Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Bottom of the barrel

Bottom of the barrel

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Bottom of the barrel: “The oil industry is buzzing. On Thursday, the government approved the development of the biggest deposit discovered in British territory for at least 10 years. Everywhere we are told that this is a ‘huge’ find, which dispels the idea that North Sea oil is in terminal decline. You begin to recognise how serious the human predicament has become when you discover that this ‘huge’ new field will supply the world with oil for five and a quarter days. ”



There is one possible solution which no one writing about the impending oil crisis seems to have noticed: a technique with which the British and Australian governments are currently experimenting, called underground coal gasification. This is a fancy term for setting light to coal seams which are too deep or too expensive to mine, and catching the gas which emerges. It’s a hideous prospect, as it means that several trillion tonnes of carbon which was otherwise impossible to exploit becomes available, with the likely result that global warming will eliminate life on Earth.

We seem, in other words, to be in trouble. Either we lay hands on every available source of fossil fuel, in which case we fry the planet and civilisation collapses, or we run out, and civilisation collapses.

The only rational response to both the impending end of the oil age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure, and our problem is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People tend to take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less. Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.

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