Transition Culture

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

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1 Mar 2007

New Stirrings & Targets for Activism – Steve Kretzmann.

kretzmannOne of the best presentations at last weekend’s **International Forum on Globalization** in London (of which more soon) was called “New Stirrings & Targets for Activism” and was by Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. He has very kindly given me permission to share it with you here…

“Times have changed dramatically and permanently. As we heard yesterday, the best science now tells us that we have only ten years left to peak global emissions if we’re going to stay below 2 degrees C. Ten years. Campaigners working on energy are at a moment where we face a fork in the road. Although the need for upstream campaigns has never been more pressing, the powerful levers for action are newly downstream related to public concern over energy security and global warming.

On the upstream side there is a massive global increase in fossil fuel extraction underway. According to an article in the Financial Times last week:

>All the world’s extra oil supply is likely to come from expensive and environmentally damaging unconventional sources within 15 years…It becomes unclear beyond 2020 that conventional oil will be able to meet any of the demand growth,

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2 Mar 12:24am

Brilliant! This is the kind of empowered vision we need. From now on, the agenda will no longer be set by institutions driven by corporate greed; from now on the agenda will be set by people who understand the interdependence of all beings.

Ben Brangwyn
2 Mar 9:24am

I wasn’t aware of the “separating Oil from State” movement – at least I hadn’t heard it called that before. And it sounds phenomenally successful in terms of the make up of congress. Kudos to the campaigners.

He mentions “With only ten years left to peak global emissions…”. That, for me, is a slightly different way of looking at things. It seems he’s saying if we have just 10 years to act on climate change, then by 2017, our emissions will have to start going down – but we should be expecting them to keep going up in the intervening period. That makes me very nervous, and could be a carte blanche excuse for those emitters who don’t want to cut back “Don’t worry, we’ll start cutting back in 2017”. Mebbe I’m paranoid…

Brian Merchant
2 Mar 5:31pm

I can’t help but wonder what you think of “Challenging Corporate Rule: The petition to revoke UNOCAL’s charter as a guide to citizen action” by Robert Benson & Ronnie Dugger (1999: The Apex Press).

Corporations are chartered by the government to perform a specific function. Any state Attorney General has the power to revoke a corporation’s charter.

Steve Athearn
3 Mar 1:14am

As someone who’s been more versed in the details of the Peak Oil discussion than the Climate Change discussion, I’m glad to see the former mentioned in an article that mainly focuses on the latter. I think both issues are terribly serious threats to survival, and agree that corporate rule is a big part of what has kept us hamstrung from doing anything serious to address either one.

Nevertheless, as I was reading it, I kept feeling nagging reservations.

Take the FT report suggesting that “demand growth” will have to be met by unconventional sources after 2020. They might as well have said that it will have to be met by extraterrestrial sources. It bothers me to see such a statement pass without reference any evidence. At least as I read the evidence, it is showing that the world is probably at or slightly past Peak Oil now. Three broad reasons: (1) such an important share of world production comes from very old supergiant oilfields; (2) so many regions are in outright decline – e.g the U.S., the North Sea, Mexico, and in all probability Saudi Arabia, and (3) the current prospects for growth are slim picking: unconventional sources (which are slow to ramp up and invariably depend on inputs that will be increasingly scarce), further offshore development in places like Brazil, West Africa, China (experience elsewhere shows that offshore developments tend to be short-lived and marked by steep declines), and places that are far past peak but where actual production has fallen below the long-term decline trend due to non-geologic reasons and hence have short-term growth potential (e.g. Russia, Libya). (See for some discussion of the Persian Gulf specifically, and see for Stuart Staniford’s new analysis of Saudi production declines.)

The question would remain as to whether Peak Oil necessarily means Peak Emissions, as lower qualtity resources are increasingly exploited – potentially leading to increased emissions. I leave the question open, though I tend to be sceptical on that as well: see But it is worth pointing out that if peak oil is today, a natural decline rate of 4% a year would result in an 80% reduction by about 2050.

I also have reservations about the political positions advocated, too. For example, the idea of designing campaigns around the public’s existing scepticism toward corporations and oil companies. What should be impressed on the public is that they will be forced to change very soon.

I think the Kinsale energy descent plan is a great model for the kind of change that is needed. For whatever it’s worth, in my opinion, serious national government policy would support the transition by attempting to maintain some unsustainable practices – e.g. industrial food production and distribution (without factory farming of animals and current levels of food processing and packaging) during a transition period, as well as an oil industry under a Depletion Protocol regime, possibly nationalized, and some other industries and research programs geared toward a low energy future – combined with a massive program of low-energy local job creation and skills development (pointing to an agrarian future), allowing people a means of survival while their old jobs are massively and deliberately shedded. The alternative will probably be an unprecedented tragedy.

And like Julian Darley, I think the task is to develop and disseminate appropriate responses among a critical minority (we don’t know what percent that would be), so that when necessity forces a choice between radical change and chaotic collapse, these ideas have some chance of becoming widely adopted.

–Steve Athearn