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

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8 Jan 2007

10 Books on Solutions for Energy Descent You Must Read in 2007.

booksMy name is Rob and I’m addicted to books. Yes, they lie around my house in piles several feet deep, and often loom perilously over my bed as I sleep nervously beneath. From the oceans of paper, staples and covers that surround me, every now and then a particular gem floats to the surface and does wonders inspiring new ideas and perspectives, and on occasion I like to share some of these with you in the hope that firstly you might find some similar worth in them, and also that you might write in and tell me about other gems that I have missed. I did this last New Year and it went down rather well, so here it is again. The following are in no particular order, just books that have particularly helped to shape my thinking over the last year, or which I have found useful in their approach. Some are of more obvious relevance to energy descent work than others, but I hope you find it a useful list.

ee**1. The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life – Eviatar Zerubavel**
Many people write about the question of denial and the role it plays in people’s engagement or otherwise in peak oil planning, yet there is little accessible literature on it. This is a very readable book on denial in all areas of our lives, how it arises and how it can be addressed. Doesn’t directly talk about energy and societal change, but a very insightful book with many useful insights for anyone starting to encounter denial in a community’s response to peak oil.

lf**2. Fuelling a Food Crisis: the impact of peak oil on food security – Caroline Lucas, Andy Jones & Colin Hines.**
A powerful new study from the office of the Green MEP which is, in effect, an update of Andy Jones’ ‘Eating Oil’ report of a few years ago. Places food security at the centre of UK policy making and argues for the urgent need for a Commission on Food Security, and for relocalisation of production. If you are looking for a clear and passionate arguing of the case for an urgent rethink of our food system, this is it. Available as a free download.

ww**3. The Wheelwrights Shop – George Sturt.**
I have written about this before, but I can’t praise it enough. Worth scouring your local second hand bookshops for. A fascinating glimpse into the pre-oil English rural economy, where the creation of a wagon involved complex networks of woodsmen, sawmen, and highly skilled craftsmen. He reflects at length on the transition from handcraft to machine craft; *”in what was once the wheelwright’s shop where Englishmen grew friendly with the the grain of timber and with sharp tool, nowadays untrained youths wait upon machines, hardly knowing oak from ash or caring for the qualities of either”*. An essential study of resilience from when that’s just how things were.

odp**4. The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse – Richard Heinberg.**
My first reaction to the Protocol was “nice idea, but it’ll never happen”. The more I’ve thought about it since, the more the common sense of the idea emerges, and I think this is a concept of profound importance. Even if we just use it as the benchmark for our community energy descent work, it is still a very powerful idea, but its real power comes as a way of smoothing the post-peak transition. The book itself is great, its chapter on peak oil condenses all of his previous writings into one chapter. An idea whose time has come.

boys**5. The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything – Various.**
A book that one of my sons got for Christmas, and apparently one of the best selling childrens’ books this Christmas. Written like the kind of books for boys of the 40s and 50s, it offers a succession of ‘how to’ advice, from how to survive being attacked by a crocodile to how to light a fire. What impressed me was how, in with the sillier stuff like how to tear a phone book in half and how to really annoy your brothers and sisters, is stuff like how to tie a knot, how to milk a cow and how to dowse for water. Might it be that it offers a format for how to communicate useful skills and make things like food growing and energy conservation engaging, sneaking them in ‘under the radar’? Might the next version have, alongside the silly ones, how to organise a screening of The End of Suburbia, and how to harvest walnuts? There’s a thought…

post**6. Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times – Albert Bates.**
The best book on energy descent of the year, written in Albert’s characteristically humorous yet sobering way. Wonderfully engaging, a mixture of recipes, practical tips and advice, which steers a nice line between the survivalist path and the more communitarian approach. Does a great job of presenting peak oil as the opportunity to finally get round to doing all those things you’ve been putting on the long finger as you have never quite had enough time, what with dashing around frantically supporting the capitalist oil-dependent economy. Essential reading.

heat**7. Heat: how to stop the planet burning – George Monbiot.**
Whether or not you agree with Monbiot’s recipe for a low-carbon UK you have to admire his courage in having a go. Leaving slain sacred cows, both green and mainstream, scattered in his wake, he challenges many cosy assumptions and asks many awkward questions. You may find his refusal to use the term ‘local’ very often and the sparse set of tools he offers for its implementation a bit frustrating, but it is a seminal work of great importance.

coal**8. Coal: A Human History – Barbara Freese**
We can get so wrapped up in thinking about oil and gas that we can forget, especially the younger of us who don’t remember it first hand, the role that coal played in the life of the UK. Horrible stuff, that destroyed lives and made urban areas almost uninhabitable for decades. It also enabled the industrial revolution and powered society until its cleaner and more transportable fossil fuel cousins came along. Anyone who has read Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ will be familiar with just how hellish life down the pits was, but new to me were pictures of young children sat in a dusty warehouse by a conveyor belt, picking through the fast moving stream of coal for stones and slate. A powerful reminder that the shift to oil dependency, for all its faults, came about in part because people couldn’t actually breathe any more.

ae**9. Animate Earth: science, intuition and Gaia – Stephan Harding.**
I am still working my way through this, but it is wonderful stuff. I love the author’s way of making Gaian science accessible, he takes complex ideas and concepts and tells them like stories. When involved in energy descent work it is too easy to get focused just on energy, localisation and so on, and forget the ground beneath our feet and the extraordinary web of life surrounding us. Poetic, insightful and engaging, ‘Animate Earth’ reintroduces us to Gaia, and argues that we need to learn to live “as harmoniously as possible within a sentient creature of planetary proportions”.

cb**10. Your step-by-step guide to Climate Bliss – I-Count.**
Climate change books. Dull. Statistics. Graphs. Charts. Lots of talk about tons of carbon dioxide which you can’t visualise anyway because how can a gas weigh a ton? Most books on climate change appeal only to the dedicated and the worthy and send most novice readers to sleep. This is a great book, because it is small enough to sustain even the most modern attention span, its graphics are funny rather than scientific, and it is full of things you can do. The best book I have yet read on what the individual can do about climate change, made me laugh out loud and jot down a list of things to do when I got home. I include it in this list because if you are thinking of writing a book on peak oil, read this first, as an exemplar of how to communicate, engage and inspire. Available from the publisher for just £3.

**What have you read recently that you would like to tell other people about? What has most inspired you and shaped your thinking of recent? Do use the comments box below to share your thoughts…**

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


Albert Bates
8 Jan 5:28pm

Thanks for the kind words, Rob. My own list might include Elizabthe Kolvert’s Field Notes From a Catastrophe; Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia; Mike Tidwell’s The Ravaging Tide; and The Stern Report. While not exactly keyed as “Solutions for Energy Descent” they provide important pieces for parsing the problem, which is a needed predicate for parsing the solutions. In 2007 I am looking for the IPCC Climate Assessment, another hefty tome, to curl up before the fire with. Before the fire, as it were.

John Marshall
8 Jan 10:44pm

For sheer entertainment as well as lots of fascinating insight, try the Foxfire series of books which attempt to get into print the results of interviews with elderly people in the Appalachian Mountains. The information ranges from building a log cabin to making moonshine whiskey.

Sharon Astyk
9 Jan 5:05pm

Nice list, Rob – I’m always excited when a list includes books I haven’t actually read! I would add several. Ron Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons offers a fascinating view into a set of untapped natural allies for the depletion and climate concerned. Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums is a fascinating look into the world’s urban slum cultures, the fastest growing segment of our society, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, is a fascinating history of women shown through the lens of the politics and realities of food provisioning, and is deeply relevant to the future, and finally, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, The Subsistence Perspective offers a real alternative economic and social vision to the prevailing orthodoxy that only Marxism, Capitalism and Feudalism are available to us as tools.


Sharon Astyk
9 Jan 5:08pm

Oops, didn’t mean to call them all fascinating -“intriguing” or “brilliant” might be nice for variety in modifiers. Trying to do too many things at once.


Erich J. Knight
9 Jan 7:15pm

Hre is an answer to Eating Oil:

Carbon Negative Bio fuels and Fertility Too

Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate , has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did and that now we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and charcoaling of the virgin east coast forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, returning misplaced carbon.

As Lehmann at Cornell points out, “systems such as Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! “

Alice Friedemann
10 Jan 12:11am

The Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies
by Howard T. Odum, Elisabeth C. Odum

Every bioregion will have to figure this out to some extent for the unique ecological system they live within — is there agricultural soil, how much rainfall vs irrigation required, how hot or cold does it get, can the infrastructure be rolled back enough to adapt, etc.

Phylli Sladek
10 Jan 3:40am

Thanks, Rob,
Sharing book titles – a great idea! There’s a genre of work that is so relevant to every aspect of “energy descent”, from analysis to solutions, (though, it may not seem so at first glance). This would be a practice and philosophy of communication, negotiation and relationships, which is an offshoot of humanistic psychology.

Marshall Rosenberg has several books listed on Amazon, and on the website of Center for NonViolent Communication. (
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi.

Also, the name of this classic does not do it justice, as the work goes so far beyond parenting:
Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Thomas Gordon. They also have a website w. more titles:
Worth checking out.

15 Jan 10:51pm

Hi, some books that have affected me:

For inspiration:
“gaviotas, a village to reinvent the world”-alan weisman
“the fifth sacred thing” -starhawk
and down to earth survival:
“into the forest” -Jean Hegland

Christine Robins
18 Jan 11:58am


Thanks for your recommendations. This is so useful. I’m a fellow bookaholic, and presently have several hundred Peak Oil-related books on my Amazon Wish Lists. How to prioritize them is always a challenge.

The Harding book is now on my “must read this year” list. Ditto the Bates book. I had been quite put off by the the “cookbook” title, thinking he was treating Peak Oil too lightly, but I’ll accept your endorsement.

Most influential books for me for 2006:

David Holmgren–“Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability”. This takes permaculture to a whole new level, broadening, deepening, and generalizing its ideas to provide a guide for managing what he calls “energy descent”.

Jacke & Toensmeirer–“Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temporate Climate Permaculture”. A massive work, very expensive, but well worth the investment of time and money. It’s given me a radically different perspective on gardening, which I plan to put into practice. It also provides a detailed exposition of the process of permaculture design. A similar, but much shorter book, more oriented to the UK, is Patrick Whitefield’s “How to Make a Forest Garden.”

I’m glad Dylan, in his post above, mentioned Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing”. I’ve been meaning to read it for years, and finally started recently. It’s exptremely well written, and portrays a utopian/dystopian future world that’s quite inspiring and thought-provoking. It integrates Starhawk’s permaculture training as well as her pagan beliefs.

Good fiction can inspire and enlighten in ways that nonfiction can’t. Unfortunately, realistic and positive fiction about the near future is disappointingly sparse. The science-fiction community in general seems proccupied with techno-worship. Those SF novels that focus on the Earth’s near-future seem pretty depressing, e.g. James’ “Children of Men”, or Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”. I’ve heard that Jim Kunstler is working on a post-peak novel. There’s always Callenbach’s “Ecotopia”, now pretty dated, but still interesting. Joanne Poyourow has self-published a novel about building a sustainable world, “Legacy”, which manages to integrate just about every sustainability-related concept and practice around. Unfortunately, it’s very poorly written.

I’d love to hear about any solution-oriented speculative fiction that has inspired folks.

lance white
4 Dec 12:51am


the last oil shock
the coming economic collapse
blood and oil.
these books will get you thinking!
lance white.scotland