Transition Culture

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

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8 Nov 2006

The Oil Depletion by Richard Heinberg – A Review and Competition!

**The Oil Depletion Protocol – a plan to avert oil wars, terrorism and economic collapse by Richard Heinberg. (2006) Clairview Books.**
**See Below for a Chance to Win a Copy!**

odp**Richard Heinberg** is the author of The Party’s Over, many peoples’ first introduction to the subject of peak oil. It was the first book to explain the concept in a clear and accessible way for people with no background in petroleum geology (myself included). However, while many writers are still chewing over whether or not peak oil is a reality, and haggling over the exact date when it might occur (2006? 2010? 2030?), Heinberg is moving on, exploring its implications and what can be done to prepare for this historic transition.
His next book, Powerdown, did this, exploring options for societies beyond the peak, setting out the case for a Government-initiated national ‘powerdown’, as well as the need for grassroots relocalisation.

Heinberg is a tireless educator and speaker who has done a great deal to raise awareness around the world about this pressing issue. In 2002 he became aware of what was then known as the Rimini Protocol, authored by Colin Campbell of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. The Protocol set out a global plan for reducing the impacts of peak oil. It had been discussed at a few conferences, but hadn’t generated a great deal of interest. Initially feeling it to be “a good idea with little chance of being implemented”, it wasn’t until 2005 when he spent a couple of days with Colin discussing it that he really grasped the importance of the concept, and this book is the outcome of those conversations.

So what is the Oil Depletion Protocol? Heinberg sums it up neatly thus, “signatory nations would agree to reduce their oil consumption gradually and uniformly according to a simple formula that works out to being a little less than 3% per year”. In essence, oil importing nations agree to reduce their imports and oil exporters undertake to do the same with their exports at an internationally agreed rate. The effect is to reduce the risks inherent in peak oil, developing nations aren’t priced out of the markets, the risks of wars are reduced and the oil that remains lasts longer.

heinbergThe first part of this book provides a great overview of the peak oil subject. Asking Heinberg to condense the case for peak oil and why it demands that we act into a single chapter is very effective; if you are new to the subject you couldn’t ask for better. He then explores what the future without the Protocol might be like, with increased disruption of the global economy, to agriculture, to transportation, increased risks of war and terrorism and so on. What is great about Heinberg is that for him it is not enough to set out disaster scenarios and just leave you there. he feels that the worst can be averted, and that the Protocol can work on a range of levels.

While the most obvious place to start is at the national Government level, and countries such as Sweden and Iceland are taking a lead on this, Heinberg also stresses that the municipal and personal levels are just as important. Towns can develop their own initiatives, such as the relocalisation initiatives begun in Totnes, Kinsale and Willits (among others). On a personal level, we can set out to reduce out own dependency, producing an oil inventory of our lives and then design a plan to reduce this dependency over the next 10 years. Few of his lifestyle suggestions will be new to readers of **Transition Culture** (ride a bike, grow some food, wear a jumper when its cold and so on) but they are well argued. What I like about Heinberg’s writing is that he always brings these big issues back to us and what we as individuals can do.

Coming down from the peak is a challenge of unprecedented scale. Navigating this descent will require a mobilisation on a world scale. The power of the Protocol is that it fosters a sense of co-operation, and offers a tool whereby this transition can be pursued in a climate of stable energy prices and peaceful mutual support, rather than the desperate scrabble for resources which Heinberg, in ‘Powerdown’, called ‘Last One Standing’, a scenario of endless war to secure access to the remaining hydrocarbon reserves.

This is a concise, highly readable overview of both peak oil and the Protocol itself. It is a passionate argument that although peak oil presents a huge challenge, and threatens stability across the world, it doesn’t have to be like that. In a chapter called “Discussion of the Protocol”, he patiently deals with all the most frequently asked questions about it, before moving on to explore the practicalities of its implementation.

heinbergAs a writer, Heinberg has that rare gift, of being able to make complex ideas accessible to the lay reader. Unlike many writers on the peak oil subject, he refuses to slump into apocalyptic scenarios of die-off and civil unrest. It doesn’t have to be like that, he argues. While the Protocol, as he acknowledges, will require much lobbying and will encounter resistance, it is the best opportunity we have of engaging nations on a process of transition towards a more stable and abundant powered-down world. It is realistic and practical, but, as Heinberg clearly states, it is designed to support and reinforce community-level initiatives, rather than replace them.

Will it happen? It is impossible to say. The fact that it requires nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to openly declare their oil reserves, currently state secrets, and for the US to undertake to consume less oil each year might lead the reader to think it is an impossible dream. However, Heinberg argues that even for these nations, the benefits of becoming signatories outweight the costs. It will be fascinating to see the impact the Protocol has in the next few years.

“The Oil Depletion Protocol” is a call-to-action, an urgent request for your support and input into making it a reality. Deeply informative, urgent and sobering, I highly recommed this book to the novice reader and the seasoned ‘peakist’ alike. The subtitle of the book is “a plan to avert oil wars, terrorism and economic collapse”. It is no exaggeration.


**Clairview Books** have kindly given us three copies of ‘The Oil Depletion Protocol’ to give away in another easy-to-enter **Transition Culture** competition. To enter the competition, simply email the correct answer to the following question to robjhopkins (at) by **10am on Friday 17th November**.

As well as being a peak oil writer and educator, Richard Heinberg is also a very proficient musician. Which of the following instruments does he play? (choose only one).

a. The Harpsichord.
b. A Pair of Technics turntables.
c. The Sitar.
d. The Violin.
e. The Bassoon
f. The Didgeridoo.
g. His own voice. He is a wizard at yodelling.

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


8 Nov 10:20pm

I’m glad that people like Richard Heimberg are supporting and putting forth these kind of protocols.

However, more and more, politicians and political action are being marginalized and becoming less and less meaningful, effective, or interesting to me.

Change and response to problems of peak oil and global warming, and to peak resources of all kinds, are not going to come from politicians. They are going to come from individual people, small groups, little towns, then bigger groups.

In the US, our president Bush is losing power and influence, as our congressional and local election results are clearly showing today. Nobody much cares what he thinks about the Kyoto protocol- he’s obviously clueless, and it’s going to catch up with him and his ilk.

Meaningful change starts in our own lives. That’s the bottom line.

Lonnie Brown
9 Nov 4:10pm

It would be interesting to plug the results of various degrees of implementation of the oil depletion protocol into the World model that Meadows et al used for “Limits to Growth, the 30-Year Update” just to see how the various systems would respond.

There is a lot of talk about this policy and that technology all over the net. Dynamic systems modeling provides a very clear way to investigate the likely outcomes of all these suggestions.

For example, let’s suppose that a 3% annual decline in energy consumption translates more or less directly into a 3% decline in economic activity. Traditionally, this would be enough to send the economy into a severe recession.

Offsetting the worst of the political and economic repurcussions will require a degree of planning and foresight that is difficult to achieve using current political decision making processes: spin, obfuscate, mislead. Even with the best of intentions, the behaviors of complex systems are largely unpredictable via conventional analysis.

Some questions for inquiry:

How should the monetary system be changed so that an ongoing decline in economic activity doesn’t collapse the legal infrastructure that supports trade of any kind? Should the gold standard be re-implemented? How about a multi-tiered currency for different trade scopes: local, regional, national, with exchange rates that encourage local investment. How about using H.T.Odum’s “Emergy Accounting” system as a basis for a currency?

Is a decreaes in energy consumption equivalent to the decrease in production sufficient to offset the worst of the economic and environmental impacts that we face on the back end of the petroleum age? In other words, will these measures be sufficient to stave off a drastic system collapse in terms of food production, population, etc.?

Most discussions I’ve seen have been discussions in principle. It’s time for the tools necessary to allow people to place the probable outcomes of the various strategies in clearer perspectives.

William Jorgensen
11 Nov 10:58pm

In an ideal world any sort of emergency protocol that could be agreed to by the world’s political masters would be sensational. However, in the real world, describing such an agreement would have to include “overly optimistic” as an understatement.
Besides the difficulty of gaining a cross-national political concensus, the economic masters, the real ones, would prefer to hold sway over the masses as the world declined into barbarism than give up any of their economic power. In the end it will be the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and their ilk who will decide how the decline is managed.
The central banks and their owners, more aware of the coming emergencies than anyone, I’m sure, are already taking steps to guard their wealth in whatever post-peak-oil civilisation that remains.
With the idea of a protocol that could be controlled and actually have some chance of success, the backing and institutions of the anonymous super-wealthy cabal is essential. The trouble with that is in finding out, exactly, who and where they are.

Robert Forenza
13 Nov 5:13pm

This may also be of interest- we are working in the NE of the USA with a product to help reduce our energy needs bay as much as 14%.

In use by the Irish army since the early 90’s

If I can be of further help, please let me know.

best regards

Robert Forenza

15 Feb 7:30am

Richard Heinberg ideas are brilliant! Look how easy it was to turn the Kyoto protocol into a resounding success (!)

I s he on a new oil-derived capsule, or just good ol fashion grass?