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 Advocate for the Unlettered, by Dale Smith.

 

Guests at the International Petroleum Week Dinner, the 90-year-old banquet that culminates the British Energy Institute's annual celebration of the world's most important fossil fuel, typically enjoy an evening distinguished by good food, fine wine, and an atmosphere governed by strict English decorum.

Last year's event was different. Thanks in part to what organizers said was a scheduling coincidence, the dinner was held on February 16, the day designated for the 2005 implementation of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming. That pact, signed but never ratified by the United States, requires 38 of its rich-nation signatories, including Great Britain, to immediately begin cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. This is to be accomplished chiefly through reduced consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels.

Celebrating oil's virtues on Kyoto's day didn't seem proper to English environmentalists. Nor were they happy with the Institute's choice of after-dinner speaker: Lee R. Raymond, chairman of ExxonMobil, a man local activists labeled the planet's "No. 1 Climate Criminal."

Days before the dinner, protestors invaded London's International Petroleum Exchange. An ugly brawl ensued. "Kyoto Protest Beaten Back by Inflamed Petrol Traders," read the next day's headline in The Times. On the night of the event, five more protestors evaded security and made their way into the ballroom. There they shouted slogans, knocked over nameplates and dumped red wine onto table linens. Hotel bouncers and police cleared the hall. Raymond stepped up to the podium.

We have a problem, he told the assembled executives, and it has nothing to do with unruly climate activists: By 2030 there will be eight billion people in the world, a level 30 percent higher than today's population, and nearly all will reside in energy-hungry developing countries.

"At the same time," Raymond continued, "We expect continuing economic growth will create a global economy that will be twice the size of today's, further adding to the need for energy. The combination of economic growth and population increases can be expected to lead to a rise in primary energy demand of about 50 percent. This means that by 2030, overall global energy demand will be the equivalent of about 335 MBD [million barrels per day] of oil-equivalent energy. This is a rise from today of more than 100 MBD of oil equivalent, a huge figure. To put this in perspective, a 100 MBD increase is about ten times the current output of Saudi Arabia."

Raymond's answer? Produce and refine more oil. "Factoring in the natural decline of current fields, about 80 percent of the oil that will be needed in 2030 will have to come from new production. Finding and producing this energy will obviously be a tremendous challenge, and one that will occupy our industry for the next generation."

"It is very likely that alternative forms of energy will begin to make more of a contribution to energy supply over this period. But here is where an understanding of scale is so important. For example, even with an expected rapid growth rate for wind and solar energy -- driven in large measure by public subsidies, I might add -- their contribution to global energy will still be in the one percent range in 2030. That is because they start from a very low base, and because the global energy market is so huge."

       
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