Melbourne's drought response as a predictor of Oil Depletion

I met up with DC yesterday and we discussed his concern about peak oil. We went to Springvale and looked at the price of Silver perch ($13/kg whole), Murray perch($6/kg) and Barrumundi (I forget). Whilst walking around looking at shops a train went past and I noted that I like to keep track of which trains go past (especially freight) as an indicator of economic behaviour in Victoria's east.

One noteworthy change has been the lack of log trains since the bushfires. Normally a 30 car log train goes past each night. You can't miss them, with the A class and two turbocharged X classes roaring along - I estimate 120dB at the trackside, and a frequency of about 10Hz. These seem to have stopped.

DC then pointed out that you can watch armies by where the batteries go. Fuel is tightly controlled, but modern armies are powered by disposable batteries. This has got me thinking about what other things we can watch indirectly. Prof. Ravi Phatarfod, a noted statistician and long time family friend once told me about an Indian statistician who detected and controlled food theft in refuge camps by comparing relative food inputs.

This leads to an interesting prediction on our response to hiking fuel prices. We've known for some time that Melbourne is in the grip of a drought, and we've had the technoogy for many years to offset this. Water use has been continuing to climb and we know that Melbourne's catchment rainfall is unpredictable. I have been advocating rainwater tank installation for nearly 10 years, and others, older than me and who lived through the 83-84 drought in Melbourne have been advocating for much longer. Yet nothing has happened until it was too late (the government has only recently pushed for rainwater tanks, despite the fact that a rainwater tank is useless if it has stopped raining). The time to install a rainwater tank is in wet years, the time to use rainwater is when it falls.

Instead, we've had a series of unconvincing water restrictions which seem more designed to increase consumption (changing which watering technology you can use monthly, requiring people to buy trigger hose fittings, and perhaps multiple watering systems) rather than curb demand. If I am trying to improve a program's performance I will spend the time improving the biggest performance hog first, before looking at the next and so on. Instead, the water restrictions have apparently mostly been addressed to residential water use, one of the most dilute uses (7% according to the newspaper), rather than corporate users. Halving 7% of the demand will only give a 3.5% improvement.

Perhaps industry has been addressing this through channels I'm unaware of. But watching taps left on in cafes, water running down gutters from light industrial whilst riding to work and from people I know in industry; I doubt this is the case.

What does this mean for peak oil? The government most likely will do nothing now, instead waiting until external price increases cause a dramatic spike in fuel prices. Then they will come up with schemes like numberplate based rationing at the point when there is already little fuel available. Instead of a direct and fair economic demand regulator (such as a published incrementally increasing petrol tax) they will probably start randomly subsidising ineffective substitutes (expect to see more LPG subsidies, then CNG, then ethanol, then biodiesel). They will rely on punitive fines without any teeth (perhaps random household searches for fuel stockpiles or similar) which will mostly harm those who thought ahead. Perhaps attacking those who successfully predict such market failures is more politically expedient than addressing the problem rationally.




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