3E Intelligence

I was moderating a debate on road transport in Brussels this week and mentioned in my conclusions that future transport policies should take into consideration potential higher oil prices because of the oil demand/supply crunch to be expected in the future (see also the recent IEA report on which I wrote a blog post earlier in the week).

I immediately got a harsh critical reaction from a well-known Brussels NGO representative criticising me for bringing up the “peak oil” issue. Higher oil prices will only lead to more exploration of tar sands and development of coal-to-liquids, things that would be even more damaging for climate change, the NGO man said.

I can understand this point of view but it is not good enough to just sweep the peak oil issue under the carpet. It confirmed my analysis that green NGOs are as afraid of the new energy scarcity as the political elites but maybe for other reasons. I had had discussions before with other NGO friends that “peak oil” was just a scare story made up by the big oil companies to get support for their dirty oil plans.

I really do not understand this. As long as “peak oil” remains a taboo, the NGOs will be unable to formulate adequate responses to the climate change/energy scarcity conundrum as both issues are two sides of the same problem: the lack of recognition that our economic system has a physical, ecological dimension whose restraints will have to be respected when transforming our current economic growth religion into the new ecological economy paradigm.

Maybe the real problem that NGOs have is that they will have to admit that neither energy efficiency nor renewables alone will solve the climate change/energy scarcity issue but that they will have to address difficult issues such as consumerism and population growth, battles which might split their constituencies and their leaders.

Are there any other views on why NGOs fear the peak oil debate? I would like to hear your views.

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  1. i totally agree with you. people are DEATHLY afraid to recognize peak oil for what it is because there isn’t an easy answer (e.g. buy a hybrid car, use florescent light bulbs, etc). the reality of it is that MANY people will die, our world will change in ways we can’t imagine, and at this point there isn’t much we can do to stop it.

    people fear peak oil mainly because it will force them to live a different lifestyle. they won’t be able to drive cars, go to movies, talk on their cell phones, buy avocados, etc etc. the party will be over and people don’t want to hear that.

  2. The reason may be a difference in time perspective. Ngo’s would like to see a much steeper reduction in fossil fuel exploitation than what would result from a natural decline after the peak.

    Is there also an inherent difference on what to do with remaining oil reserves: ‘use and consume it to set the world firmly on a path towards industrial development’ or ‘leave it in the ground as much as possible to avoid greenhouse gas emissions’?

  3. Your NGO rep wished to massage the information away because he understood market mechanisms all too well. Supply gaps will raise energy prices across the board, making alternatives that are currently uneconomic viable. Some of these may be “good” – windmills, tidal plants, photovoltaics or what have you – but some will definitely be bad for the planet: biofuels, coal, tar sands etc.

    That’s the market for you. It’s not into long-term consequences, merely into today’s profit opportunity. The green NGOs must recognize this dynamic and use it. After all, if getting a joule out of tar sands is more expensie than getting it from wind, wind will win. So green NGOs should use the peak oil scare as a hook to argue for more carbon taxation, so as to tilt the balance in favour of cleaner energy sources. If they choose to stick their heads in the sand, be prepared to welcome a world in which the worst IPCC scenaria will appear criminally optimistic.

  4. Our organisation welcomes Peak Oil, because it offers a unique opportunity for a redistribution of global wealth and power.

    Brazil is giving us a glimpse of this future, and the country is very busy with exporting its highly successful biofuel and bioenergy model to other developing countries, most notably Africa.

    According to the IEA, we can produce around 1500 Exajoules of biofuels and bioenergy by 2050, without impacting food, fuel, fiber and fodder needs of rapidly growing populations. Currently, the world uses 400Exajoules of energy, from all sources (oil, gas, nuclear, renewables).

    In short, the bioenergy potential will easily overcome the problem of oil depletion. But since the vast bulk of that potential is located in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, it will mean a shift of the global power balance towards the South.

    We welcome this development.

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