Peak oil?


I have always been interested in cars. Ever since I was a youngster, I was climbing into, out of, on and around my parents’ cars. Going for a drive out into the country roads was a treat, and roads that wound their way through the glens of Antrim, between narrow hedgerows, or up to a high spot to look over the sea to Scotland were a favourite. I tinkered in the garage, held spanners and fetched things for the men. I was driving before I could see properly over the dashboard and before I could reach the pedals to fully depress the clutch without sliding down in the seat to reach it. I drove on backroads at night, when other car lights could be seen at some distance, giving enough time to quickly swap seats with an indulgent parent in case the passing car may contain a police officer. Police officers are not known for their humour or indulgence when having stopped a vehicle they peer in through the driver’s window to find a 10 year old.

At the time of the first oil shock of the mid 1970s, petrol prices skyrocketed, supplies reduced and there was much discussion about the world running out of oil. I worried that by the time I would be old enough to drive, there would be no oil left. My son is not old enough to have his driving license yet, even though he has been driving for over 7 years. He, too, enjoys drives in the hills especially in in V8 engined cars with manual gearboxes. He worries about the future of driving. For him, the reasons are different.

Running out of oil turned out to be an unfounded fear. The world has huge reserves of oil. Oil drives the world as we know it. It is responsible for enabling the enormous growth in living standards and quality of life across the world over the last 100 years. Yet there are some who demonise oil and who have clearly had influence over some politicians. The concern of the young driving enthusiast of today is not so much running out of oil, but Government restriction, or outright banning, of the sale of the internal combustion engine (ICE) that runs on an oil derived fuel, such as petrol or diesel. Maybe this fear will turn out be unfounded. But the Chinese authorities have said that China will eventually ban the petrol car. Subsidies paid to developers and users of electric cars are clearly designed to develop an alternative to the ICE. Once in place, it becomes hard to remove them.

I am hopeful that the iron-clad laws of physics will outlast the academic fads and latest social fashions. It makes no sense from any angle – social, environmental or economic – to replace petrol driven cars with hybrids or electric vehicles. This fact will become clear eventually to all but those who will not see. However, sensibility frequently goes missing in action when politicians are making decisions.

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