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About PowerSwitch.org.uk PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 October 2004
About Us

PowerSwitch.org.uk was established in Autumn 2004 with the intention of raising awareness and discussion in the UK of the consequences of global oil depletion following the imminent peak in global oil production, and how to deal with it -especially within a context of global warming and sustainability.
If you are new to 'Peak Oil', try reading John Vidal's article on the subject from The Guardian - 'The End of Oil is Closer Than You Think'

Since Autumn 2004, PowerSwitch.org.uk has grown to a team of over twenty concerned individuals (and with over two hundred members) actively raising awareness of this situation at a grassroots level. Coming from all sectors of employment - energy consultancy, IT, engineering, media, academia, finance, etc - and spread right across the UK, we facilitate discussion and education on how the geologically enforced decline of oil supply over the coming decades will affect Britain and the world.

We recognise:

  • That the growing consensus among the world's leading petroleum geologists and geophysicists is that the peak of global oil production will occur at some point within the next 10 years, possibly sooner rather than later (see the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas and The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre ), after which there will be a permanent and ongoing decline in the global extraction of oil, followed by a similar peak and decline in natural gas production.
  • That with many non-OPEC countries having already peaked, the percentage of global oil production will be increasingly concentrated in the Middle East. Production in the Middle East will also peak soon. 
     
  • That the global discovery of oil peaked in 1962 and has been declining ever since.  Continuing this trend, most future discoveries of oil fields will be too small and/or much more challenging: hence, extraction costs will be extremely high. 

  • That the accepted reserve numbers of IEA and USGS are not verified and are likely to be overstated due to political and financial pressures. 
  • That the strong economic advances by China and India are dramatically intensifying global competition for access to oil reserves.
    • That technology and the market alone cannot provide a solution to this problem and leadership must be shown by the Government. 

    • That due to oil being so essential for economies, and with increasing competition, there is a very high risk of economic, political and military conflict over the control of remaining resources. 

    • That any solution to the global decline in oil production must take into account climate change.
    • That our current economic and social structure, and indeed our way of life, is dependent on cheap oil and gas in every way, from transport to medicine, and from agriculture to plastics - which so many jobs, and thus our economy, rely.
    • That the prevailing expectations, standards and aspirations of many in modern industrialised societies is a culture based on the cheap and easy supply of oil, and thus any solution must address that culture. 
       
    • That once it is realised that the oil-based economy is in permanent terminal decline, removing the confidence in perpetual growth on which the Financial System depends, the assumption of ever-onward growth, borrowing and lending dry up: there being little that is viable for one to invest in. It follows that there will be a need to remove vast amounts of so-called Capital - which, in fact, is not Capital in the sense of being the saved proceeds of labour, but merely an expression of speculative confidence in ever-onward economic growth. This financial shock will destroy many types of investments such as pensions.
 
We recognise that it is better to act as soon as possible, making the most of our economic strength to prepare for the transition. The essential and realistic task is to mitigate the consequences in order to prevent the extreme difficulties that are on the way from becoming catastrophes. We believe pre-emptive action and leadership from the Government is needed to soften the impact of declining oil supply, and therefore call on the Government to:


  • Prepare a full, honest and major public awareness campaign on the future economic and lifestyle consequences of oil depletion.
  • Establish a set of national targets for clean, renewable energy self-sufficiency by the year 2025.
  • Create a long-term plan to secure the well-being of every member of a low-carbon economy and society.
  • Establish measures and policies to encourage efficient use of energy throughout the economy within a framework of reducing total energy consumption, such as DTQs (www.dtqs.org).
  • Rethink and revise climate change policies and targets in the light of oil depletion data.
  • Recognise the fundamental significance of declining oil and thus prioritise the budget allocation to scientific research, energy efficiency and other policy measures aimed at commerce, industry and individuals, designed to manage the transition to a low-carbon society as speedily and painlessly as possible.
  • Furthermore, recognise the importance of oil and gas in agriculture and therefore address how food will be grown and distributed in the future.
  • Pro-actively work on international cooperation on energy resource management and energy solution development - e.g. sign and follow the 'Rimini Protocol' so as to cut imports to match world depletion rate.
You can read about some of the team here.  We always welcome anyone wanting to help raise awareness and discussion of this issue.  Please email James Howard.

Different regions have different meeting schedules.  Currently the London group meets monthly.  You can meet others concerned in our Regional Forums

As a decentralised group of individuals and volunteers, we have no centre of operations, but you can write to us at :

PowerSwitch, PO Box 178, Carshalton, SM5 2XY 

We can also be contacted by phone on 020 8123 2500

If you are new to this subject we can recommend this free 'book' - a collection of important articles on the subject:  Essential Oil.  We have also made a flashmedia presentation that will quickly get you up-to-speed:  The End of Cheap Oil. 

We fully support the findings and research of The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas as well as The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, a group of experienced, reputable and independent oil professionals who have been studying when the global peak will occur. 



'Peak Oil' groups are often regarded as alarmist and doom-mongering.  Some are.  We are alarmist - we want to wake everyone up to this situation - but not doom-mongers: we are change-mongers. Change is needed, and we want everyone to discuss what and how and why. Our focus is on raising awareness and discussion of the problem.  If you are looking for solutions, then, at this moment, with no ready replacement for oil, we recommend the promotion of green and sustainable ways of living.

As Bertrand Russell said, "The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation."
 
Let's cooperate. Each person has skills. Each skill can contribute something, in some way, to spreading the message.  After reading this, and understanding the situation, and understanding that something needs to be done now while it still can, I hope you don’t just click away from this site and forget about this.  We’ve all had problems in our lives that we’ve tried to avoid but the longer we’ve left it, the worse it has got...well this is the biggest problem. This affects you. This affects your family. This affects your friends. At the risk of sounding dramatic, this affects everyone who will be alive from now until the end of humanity. They will all be affected by decisions that are made now.
 
If the least you do is tell someone about this, and get them to understand the problem, you’ll have begun to do your bit.  But there is more, so very much more to do, and PowerSwitch.org.uk needs all the hands, hearts and minds it can.  If you’re not sure how you can contribute, contact us and we’ll find out how.

About the Site
 
PowerSwitch.org.uk is split into three sections.
 
The first section is frequently updated news; keeping an eye on the situation.
 
The second section is the forums, where people can talk about the problem and the potential solutions.

The third section deals with the campaign, helping you spread the message, and also news on how PowerSwitch.org.uk is doing in terms of raising awareness. 
 
You’ll find a good introduction to the problem we are facing at: Wolfatthedoor

If you are looking for more extreme opinions, look at: www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net or www.dieoff.org

About the Situation

Worried about rising domestic electricity bills or the price of petrol going up?  Aren't we all!  It just keeps on going up and up!

Maybe you're also worried about global warming, the threat it poses to our environment and would like to know more about persuading people that we need to become a low-carbon economy.

Either way, you should be worried.  It's just the tip of the iceberg. 
 
Briefly, the situation is this:  According to a large and growing number of independent oil geologists with many years of experience in their field, we are at or will very soon be at the peak of oil production, from which point decline is inevitable.  These are geological facts.  At the same time, we have a society dependent entirely on oil in ways you may not have even thought about - and as we grow as a population - and as our needs grow - we need oil more and more.  So there is, or will be very soon, a situation of growing need but permanent falling supply. This would be okay if there was an easy replacement, but there isn't.  It is not too hard to begin to imagine the economic - and social - consequences. Unfortunately, this is a very real situation caused by geological realities and human need. Hence this website/campaign.

PowerSwitch.org.uk was setup mid-2004 due to the evidence becoming strong, then overwhelming, that the UK and the World will soon (as early as 2007, no later than 2020) reach ‘Peak Oil’: the point when half of all the world’s conventional oil reserves have been extracted. 
 
It is at this ‘peak’ that the global supply of oil can only go down.  Furthermore, the oil left is much harder, and thus more expensive, to extract - in addition to being generally lower quality.  We are very nearly at the point when supply cannot meet demand.  In October 2004, there was barely 1% spare capacity in the supply/demand system.  Saudi Arabia, the world's largest supplier, is arguably in decline now too. 



 
When supply cannot meet demand, or even when there is fear that supply cannot meet demand, oil prices go up, as can be seen by an approximate 75% increase in the price of a barrel of oil in the 18 months leading to October 2004.  Home consumers will have seen a 10 to 15% increase in their energy bills, with more to comeThis is due to the North Sea oil and gas fields peaking.




Oil is important to every part of the modern life of the UK but is declining fast worldwide. The world is consuming many more barrels of oil than it finds. If you burn more candles than you replace them with, what happens? To stretch the allegory further, we're now at a situation where half of all the candles that will ever be made have been consumed, and now more people want them and they're more costly to produce. 

Not just oil though - gas as well. Gas follows a similar path to oil in terms of reserves. Oil and gas make up 75% of energy demand in the UK. Furthermore, oil is essential to so many products of every day life. How can we replace oil and gas?
 
Think of all the products you use that have plastic in them. Everything from the mouse and keyboard you’re using, to clothing, packaging, paint, toothbrushes, electrical goods, cars...look around the room you’re in and spot all the things that need oil to be made. Then, moving on from that, think about how the product got to where it is.  Did it get there without the use of oil transporting it? You’ll find it a very short list.
 
So now I want you to imagine a world without any oil whatsoever in the system. Imagine it is 2100. Now, roll back to 2090 and any oil around is incredibly sparse and expensive. Roll back, and back, and it gets cheaper, until you get to where you are now. Follow that path in reverse and it is just an ever-increasing oil price.
 
Understanding that oil affects every part of our modern and privileged lives, you will understand that any increase in oil prices will affect the price of EVERYTHING. As prices increase, with more and more money going to pay for energy costs, more and more businesses will close, more people will lose their jobs, their income, and their homes. And as the price goes up, it affects more and more people with no clear way out. It will be a permanent depression.
 
Yes, there are, to an extent, alternatives to oil - though none as cheap as oil is now. Nuclear, Coal and Liquid Natural Gas are full of problems. Most of the 'easier' solutions will have drastic negative environmental impacts, as well as increasing global warming.

You may be thinking at this point, ‘But what about renewables? They’ll save the day!’.  I thought that too. And they can help, to an extent.  They can’t provide the full solution (if there is one), as you will see if you go on to investigate more about what you have read here - if I could see an easy solution there would be no need for PowerSwitch.org.uk. But we need to be investing in them now while we can afford to. As the price of oil goes up, the price of recovery goes up. The longer we leave it, the harder it’ll be to implement solutions - it will get more expensive to implement the solutions, until it is too late.  As a leading first world nation, the UK is in a special position to actually be able to do something about it. Most countries are not so fortunate.

Is the UK government doing enough?  Not nearly.  It's long term plan is to have 60% of electricity in the UK generated by renewables by 2050.  That is aimed at dealing with reducing carbon emissions and the Kyoto protocol. It does not deal with the supply of energy for cars or transport. If oil prices have gone up so much in just the last few years, how much do you think it will cost to fill up your car in 2020 or 2050? And it's not just fuel for cars - think of what oil makes for us!  Think of all the jobs reliant on oil. Furthermore, their plans are based on official figures that even the G7 admits look wrong.

Rising oil prices will reduce growth until we are in a recession and then a depression. History has shown this with the effects of the 1970's oil crisis. This results in less money in the system, resulting in less money going to the government - or even the energy companies - to invest in the alternatives.

Our best hope over the short term is to dramatically reduce the amount of oil and gas we use. The added bonus is that it also tackles the problem of global warming.  We have no sensible choice but to cut our oil consumption and try to replace that energy as much as we can with clean, green, renewable energy and promote sustainable ways of living.
 
A lot of the policies that need to be implemented by the government would be unpopular policies. Political parties deal not with long-term problems but with what will make them popular so as to get into power for another term - their jobs and status are on the line. Equally, it is difficult to believe that the majority of the public will do something if it makes their lives more inconvenient. They follow the path of least resistance. Take global warming for example - would companies have cut their carbon emissions if there wasn’t legislation to force them to?  If people really cared about global warming, wouldn’t we be seeing fewer cars on the roads, not more (and especially not SUVs)? If people can see that this will affect the money in their pocket and all the plans they have made for the future, maybe they will do something about this.

We can’t help it - some might say that it is because we are a mostly selfish and ignorant people. PowerSwitch.org.uk holds on to some hope that if the majority of people become aware - and concerned - of the problems that lie ahead due to permanent oil decline - they might, just might, do something about it, also creating a climate in which the government of the day will make the tough decisions needed to deal with the problem.

Dr. Colin Campbell, from ASPO, wrote the following summary of the situation:

The Industrial Revolution opened in the mid 18th Century with the exploitation of coal, initially in Britain, providing a new fuel for industry, transport and trade, which grew rapidly. The Oil Age dawned 100 years later, initially to provide lamp-oil for illumination, but later to fuel transport, following the development of the Internal Combustion Engine. Electricity generation expanded widely, fuelled first by coal, but later mainly from oil, gas and nuclear energy. This epoch has been widely seen as one of amazing technological progress, which has conditioned many people to think that there must always be a technological solution.

The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by an equally important, but less visible, Financial Revolution. In short, commercial banks lent money in excess of what they had on deposit, effectively creating money out of thin air, but the system worked because tomorrow’s expansion provided collateral for to-day’s debt. It was effectively a system of confidence, an intrinsic element of all debt.

So, it might be better termed the Financial-Industrial Revolution. The Stock Markets evolved from being simply an exchange of dividend-yielding instruments to become largely speculative institutions, being in turn stimulated by the tax regime that gave preferential treatment to speculative gains. In addition, World trading currencies, previously the pound sterling and now the US dollar, delivered massive hidden returns to the issuing countries, becoming in effect the prime benefit of Empire.

The World’s population expanded six-fold exactly in parallel with oil, which  provided much of the fuel with which to plough the field, and bring food and  manufactured goods to market, thus indirectly supporting the Financial System. The internationalisation of transport of food reduced the risk of local famines when harvests failed for climatic and other reasons.

The Second Half of the Oil Age now dawns and will be characterised by the decline of oil, followed by gas, and all that depends upon these prime energy sources. The actual decline of oil will be gradual at less than three percent a year: such that the production of all liquid hydrocarbons in 2020 will have fallen to approximately what it was in 1990. In those terms, it does not appear to be a particularly serious situation.

But in reality, it is a devastating development because it implies that the oil-based economy is in permanent terminal decline, removing the confidence in perpetual growth on which the Financial System depends. Without the assumption of ever-onward growth, borrowing and lending dry up: there being little viable left to invest in. It follows that there will be a need to remove vast amounts of so-called Capital, which in fact was not Capital in the sense of being the saved proceeds of labour, but merely an expression of speculative confidence in ever onward economic growth.

This in turn leads to the conclusion that the World faces another Great Depression, triggered more by the perception of long term decline of the general economy rather than the actual decline of oil supply itself which is gradual not cataclysmic. The World is definitely not about to run out of oil, but it does face the onset of decline having consumed about half of what is readily available on the Planet. This is not welcome news, and those with mindsets conditioned on past experience find it very difficult to accept, some becoming vituperative in their reaction. In terms of pragmatic politics, it is virtually impossible for Governments to plan and prepare with logical strategies to face the new world that opens. Accordingly, the transition will likely be a time of international tension and resource wars of which the first salvoes have already been fired. But some of the more philosophically inclined wonder if in fact the post-oil world might not turn out to be a more harmonious one for the survivors. There are indeed hopes, Deus volens, that they may number somewhat more than the Planet was able to support prior to what by then will be seen to have been the brief Age of Oil, during which the World consumed its inheritance of fossil sunshine.
- Dr.Colin Campbell, Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, February Newsletter 2005



 
That is the aim of PowerSwitch.org.uk - to raise awareness of oil depletion amongst the public, amongst the political class, and also in the commercial arena. Every sector of society needs to be mobilised in a 'War on Entropy'  - a war we cannot win but a war can we mute the consequences of. We can minimise the damage by preparing a soft landing through the implementation of necessary policies, such as the enforcement of recycling, renewables and energy conservation. And this is just the beginning...

Yes, it will mean a change to our lifestyles, but the only other paths are to do nothing and deal with likely harsher consequences, or to go towards coal, bitumen and other sources of unconventional oil that will result in fatal levels of global warming and environmental damage and regardless will unlikely fill the gap.

If you decide you want to help, you’ll have decided to help not just yourself but future generations too.  Deciding not to spread the word, even in a small way, is an option only if you want a world that isn't prepared for when the oil age begins to end, and the consequences that come with it. 

If you trust the government to do something in time, or the market to react appropriately, that is your choice, but please consider that this is too big, too far-reaching, to simply leave to ‘them’ to sort out.   We have to help them by informing them and everyone else.

I'd like things to be okay and not worry.  I'd like to sit back, put my feet up and hope someone else will sort the problem out while I carry on living the comfortable, convenient lifestyle I am accustomed to. That is no longer an option. 

There are many wrongs in the world: injustice, inequality, intolerance and suffering strongly permeate the majority of lives. Yet unless we deal with the energy problem ahead rather than sleepwalking into and through it, that will only reduce our ability to soothe the scars that humanity carves upon itself and the planet.

The world has been warned about oil depletion and global warming for many years. Not enough has been done.

Now is the time to act.

The last year has seen an explosion in the number of people concerned about this and telling people but more must be done.

Please join the mailing list by clicking here and begin to think about what you can do. We need all the help we can get.

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