Friday, August 19, 2005


Yesterday, I received an email which seems to de doing the rounds at the moment. It's apparently a campaign to protest against high petrol prices by boycotting BP and Esso petrol stations. It's quite specific, petrol at 95p a litre, and urges you to send it on to 10 more people. It must be fairly whizzing around the interweb at the moment since even the Press and Journal saw fit to report on it today. They quote from the email extensively, before quoting a BP spokesman in the final paragraph.
"This sort of e-mail has been circulating on the internet for years and every so often it reappears."
Now I'm not normally inclined to leap to the defence of oil companies, but the P&J makes no comment on whether the BP spokesman is right. Well, the email says that Philip Hollsworth offered the idea, and if you google for Philip Hollsworth it becomes immediately obvious that BP are quite correct. Not just this sort of email either, but this exact email, with a few tiny alterations, has been going around for at least a year. And if you can be bothered, you can also find the same email in other countries too. Slightly different, but definitely the same email. It's just viral rubbish. The best thing you can do if you get this is delete it (and email whoever sent it to you and tell them they're a silly spammy pants).

Now that I've defended an oil company position though, I feel I have to make amends. Oscar received the same viral, (and identified it as such, unlike the poor old P&J) and he's got lots of genuine reasons why boycotting Esso and BP might actually be quite a good idea. You might want to add Shell to that list. After all, Shell's successful and longstanding extraction operation in Nigeria, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their business practices.

I think there's also greater problem as far as oil goes. It's running out. In the capitalist free market system we all know and love, the price of a commodity increases as supply (or projected future supply) decreases, especially if demand is on the increase too.* These price rises reduce demand for the increasingly scarce resource and that's actually a good thing because it means the oil we do have is likely to last a bit longer than if the price remained constant. It's a perfectly rational result in economic terms and there's really nothing we can do about these price increases in our present economic system. I wonder how many of the people who support the principle suggested by the viral realise that they're calling for some sort of leftie price fixing nonsense?

Anyway, I am constantly amazed that so few people take the fact that oil is running out seriously. It's just common sense. It's a non-renewable resource. We are using it. It will run out. At the moment this is manifest in the peak oil problem. Jim Bliss is the man for further details on that, as he knows far more about it than I do. And it's all very well for people to say that "alternatives will be found" but, with prices soaring, isn't it about time they were instead saying "alternatives have been found".

When your grandchild grows up, they might discover a fantastic new use for oil, say to build a beam me up Scotty teleporter device (or indeed something slightly more plausible). Say it only needed a small amount of oil to construct and power each of the devices, but there just wasn't enough oil left to build them in useful quantities. How will you feel when your grandchild looks you in the eye and asks "Grandparent, did you really burn all the oil in those horribly inefficient internal combustion engines? Didn't you think we might like to have some too?"

*Yes, I know that that fuel is heavily taxed in the UK, but that's not what's causing the recent price increases.

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