Former Chief Scientist lends voice to “Peak Oil” warnings

After famously stating that the threat from climate change is graver than that posed by terrorism, former government chief scientist Sir David King has this week issued another stark warning, arguing that oil supplies could peak far sooner than anticipated by politicians and businesses.

Speaking this week in his role as director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) at the University of Oxford, King accused governments around the world of having their “heads in the sand” over the risks associated with their continued dependence on fossil fuels.

Smith made the comments at a press conference ahead of the Smith School’s World Forum, which is being held in Oxford from 27-29 June. He warned that the problem was particularly concerning in the UK because any economic recovery would result in increased reliance on imported oil.

“For the UK, a growing dependence on oil imports creates a new challenge as oil prices begin to rise again following the current economic downturn,” he said.

Outlining an argument familiar to those who believe oil supplies could peak within the next decade, Smith said that he expected oil demand to outstrip supply by 2015.

He added that oil companies were consistently overstating the scale of their reserves and accused politicians of being too ready to believe predictions that “oil will be squeezed out of the ground pretty much forever”.

According to Smith, the government should act now to promote low carbon transport and accelerate the development of an economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels. “Our transport sector is hugely dependent on fossil fuels and it is down to the Government to steer us towards a de-fossilised economy using the regulatory and financial incentives available,” he said.

He argued that viable low carbon alternatives already exist but that governments must do more in terms of subsidies to encourage their uptake. “We need to incentivise the private sector to deliver these solutions to the market place,” he said.

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