Kate Mackenzie Peak oil, energy security and food supply in the UK

Are general concerns over resource depletion rising in the UK? Last week we saw the IEA peak oil story, the Wicks report on energy security, and The Economist publish an alarming cover story about the future of the country’s energy supply.

Today, Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic and Jeremy Leggett of Solar Century argue in the FT that the UK is ignoring the threat of peak oil.

Both are members of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, a group of eight companies, half of whom are rail operators. Whitehorn and Leggett write that the group concluded last year that the risk from peak oil was bigger than that of terrorism:

We fear this is because of over-estimation of reserves by the global oil industry, underinvestment in exploration and production, or a combination of the two. Once the descent begins, the realisation would sweep the world that another leading industry has its asset assessment systemically wrong. The danger is that producing nations then start cutting exports. At that point, for some oil-consuming nations, energy crisis becomes energy famine.

They are particularly annoyed that the Wicks report mentioned peak oil only once, and then in a fairly dismissive way:

Few authors advocating an imminent peak take account of factors such as the role of prices in stimulating exploration, investment, technological development and changes in consumer behaviour.

Perhaps they can take comfort from the UK government’s newfound concern about food supply, and what higher energy prices, among other things, might mean. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is consulting on how the country can have a ‘secure food system’ in 2030. From the BBC:

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said while Britain was more self-sufficient now than it was in the 1930s and 1950s, everyone had to start thinking ahead about how to produce more using less water and less fertiliser.

He said last year’s sudden jump in the price of food and oil, which most fertilisers are based on, was a “wake-up call”.

“We saw last year when the oil price went up and there was a drought in Australia, which had an impact on the price of bread here in the UK, just how interdependent all these things are,” he said.

However a report published last month by the Sustainable Development Commission has already concluded things are not good. Author Tim Lang said:

“For climate change; for water; for energy; for all sorts of reasons our diet is going to change. Consumers are not going to like it, although it is probably going to be healthier and definitely more sustainable.

Related links:

The world is already getting a little smaller (FT Energy Source, 10/08/09)
UK assesses future food security (BBC, 10/08/09)
Is the market always right for energy security? (FT Energy Source, )