to Peak Oil: http://www.energybulletin.net/primer and http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Peak_Oil:_High_Tide_for_an_Oil_Addicted_World
www.powerswitch.co.uk has a good section on every known alternative energy source.

So, what will happen once oil production starts declining instead of increasing?

Increasing amounts of available energy is the main reason the world economy has been growing for the past 150+ years. Our current prosperity, our advances in the sciences, medicine, technology, our food security, all that and more is based directly on availability of cheap energy.

As energy gets more expensive and scarce the world economy will enter a period of recession. Few years later, as oil production declines, world-wide depression is likely to take hold for many years, probably decades - at least until our enbergy consumption comes down to some 20-30% of our current consumption, a level which may be generated by renewables.

As Peak Oil bites and energy becomes scarce the effects are likely to include steeply rising energy prices leading to the end of growth and beginning of century long economic decline, stock market and financial meltdown, bankruptcies and pension collapses, much reduced public services incl the NHS due to collapsing government income, breakdown of transportation and supply chains, shortages of food and other basic commodities and perhaps even breakdown of law and order.
In short, Peak Oil has the potential to destroy our current civilisation.

That is why it is so important for each of us individually and for each local community to enter Transition NOW to prepare yourself, your family and your community.

2. Climate Change

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)(Sept 2007): “If warming is not kept below 2 degrees C, which will require the strongest of mitigation efforts, and currently looks very unlikely to be achieved, then substantial global impacts will occur, such as: species extinctions and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger and flooding, etc."

Climate Change is a well documented phenomenon, caused mainly by Carbon Dioxide and Methane greenhouse gases, which trap the heat around the planet, causing increasing Global Warming.

Apart from the continually increasing CO2 emissions, climate change is made much worse by the destruction of natural carbon sinks, such as forests and the melting of ice cover, which would otherwise reflect some of sun light back into space.

What is often not realised is that once global temperature reaches certain thresholds Climate Change may accelerate much faster than is currently predicted. For example:

1. Methane gasses frozen beneath the permafrost of Siberia and Canada have started getting released into the atmosphere because of the gradual melting of the permafrost due to Global Warming. In Siberia you can actually make a hole through the remaining permafrost with a stick and then light the escaping air (mainly Methane) with a match!

2. As major icesheets and snow cover melt, not just in the polar regions, but also in mountainous ares, darker ground or water is exposed, which absorbs sun light and speeds up Global Warming.

3. As more icesheets melt, ocean water gets less salted and this may slow down or even redirect the Gulf stream, making Great Britain and much of Europe virtually uninhabitable.

Lets get together and see what we can do to make our community better prepared and more resilient! We really need to do that now as time for action is rapidly running out.