Comment: Pull out the stops

Until recently, to voice concern that production of oil or natural gas will peak in the foreseeable future, with dire economic consequences, was to risk being branded a heretic.

That risk is subsiding amid broadening concern about oil procurement across the energy establishment. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has sounded alarms over conventional oil, warning that oilfields that have passed maximum production are being depleted quicker than earlier thought (page 63). It describes a possible oil supply crunch after 2010 due to insufficient production capacity, potentially driving oil prices to new records. Other energy experts worry that gas, too, will soon be unable to meet demand.

The IEA says oil shortages can be postponed through investment in exploration, use of natural gas liquids and non-conventional forms of oil, and smarter consumption. But any energy strategy with fossil fuels at its core dangerously misses the point. As scientists issue one panicked warning about climate change after another, it becomes more obvious by the day that reliance on fossil fuels - including the coal and gas that compete directly with wind as sources of electric power - must be curtailed far more than any but the boldest politicians acknowledge, regardless of reserve levels.

Clean energy proponents widely believe "peak oil" and "peak gas" present as good a reason to phase out fossil fuel as climate change. Policy makers, though, have shied away from this view, often resorting to vague statements on "energy security" and leaving it at that. The reasons for reticence are many. One is a need to pick the right battles. Wind advocates, for their part, have focused on demonstrating to a once-daunting field of sceptics that wind can compete economically with natural gas, coal and nuclear fuel. But politicians' reluctance to discuss peak, or the need for renewables that a drop-off in oil and gas production would create, has stemmed more from fear of stigma. It is time to say it like it is: one of wind's greatest advantages is that whereas wind is here to stay, the days of easy fossil fuel procurement are numbered.

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