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The following paper was written back in 2007.  Since that time the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) struck and oil prices have not risen as projected.  But we are now hearing about peak oil again and there have been two programmes on radio and TV in the last fortnight floating the prospect of peak oil again. 

At the end of 2006 the documentary film A Crude Awakening warned that peak oil, ‘the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline’, is at hand. 

Perhaps the most important argument in A Crude Awakening is that energy, including oil, replaces human labour and does so very efficiently.  It is the harnessing of energy that has allowed human civilisation to free people from slavery and serfdom and it is the harnessing of energy that has fuelled technological progress. 

It has also fuelled an increase in human population from less than a billion in 1800 to over six and a half billion today.

The most obvious defect in the documentary is that it represents oil as the only source of energy available to mankind.  This is not the case.  Until quite recently coal was the dominant energy source.  Coal fuelled the industrial revolution.  In some parts of the world hydroelectric power was also an important driver of industrialisation before oil and, where available, is still the most environmentally friendly and least expensive energy source we have. 

It is true that petroleum (oil and gas) has recently taken over the leading position as principle energy source; and contributor to carbon dioxide production.  Petroleum is more convenient and has higher energy density than most other options (see below) and produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal. It dominated transport and chemical production for the last two thirds of the 20th century and will continue to do so for at least the first half of the 21st.

The following diagram shows the sources of energy (for all purposes) in Australia in 2007/8[1].

 

 

image002 

 

 

It was oil that made the Second World War possible, oil that provided a car to every family soon after and oil that opened the world to inexpensive air travel. 

A Crude Awakening makes the point that we have already half used this amazing resource, in a shockingly spendthrift way, over an extraordinarily short period of time.

 

 

 

A personal view 

This chapter can now be read at:  'Getting About'

 

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Travel

Darwin after Europe

 

 

On our return from Europe we spent a few days in Darwin and its surrounds.  We had a strong sense of re-engagement with Australia and found ourselves saying things like: 'isn't this nice'.

We were also able to catch up with some of our extended family. 

Julia's sister Anneke was there, working on the forthcoming Darwin Festival.  Wendy's cousin Gary and his partner Son live on an off-grid property, collecting their own water and solar electricity, about 120 km out of town. 

We went to the Mindl markets with Anneke and her friend Chris; and drove out to see Gary, in our hire-car, who showed us around Dundee Beach in his more robust vehicle. Son demonstrated her excellent cooking skills.

 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Egyptian Mummies

 

 

 

 

Next to Dinosaurs mummies are the museum objects most fascinating to children of all ages. 

At the British Museum in London crowds squeeze between show cases to see them.  At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo they are, or were when we visited in October 2010 just prior to the Arab Spring, by far the most popular exhibits (follow this link to see my travel notes). Almost every large natural history museum in the world has one or two mummies; or at the very least a sarcophagus in which one was once entombed.

In the 19th century there was something of a 'mummy rush' in Egypt.  Wealthy young European men on their Grand Tour, ostensibly discovering the roots of Western Civilisation, became fascinated by all things 'Oriental'.  They would pay an Egyptian fortune for a mummy or sarcophagus.  The mummy trade quickly became a lucrative commercial opportunity for enterprising Egyptian grave-robbers.  

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Opinions and Philosophy

A modern fairytale - in a Parallel Universe

 

I've dusted off this little satirical parable that I wrote in response to the The Garnaut Climate Change Review (2008).  It's not entirely fair but then satire never is.

 


 

 

In a parallel universe, in 1920† Sidney, the place where Sydney is in ours, had need of a harbour crossing.

An engineer, Dr Roadfield, was engaged to look at the practicalities; including the geology and geography and required property resumptions, in the context of contemporary technical options. 

After considering the options he reported that most advanced countries solve the harbour crossing problem with a bridge.  He proposed that they make the decision to have a bridge; call for tenders for an engineering design; raise the finance; and build it.  We'll call it the 'Sidney Harbour Bridge' he said; then less modestly: 'and the new crossing will be called the Roadfield Highway'. 

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