David Clendon

Leave oil before oil leaves us

by David Clendon

‘Auckland Unleashed’ is the catchy title of the draft discussion document that will inform the proposed Auckland Spatial plan.  In an earlier blog post I indicated the political battle looming between Auckland’s elected councillors and central Government, who have very different visions for the city’s future.

Auckland City’s discussion document makes the case for a compact city, well served and made more liveable (and economically successful)  by an integrated, efficient public transport system.

The National government’s cabinet papers by comparison support a ‘more of the same’ approach, more expansion of the city’s footprint, and investment that perpetuates Auckland as a car-centric city.

The Government’s justification for this is not persuasive, even if you assume no changes in external conditions.

Their analysis becomes even less convincing when you notice the elephant in the room that the government studiously ignores; that is the inevitability of continuing rises in the price of  liquid fuel as peak oil effects kick in.

The time when peak oil could be dismissed as a mad conspiracy theory is long past, unless one thinks that the International Energy Agency is complicit in the deception.

The Agency’s official line is that peak oil will occur in 2030, but this is seen as highly optimistic even by Dr Fatih Birol, the agency’s own chief economist.  Birol thinks that 2020 or sooner is more likely, and has stated the problem very clearly, saying :

“One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us’.

Incidentally, that other hotbed of radical environmentalism, the US Joint Forces Command, expects a 2012 peak.

What all this means of course is that we are most unlikely to see the price of a litre of fuel drop below the new baseline of $2-00, and it is more likely to stay well above that.  This means that filling the tank on even a modest family car will stay around the $100 mark, a big chunk out of any household’s weekly budget.

The Automobile Association has entered the fray suggesting that putting more costs on motorists in order to fund public transport initiatives means that only the rich will be able to afford to drive.

The reality is that affordability is already an issue. Spending on infrastructure that further embeds dependence on private vehicles rather than reducing it, in the face of increasing prices, is just foolish, and will guarantee that we fail to achieve environmental, social or economic sustainability for our city.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Featured | Society & Culture by David Clendon on Mon, March 28th, 2011   

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