Many of the constituent states of the European Union are facing severe, critical shortages of fossil fuels and other natural resources in the near future, a new report from the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University warns.
Some of the numbers are quite stark — though not really surprising to anyone who’s already familiar with the subject. When you place a country’s rate of consumption against its rate of production, the picture painted is often quite bleak for many of the old world’s remaining powers.
The UK has, apparently, only 5.2 years left of oil, 4.5 years of coal, and 3 years of gas. To put that another way, if the UK was put in the position where it could no longer import its fuels (much of which currently come from Russia and the Middle East), the country would more or less come to a complete halt 5 years from now.
Now, of course you’re probably thinking, “well, they could always just import their gas and oil from us here in the US, right?” Well, they could, but then that would drive the prices of said resources up here, wouldn’t it? There’s only so much oil to go around, only so much natural gas, and only so much of any other natural resource for that matter. And, more importantly, there’s only so much that’s cheaply, economically recoverable.
That’s the reality that’s facing many import-dependent countries — which many European countries will soon be — when there’s only so much that’s available. And as it’s becoming more and more expensive to extract/produce, how do you maintain the status quo, and your privileged position in the global trade and economic hierarchy? If Russia, Norway, and Saudi Arabia have all of the reserves of the resources that you’re dependent upon, what leverage do you have in your relations with them?
Some of the other interesting figures from the report: France has less than a year’s worth of its own reserves of oil, gas, and coal. Italy has less than a year of gas and coal, and only one year of oil. While many of the leading powers of the last few centuries are nearly out of reserves, some of the ‘poorer’ countries are in somewhat better positions. Bulgaria, for example, has about 73 years left of coal, Poland has 34.
That said, that’s 34 years at the internal rate-of-use, if there were no exports — and in a relatively moderate-sized country like Poland.
Now, compare that to a country like Russia, which currently possesses “over 50 years of oil, over 100 years of gas and over 500 years of coal, based on their current levels of internal consumption.”
Dr Aled Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin, explains: “These maps show vulnerability in many parts of the EU and they paint a picture of heavily-indebted European economies coming under increasing threat from rising global energy prices. It is vital that those shaping Europe’s future political agenda understand our existing economic fragility. The EU is becoming ever more reliant on our resource-rich neighbours such as Russia and Norway, and this trend will only continue unless decisive action is taken.”
Professor Victor Anderson of the Global Sustainability Institute concurs: “Coal, oil and gas resources in Europe are running down and we need alternatives. The UK urgently needs to be part of a Europe-wide drive to expand renewable energy sources such as wave, wind, tidal, and solar power.”
Of course, even with such a push, it seems unlikely that the current economic status quo can be maintained for many of the countries currently on the receiving end of the industrial world’s wealth pumps. That said, there isn’t much of an alternative for many countries, is there? So, why the political deadlock? Is political disfunction, and a largely apathetic populace, just in the nature of a prosperous country (or countries) on the decline?
Considering that many of the leading military think-tanks of the world have openly acknowledged these issues, as well as the issues surrounding climate change and its effects, why are said issues continually brushed off in public and political discourse, with the ever-present phrases: “They’ll think of something” and “Technology will fix that” and so on?
Those interested can find the full report at the Global Sustainability Institute’s website. The full-report also explores other issues, such as food and water insecurity in North Africa and the Middle East, and economic inequality in South and Central America.
The full GRO database of social, environmental, and economic data will be made available to download this summer.
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