Transition Culture

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

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6 Mar 2007

David Milliband Calls for Powerdown (I think…).

mb**David Milliband**, the UK Environment Minister, is developing a track record for announcing big ideas without quite (apparently) thinking them through. A year or so ago he gave a speech in which he used the term “One Planet Agriculture” without seemingly really thinking through the implications of this far-reaching term. A few weeks later he gave an interview where he stated that organic food was not proven to be more nutritious or healthy, but that it was just a “lifestyle choice”, leaving many of us wondering what then exactly a One Planet Agriculture might look like if it isn’t at least organic. This was what prompted the Soil Association to name their conference One Planet Agriculture, in an attempt to reclaim the term and give it some substance. Now Milliband is back, and this time appears to be calling for a national Energy Descent Plan as a response to peak oil.

Buried in an article on the front page of the Guardian about a new report on how the Government is set to fail to meet it own CO2 targets (no surprise there then) is the following;

>(The report) is released on the day the environment minister, David Miliband, delivers a speech on the UK’s transition to a “post-oil economy”. He will tell an audience at the University of Cambridge: “Al Gore says climate change is a planetary emergency. It is. But it is more than that. It is a humanitarian emergency – a threat to the security and survival of people, not just nature. **The time is right to look at what it would mean for the UK over the period of 15 to 20 years to create a post-oil economy – a declaration less of ‘oil independence’ and more the end of oil dependence**.”

Once again, has Milliband actually thought this through? A post-oil economy in 15 years? Without a completely revitalised, reprioritised and re-empowered localised economy underpinning it? How does this sit with the Government’s commitment to international ‘free trade’? Taken to its logical conclusion, the aim of creating a ‘post oil economy’ in 15 years will necessitate a complete rethink of every aspect of Government policy. Goodbye to aeroplanes, centralised food distribution, non-organic farming, and our dependence on international trade. Can we expect planning policy to start changing to favour urban agriculture?

Of course, taken to its logical conclusion, creating a ‘post-oil economy’ in 15 years is what we at **Transition Culture** have been working on and trying to develop, through initiatives such as Transition Town Totnes. The Energy Descent Plan model is the tool we have been developing for this, and it is a very powerful vehicle for moving towards this kind of society.

The implications are far reaching and profound, and I suspect Milliband hasn’t thought them through. But it is a sign that he is starting to think in the right direction. For a Government Minister it is a wonderful quote, I plan to have the T-shirts with it on printed first thing tomorrow.

Ultimately, what Milliband’s statement appears to be saying is that business-as-usual is over. Finished. Our energy base is diminishing, and every barrel of oil we continue to use lessens the possibility of future life on this planet. We need to localise, decarbonise, and rebuild resilience on the scale of a wartime mobilisation. We need to mobilise all sectors of society, and Milliband is saying that the Government will now support and enable all Energy Descent Plan processes. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying. It’s certainly what he should be saying, if the aspiration of a post-oil economy is ever to be realised within 15 years.

No doubt in a few weeks he’ll tell us that cheap air travel will continue indefinitely and that we can’t survive without international trade. For now though, I will bask in the glory of a Government minister talking about ‘post-oil economies’ within 15 year time frames. It is a sign that somewhere, somehow, things are starting to shift. I would say that somewhere in Government the ice floes are starting to melt, but somehow, given the context, that would be a tragically inappropriate metaphor.

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David johnson
6 Mar 7:56am

I think that there are noises being made out there from time to time by Government – a recognition of what is looming before us. Sure some of it might be jumping on possible vote winning band wagons, but some of it is (I believe) a public acknowledgement of what is looming (albeit also wanting to be seen to be the first with the answers).

My guess is that there are some scared people in Government who recognise the scale of the problem but are really unsure how to approach the public on these issues. The policies that have to be brought in would hardly be favourable vote winners. Until the problem is big, or we have a visionary leader, I think that it will be a lot of tiptoeing around, making noises about what is needed to be done.

Robert Morgan
6 Mar 8:47am

I wonder if many of these utterances are isued on the basis of “testing the water” – seeing what reaction is provoked. If it’s favourable then try a few more, if there is an outcry then issue something contradictory a few weeks later – exactly what happened with the One Planet Agriculture statement.

Also wise to remember that an environment minister is seen by this government as a junior and very expendable member. Michael Meacher’s often radical opinions did not do much to influence policies in other areas.

On the other hand, it could also be seen as preparing the ground for major changes – changes that will be forced upon us – some way down the line.

6 Mar 10:54pm

I also whooped and then sighed as I realised the rhetoric was half empty. I wonder how much government hides peak oil solutions behind climate change problems. I’m still waiting for the critical mass to shift from the ‘problem’ of emissions/pollution to the solution of energy transition. What a peak moment that will be.

7 Mar 5:21pm

Let’s hope that, whatever the government does, their “boondoggle” count provides for as smooth an energy descent as possible!


An unnecessary or wasteful project.

This typically North American term is often applied in two specific ways, either to describe work of little or no value done merely to appear busy, or in reference to a government-funded project with no purpose other than political patronage. It can also be used for an unnecessary journey by a government official at public expense.”

Dmitry Orlov’s take on boondoggles

Chris Vernon
9 Mar 10:30am


Was this the Government’s first “peak oil” speech? Focusing on oil, considering ending the UK’s dependence on oil over the next 15-20 years, creating a post oil economy and calling for “demand reduction – radically reducing our energy needs through much greater energy efficiency.” I think it could be.

Whilst actions speak louder than words, ministerial words can’t be dismissed out of hand. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

I’ve written some thoughts here:
UK Government: “energy security and climate change”