Brendan Nelson’s admission that Australia has to help secure oil supplies at least brings some honesty into the rhetoric about our ongoing military involvement in Iraq. However, it also reveals a dangerous and blinkered vision of how the oil have-nots expect to secure preferential treatment from the oil haves when the peak oil crunch finally comes.
Occupying Iraq to secure for the international oil giants unfettered access to its oil reserves is no doubt intended to keep prices down and secure supplies for the coalition of the willing. However, judging by the public outcry in Iraq against the Hydrocarbon Law the US insists must be passed by the Iraq parliament, stability in the Middle East is unlikely to be the outcome.
It also suggests “energy security”, so delivered, will allow us to avoid the reality that demand worldwide for oil will exceed production sometime over the next 10 years. Encouraged by the oil companies, the government is a peak oil sceptic and sees no need to safeguard the economy by developing alternatives to oil.
Energy underpins our whole economy so there is no dispute that a threat to the economy through high priced and/or scarce oil is as serious as any physical threat. But aside from the illegality of commandeering by force the resources of another country, isn’t there something flawed in this logic? Oil is not the only source of energy. There are cost effective, truly clean, safe, renewable and domestic options that don’t result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and a country destroyed.
The Reserve Bank of Australia reported the largest contributor to inflation last year was petrol prices. We think petrol is expensive at $1.40 with the oil price is hovering around $80 a barrel. The oil price has doubled since 2004 and the price will double again, and I’m guessing it won’t take three years. This is the early sign of peak oil as India and China buy up big.
The writing is on the wall but, like greenhouse, the Howard Government wants Australia to be the last to turn out the light. It was finally badgered by the farmers into setting a voluntary biofuels target of 350 ML by 2010; a target that isn’t being met and is anyway less than 1 per cent of oil consumption and then it decided to tax this alternative fuel, just to make sure.
The oil have-nots don’t like oil being controlled by nations such as Iran which is no doubt relishing the prospect of yanking the chain of higher oil prices to bring western economies to heel.
Ethanol and biodiesel cost a little more to produce than oil but a realistic assessment of the price of a barrel of oil and the high cost of maintaining Australian troops in foreign countries would suggest this is the cheaper option long term, if we gear up to produce it.
For Australia to continue on this path of basing our economy on foreign owned oil is a failure in logic and is making a noose for ourselves. Energy security must be domestically produced, controlled and sustainable.
Our economy is already too vulnerable due to our dependence on oil.
We are seeing the effect the cost of petrol is having on householders already vulnerable from high levels of debt and mortgages. Action must be early, because early action is the most cost effective and cheapest action. We must not miss the opportunity like we did after the first gulf war.
We must use this time, this event to invest in public transport, in fuel efficient vehicles, to reduce the country on our car dependence and at the same time we must be developing domestically produced and controlled alternative fuels.
Australia must de link our economy from oil and fossil fuels and it needs to be done urgently. We need to drive aggressive energy efficiency and pave the way to cost effective renewable energy for both electricity and transport. Yet this government is spending only $3 million on energy efficiency, even less on vehicle fuel efficiency and $3 billion on the war in Iraq.
Addiction is the only explanation of this course of action. This government must be prepared to take the hard policy decisions.
Give the Australian people the option when it comes to energy security - either driving, in fuel efficient bio-fuel cars, catching public transport that is well serviced, cheap, clean and safe or sending Australian men and women to Iraq and the Middle East in a military capacity.