Once again Sweden, the first nation to proclaim its intention to become oil independent, acts disappointingly in a way far removed from what many believed were its true intentions. As reported in the Swedish daily newspapers on the 24th July, the Swedish State are to finance a research and development program to produce better environmentally suited vehicular technology. It is hoped Swedish vehicle industry suppliers as well as other companies will participate in the program to increase the competitiveness of Swedish vehicle industry. The total budget is 800 million kronor, 282 million (35 percent) coming from the State, the rest from the industry.
Says Thomas Ostros, the minister responsible for trade and economy, “the aim of this three-year initiative is to improve the environment, reduce oil dependency and increase competitiveness.”
They hope to produce technology that industry will apply to offer more energy efficient vehicles, new engines, increased use of renewable fuels and modern hybrids.
Hardly inspiring confidence in what could be achieved, Volvo boss Fredrik Arp pointed out that bringing a new engine to market costs 5 billion. Later he said Volvo Cars needed to produce more with fewer employees and announced a cut of 1,000 jobs this autumn.
Clearly, the Swedish State are stuck between a rock and a hard place without showing they have the slightest clue of how to get out. On the one hand, Sweden is the European country most dependent on the vehicle industry for jobs. On the other having declared the intention of oil independence by 2020, they are sitting with the Oil Commissions report in their laps that suggests biofuels are the answer.
What the State and the Oil Commission have not even begun to face up to is that:
- Modern road transport is a burdensome invention. Over 40% of the space in cities is dedicated to it, prime agricultural land is sacrificed to it, and the costs of much of it are externalised to an extent it is hard to see when present damage can be rectified, let alone the damage from the predicted 14% increase in volume predicted for 2020. Most of the energy used to construct, maintain and run the system actually goes into the system itself. Precious little of the energy is actually used to move goods or people.
• In the instructions to its Department of Road Transport, the government use the term ”transport system” synonymous with the road network. The wider implications of this are that more environmental alternatives like water or rail are not in their brief, but left to other (less well financed?) departments further cementing the dependence on road (and fossil fuel) transport.
• Without the energy-dense oil that 99% of all transport runs on, the energy intensity of society must be radically reduced if it is to provide a standard of living anything like today’s. No technology or biofuel can solve this equation.
• Social inventions and demand –killing technology like urban planning, relocalisation, local food systems etc, are off the agenda thanks to the short-sightedness of the Oil Commission.
• Economic growth, stimulated by all the so-called new technology that can be invented on an 800 million budget, is a mirage and a very risky strategy. Too risky just to be accepted blindly as the way forward. The underlying assumptions, however politically explosive, need to be examined out of respect for the Swedish people who place their faith in their Government and authorities. As oil prices spiral, regardless of how much biofuel you can wring out of rubbish and forestry waste, the economy will likely shrink. If Sweden has not worked out how living standards can be kept they will be wishing they put their money into something else than an old-fashioned, doomed, transport concept.