Oil. It’s getting more and more expensive. And because the modern world is so dependent on oil that makes almost everything we do more expensive. The fuel we put in our cars, the plastics that are used to make our kitchen appliances, our shampoos, our cosmetics and our medicines are just some of the many everyday items that rely on oil. The problem is that cheap oil is running out. Here enters the concept of ‘peak oil’. This doesn’t mean that oil itself is running out (though oil being a finite resource it will eventually run out if we continue to deplete it indefinitely). It means that we have depleted over half of all the oil in the world.
Much of the remaining oil can be found in untapped oil reserves, but the cost of retrieving these ‘unconventional’ sources is not only financially costly, but also environmentally, and socially. Perhaps the most well-known of these ‘dirty oil’ sources is the Tar Sands in Canada, which is known for polluting the atmosphere and water supply, clear cutting boreal forests (which has recently been found to form part of the world’s largest natural ‘carbon reservoirs’ as well as being one of the last stands of natural forest ecosystems globally), and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There are also concerns that the health of communities living around the Tar Sands operation is suffering, with unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases being reported. Of course we can’t forget that when something goes wrong, the impacts are often far worse than the problems that rise from the day-to-day running. The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 is still having severe environmental and societal impacts in the USA, and most likely will do for years to come. Add on to that the growth of countries such as China and India, and the problem becomes even more exacerbated*. Simply put, more demand and less oil means higher prices.
Dependency on cheap oil is arguably among the most important issues that the ‘Transition Network’ is trying to tackle, and the ‘Jersey in Transition’ group is no exception. They aim to help communities and individuals become less reliant on fossil fuels as well as looking to bring about a change of ‘community consciousness’ that seeks to make the most of all that is local and renewable. This grass-roots approach compliments any top-down governmental approaches to overcoming our dependency on oil. At its heart, ‘Transition’ is about empowerment of individuals. The only way to make changes is to act, not only through activism but just as importantly to make changes in our every-day lives. As Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
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This article originally appeared in “The Jersey Life” Magazine (print only) as part of a mini-series on Jersey in Transition
* since writing this article, China is particular is looking to become a leader in renewable energy production, notably through the development of solar power.
Feature image: Oil well worshipers at Burning Man 2007. Credit Mik Scheper/Flickr