Moving Beyond the Impasse
Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud
Chapter 2: A changing energy resource base and the re-invention of the region
The twenty-first century should witness a fundamental shift in the resource base on which human society depends. The brief fossil interlude fuelled first by coal and then by cheap oil and gas will subside due to the double pressure of limited fossil resources and global climate change. Peak Oil (where the production of crude oil reaches its maximum and cannot be increased further) will be the first concrete sign of resource constraints and it is expected within the decade 2010–20 (Schindler and Zittel 2000; IEA 2007). There is a general consensus that Peak Gas (the point where natural gas production reaches its maximum) will follow just two to three decades later (Schindler and Zittel 2000; BP 2005). Coal, however, will remain a relatively abundant resource throughout the twenty-first century (see, for example, WCI 2005). The fossil fuel end game is linked to severe pressure on society. Markets become increasingly volatile as limitations to a resource’s availability loom, as price spikes for crude oil in late 2008 showed, threatening economic development. Frantic efforts to substitute fossil fuel by biofuels pass the tension to other markets, notably the markets for food, threatening the basic needs of the most vulnerable members of society. There is no doubt that we have to move beyond the impasse by changing the resource base for society. In general terms society is at a crossroads, either intensifying the centralized way of providing energy (by going nuclear) or radically changing the resource base to renewable resources. The decision concerning the energy system on which our society is based is not only formative for technological decisions; it has profound impacts on the basic logistics of industry and the general structure of our economy. As such the decision about the energy system of the future is closely linked to the development of power structures and political systems: the question of which political entities and actors gain more traction and which will end up losing influence is to be decided.
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