I feel as though I have just returned from a winter wonderland of flu, freezing and beautiful weather, Christmas and then a convalescence/detox in Galway, where it was so cold people were without water for weeks. It has left me feeling wonderful. There’s nothing like having serious flu to make one realise how good it is to enjoy normal healthiness. The reminder of the power of nature was somehow exciting and moving. And my detox – which I do with a friend, for about 10 days at least once a year, which consists of eating fruit and vegetables, yoga, walking and swimming – always leaves me feeling great.
Back from Galway to Birmingham, I had time to buy some thermal underwear and yak tracks and then I was off to Oslo. I went to meet with the EITI Secretariat in preparation for my nomination to take over as chair after the meeting in Paris in early March. EITI is an important organisation run by countries, oil and mineral companies and civil society. The purpose is to get companies to make transparent what they pay and governments to be transparent about what they receive. This does not in itself guarantee that the money is well spent but it makes available the information that can secure this. And transparency tends to lead to more efficient and better considered use of resources.
Our reliance on oil
We often think that the Industrial Revolution was about technology but really it was driven by the use of fossil fuel energy. A fit adult working hard for eight hours can produce about 75 watts of power i. e. six pence worth of electricity or two pence worth of gas. The world currently uses about 85 million barrels of oil per day.
Oil has now reached $100 per barrel, with the continuing growth of China and India, it is unlikely that oil prices will fall. It seems there is little new oil to be discovered so prices will gradually rise. This will squeeze our way of life and make many things more expensive. We must invest in renewables and learn to be more careful with the energy we consume. My ground source heat kept me warm throughout the winter freeze and I am about to put photovoltaic tiles on my roof to reduce my consumption of electricity. If we decided to install these technologies across the country, we could bring down the price, reduce the problem of fuel poverty and our reliance on coal and gas.
Food prices are rising across the world. The rise is linked to oil prices, the growing world population and more people in poor countries being able to afford to eat larger quantities of meat which uses more grain than meat free diets. The last time there was a spike in food prices, we saw riots in many countries. So far there have been riots in Algeria and Tunisia and a growing fear of inflation elsewhere. Whilst our leaders are focused on saving the Banks and continuing to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East, commodity prices are steadily rising. The economic growth of China and India makes a continuing rise in oil, food and other commodity prices inevitable. This could strain economic development worldwide. The answer is to to share the resources so that all can have the basic necessities of life. This could be a really exciting challenge but world leaders are not yet ready for it and the people are not quite ready for the challenge. But I think it will come and we then have a real chance to create a more just and sustainable world order. The alternative is wars over resources and more and more failed states. The former is obviously preferable.
It is early days and progress is not inevitable but 2011 could well turn out to be a very interesting year.
Happy New Year to all.