Thursday, 17 March 2011

Climate Change for Football (or Soccer) Fans

 Paul Haynes in conversation with James Atkins
Climate change policy is certainly an issue that receives attention – the search term generates more than half a million hits; however, a similar search for “Manchester United” generates nearly 100 million, and they are only 1 of the 92 professional football clubs in England.  This statistic seems to support my prejudice that football supporters (like myself – Wolverhampton Wanderers in case you wondered) are involved with their club in ways that very few issues can match.  If climate change apathy is the problem (and the blog title gives a clue about my view), the question is could we learn anything about the enthusiasm and engagement of football fans.  It turns out that someone else (a Manchester United fan no less) has already thought about this and written a book about football fans, for football fans that also examines climate change policy issues.  The novel, which I’m reading at the moment, is a well observed and comical story about individuals with a passion for football, and another with a passion for addressing climate change, and how they learn from each other.  I caught up with the author, James Atkins, to ask him about the motives for writing his book:
Climate Change for Football Fans is an attempt to talk about climate change policy, a dull subject, in a more palatable way: a chocolate digestive in a world of Lincolns.  In the last ten years working in emissions trading I have thought a lot about environmental problems and climate change and what governments and individuals can do about them. I have also written about this in articles and in my blog The Bustard.  Then a friend suggested that I compile the blog entries into a book in order to expand the readership.  Not wanting to repeat what had already been written I started reading around the topic.

I found that books and reports on climate change policy are an uphill struggle.  Few books on climate change are readable or enjoyable, despite it being an extremely important topic. So I tried to find a way of making the book more entertaining.  This was partly through putting dialogue and humour in it, and partly through introducing the loose parallel of another subject.

The book is a series of conversations between Joe, a Burnley lad who is football mad, and Professor Igor who's obsessed with climate change.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Petroleum: A Crude Estimate of the Value of Oil

Last Month I wrote about the need to act on energy consumption far beyond the recommendations of experts and advisors in order to mitigate against climate change effects considerably worse than those anticipated by the advisors that policy makers rely on.  One issue that represents the difficulty, opportunity and necessity of changing the way we consume energy is our use of petroleum, or put another way, our dependence on crude oil.

What is left to say about petroleum that isn’t already obvious? It is a valuable resource that can be converted into many vital commodities very cheaply, not just pharmaceuticals, plastics, fertilisers, solvents and similar products, but thousands of different components of vital technologies and products.  It provides most of the world’s fuel for transport and contributes considerably to the heating and power capacity of our energy supply.  Burning it produces lots of energy, but also CO2 and other undesirable emissions.  It is being used at a rapid rate – best guess is about 84 million barrels a day.  It is a limited – and non renewable – resource, with total oil reserves amount to around 1.2 trillion barrels, with much of these reserves (around sixty percent) in the Middle East, and other reserves concentrated in the former Soviet Union, Venezuela and Africa, leaving only around 20% of oil reserves in countries that the US senate would consider unambiguously stable. 

Another consideration is that while global demand is remains high, easily extractable reserves are declining, and declining rapidly.  High demand, coupled with limited supply, uncertainty over production, a cartel controlling much of the available supply, uncertainty over the existence and viability of extraction, uncertainty over the costs, risks and efficiency of extraction, the growth of a number of emerging economies, institutionalised speculation and changes in the terms of trade between different consumer nations, coupled with greater mobility and more intense global trade has meant that prices are at present both high and volatile.  In short, the price of a vital commodities on which trade and the economy depend, is very difficult to forecast.

In addition to price volatility and limited supply of oil, there are other issues we need to consider in assessing if our relationship with oil is a healthy one. For example, meeting our various climate change agreement targets will require using considerably less fossil fuel; ensuring that the limited landfill space isn’t crammed full of plastics will mean reducing our dependence on plastic packaging; reducing the use of chemicals in the atmosphere is also an opportunity to use fewer petroleum based products.  True, our dependence on oil is deep, but motives for reducing this dependence are strong and multiple. 

This brings me to the subject of climate change, or more specifically to the relationship between climate change and oil.