Is there a “Zero Fossil Fuel Clock?” How close are we to midnight?

I recently attended the clean energy seminar moderated by Bruce Sampson, former VP Sustainability, BC Hydro; Chair, International Centre for Sustainable Cities BC,. The event featured experts from Switzerland and BC, covering topics including R&D, and barriers and opportunities in a number of areas for clean energy such as hydroelectricity, waste-to-energy and geothermal energy.

As often happens, one simple point impacted me during the sessions….a really simple point. One of the panelists said that we need to be asking ourselves and the public in general, “What will our world look like in 2060, 50 years from now?” I had not really thought about it like that before. My daughters will be newly retired and enjoying life…ore will they? I reflected on my 4×4 and the 300+ liters of fuel I burn each month, and I realized, as rudimentary as it sounds, that there is no way that such a vehicle can possibly exist in 50 years. The “non renewable” part of the fossil fuel equation suddenly came into sharp focus, and I started to think of the practical implications of oil simply running out…as it must.

The inevitability of just running out of all the fossil fuels really jumped out at me when I thought of the pent up demand of billions of people in middle class China and India who are rapidly gaining the wealth, affluence and the accompanying unfettered appetites for the same fuel gluttony that the west now enjoys. If the ongoing demands of the North American middle class put a strain on sustainability, the tidal wave of consumption from five to ten times that demand, pouring into the system should be enough to make the finite nature of the fossil fuel resources crystal clear.

Now imagine your feelings if “other people” start to make it hard for you to power your happy life….shortages, fear, anger…the human animal has one reaction to these stimuli….

I guess it’s like looking at the shocking dead lung pictures on a pack of cigarettes for the first time, and really registering that this is what will happen after 30 years of smoking…not if…but for sure. But right now, we are still like teenagers taking their first puff. Based on our actions, we don’t seriously think that the oil will run out…as irrational as that sounds when you say it out loud.

When nuclear annihilation was top of mind in the 60’s and 70’s, the scientific community developed the “Doomsday Clock”, which advanced toward midnight at varying rates depending on global events. The effect on the public was dramatically sobering and it can be argued that shifting opinions influenced by this enhanced awareness, positively affected disarmament.

If you consider the violent economic, political, and social impact of the run up to, and the finality of pulling our last drop of fossil fuel from the ground, the devastation can easily match the picture of annihilation that the “Doomsday Clock” of the 60s was trying to highlight. Given our understanding of existing and potential deposits, and the varying pace at which we are consuming these resources, a very credible “Zero Fossil Fuel Clock” could be created and promoted in the media. The clarity of an actual Zero Fuel date in the foreseeable future, along with commentary on the implications if it happens without real and fully functioning alternatives, would go a very long way to getting the common man and woman to change their perspectives and priorities. Such a grassroots ground swell would have an inevitable impact on the political forces and radical changes that are needed if we are to avoid this disaster.

My questions then are ; Is there a “Zero Fossil Fuel Clock? If not, who can create one? If yes, why is it not promoted more aggressively by every concerned ENGO and related group? Finally, what is the current projected Zero date?


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