Peak Oil And The Politics Of Global Solutions

Gareth Doutch asks, How are ordinary folk to convince their leaders to implement policies like the Oil Depletion Protocol?

Published: 08-Jan-2006

eople become aware of sustainability issues (and especially with peak oil) they almost immediately begin to look at reducing the fossil fuel dependence in their lives, learning to grow their own food, creating forward-looking networks etc. Others also partake in awareness raising, as greater awareness levels could also prove to be a key factor in how the issues take effect.

For all of the good work being done by folk, the fact cannot be escaped that government action needs to be taken at the nation state and, more importantly, global levels. It is indeed notable that some of the leading activists on the peak oil issue are advocating living in small, self-sufficient communities and also the Oil Depletion Protocol (1).

However, when pressed about the issue, the standard response from politicians seems to be an almost dogmatic faith that the market will respond to higher energy prices by spurring developments in further oil and gas exploration and recovery, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency measures (2). This inability to grasp (or at least publicly speak of) the issue is compounded when it is understood that, even when the issue is crystal clear, no government would be willing to act in any meaningful way, as doing so would hurt profitability of businesses, who would in turn respond by moving capital and jobs abroad or laying off staff. Acknowledgement of this recently came straight from the horse’s mouth, when Tony Blair said in a press conference: “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge” (3).

Even more recently, corporate influence over government was highlighted when PM Blair couldn’t move quickly enough to answer calls from the leading industrial lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), to open up a debate on a new batch of nuclear power stations (4, 5). As the UK is faced with rapidly declining natural gas production, and a winter that promises to be one of the coldest in recent history (6), the CBI also notably called for changes to Britain's environmental regulations in order to allow the burning of alternative fuels in the case of a shortage, even if they raise pollution levels (4). The CBI director-general, Sir Digby Jones, stated in an interview: “I'm pleased at last we are getting some action from government. Why do we have to get to five minutes to midnight for that to happen?” (7).

While the government is apparently leaving the market alone to solve this issue, and business leaders are pressing government into taking action that means little more than continuance of business as usual by being increasingly dependant on fossil energy, it is becoming starkly clear that the only meaningful lead can possibly come from grass roots activists.

So are we really left on our own? Must we wait until a crisis occurs before enough people begin to demand that something truly meaningful be done? How are ordinary folk to convince their leaders to implement policies like the Oil Depletion Protocol?

The international Simultaneous Policy (SP) aims to overcome this barrier by removing the threat of “sacrificing the economy”, as politicians who sign the SP pledge agree to implement SP alongside other governments when all, or sufficient, nations have agreed to do so. Citizens who adopt SP pledge either to encourage their preferred politician/party to sign the SP pledge or, if they have no party preference, they vote in future elections for any politician or party (within reason) who signs the SP Pledge. This creates a no-risk situation for politicians to declare their willingness to help solve global problems; whilst not doing so increases the risk of losing out in elections.

Furthermore, the policy content is created by citizens and not by politicians or industry lobby groups. The current policy proposal includes measures with which to tackle climate change, protection of water rights, fair trade and third world debt, corporate responsibility, abolition of WMD and reduction of conventional arms, and monetary reform (8).

Gallup International’s “Voice of the people 2005” survey revealed that almost two thirds of people worldwide do not feel that their country is ruled by the will of the people. This can be seen everywhere as growing numbers are opting out of using their votes. However, eight out of ten people interviewed still believe that in spite of its limitations, democracy is the best system of government (9). SP gives the increasingly large portion of non-voting citizens a reason to go back to the polling booths, meaning the SP voting bloc could prove to be critical in deciding the outcome of elections.

Not only has the recent UK general election proven how powerful the SP method is (where a relatively small amount of people been effective in persuading election candidates to sign the SP pledge, resulting in SP representation in parliament from 10 MP's across all major political parties (10)) its wide ranging policy content gives SP connections to a broad variety of social and environmental organisations around the world, and indeed has the potential to become a mass movement (11).

It may, at first sight, seem like you need to wait until an election build up is under way in order to convince candidates to sign the pledge, but that may not be necessary. The foremost thing is to get growing numbers of people involved: politicians will soon follow. All it costs is a relatively little amount of your time. So if you know someone who is concerned about the state of the world, tell them about SP, and tell them to pass it on too, not forgetting that SP is of course a parallel strategy and not an alternative to pushing for action in the shorter term. It does, however, have the potential to deliver the policies we need, not just those that powerful vested interests will tolerate.

As we cross a threshold into an era without precedent in human history, we must coordinate our actions and votes in order to put into effect the kind of changes that we would like to see for our world. After all, there's already one US Republican senator calling for a man on the moon program for renewable energy (12), shouldn't there be more?

For more information and resources, and to become an adopter, visit: www.simpol.org

References:

1 The Oil Depletion Protocol as proposed by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), see:
www.peakoil.ie/protocol

2 Although not always the case, this is the typical response received from public officials when questioned about oil depletion. To see why this is not an adequate solution see:
Hirsch, R.L, Bezdek, R.H, Wendling, R.M. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management.” United States Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). February 2005.
www.netl.doe.gov/otiic/World_Oil_Issues/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf

3 BBC. “Blair makes climate summit call”. 1 November 2005.
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4397930.stm

4 Confederation of British Industry (CBI). “Powering the future - Enabling the UK energy market to deliver”. 21st November 2005.
www.cbi.org.uk/pdf/energybriefnov05.pdf

5 Simon Freeman. “Blair says time has come to go nuclear.” The Times (UK). November 22, 2005.
www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1883179,00.html

6 For analysis on the UK gas production and cold winter issue, see:
www.vitaltrivia.co.uk

7 Larry Elliott and Mark Milner. “Labour 'has mortgaged Britain's future'”. The Guardian (UK). November 25th 2005.
business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,16781,1650354,00.html

8 Gallup International. “Voice of the People 2005. Trends in democracy. Global Summary.” 19th September 2005.
www.gallup-international.com

9 View the Simultaneous Policy proposal in full at:
www.simpol.org/dossiers/dossier-UK/html-UK/policy_proposal-UK.html

10 John Bunzl. “The UK General Election 2005: A Proving Ground for SP’s Novel Voting Strategy.” The Simultaneous Policy News Summer 2005.
www.simpol.org.uk/pdfs/simpolsummer05.pdf

11 Denis Robb. “Simpol’s Appeal to the Broad Public.” The Simultaneous Policy News Autumn 2005.
www.simpol.org.uk/pdfs/simpolautumn05.pdf

12 Roscoe Bartlett. “Peak Oil resolution in U.S. House of Representatives.” October 24, 2005.
www.globalpublicmedia.com/articles/572

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