Peak Oil briefing


Thanks to Sam Norton at Elizaphanian, I’ve just spent part of my Sat. afternoon listening to a briefing given to the All Party Parliamentary Group earlier this summer.

If you’d like to watch the briefing for yourself, here it is.

Some key points:
• There is pretty broad agreement that Peak Oil (loosely speaking, when the world’s demand for oil outstrips our supply) is going to happen in the next 5 to 10 years.
• Most of the alternatives suggested for an oil based economy simply aren’t realistic. For example, the corn it takes to fill one SUV’s fuel tank with ethanol will feed a human being for an entire year. And at present we’re not producing enough food worldwide to feed all the people alive right now.
• Even putting that aside, since food production in the present day is very energy intensive, a rise in energy price is going to make biofuels all that more expensive.
• Hydrogen requires an immense amount of energy to produce and store. Much more realistically than we have access to at the moment.
• The IEA is forecasting the gasoline crunch will come in 2010 and the oil supply crunch comes in 2012.
• The last few slides in the presentation suggest that we may already be at the point where demand has outstripped supply. The reason that the predictions say that we should have another 5 or 10 years is that they are taking OPEC reserve estimates at face value. There is a great deal of evidence that we shouldn’t be doing that. If so, we may have already crossed the Rubicon.

So the question becomes for us, what are the implications for parish ministry in the short term? Rising fuel costs will mean higher cost and lower income for parishes already straining to meet budget. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of struggling congregations have to close in the short term. (Hopefully we’ll be able to hold onto the buildings so that a ministry can be restarted once the first part of the crisis passes.) Parishioners who travel large distances to attend “destination” parishes may start choosing to attend their local church again – which will stir the pot up in all sorts of interesting ways.

More importantly though is the question of what will the Gospel implications be in a world in which food that could feed hungry people in the developing world will be diverted to create energy to supply the lifestyles of the wealthiest in the developed world.

I’m sure there are others – what ones spring to your minds?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Paul Martin says

    Thank you for posting this, Nick. I can imagine all kinds of financial challenges as churches attempt to update antiquated HVAC plants and shore up the leaks in their old buildings, even as their parishioners are struggling to do the same on their own houses. Perhaps we should be considering how to help in that process. If you can teach other priests how to blog, could someone do a best practices survey on tasteful installation of storm windows over old stained glass windows? Should we nominate our oldest structures to This Old House?
    I especially like the comment about attending the local parish church instead of “destination” churches. Is it possible we could actually learn to live with our differences instead of self segregating away from them? This world could use a little witness by example.

  2. Thanks Paul.
    Interesting point you raise about our older structures. Interestingly enough, most of them were built back when energy costs were much higher. The victorian era churches I served in PA had thick walls, high ceilings and small windows. They never really got all that cold in the winter… It was the parish house and offices that were the problem. We added storm windows, and more importantly I got the parish to spend the money to repair and tune a computer run heating system. It dropped our out of pocket energy costs by a bit more than 10k/year. Took us 2 years to recoup the investment. (We’d recoup it faster today.)
    Our problem out here in AZ is to manage the cooling system. But that’s electrically based, so while energy costs will drift north there too, they probably won’t increase at the same rate as oil and gas heat will.
    I’ve been thinking about ways to raise this issue nationally. I’ll probably see if I can get people’s attention in the winter when they’re starting to see the major bills coming due.

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