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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

Laos

 

 

The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a communist country, like China to the North and Vietnam with which it shares its Eastern border. 

And like the bordering communist countries, the government has embraced limited private ownership and free market capitalism, in theory.  But there remain powerful vested interests, and residual pockets of political power, particularly in the agricultural sector, and corruption is a significant issue. 

During the past decade tourism has become an important source of income and is now generating around a third of the Nation's domestic product.  Tourism is centred on Luang Prabang and to a lesser extent the Plane of Jars and the capital, Vientiane.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Alan Turing and The Imitation Game

 

The movie The Imitation Game is an imaginative drama about the struggles of a gay man in an unsympathetic world. 

It's very touching and left everyone in the cinema we saw it in reaching for the tissues; and me feeling very guilty about my schoolboy homophobia. 

Benedict Cumberbatch, who we had previously seen as the modernised Sherlock Holmes, plays Alan Turing in much the same way that he played Sherlock Holmes.  And as in that series The Imitation Game differs in many ways from the original story while borrowing many of the same names and places.

Far from detracting from the drama and pathos these 'tweaks' to the actual history are the very grist of the new story.  The problem for me in this case is that the original story is not a fiction by Conan Doyle.  This 'updated' version misrepresents a man of considerable historical standing while simultaneously failing to accurately represent his considerable achievements.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire

 

 

 

The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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