TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE SKERRIES (Published Skerries News Feb 2010)
The beginning of 21st century has been characterised by a couple of big scary theories or dogmas coming to the fore and gaining increasing air time on TV and radio, climate change and the consequential global warming being the most hotly debated. Now, we all have our own opinions on whether or not we are heading for irreversible climate change and global meltdown. Although, common sense tells me that pumping millions of tonnes of waste CO2 and other nasties into the air can’t be doing the atmosphere a lot of good.
In amongst all the scientific debate and argument one reality is beginning to dawn on several influential groups such as governments, global oil companies and food conglomerates, that’s the principle or theory of “Peak Oil”. This is a much simpler concept to understand than CO2 emissions and the oceanic thermal conveyor.
The principle goes something like this. The rate at which we are pumping oil out of the ground will reach a peak of production some time in the next couple or years, it may even have happened already. It’s the kind of thing that is easy to see in hindsight. This does not mean that we are close to running out of oil, but it does mean that the era of cheap, easy to get oil is over. At “Peak Oil” we will have gone beyond the point at which easy to reach, high quality and plentiful oil can be retrieved from the earth. Oil which was previously not profitable to drill for in the deep oceans or in the high arctic, will now be viable because the price of the commodity will have reached a much higher level.
The question of when this is going to happen can be judged by the historic rate of decline in large oilfields like the US or the UK’s North Sea oil field. Oilfields typically take thirty to forty years to reach a peak of production after discovery. The rate at which we are discovering new oil fields worldwide has peaked, this happened some time in the 1960’s. The exact date is hard to determine because oil companies don’t like sharing sensitive information, mainly because it directly affects their share price.
The USA peaked in oil discovery in the 1930’s, the UK in 1975. The UK production of oil peaked in 1999. These are facts which oil companies and independent oil geologists can agree on.
Therefore, Peak Oil will happen, most likely before 2015. This Peak Oil principle means that the flow of oil to the market which has been increasing for the past 150 years will peak, and every successive year will see a reduction in flow, with an increased risk of interruptions to supply and an increase in price year on year.
So what does this mean for us in Skerries?
Well in the very short term not much at all. Our supermarket shelves will still be full of a diverse range of plastic packaged foods from literally all over the world. Chilled lamb from New Zealand, fruit and vegetables from around the globe. Strawberries are always in season somewhere!
Bear in mind that the production and transportation of food is highly oil dependant. From the agricultural machinery used to produce it, the fertilisers and pesticides, the trucks and ships used to transport and refrigerate it, to the high tech “Just in Time” systems needed to distribute the food from RDC’s (Regional Distribution Centres) like the massive new Tesco warehouse at Donabate. An increase in world oil prices will cause large price increases and interruptions to most food supplies. Over 60% of the food consumed in Ireland is imported, which means we need to really think abut the security of our food.
Energy in the form of electricity and gas is plentiful and dependable. It’s not cheap, a fact demonstrated by my monthly ESB and Gas bills. In this country, 62% of electricity is generated using oil and natural gas.
In Skerries we enjoy a clean reliable water supply (as long as your water mains pipe is not frozen,) , we have a new state of the art sewerage treatment plant over near Barnageera, we have good street lighting, we have a broadband and telephone service which may not be the fastest in the world, but it usually works. All of these services need a reliable electricity supply, 62% of which is sourced from oil and gas, the same oil which will soon peak in production.
Our public transport services both train and bus run on oil. The Dart from Malahide into town runs on electricity, great, well 62% of that comes from oil and gas.
So what can we do in Skerries to make our town more resilient, more able to withstand any future shocks caused by peak oil.
Well thankfully there is some good news to all this. We have some time, not much, but we do have a couple of years before the worst effects of peak oil will become apparent. This gives us the chance to rethink how we see our town in a high energy cost, peak oil world. It gives us the time to reduce our dependence on oil based products. In other words make our town a more resilient place. Better able to withstand the external shock of electricity supply failure, water supply shortage, massive increases in food prices and possibly food shortages.
What can we do? Well loads of things, start by looking at your own circumstances. Simple things like trying to buy locally grown food, or at least food from Ireland. That way we encourage local growers and reduce our “food miles” (distance food travels from farm to fork). We can start growing our own food by signing up for one of the new allotments which the Gardening Group in Sustainable Skerries was been working for, with the support of Fingal County Council.
You can get involved in Sustainable Skerries. This is a Transition Town initiative set up by local people to work towards a more sustainable community. At the moment Sustainable Skerries is working on a campaign to highlight the issues around Peak Oil and its consequences for Skerries. Sustainable Skerries will focus on several areas, local energy conservation and renewable power generation. Food issues such as farmers markets, allotments, food security and food miles. Transportation issues effecting Skerries. Our environment and how we use our public spaces. Plus any other issues which we in Skerries want to prioritise for our well being.
Sustainable Skerries is a local group working for the future proofing of our community. We are part of a worldwide movement of other small towns, villages and islands whose aim is to make their community more resilient, better able to withstand and prosper in a global economy which will be driven by a barrel of oil costing + $130, ( current price $80).
Frank Mc Keown
You can contact Sustainable Skerries at firstname.lastname@example.org
A LOOK BACK, FROM 2030 (First published Skerries News May 2010)
This story describes the history of a small Irish town. It’s set in 2030, 20 years from now. Written by a student at the Skerries Community College, it describes the previous 20 years and how the town got through the fuel crash of 2015 and the food shortages of 2020.
It’s not a disaster story, it’s tells how the town became more resilient and how the people came together to overcome the problems they faced, how they grew as a community to become a model for the rest of the country. This is his story.
“People first realised that they had a really serious problem when the cost of petrol and diesel for their cars went up and up and didn’t come back down again like it normally did in the past. They were used to fuel prices going up and down, but these price changes were usually caused by wars, (like the oil crisis of the early 1970’s) or economic circumstances. This time it was caused by Peak Oil. This was the slow but inevitable decline in the supply of oil world-wide from old oilfields in Saudi Arabia, and the other oil producers in OPEC. Supply no longer met demand, so the price went up.
This increase in fuel prices led to a knock-on effect, the price of food, transport and electricity started to go up in price. However the people of Skerries had seen this coming, they foresaw the effects that Peak Oil and Climate Change could have on their town, and they were prepared. They spent years making their town resilient, able to withstand the higher fuel prices, the shortages in food supply and the electricity cuts.
Between 2010 and 2015 there was a huge increase in the number of people growing their own food. Some of the energetic types got one of the allotments on the road out to the golf club. They were able to provide for themselves, producing some exotic fruit and vegetables as the climate warmed up. It was just as well that they had drilled their own water well and provided for its pumping with a combined solar and wind powered water pump.
Hundreds of people in the town began growing their own food in back gardens, (and front gardens) reducing their dependence on imported food, whose price rocketed up when “Peak Oil” began to hit.
In fact many local farmers began to see business opportunities selling to local Skerries people in the Farmers Market which had already been started by a few shrewd local folk who foresaw the need to develop a local food economy.
In 2016 it was realised, that having the towns’ water supply coming from so far away in Leixlip, and the continuing rise in the cost of fuel oil meant that the price of water went up and up. But that just led people to realise the real value of the water coming out of their taps, and not to take it for granted.
The Skerries Historical Society came to the rescue when they came up with the idea of opening up the old Kybe Well and using that to supply water to a small part of the town. When local wind and solar powered pumps were installed similar to the ones used in the first group of allotments, it meant that the water could be pumped reliably and they were independent of the rising cost of energy.
The idea spread and many areas of the town from Shenick to Townparks and Skerries Rock put in their own water supply to supplement the mains supply. Things really looked good after that. When people were able to secure their own food and water supply they became more confident, it gave people a sense that they could control their own destiny.
Around 2022, the country as a whole reached a critical point when the supply of oil and gas to fuel the old fashioned fossil fuel power stations became hyper expensive. Then when the Russian government cut off the supply of natural gas to the EU, power cuts became common place. The sales of UPS’s (battery packs which kept computers going for a few minutes after the power was cut) increased massively.
Not to be beaten by a small matter like no reliable electricity supply, the people of Skerries built one of the first community owned tidal power stations in the country in Barnageera. Using the local coastal geography that they were blessed with, they could use the tidal ebb and flow which happened twice a day, every day. This mini power station was able to deliver a resilient, predictable power supply to local schools, doctors surgeries, food shops, pharmacies and a limited supply to all homes during the day using the ESB’s new Smart Grid. People just adapted.
The highpoint for the Skerries people came in 2018 when it was voted most Sustainable Town in Ireland.
By 2025, almost all cars in the town were electrically powered. Thankfully the initial design problems were solved before the price of petrol went to €5 per litre.
Car recharge points were installed in every house and dozens of public recharge points in the town.
Of course the most mechanically efficient form of transport, the bicycle, became the “No 1” means of getting around. With bicycles taking priority on all roads and junctions. The roads became much safer as speed limits were dropped and the horrible road noise on all the concrete roads in Shenick and Townparks was replaced with the gentle hum of bicycle tyres.”
This is of course just a story, it’s a possible future. The child of 2030 who might write this story, has not been born yet.
Climate Change and Peak Oil will be two huge drivers of change in our town over the next 20 years. At this point in time we do have choices. We can decide to ignore the warning signs and leave our town to the vagaries of national and EU policies. Hoping that some committee in Dublin or Brussels will help us get through the transition to a low energy, low carbon economy.
Or we can secure our own future, work within our own community to make Skerries more sustainable, more resilient and better prepared to meet the challenges of the next few years. The child of 2030 will thank us for making the right choice.
Frank Mc Keown