Saving oil, saving Ukraine: Slow down the technosphere!

The IEA recently published a roadmap how to reduce oil consumption to an extent such that Russian oil would not be needed anymore. This roadmap is highly suggestive for the thesis that I presented in my previous post on Ukraine: The measures for reducing dependence on Russian oil are just the same as those ones that we must adopt for fighting climate change.

Consider the technosphere as global heat engine, with various buttons and levers regulating its activity. One key activity is just moving things and people around, mobility. The IEA data (see diagram) show that citizens can do much to drastically reducing oil consumption within a very short time. Indeed, the first year of COVID19 was a demonstration of this effect, when global carbon emissions dropped drastically (only to resume with a vengeance since then…). If you look at the diagram, we notice that many of the measures recommended by the IEA are not just emergency measures but can be easily become the ‘new normal’.

As a German, I emphasize the tragedy of even the Greens in government failing to impose a speed limit on German motorists racing on highways. I drive a Prius. Even this car consumes about 6 liters per 100 km at the speed of 140 kpmh. The eco-standard of less than 4 liters is only achieved at 100 kmph. The same applies even for all the gas guzzling SUVS and other beloved toys of Germans. If a speed limit of 100 kmph were imposed, that would immediately and substantially reduce oil consumption in Germany. Slow down for Ukraine! And just keep that rule for the sake of the climate.

The diagram shows many other measures with immediate impact. In these days, there are heated discussions about the future of work after COVID. Should we continue with home office? Many employers are loath to continue home office, despite an overall positive experience under COVID rule. Allowing everyone free choice of up to three days working at home or from other places would almost match in impact with the speed reduction. To this add the effect of reduced business travel or car-free Sundays.

A recent Economist column also referred to the IEA recommendations and points out that similar measures were adopted in Europe when facing the first oil crisis in the 1970s. I remember that time well, as a middle school student. That was when the green movement emerged in Germany, and the OPEC crisis coincided with the publication of the ‘Limits to Growth’ Meadows report. Facing the situation today, a genuine déja vu. At that time, our school promoted riding bicycles and observing car-free days, and classroom activities were devoted to envisioning a future society staying within limits to growth.

Why is today different? Governments waste subsidies and tax reductions to shelter consumers from the impact of rising oil prices. This also wastes this crisis. Weaning off from Russian oil must be seen as the key to rapid decarbonization of our economies.

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