The Great Debate UK

Nine meals from anarchy


Andrew Simms is policy director and head of the climate change programme at the London-based New Economics Foundation. The opinions expressed are his own.

andrewsimmscroppedNothing reveals the thin veneer of civilisation like a threat to its fuel or food supply, or the cracks in society like a major climate-related disaster. But that, increasingly, is what we face: the global peak and decline of oil production; and a global food chain in crisis due to multiple stresses including imminent, potentially irreversible global warming.

The vulnerability of our system was revealed in the year 2000 when fuel protests in the UK disrupted food supplies and left the nation just, “nine meals from anarchy.” At the time, the government were able to force the restoration of fuel supplies. That was a short-term protest, but what if it’s the ground itself protesting that there is no longer enough oil to go around?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said of world oil production that there will be, “a narrowing of spare capacity to minimal levels by 2013,”making, “significant downward revisions” from the previous year. Economic and social impacts from such a market shock could be even faster, deeper and more global than any banking crisis. They could also be potentially irreversible.