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17 December 2017

Interview to Ames Radio

Weeks ago I concede an interviewed to the programme Vivirmos nun mundo finito (Galician for To live in a finite world) broadcast by Ames Radio. The programme is produced by Ames Pospetróleo an organisation dedicated to steer the transition of the city of Ames in Galicia to the post-petroleum era.

Galician and Portuguese are two languages that evolved from Romance (the language spoken in Europe during the Roman Empire); geography kept them close enough for broad mutual understanding. Galician sounds crystal clear to a Portuguese person, but for a Galician the Portuguese intonation becomes more challenging towards the south, where vowels are half muted and the Arabic influence is heavier. Still, I could address the listeners in Portuguese, opening my vowels and slowing down my speech. Hop below the fold for a digest in English with some additional reflections.

I spent almost one hour on Ring with Ramon Flores, the programme host, in what was mostly a retrospective review of my involvement in the study of "Peak Oil". The relevant bits were then condensed into the half-hour format of the programme.

The story starts over 12 years ago, when I understood the need to create entry-level awereness raising content in the Portuguese language. There was essentially nothing else on the web when I started. Less than one year later I started writing in English too and by the end of 2006 I had helped founding the European branch of TheOilDrum and of the Portuguese chapter of ASPO.

Ramom was particularly interested in the rise and fall of TheOilDrum. We spent some time over how it came to be and grew so rapidly, how it eventually meant a full time (unpaid) job for several people, and how it slowly lost its relevance. Curious how everything evolves so fast in the modern age of the internet. None of the popular social networks of the day existed in 2005 - TheOilDrum was to a large extent the fruit of particular circumstances that could not possibly happen the same way today. There is a longer story of TheOilDrum in this blog.

We also covered politics, the extraordinary event that was Portugal signing the Rimini Protocol - within hours of Parliament being dissolved. How in effect it had no practical consequence, as the economic crisis forced a consumption peak. But was it not a crisis triggered by exceptionally high petroleum prices? Remarkably, as Portugal returns to employment and wage growth, the steady decline in petroleum consumption prevails, down by almost a third since 2005 (230 kb/d now against 330 kb/d then).

We also touched the recent Natural Gas reserves identified off the Algarve. In truth, there is not much information out there yet, just that it could supply the country's needs for up to a decade at what are yet unknown extraction costs. However, popular resistance against such extraction activities is likely to be fierce, as environmentalist associations enjoy great power in a country where an independent Green party does not actually exist. It is also worth noting that Gas is slowly loosing weight in the country's energy mix, after peaking at 20% in 2011.

Finally we talked about the future. The main question is how the demise of petroleum will look like, a sharp, relentless downfall, what Ugo Bardi calls The Seneca Effect, or a gentler slope mirroring the ascent? These days I am more confident on a slow transition; on one hand as a consequence of my studies into geo-spatial dynamics (where logistic cycles prevail) and on the other hand regarding the remarkable developments in renewable energy technologies, rendering them the cheapest sources of electricities in countries like Portugal.

But is the "Peak" far off? That question perhaps misses the point. I do believe we are living it right now, but "Peak Oil" is not an event, it is rather a process. You wont wake up one day and realise petroleum peaked, as Kenneth Deffeys says - it is something we perceive on your rear view mirror. I could never imagine that as I started writing about the issue, Petroleum consumption in Portugal was peaking that exact same year. Studying "Peak Oil" and resource constraints is a life-time journey, as these are issues that far outlast human life expectancy.

Is it all good then? Portugal provides again a good example, the country seems to have entered the right track for a successful energy transition this decade, making use of its favourable geography and topography. But it came at a heavy cost, the deepest economic recession in two generations and the loss of about 5% of the population to emigration (me included). A smooth energy transition is certainly possible, but not at all granted. In all aspects of our lives, from personal arrangements, to local communities, to governments and federations, the rational use of energy and resources and the passover to modern social structures and novel technologies must retain priority. Initiatives like Ames Pospetróleo are certainly part of the puzzle.

As this might be the last article this year, I take the opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the readership.