La fine della strada

Ugo Bardi reports a summary of a September press release from the Italian “Unione Petrolifera” in “Italy implodes” on his Cassandra’s Legacy blog

Automotive fuels have shown the following trends: gasoline has seen a reduction of 18.2% in consumption while diesel fuel has seen a 15.6% reduction, both compared with September 2011. Summed together, the consumption of the two fuels was 16.3% lower than in Sept 2011. In this month, the sales of new cars have shown a contraction of 25.5% compared with Sept 2011. The first nine months of 2012 have seen a contraction of 20.4% in the sales of new cars.

Those falls in the space of a year are breathtaking. Fuel and auto sales are falling in the UK too, but nowhere near so far or so fast.

The difference is due more to Quantitative Easing than to fundamental economic differences. Outside the euro, and with some of its own oil remaining  the UK can delay the day of reckoning but it cannot avoid its appointment with destiny (in the form of declining ERoEI) for ever.

Italy is the UK writ larger and sooner, and Spain and France are not far behind. Three of Europe’s ‘big five’ auto economies are undergoing unprecedented contraction.

This collapse will expose how deeply the ‘real’ (i.e manufacturing and trading) economies of these countries, as well as the UK and Germany, rely on auto making, trading and servicing.

Some of the commenters on Bardi’s blog entry view what’s happening as simply a cyclical economic downturn. One even speculates that the ‘savings’ Italians are making from eschewing cars and gasoline will flow into other domestically-made goods and services.

Energy slaves

Savings? There are no meaningful savings when the average European person requires the daily services of 200 ‘energy slaves’ – 95% of which come from fossil fuels.

What’s happening in Italy (and Spain and France) is deadly serious. It is the weakening and incipient collapse of a main pillar of the real economy.

Moreover, it is a positive feed back loop. If the economy does not burn oil, it doesn’t generate the real purchasing power to buy and drive autos. Without auto activity, the country burns less oil.

The simple answer would be to pump cheaper oil into Italy and Europe’s other struggling economies. But the end of ‘easy’ oil and declining net exports have blocked that escape route.

For once, Senna the Soothsayer from the old BBC sitcom Up Pompeii would be on the money with her catchphrase “Woe, woe and thrice woe.”

All the same, I’ll give the last word to a 21st century Cassandra. No, not Bardi but Massimo de Carlo of the “Mondo Elettrico” blog:

I have no words. An abyss, an abyss, an abyss. No movement because there is no work. No consumption because there is no money. Oil is not used because it is not there. Stop.

UK blackouts countdown – year 10 of 13

What was it that Cambridge professor David McKay said in 2009?

Oh yes, he warned that unless Planet Great Britain pulled its head from its arse and got on with it, we’d be facing blackouts during seasonal demand peaks by 2016.

Well, he put it more politely than that. And it was a brave move for someone who’d just been appointed as the government’s energy advisor.

The prof was doubtless rewarded for his honesty with a swift, if metaphorical, kicking by his new masters. Meanwhile, then energy minister Ed Miliband rushed into the arms of the BBC’s Andrew Marr, declaring that the public love wind farms and there would be loadsa power on tap. Not that the one necessarily follows from the other.

The ever-balanced Catholic Church BBC added: “The Conservatives say the government has been complacent over energy security and that ministers have dithered over policy.”

How right they were. And black pot, meet kettle. Now the Conservatives are the government and they’re being told the same thing. Only this time it’s by someone they can’t shut up (Ofgem, the energy regulator). In the meantime, they’ve wasted another two years.

They urgently need someone to blame, So the right-wing-puppet-mess – sorry, muppet-press – was immediately on song with the usual ‘it’s all the fault of EU regulations’ cant. As if the government will give a toss about those when keeping the lights on is at stake.

And it’s ‘will’ rather than ‘would’. Having finally got off the pot over nuclear, Westminster is having a hard time finding anyone who’ll risk building new plants in a country whose economy could start flickering on and off in a few winters’ time.

So they’re making a dash for gas (“Put on stout pants chaps and keep an eye over your shoulder for Mr Putin”). Then it’ll be an about-turn on closing coal plants in a couple of years and possibly even going for some new ones.

How strange is the world where ERoEI is inexorably declining. And how smart it would be of Mr Miliband to do more than simply kick the can down the road the next time he runs into an energy expert who actually knows how many beans tons of coal make five.