In The Last Oil Shock , David Strahan says it is quite possible to run out of oil and pollute the planet to destruction simultaneously.
Using the International Energy Agency’s forecast, Strahan suggests even if oil production peaks in 2010 and immediately starts to fall at 3% a year, emissions would still rise by 25%, reaching 32 billion tonnes in 2030. Peak oil could even make emissions worse if it drives us to exploit the wrong kinds of fuel.
Strahan, writing in The Green Room, a weekly environmental column on BBC, says burning rainforest and peatlands to create palm oil plantations for biofuels releases vast amounts of CO2, and has already made Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter after the US and China.
Synthetic transport fuels emit even more carbon on a well-to-wheels basis than conventional crude; and when the feedstock is coal, emissions double.
When oil production starts to fall, moreover, soaring crude prices could trigger a depression deeper than the 1930s, and collapsing stock markets cripple ability to finance the clean energy infrastructure we need.
As unemployment lines grow, the political will to tackle climate change may be sapped by the need to keep the lights burning as cheaply as possible.