2006 is over, and it’s more than high time that I penned an update to my articles from 2004 and 2005 on global warming and the energy crisis.
Science content is a key component of this site, and I may yet return to write that article, but in truth I’ve been struggling with it all week.
As I ran today, my iPod was set on shuffle, taking me to places that I rarely go. And finally it struck me that instead of writing, I should just leave you with this simple message, delivered directly and emotionally by one young singer-songwriter.
It sounds like a conversation on the environment, from my daughter’s generation to mine.
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care ?
Words and music by U2, October 1981.
A lot can change in just twentyfive years. And this year, the trees aren’t bare, or even brown.
This October is different, because all the trees are green.
Who knows what the world will be like in another twentyfive years ?
But we know that answer already: October will be just another summer month.
As it already is in England, right now. Today.
133. Tomorrow – Avril Lavigne and global warming
69. Running low on fuel
105. A crisis of energy
110. The hands that built America – Houston skylines
43. A sense of time – Earth history and the London Marathon
75. The Cruel Sea – the Indian Ocean tsunami
Oh my love
It’s a long way we’ve -come
From the freckled hills
To the steel and glass canyons
U2 – November 2002
My watch says almost midday, and still I’m waiting for the sun to come up. I’ve been sitting in my hotel room for a couple of hours already, wide awake and yet bleary-eyed with jet-lag, but a glance out of the window and across the freeway shows a resolutely dark sky over the plains beyond The Loop.
Oh well. There’s no point in waiting any longer. I chuck on a T-shirt and shorts, lace up my shoes, trot out through the lobby and hit the sidewalk running.
It was a less of a bang, and more of a low thud, which woke me on Sunday morning just after 6 am.
Something had fallen off a shelf downstairs somewhere, I thought, and I went back to sleep.
I’d never really believed those stories about the Krakatoa explosion being heard in India, 5,000 km away, or of Londoners being able to hear the First World War guns in France, but now I do.
Because that sound which woke me early on Sunday wasn’t generated in the house at all, but by an exploding oil storage facility on the other side of London, over 100 km away. Remarkable.
‘Is the world running out of oil ?‘
It’s a question I hear a lot. At dinner parties, on school field trips, and always in taxis, pretty much anytime when I tell people I’m a geologist.
And I can almost guarantee what will come next. ‘The oil’s nearly all gone now, and the North Sea is finished, isn’t it ?‘ These are popular perceptions based on media reports, carrying elements of truth, but hiding the full story.
Almost 25 years after the first crude from the Forties field was brought onstream, North Sea oil production peaked in 1999. The North Sea is far from history, though, and today it still pumps 7 % of the world’s petroleum.
And global oil production has continued to grow right up to the present day. But does an oil price of $ 50 per barrel signal the imminent end of our oil supplies ?
In geology, you learn about time. About a lot of time.
As I look from my window upon the Surrey Downs, I see the Chalk and Greensand hills, walked by pilgrims heading east to Canterbury for eight hundred years and more. That seems a lot of time.
But to the Earth, it’s nothing. Our planet is around 4.6 billion years old, give or take a few. That IS a lot of time.
A new perspective is required, so let’s imagine the Earth’s own lifetime as a marathon course. The longest journey, but even in this unimaginable race, every 100 million years meant just one kilometre en route from Greenwich to The Mall.
Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night
God said “Let Newton be!”
And all was light.
A hundred miles north of the capital, the A1 London – Edinburgh road crosses a forgotten and largely empty swathe of farmland. Forgotten because today it’s on the way to somewhere, but at the centre of nowhere. And empty because of what happened here more than six centuries ago. The Black Death arrived suddenly in Lincolnshire, in September 1348, but, within a few weeks, a third of the population was dead, and this once prosperous and populated piece of agricultural England lay devastated.