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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Oil Price Hike Blessing in Disguise

From Gwynne Dyer in the Toronto Star:
Some time this week or next, oil is likely to reach $50 U.S. a barrel for the first time ever. The price is up by a third since the end of June, and U.S. prices have set record peaks in all but one of the past 15 trading sessions.

This is a Good Thing.
...
The price of oil may never actually fall back that far again, and, even if it does, the long-term trend is clearly up. Why is that a Good Thing?

The main reason is global warming, which is coming on faster and harder than even the pessimists feared. In a system as complex as climate, all sorts of things change in unpredictable ways when you raise the total amount of heat in the system, and the worst changes are those that set up feedback mechanisms.

Some of the changes we are observing now are very worrisome.

It was assumed, for example, that the rise in global temperature would be partly cancelled out by a higher rate of evaporation from the oceans that produced more cloud cover. Instead, the higher temperatures seem to be burning the clouds off.

And recent research suggests the higher level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is stimulating the bacteria that live in peat bogs and greatly increasing the speed with which they dissolve the peat. The peat is almost pure carbon, and when it dissolves it turns into carbon dioxide.

If that turns out to be a runaway feedback loop, we are in serious trouble, for the peat bogs of the northern hemisphere contain the equivalent of 70 years' worth of global industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.

New calculations suggest we may be facing a global temperature rise over the next century not of 5.8 degrees Celsius (10.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which would be bad enough, but as much as 10 to 12 degrees C (18 to 21 degrees F).
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The only short-term hope of slowing the rise in temperature is a steep drop in the use of oil and gas and the only thing that is going to make that happen is a steep rise in price.

It has happened before.

Alternative energy sources take a long time to build, but energy conservation works relatively quickly: The big oil price rises of the 1970s caused the industrialized countries to bring in energy conservation measures that cut global oil consumption drastically.

Twenty-five years of profligacy in energy use since then means that there is once again huge scope for rapid gains from conservation.

It will only happen, however, if the oil price goes up and stays up.
You've probably noticed my hardly-concealed glee at the rise in oil prices. I'm glad to see that I'm not alone.