12 June 2008

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has a published a report (dated Nov 2007) on Singapore's energy policies. You can download it here: Energy For Growth - National Energy Policy Report

There are many things to commend about the report. It touched on the need to improve energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, diversify energy sources, promote public transport and to control air pollution.

But to be blunt, it's better titled Energy For Unsustainable Growth because even though they keep repeating the word "sustainable", their policies really are UN-sustainable as they seem to have a total disregard for the axioms of sustainability outlined by Bartlett and others. Throughout the report, the impression given is that economic growth is always good, essential and limitless. Overpopulation was not touched on.

The core objective of our energy policy must thus be to secure Energy for Growth. (p.22)
If overgrowth in consumption and population are the root causes of our environmental concerns, then why do our policymakers continue to establish growth as the "core objective of our energy policy? Is more growth the answer to our problems? Does it make any sense at all? If smoking is causing you to have poor health, then the natural and logical thing to do is to stop smoking. If overgrowth is the problem, then non-growth or anti-growth is the solution.

Here's an analogy: Eating when one is hungry is satisfying and nourishing. Following our policymakers' logic, if eating is good for you then overeating must be better!

What does "grow" mean? What do you mean when you tell someone to "grow up"? Most people would agree that to grow means to expand; to increase; to gain. But an overlooked definition of "grow" which is more applicable to our economies and population is "to reach maturity".

Let's look at some other definitions of "grow":

American Heritage Dictionary: "to develop and reach maturity"

Merriam-Webster: "to spring up and develop to maturity"

Etymonline: Grown-up (adj.) "mature" is from 1633; the noun meaning "adult person" is from 1813

A child who grows up and reaches physical maturity is said to have "grown-up". If he grows any more, either taller or sideways, then it's a possible sign of ill-health. A "grown-up" continues to grow by developing knowledgeably and spiritually, not physically. Even if he or she develops physically with regard to muscle building, it should be obvious that even then there are limits as we cannot expect a bodybuilder to attain the strength of a gorilla or an elephant. There are, however, no limits to knowledge and creativity.

When our economy has "matured" to a certain stage, or when GDP reaches a certain level, it's time to say enough is enough - the economy cannot grow forever. There must come a point where we have to learn to be satisfied with our material achievements and move on to qualitative or spiritual development for the earth is finite in matter and energy and cannot satisfy all our physical wants. If owning a car makes you happy, will 10 cars take you to heavenly realms?

Now for the most disturbing part of the report:
World proven coal reserves are equivalent to 147 years at 2006 consumption levels, based on the British Petroleum (BP) Statistical Review of World Energy 2007. For oil and gas, proven reserves are estimated to be sufficient for only around 40 and 63 years of 2006 levels of consumption respectively. Nevertheless,oil and gas production is not expected to peak within the next two to three decades. With more exploration and improvements in extraction technologies, substantial new reserves will be added. Since 1980, globally proven oil reserves have expanded by 81 per cent, while proven gas reserves have more than doubled. (p.13)
This is so wrong I am astonished MTI even had this in the report. Compared to climate change, now I know why the Singapore government has paid scant attention to the peak oil problem - because they take BP's Statistical Review as gospel truth.

(Compare the Google search results of "climate change", "global warming" and "peak oil" in the .gov.sg domain. The results are 3000, 1560 and 3 respectively. Climate change and peak oil are related because they result from human dependency on fossil fuels.)

The current CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, disputes the peak oil theory and it was reported that he entered a wager with Kjell Aleklett of ASPO to bet that global crude production in 2018 will be greater than the current daily output of 85.5 million barrels per day. My bet's on Aleklett.

Let's review some points:
  • Global oil discovery peaked in the late 1960s
  • Since the 1980s, oil companies have been finding less oil than we have been consuming
  • Of the 65 largest oil producing countries in the world, up to 54 have passed their peak of production
  • Oil production from existing oilfields is declining at a rate between 3 and 5 percent while oil demand has been increasing at about 2% per year
  • World oil production growth trends have been flat from 2005 to 2008
  • The 81% increase in global oil reserves since 1980 are not "proven" or audited. The large increases in the BP report stems from the fact that BP quoted directly from OPEC members who gave them phony figures. Their REAL oil numbers are a state secret. OPEC members grossly overstated their reserves in the 1980s to increase their production rights.
  • Improvements in extraction technology will not add substantial reserves since the cause is geological limits. If it's not there, it's not there. You can't create oil from thin air. The North Sea was developed by private companies using the best technology there is with no restrictions on drilling, yet oil production from those oil fields have been declining since 1999.
  • If you factor in dramatic increases in coal usage to make up for oil and gas declines, taking into account also the Hubbert Peak phenomenon and the varying coal qualities and accessibility, Energy Watch Group predicts coal to peak in 15 years.

Whoever wrote that part of the report is seriously disconnected from the real world. Note that this report was published in Nov 2007, when peak oil was already making its way into mainstream media. Seriously, who the heck wrote that paragraph?

The Singapore government is clueless as to where we are heading. We are sleepwalking into an energy crisis.