Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

24 Oct 2006

Peak Oil – Don’t Panic! An upcoming article for Connect Magazine…

connect*I have recently started writing a regular page for Connect Magazine called **The Powerdown Page**. This is the first one I wrote, which attempts to offer an introduction to the whole subject for the novice peakoiler. Subsequent articles will go in more depth into different aspects of what people can do to prepare for the peak. The title comes from a talk I gave this summer at the Shambhala Family Camp, where I went to do a talk called “Preparing for Life After Oil”, or somesuch, but on the blackboard outside someone had written **”Rob Hopkins – peak oil, don’t panic!”** which I much preferred.*


**Peak Oil – don’t panic!** – by Rob Hopkins.


**Living with Oil.**

oilOil is an extraordinary substance. A full tank of petrol contains energy roughly equivalent to 4 years human manual labour! No other energy source can compare to oil’s portability, its usefulness, and the sheer diversity of things you can make from it. Take a look around you as you read this, and try and find things that aren’t made of oil, or have depended on cheap oil in their production and delivery to you. In the modern home it is hard to find anything.

Your lunch today used about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to the one calorie your body extracted from it. Our agricultural system has literally become a system for turning oil into food. Our clothes, pens, furniture, vehicles, communication tools, entertainments and medicines, all are made from cheap oil. In a country like the UK which doesn’t actually make very much anymore, and which has almost no food security, the price of oil literally determines whether our civilisation functions or falls apart. We have become dependent on something which is inherently undependable. Yet sobering as this realisation is, it can also offer a very useful way of understanding what is going on around us.

We are now close to, or even at, the peak in world oil production, the point at which we are no longer able to produce enough oil to meet the world’s growing demand. We already consume 6 barrels of oil for every one new one that we discover. Of the 65 largest oil producing nations, 54 are now in decline. The world’s 4 largest oil fields are all in decline. The nations who we rely on to increase production when required appear to be no longer able to do so. Most reliable experts are converging upon 2008-2010 as the year when world oil production enters an inexorable decline, and the historical experience of every country already in decline is that once production peaks, no amount of technology or investment can mitigate that decline.

**Powering Down**

So why does this matter? Surely, you might argue, that’s great, what with climate change and so on? We need to use less oil anyway? Well yes and no. Yes, because a world without oil should be a more peaceful, sustainable and just world. But no because this isn’t a shift that can be achieved overnight. A recent study for the US Department of Energy, the Hirsch Report, concluded that for a developed nation to have any chance of making the transition in time, it would need to have begun a ‘crash program’ of mitigation, at least 10, preferably 20, years in advance. The scale of this challenge is huge.

The key issue here is transportation. More than half the liquid fuels used in the UK are used in transportation. In our just-in-time delivery system, as we saw in the 2000 truck drivers dispute, we are only 2 days away from empty shelves. Once we go over the peak the price of liquid fuels will begin to rise steeply, and our transportation system will look increasingly fragile. Traditionally, the various regions of UK provided much of their core needs in terms of food and materials, from the local area. We have lost much of that. We will need it again very soon.

As the Hirsch Report argued, to rebuild an alternative approach will take time, but ultimately it is the only approach that will survive the uncertain times beyond the peak. Yet rather than this be a doomy scenario, an emerging movement is exploring peak oil as the opportunity to finally build truly sustainable society. Is this ‘The End of Suburbia’ and the ‘Long Emergency’ (titles of a well known DVD and book on the subject) or rather The Great Turning, the time when energy scarcity prompted our creativity and adaptability and led to the emergence of a truly sustainable society?

**Energy Descent Planning.**

For the last 10 years I have taught permaculture design, natural building and gardening. My response to peak oil was therefore, rather than panic, one of “so what do we do about this then?

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Jennifer Murphy
24 Oct 3:53pm

This is a great intro to the subject.

I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and find it a wonderful mix of useful info and heart.

Keep it up!

Ben Boyd
25 Oct 2:59am

Rob and Kinsale’s Energy Descent Action Plan got a shout out over at