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Page added on May 31, 2007

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What if the Oil Runs Out?

Though the government is planning a massive expansion of transport networks, it has never considered this question.


Motorised transport is a form of time travel. We mine the compressed time of other eras – the infinitisimal rain of plankton onto the ocean floor, the settlement of trees in anoxic swamps – and use it to accelerate through our own. Every tank of fuel contains thousands of years of accretions. Our future depends on the expectation that the past will never be exhausted.


The energy white paper the government published last week talks of new taxes, new markets, new research, new incentives. Anyone reading the chapter on transport would be forgiven for believing that the government has the problem under control: as a result of its measures, we are likely to see a great reduction in our use of geological time.


But buried in another chapter, and so far missed by all journalists, there is a remarkable admission. “The majority (66%) of UK oil demand is derived from demand for transport fuels which is expected to increase modestly over the medium term.”(1) To increase? If the government is implementing all the exciting measures the transport chapter contains, how on earth could our use of fuel increase?


You won’t find the answer in the white paper. It mysteriously forgets to mention that the government intends to build another 4000km of trunk roads and to double the capacity of our airports by 2030. Partly to permit this growth in transport, another white paper, also published last week, proposes a massive deregulation of planning law(2). There is no discussion in either paper of the implications of these programmes for energy use or climate change. There are plainly two governments of the United Kingdom: one determined to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel; the other determined to raise it.


Znet



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