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Shivering. Will the Rich Corner future energy supplies?

Gordon Laxer

January 4, 2015


My talk at the Parkland Institute's Fall Conference 2014

People Vs. Profiteers: Demanding Justice and Equity


My talk is about energy shortages, especially oil shortages, in the near future. And how the rich and the military in Canada and other countries will likely corner supplies of scarcer and much more costly energy unless we stop them, remove their political power and adopt a conserver society based on sufficient energy for everyone. Energy access as a human right.


It’s a myth that ramping up renewables will be enough to maintain our energy-intensive lifestyles. We must use and waste much less energy. Work fewer hours, buy less and have more free time, adopt a guaranteed annual income, and enjoy each other and nature more.


But that’s getting ahead of myself. So I’ll lay this out step by step.


How credible is my claim that we’re at the end of the age of easy or cheap oil? How urgent is it to think through shortages in the near future?


This is a tough time in Alberta to convince you because:

  • you live in the province with the third largest recoverable oil reserves in the world. The Sands - I don’t call them oil or tar sands – has enough recoverable oil to supply Canadians for about two centuries at current production and consumption levels.


2) Everyone has heard about the surge of US oil and natural gas from fracking shale deposits. The US is now the world’s number one oil producer and U.S. oil exports hit a 57 year high in 2014. Some pundits go further and claim that the US has 100 years of natural gas and will soon be energy self-sufficient and energy independent.


3) The US energy surge has been touted as an energy revolution ushering in a new age of oil and natural gas abundance. The Peak oil theory is proclaimed dead.


4) As if to confirm the theory of oil’s abundance, Brent crude oil prices hit $53 dollars a barrel, a 50% fall from June 2014. Falling international oil prices result from greater supply, reduced demand because of slow world economic growth and fewer oil production disruptions.


So how can I possibly claim that the world faces the end of easy or cheap oil, that Canadians will be vulnerable to shortages, and that in 10 or 20 years low and middle income Albertans may not be able to afford to heat their homes adequately or drive to work?


Contrary evidence


Although Alberta’s Sands have so much oil, they can’t be produced quickly.

It’s the ATM problem. You have enough money in your account, but daily withdrawals are limited.


Think of 90 as the approximate number of millions of barrels a day (mbd) the world produces. The Sands are not likely to go above 5 mbd from today’s 2 mbd. It’s taken almost half a century for the Sands to reach that level and it’s just over 2% of world oil production. Projected Sands oil output growth of 150% in next 15 years may be possible if Alberta and Big Oil continue to ignore climate change catastrophes and international boycotts. But even so, the Sands would still reach only 5.5% of world oil supply. That would replace a little more than a year of declines in the world’s largest conventional oil fields. They’re falling at 4.1% a year because most are decades old. That’s a yearly drop of 3.6 mbd. Canada is not an energy superpower and the Sands are not a world game changer. But, they are catastrophic for its climate.


The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations is part of Washington’s governing establishment. It published a report on Alberta’s oil sands, shows that falling carbon emissions in Canada are incompatible with rising Sands production.


“Imagine … that oil sands emissions rose as expected over the next two decades and then stabilized in 2030 while total U.S. and Canadian emissions dropped by 80% by 2050 … Oil sands’ emissions then become equivalent to about 10% of US emissions by 2050 [and represent] almost all emissions from Canada”.[i]


Canada would have to shut down all other uses of oil just so Alberta’s Sands could reach the growth level Big Oil wishes. That’s impossible. So either Canada fails to meet the carbon-emissions reduction pledge Parliament committed itself to in 2008 or else we phase out the Sands.


In 2012, Canada squandered 1.5 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas a day to make  Sands oil, the majority of which was exported to the U.S. The Sands are forecast to burn up two BCF a day in 2015, using almost 20 percent of Canada’s total natural gas output. How smart is that when Canada has fewer than 10 years of proven supply of natural gas left?


Former Alberta Treasurer, Jim Dinning, likened using natural gas in the Sands to reverse alchemy. “Injecting natural gas into the oil sands to produce oil is like turning gold into lead”.


Most rich countries are complacent about coming world oil shortages because they rely on forecasts from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), established under the OECD. Led by Washington, it was founded in 1974 and  represents 28 rich, oil-consuming countries. Most are oil importing countries. Although Canada is a net oil exporter, it is an IEA member.


Britain’s Guardian newspaper cast doubt on the International Energy Agency (IEA’s) objectivity. A senior IEA official who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the world is much closer to running out of oil than the IEA admits. It has deliberately underplayed a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying, he charged. The U.S. encourages the IEA to underplay the decline rate from existing fields and overplays chances of finding new reserves, he contended. 


For years, the IEA repeatedly pooh-poohed peak oil claims. Then its 2010 World Energy outlook report nonchalantly stated that “crude oil output reaches an undulating plateau of 68-69 mbd, but never regains its all-time peak of 70 mbd reached in 2006”[ii] (emphasis added). What? How did peak oil go from not worthy of discussion to in the past already?


The IEA pins its hopes for additional oil production from natural gas liquids, unconventional oil including the Sands, shale oil, and Iraq. Yes Iraq. After the US shale oil boom declines in the 2020s, as the IEA and the US government predict it will, they count on a growing supply of oil for the next 20 yrs will come mainly from the Middle East, the bulk of it from Iraq. How crazy is that? Much is riding on Iraq’s success stated the 2012 World Energy Outlook, which will make “the largest contribution by far to global oil supply growth”.


For two decades, Washington has hoped its invasions and bombings of Iraq would produce more oil under Washington-friendly conditions. Yet Iraq still produces less oil than it did before the first Gulf War in 1991. So much for the effectiveness of U.S.-led wars for oil. Why should ISIL’s insurgency in Iraq be different? Combatants regularly blow up oil pipelines.


The IEA assumes that 40% of oil production in 2035 will need to come from fields not yet found. That sounds like the wishful thinking of economists who forecast future demand and then assume that greater production will be induced by market price to meet it.


Geologists know better. David McLeod, a Washington-state peak oil activist, writes that “at some point … geology responds less and less to the human construct we call money”.[iii]


Former Shell Chairman Lord Ron Oxburgh wrote that “There isn’t any shortage of oil, but there is a real shortage of the cheap oil ... it is pretty clear that there is not much chance of finding any significant quantity of new cheap oil”. [iv]


A former senior IEA source said a key imperative at the IEA was "not to anger the Americans". There is not as much world oil as had been stated. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone… the situation is really bad". The IEA of course, rejected the whistleblowers’ allegations.


Christophe de Margerie headed Total Petroleum, France’s giant oil corporation until 2014. De Margerie insisted that oil will soon top out at 95 mbd and no amount of investment or ingenuity can push it higher. “There will be a lack of sufficient energy available.”  Peak oil will come more from political resistance than supply limits. “The problem is not with resources, it is how to extract resources in an acceptable manner.”[v]


In addition to the insights of former oil titans, it must be noted that there are 3.5 times as many oil producing countries that are past their oil production peak as those in which oil output is still rising. That’s 37 decliners vs 11 risers. Canada is a riser.


What about the US shale oil revolution? It’s impressive in the short run but much overblown.


Richard G. Miller, a former British Petroleum geologist states that U.S. shale oil (light tight oil) may reach 5 or 6 mbd (about 6% of world production) but is likely to peak before 2020.[vi]


Canadian geoscientist David Hughes analysed actual production data from the top seven shale oil and seven shale gas plays in the U.S. and found that the US government’s Energy Information Administration has greatly overestimated future shale oil and gas production. Hughes estimates that by 2040 U.S. shale oil will likely produce 73,000 b/d, not the forecast one million b/d.[vii] The decline rate in shale oil plays is very steep - 85% in the first three years in North Dakota’s Bakken field and 79% in Eagle Ford’s Texas field. Those are the biggest shale oil plays in the U.S.


Although it has a record of overly rosy forecasts, the US Energy Information Administration predicts that even with the shale oil boom and future cuts in oil demand due to tougher vehicle fuel standards, the US will continue to import a quarter to a third of its oil through to 2040. So much for US energy independence and net US oil exports.


Renewables illusion

We humans have to get off carbon fuels as quickly as possible to slow the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and eventually reverse them. Rising ocean levels threatening to erase island nations and shoreline communities, the melting of the world’s glaciers which are sources of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people, horrific storms like Superstorm Sandy, droughts, and many other climate change disasters demand it. We have to live within nature’s limits. Humans are part of nature, not above it.


We know these things, but have to quickly act, not be paralyzed by the enormity of the task.


Big Oil and the federal and Alberta Conservative governments want us to believe that whatever we do, won’t matter. So let’s not do anything. But, Canada is not a bit player. Canada looms large in causing global emissions. With one half of one percent of all humans, Canada produces 2.5 % of the world’s GHGs.


What gives Canadians the right to foul the atmosphere shared by all humanity and other life forms at five times the level our population warrants?


Besides, with the recent US-China agreement to act on climate change, the excuse that the biggest polluters aren’t doing anything so why should we, is now gone.


Many environmentalists assume that we can switch to renewables, continue living as energy intensively, and that even if built on a massive scale, renewables are benign.


Germany is touted as a pioneer in the move to renewables. Its 24,000 windmills and 1.4 million solar panels generate up to 74% of Germany’s electricity on very windy and sunny days. Very impressive. But energy classed as renewables account for just 12 percent of Germany’s total power, and 62% of those renewables come from biofuels like pellets[viii]. All those wind mills and solar panels have hardly made a dent in Germany’s GHG emissions.


If renewables pioneer Germany is not cutting GHGs much, it means we must make far more fundamental changes than just building and plugging in renewable power and carrying on in our energy wasteful ways.


It’s very unlikely that renewables can be built on a sufficient scale to replace energy we currently get from carbon fuels. Not even close.


Scientists Anastassia M. Makarieva and her colleagues studied a massive global switch to renewables. It would not stop climate change and would harm the atmosphere, they conclude.


“It is commonly assumed that environmental stability can be preserved if one manages to switch to ‘clean’, pollution-free energy resources, with no change in …  the total energy consumption rate… Climate and environment can only remain stable if anthropogenic pressure on natural ecosystems is diminished, which is unachievable without reducing the global rate of energy consumption.”


Take wind power.

“When the moisture-laden ocean-to-land winds are, on their way to land, impeded by windmills, this steals moisture from the continent and undermines the water cycle on land… Wind power is equivalent to deforestation… Wind power stations can thus be allowed to exempt less than one per cent of total wind power”. [ix]


Total available renewable energy resources - hydro, wind, tidal and solar - can “ensure no more than one tenth of modern energy consumption,” they conclude.


Andrew Nikiforuk agrees and explains why renewables can’t simply replace carbon fuels.


“Renewables by definition, harvest less energy than do densely packed fossil fuels. Like unconventional hydrocarbons such as bitumen and shale gas, they require intensive industrial farming. They also create greater landscape disturbances. To replace a thousand-megawatt coal-fired plant sitting on 1.5 square miles of land with solar panels would require a small city-sized area of 19 square miles. To achieve the same energy gains with wind could take an area three times bigger… Meeting one-third of the world’s current energy needs with wind power would require approximately 13 million towers spaced half a mile apart occupying 3 million square miles: approximately five percent of the world’s total land mass… [and] would cost at least $15 trillion.”[x]


Windmills would occupy good farmland and displace forests, the lungs of the world.  Wind and solar are intermittent power sources.


Fifteen offshore wind turbines installed on every kilometre of the UK’s total coastline would supply just 13 percent of the country's average daily energy use. Offshore turbines are more efficient than onshore ones.


Generating that 13 percent of UK energy from offshore wind would require wind turbines made of 20 million tons of steel and concrete - more than all the steel that went into US shipbuilding during World War II. Steel manufacturing is heavily dependent on coal and its emissions.


Building wind and solar is not carbon neutral. Solar PV panels are up to four times as energy and carbon-intensive to produce as wind turbines (aluminum).[xi]


A question to ponder: Will power generated from wind and solar be able to launch the satellites that let us use the Internet?


I don’t advocate slowing the growth of renewables. Far from it. They currently provide only one percent of global energy and haven’t nearly reached their limits. But let’s avoid the delusion they will enable us to keep our energy wasteful ways. As Richard Heinberg convincingly argues, we must move to much less energy intensity.


Getting off cheap carbon fuels will clearly reveal the class struggle. Growth was capitalism’s great promise, enabling it to survive challenges to exploitation, want and depression that brought misery and anger to millions of workers and their families. Why should the rich live so well when workers produce the wealth, yet go without basics, socialists said. Capitalists retorted that the pie and your slice of it is growing. Forget about who has more, you will be better off in ten years. Your children will be better off than you.


It’s no longer credible to argue that. Neoliberal policies gave huge tax breaks to the rich and corporations, and cut public services and social wages such as unemployment insurance that lower-income people relied on. In Canada, for instance, the richest one per cent captured almost a third of the income growth from 1987 to 2007. Growing income and wealth  disparities sparked Occupy Wall Street protests around the world in favour of the 99 percent.


Few on either side of those debates seem to realize how much a growing pie depended on cheap energy. Costly energy scales back living standards, raising costs on most things. It will likely reignite open class conflict. In the age of costly oil and fewer material goods per person, social justice issues of who has how much will return with a vengeance. Should the rich few get most of the earth’s remaining, deliverable carbon fuels and have the right to dump unlimited GHGs into humanity’s common biosphere, while many do without necessities? We can’t leave access to declining energy per person to free markets.


The Market Solution to energy shortages

While oil prices are very low now, they won’t stay down for long. In the next decade or two, we will see oil shortages. Who will get access to much reduced supplies is a crucial question.


Even Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist who promoted capitalist shock therapy in post-communist Eastern Europe and made money from it, warns: “The rich will try to use their power to commandeer more land, more water, and more energy for themselves, and many will support violent means to do so, if necessary”.[xii]


Will gaining access to scarcer energy be like the US health care system where he or she who has the most money gets the best and fastest care – that’s the market model - or will it be like the Canadian medicare system where everyone has equal access regardless of ability to pay? Will everyone be able to get a basic amount of energy so they can heat and light their homes and get to work? Can we use Canadian medicare principles to guarantee access to sufficient energy supplies for everyone regardless of ability to pay? Can it also get us off carbon fuels quickly?


Energy shortages will mean rationing. That’s what happens with scarcities. Two kinds of rationing are available. One is invisible and unfair, the other fair but painfully visible.


The first is rationing by high energy prices. Prices rise until demand falls enough to equal supply. The supply side of the market model will soon be largely unavailable - bringing on greater carbon energy supplies. As we’ve seen, geological shortages of low cost carbon energy are huge obstacles to greater supply. Tough international and national climate change regulations will, I hope, soon become another huge obstacle to getting greater supplies of carbon fuel. Thus prices for carbon energy are bound to rise, even if they will fall at times on their general upward trend. More than 90% of transportation runs on oil, so in the short run, it’s difficult to reduce demand much.


And we have seen that renewable energy will not likely be available in large quantities.


Rationing by price is unfair for something as necessary as energy because it allows frivolous use by the rich, as well as military jets commandeering scarce fuels to keep their fleets aloft 24/7, while the 99% shiver or freeze in the dark. Frivolous and military uses raises GHGs and harm us all.


Will we let the market take us where it will? Not acting chooses market solutions by default.


There is another way to ration. Adopt fair, national plans, that are more flexible than the quota systems adopted by Canada, Britain and the US during the Second world war. I will outline a national plan to cut carbon emissions and fairly distribute gradually declining energy supplies in my forthcoming book. In Britain they’re called Tradable Energy Quotas, or TEQs. I call them national energy quotas NEQs because they apply at the national level.


Critics wonder why, when all humans share the world’s atmosphere, the plan is not global.


We urgently need a tough, world agreement to cut carbon emissions with binding targets for each country. Rich countries must cut the most.


But national plans can be the most effective way to reduce carbon energy use. Let each country determine the means to fit their unique conditions as long as they meet their target.


David Fleming, the creator of tradable energy quotas explained that one global plan to cut emissions would be “unstable since it would be vulnerable to breakdown anywhere in the world,”, “and it would either lose the essential element of a single [carbon energy] Budget, or else it would attempt to set a single one-size-fits-all Budget, which would be unfair and unsuited to the wide diversity of conditions between individual states.”


“Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions”, Fleming added. “They require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.”


Tradable energy quotas allow the flexibility for local communities to plan their own solutions and encourage bottom-up democracy along the lines of the transition towns pioneered by Rob Hopkins and others in Britain and Ireland.


They could be part of wider international agreements to control climate change and distribute scarcer energy equitably. But we can’t wait for binding international agreements. Look what happened to the 1997 Kyoto Accord? 17 lost years. Perhaps there is a better chance now that the US and China, neither of which signed on to Kyoto, have an agreement in principle to reduce GHG emissions.


But, even if a sufficiently tough, binding international accord is not reached soon, tradable energy quotas must still proceed in high polluting countries like Canada. Not only will this help slow climate change, it will start Canada on the needed path to getting off depleting and costly oil, natural gas and coal, and to create a less energy intensive society, run on renewables. If the rest of the world isn’t there yet, Canada can become a pioneer, rather than a laggard stuck in its colonial role of hewing wood and drawing oil, and falling into a declining fossil-fuel belt. 


How would Tradable energy quotas work?

Tradable energy quotas require cooperation, democratic input and trust. People have widely sacrificed for each other at national and local levels, but never globally. Nor are they likely to soon, whatever our aspirations. There is no democracy or strong feelings of solidarity above the level of countries. That’s why national and local conservation plans are the most effective.


Conceived by David Fleming in Britain, tradable energy quotas, are the fairest, simplest way I’ve seen to manage carbon energy descent. They are much fairer and more effective than carbon taxes. “It is hard to set a rate of tax which changes the behaviour of higher-income groups,” Fleming stated, “without causing unacceptable hardship for people on a lower income”.


Rationing has a bad rap. An all-party, U.K. parliamentary committee report in 2011 on peak oil explains that rationing “contains two intertwined meanings. The first is guaranteed minimum shares for all, the second is limits to what people are allowed to consume. Many of us resent the second, but in times of shortage we cry out for the first.”[xiii]


Britain’s parliamentary committee explains why rationing through price is a bad idea. “Markets do not distinguish between more and less essential uses of oil – if the global rich are willing and able to pay more to fuel cars and jets than people elsewhere are able to heat their homes or power their hospitals, then the limited supply of oil will flow to the highest bidder. Demand destruction can be cruel or even fatal for those who can no longer afford energy supplies.”


Humans have rapidly consumed the low hanging fruit of oil and natural gas. Like it or not rationing will come. Rationing is not the cause of shortages, but can be a fair response to them. “It is not a question of if,” observed Fleming, “but when rationing begins, and the sooner we do it, the gentler it will be.” 


We haven’t seriously considered rationing since it ended in Canada in 1947. In wartime, rationing limited consumption in Canada in order to send it to Britain. Rationing is unpopular today because it’s associated with austerity. However, when scarcity hits without a rationing system, people rush to stores to stock up. It’s called hoarding. Shelves are soon bare of necessities. Black markets spring up to sell hoarded items at inflated prices. Low-income people quickly suffer. Rationing is meant to fairly distribute scarce necessities.


Energy is a necessity, especially in a cold, vast country like Canada. Energy should be a right.


Shelved as “ahead of its time”, the 2008 Climate Change Act empowers Britain’s government to introduce tradable energy quotas without further primary legislation. In 2011, an all-party, parliamentary committee on peak oil unanimously endorsed and enthusiastically promoted them. That included Conservative Party Mps. Imagine Harper’s Conservative Mps endorsing and promoting such a plan.


How would NEQs work and would Canadians support them? What are their shortcomings and how can we fix those? I outline these and how the model can be applied in Canada in my forthcoming book.


In the meantime, I invite readers to visit British site for tradable energy quotas:


NEQs apply only to energy purchases. Energy purchases cover most carbon emissions because almost everything we buy requires energy to make and get to us.


In contrast to cap-and-trade systems like the European Union’s “Emissions Trading Scheme” where, absurdly, polluting industries are given free allowances to continue polluting, eith NEQs, big polluters pay.


Governments’ major role is to support people and businesses in making adjustments to live and thrive on declining carbon energy and growing renewable energy. Governments create and oversee infrastructure, city design, and regulations like requiring all new houses and buildings be energy neutral. Governments also set the framework to nurture growing renewable energy supplies and other measures to enable individuals and businesses to reduce carbon energy use.


Since the NEQ price will be determined by Canadian demand, it is transparently in everyone’s interest to help each other reduce their energy use. The fixed quantity of carbon energy units “makes it obvious that high consumption by one person leaves less for everybody else” wrote Fleming. “Your carbon consumption … becomes my business: I have an incentive to influence your behaviour to our mutual advantage: lower demand means lower prices” of carbon units.


The NEQs’ great advantage over energy efficiency and energy intensity schemes, promoted by Big Oil and the federal and Alberta Conservative governments, is that they prevent the Jevons’ rebound effect, whereby total GHGs can still rise. This won’t happen with NEQs unless corporate interests win exemptions. Citizens’ movements must work to ensure corporations don’t get a break.


Businesses will have to closely watch their carbon energy use because they must pay for every NEQ unit. Adapt or fail.


NEQs can be geared to reducing carbon emissions, but are equally good at preventing hoarding after earthquakes, wars, terrorist attacks, or peak oil trigger oil or natural gas shortages. Canada has no national sharing system in place for such catastrophes. It’s hard to set one up in the chaos of a crisis.


As the NEQ budget tightens, people “will be encouraged to think up new and co-operative ways of cutting their consumption, such as car-sharing,” David Strahan writes. “The system would soon get people out of their cars altogether, tipping the balance in favour of walking, cycling or public transport for shorter or discretionary journeys.”


We can’t assume the sharing ethic of the war years is there for carbon energy descent. There is not yet a consensus behind it. We must build it. The gradual nature of the NEQs plan would likely get more support.


Much research has been done about how tradable energy quotas could work, but they haven’t been tried anywhere. I have questions about an NEQ plan that I outline in my forthcoming book. Tough questions must be asked of any new system.


Canadians have two big advantages in adopting a tradable energy quotas plan. First, we get 59 percent of our electricity from hydro, and a growing portion from wind, solar and other renewables. They would not be part of NEQ quotas. Those limit only carbon energy.


Second, NEQs would make it in Canadians’ collective interests to phase out carbon energy exports so that more carbon energy is freed up for domestic use. Producing rather than using carbon energy is Canada’s greatest source of GHGs. Canadian carbon energy use is closer to current British levels than to super wasteful American ones. Under a NEQ plan, Canadians would benefit from their more constrained use. Declining carbon energy exports will put downward pressure on the NEQ price. Ordinary Canadians would have strong incentives to support phasing out carbon-energy exports and be a political counterweight to the influence of Big Oil and workers in the Sands and other carbon-fuel, exporting industries.


Canadians would have to pay for increasingly scarce carbon fuel units and will likely switch to renewable energy or go off grid. The upside to using less energy includes saving expenses. Conservation and an increasingly competitive and growing renewables sector should be able to finance themselves without the need for government subsidies because NEQs will tilt the playing field their way.


An NEQ-type plan is crucial but is not a panacea. Additional measures are needed:


  • 1) Negotiate with aboriginals as sovereign peoples and respect their stewardship over traditional lands.

  • 2) Replace all oil imports with domestic oil to give eastern Canadians oil security.

  • 3) Use only non-fracked, conventional oil to shift Canada to a low-carbon future.

  • 4) Get higher economic rents for energy-producing jurisdictions (provinces, territories, First Nations) through agreements with Ottawa. Apply an excess profits tax to fund the shift. In consultation with energy producing jurisdictions, Ottawa will annually calculate available economic rents on oil and natural gas. If they fail to collect 100 percent of excess profits, the federal government will take the remainder, to be used exclusively to fund the shift. That will discourage energy-producing jurisdictions from giving away huge resource rents.

  • 5) End natural gas exports to preserve supplies for future Canadian winters.

  • 6) End NAFTA’s proportionality rule that says that Canada must continue to export to the U.S., the current level of oil, natural gas and electricity

  • 7) Phase out Alberta’s Sands.

  • 8) Bring in a government supported “Just Transition” program for energy and construction workers in Sands projects, to help them move to other useful work, especially in renewable energy and conservation.


How do we get there? And how do we prevent the rich and the generals from commandeering reduced energy supplies?


We must build people’s and workers movements through deep organizing from the ground up, not just mobilizing the convinced. Rethink work, security and time.


Many people on the left still look back fondly to the golden 30 years after World War Two ended. We must move beyond that thinking.


Victory over fascism gave the political left and centre the upper hand in the West then. With the partial exception of the U.S., there was a new deal of full-employment, public education and universal public health care, and a social wage for citizens in old age, sickness and unemployment. These measures brought much greater equality and security. But the grand bargain struck between workers movements and corporations laid the basis for today’s carbon intensive society.


In the grand bargain workers and their allies agreed to forget their aim of replacing capitalism and accepted annual pay raises instead, stayed in alienated jobs with long work hours in North America, but gained middle-class lifestyles with two cars per family in suburbia, and consuming low-quality stuff made in China at Walmart stores.


Instead of this model, we should mount a campaign for a shorter work week. It’s very unhealthy, unjust and bad for the environment for half the adults to work far too many hours while the other half are underemployed or without any paid work at all. Reduce the work week and share the work so everyone has a job. Shorter work hours benefit everyone.


Long work hours leads to much greater carbon emissions. Juliet Schor of Boston College explains:

“When households spend more time earning money, they compensate in part by purchasing more goods and services, and buying them at later stages of processing (e.g., more prepared foods). People who have more time at home and less at work can engage in slower, less resource-intensive activities. They can hang their clothing on the line… they can switch to less energy-intensive but more time-consuming modes of transport (mass transit or carpool versus private auto, train versus airplane). They can garden and cook at home. They can meet more of their basic needs by making, fixing, doing, and providing things themselves.”[xiv]


Ending on a note of Hope

The world’s eco-energy problems are daunting. But with steely determination we can overcome them. Challenges are not what deter humans. We are built with the brains and ingenuity to overcome. But, we can get sidetracked by bogus ideas, or get discouraged by prophets of doom. Yes, the petro elites have enormous power and the mainstream media is mainly controlled by those with big money allied with Big Oil. So are most governments. But we have one thing on our side. This is a struggle for our lives, those of our children and all other living things. If we can win over most people to the cause we will have the numbers. In a democracy that counts.


Frances Moore Lappé agrees that climate change is with us and it’s too late to prevent suffering. But it’s not too late for life, she contends.

“When facing staggering setbacks – from the Black Death of the fourteenth century to world wars killing nearly 100 million people in the twentieth – most human beings don’t end up ruing life. What makes us miserable isn’t a big challenge. It’s feeling futile, alone, confused, discounted – in a word, powerless. By contrast, those confronting daunting obstacles, but joined with others in common purpose, have to me often seemed to be the most alive.”[xv]




[i] Michael A. Levi, ‘The Canadian Oil Sands. Energy Security vs. Climate Change’. New York: Council on Foreign Relations. Special Report No. 47. 2009. p. 25.


[ii] David McLeod, Watching the Watchdogs: 10 Years of the IEA World Energy Outlook. Resilience. Nov 13, 2014. (


[iii] Ibid.


[iv] Industry Taskforce. ‘The Oil Crunch. Securing the UK’s energy future’. 2008. Task force member companies include Arup, FirstGroup, Foster and Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solarcentury, Stagecoach Group, Virgin Group, Virgin.


[v] 20th World Petroleum Congress. Dec 2011.


[vi] Nafeez Ahmed, “Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will 'break economies'”, the Guardian. 23 Dec 2013.


[vii] J. David Hughes, Drilling Deeper. A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom. Post Carbon Institute. 2014.


[viii] Almuth Ernsting, “Abundant Clean Renewables? Think Again!” Truthout. 16 Nov 2014.


[ix] Anastassia M. Makarieva, Victor G. Gorshkov, Bai-Lian Li, “Energy budget of the biosphere and civilization: Rethinking environmental security of global renewable and non-renewable resources”. Ecological Complexity 5. 3Aug 2008. pp. 281–8.


[x] Andrew Nikiforuk, The Energy of Slaves. Oil and the new Servitude. Vancouver: Greystone Books. 2012. p. 225.


[xi] Ibid.


[xii] Jeffrey Sachs, “Need Versus Greed”. Project Syndicate. Feb 2, 2013.


[xiii] UK House of Commons, All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil. “TEQs Tradable Energy Quotas”. (authors: David Fleming and Shaun Chamberlin). 2011. p. 37.


[xiv] Juliet Schor. “Less Work, More Living. Working fewer hours could save our economy, save our sanity, and help save our planet”. Yes Magazine. 2 Sept 2011.


[xv] Frances Moore Lappé, EcoMind. Changing the way we think, to create the world we want. New York: Nation Books, 2011. p. 146.


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