Transition Culture

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

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10 Apr 2007

George Monbiot on Peak Oil and Transition Towns.

ms2At last week’s event in Lampeter writer and activist George Monbiot was asked to give a 5 minute reflection on the presentation I had just given. His response focused on the concerns he has with the concept of peak oil, and why he feels climate change to be the more important driver. Much of what he said about the dangers of synfuels and biofuels I very much agree with, but his optimism about peak oil isn’t, as regular readers will know, something I share. Indeed I struggle to see what it might be based on. Here is the transcript, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

“There’s some supplementary stuff which I’d just like to run through quickly. Over the past two or three years or so, I’ve become pretty sure that peak oil isn’t as imminent as I first thought. There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, there are some very large unexplored areas, north-west Saudi Arabia, most of Siberia, we can go into that in greater depth if you like during the discussion.

Secondly, quite recently there have been various innovations for enhancing the amount of oil removed from existing oil fields, particularly something called “Enhanced Oil Recovery

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


Gareth Doutch
10 Apr 9:09am

George is part-correct. Caution must be exercised on both fronts – and an appropriate response must be reconciled between the peak oil and climate change camps. My message to the climate change movement is ‘ignore peak oil at your peril’. Lets work together to tackle the elephant in the room, namely the monetary system that demands unsustainable economic growth. George was right about this, Totnes pounds are a good start!.

Rev Sam
10 Apr 12:54pm

Do you think he might be so worried about global warming that he perceives peak oil as threatening to what needs to be done for that problem – and therefore he will interpret data in that light (hence: Peak Oil is a little while away yet….) I’m pretty sure there’s no factual basis for his confidence, given that he’s not a fan of CERA and people like that.

BTW I’m delighted to hear that so much progress is being made in Lampeter, especially with regard to being a transition town. My mother-in-law lives just outside it, and I’m about to go there on holiday for 2 weeks (hoping to see Paul Mobbs while I’m there). Much easier to advocate alternative living there, I think, rather than somewhere like Mersea in the SouthEast. Here, despite all the talks I keep giving, I get a distinct sense of head-in-the-sand.

10 Apr 2:43pm

I agree: George is partly right.

He described the growing use of carbon-intensive replacements for conventional oil. He was describing the same problem (in CO2 emissions terms) that the peak oilers refer to as ever lower net energy return. We have used nearly all the easy oil, which took very little energy (and emitted little CO2) to produce. Now are producing oil from marginal sources where a lot of energy is used just to get the oil, before we have even burned it. So, in addition to the CO2 produced by burning the oil, there is more and more ’embodied’ CO2 from the oil production process.

So, in this respect, George does see the problem of peak oil (a reduction in our total net energy), albeit couched in the language of climate change.

The ‘undiscovered’ oil in NW Saudi and eastern Siberia he refers to is unlikely that they exist in any significant quantities. Even if there were a couple of new Saudia Arabias worth of reserves still to be found, it would only push back the date of the peak by a couple decades at most, because the rate of our global consumption is so high and, if the supplies were there, it would continue to grow: up to the 70s, with 7% average annual growth, we used as much oil each decade as we’d used in all the previous years.

Likewise with his prediction of ‘hundreds of years’ of coal: it is far from sure that there is that much left, and the coal that remains is of increasingly poor quality and harder to reach. Therefore, there will be a lot less net energy from the remaining coal than the total remaining ‘gross’ resource. Also, if we start burning coal to replace oil use, i.e. increase our rate of consumption, the reserve will be consumed much quicker: in decades, not centuries. If he hasn’t done so already, George should watch this key lecture on the exponential function.

George does still seem to be labouring under the misconception that peak oil (peak energy) and climate change are separate problems in competition with one another. To me, it’s clear that they are aspects of the same problem. If he hasn’t done so already, George should read Richard Heinberg’s essay on “Bridging peak oil and climate change activism

norberto rodriguez
10 Apr 5:35pm

I think the key statement from Monbiot’s speech is “…because even if the peak oil problem didn’t exist in any form, climate change does. Climate change is reason enough to start talking about the transition to a low energy economy of the kind that Rob and others have been pioneering”

Actually, I think that the faster the world runs out of oil, the better it will be for the environment, because we won’t be able to produce more C02, so less global warming. On the other hand, as Monbiot also says, at this time we don’t know if the alternatives to oil may be even worse. For instance, we already know that the push for biofuels may cause different kind of problems, by feeding our cars instead of ourselves.

A fundamental issue that I think is not mention enough in all these conferences on global warming and peak oil is our sick dependency on cars. We must recognize we all are “caroholics” and our main concern seems to be “how can we keep our cars running?”

Instead, we must focus on all the different elements we have to make drastic reductions, a transition, or descent. From over consumption and overpopulation, to housing, food, water usage, transportation, travelling and more. The summation of all of these are the cause of global warming.

That is why I think Rob’s concept of Energy Descent Plan is so important, the framework is peak oil, yet, the transition includes all those aspects in life.

Thank you,

Robert Morgan
10 Apr 8:23pm

I simply can’t see why George Monbiot (and I’m a great admirer of his writings) is so confident that peak oil is many years away. The “Oil Drum” site has some extremely well-argued technical articles by independent experts on this subject and the only arguments are whether peak oil is literally now, or will occur within 5 years.

The world’s leading energy investment banker, Matthew Simmons takes the former position, as does middle east oil expert Samsun Bakhtiari – he thinks world oil production will be down to 55 million barrels per day by 2020 compared to 85 million now. That would mean western economies in deep depression well before then, unless current energy and travel intensive modes of operation are changed.

Jason Cole
11 Apr 1:05am

Quite simply, not preparing for peak oil means society will panic and short-circuit to the easier, more polluting, quick-fix alternatives. The lesser-polluting alternatives require forethought, planning, and preparation.

Plan for peak oil, in conjunction with planning for climate change.

Re: An Experiment in Worgl…

Thanks all for this thread!

A local columnist always rants about "moonba……

11 Apr 9:34am

Society has a lot of reorganizing to do which will require planning using the best information and taking into account all risks.

It’s not good enough to simply be optimistic about a peak of oil in the next 30-40 years, this whole scenario has to be properly risk managed with the best available data.

And it is not good enough to simply say that we will switch to coal gasification and the energy will flow anyway. We don’t have the infrastructure to make that switch, it would take huge amounts of time money and energy to do this. So peak oil is a problem because our society is heavily invested in the systems through which energy is delivered via oil.

Both peak energy and climate change need to be considered together. Peak energy is vitally important because any serious mitigation of society will actually require a lot of energy to undertake. If we fail to prepare for an energy declining society then the chosen options may not be possible with the energy (physical or economic) available when we come to implement them. It is only when you take into account the whole context of a problem that you can formulate a solution which is realistic. People need to understand the context of peak energy, not just climate change.

Mandy Meikle
11 Apr 1:13pm

Great to read posts linking climate change and peak oil. I read an excellent article on – it’s by a Paul, not sure if it’s Paul Mobbs but it makes a good job of linking these 2 inseparable (in my opinion) problems. If anyone reading this is interested in Transtition Town work in Scotland (preferably Edinburgh) please reply to this post.

12 Apr 1:25am

Unfortunately, unexplored areas does not equal real oil fields. There is no reason to conclude that peak is some time away just because there may be unexplored areas, with unknown amounts of oil. His second reason is also way off. He repeats the oft mentioned mantra of hundreds of years of coal. If he would bother to do the calculations, including growth for oil replacement, then he’d probably see that peak coal is not too far away, either.

I wonder how he views the last year or so of data which shows virtually no growth, if any, in oil supply.

Greg Pinelli
12 Apr 1:33am

It’s difficult to decipher whether Mr. Monbiot has a 1990s understanding and awareness of Peak Oil or no understanding at all. In any is self defeating to argue on the one hand that Peak Oil is 10 years away (or more) with lots of “undiscovered” oil just waiting for the taking in Siberia and Western Saudi Arabia
and that, anayway we have a 100 years of coal reserves (EIAs latest report seems to have passed him by without notice)…which, of course, are great but we shouldn’t use because of dire environmental consequences!
Do these guys just love to hear themselves talk..or do they really think the poor rubes they’re hustling with this garbage don’t know better? Peak Oil..and what comes later as a substitute are two separate issues. Mr. Monbiot doesn’t seemed to have faced up to either.

Stephen Watson
12 Apr 8:51am

Let’s have a look at George’s two main reasons for thinking that peak will be delayed:

  1. Lots of unexplored areas. As Matthew Simmons has said “All the big deposits have been found and exploited. There aren’t going to be any dramatic new discoveries, and the discovery trends have made this abundantly clear.” Global peak discovery was in 1964 despite a century of oil exploration and the drilling of over 641,000 exploratory wells. Even if some new finds were made, how big will they be – no-one knows. And Chris Skrebowski’s Megaprojects Review which uses what’s actually scheduled to come online from known wells places peak shortly after the end of this decade. George needs to remember that the average time from discovery to production is 6 years – if they found it today, that’s 2013 before it produces any oil.

  2. “Enhanced oil recovery” using CO2 is something the EU are considering, which involves pumping CO2 at pressure into the wells to drive out the oil and as a ‘bonus’ some of that CO2 is sequestrated in the process. Of course is you have a large supply of CO2 near the well it makes it a lot easier, but that’s not the case for lots of wells. So you have to get the CO2 to the wells, practically and reliably and without using too much energy in the process. Experience so far of trying this technique in the US shows that it can increase recovery by 9% to 18% when compared to ‘conventional techniques’. The actual improvement is dependent on the injection method, the characteristics of the reservoir and the crude it contains.

However, George might pause for thought that this is being considered alongside “Zero Emissions Fossil Fuel Power Plants” (still at the concept stage!) and the “Hydrogen Oriented Economy”. Now George seems keen on the idea of the latter though he recognises that it requires a lot of natural gas to make it work.

For George to say that coal to liquids “would in fact save us from peak oil” to me shows he doesn’t understand what peak oil means. And the latest report by the Energy Watch Group in Germany proposes that world coal reserves may have been overstated by as much as 90% and that, for example, when measured in terms of energy content (all coal, like oil, was not created equal) US coal production actually peaked in 1998 so I’m not sure how George’s ideas fit with that.

To finish, he curiously says “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about peak oil, but we should talk about it while emphasising that some of the alternatives to oil are even worse than the disease they are attempting to cure.” The alternatives to conventional oil may be even dirtier, but that in know way negates the details of peak oil, so I’m really not sure what he is getting at here at all.

All in all, I don’t think his analysis stands up. However, planning for an imminent peak and then breathing a sigh of relief when it doesn’t arrive on time seems to be infinitely better than the reverse.

Gareth Doutch
13 Apr 8:33am

I just saw this and thought I’d post it here, it’s from the Editor at Climate Today, as preabmle to the Transition Town Lampeter report: Link

It appears that the concept of Peak Oil is more quickly motivational to people than climate change. Why? Perhaps an imperfect analogy might help. We all know that as our car’s gas gauge goes down, we must go fill the tank up again. A very simple concept- not abstract at all. Things get used up, and it’s not difficult to simply think globally on the world’s oil supply emptying. But gases you can’t see, and probably weren’t taught about in school, are harder to understand. Why do gas companies put a smell in the gas you cook with? When that gas builds up in your home, you have a problem far more serious than your car’s empty gas tank. Climate change is as if we had gas slowly leaking from our stove, but there’s no warning odor.

How exciting it would be if more than 10% of a city’s population would crowd the hall for planning how to cut emissions to tame the climate beast! Let us unite with Peak Oil pioneers to spark the public in a massive campaign.

Graham Strouts
13 Apr 9:37am

In common with the previous comments, I think Monbiot seems to be deeply confused about the Peak Oil issue.
This may be something to do with a phenomenon I regularly come across from my would-be colleagues who feel that Peak Oil is just too scary to use as a motivator to change. Why climate change- which is potentially far more catastrophic- is considered more acceptable is simply beyond me, but it seems to be to do with the difference between what motivates people:
-“save the planet” ie deep compassion for penguins;
-“save myself” ie do everything you can to create a more resilient and sustainable lifestyle for yourself.
Ultimately the latter issue of self-preservation will be far more motivational in terms of people and communities making real change, but this is often what people are most scared of- to really make the changes required to survive general resource depletion and the effects of misuse of energy (climate change) requires an admission that the system is fundamentally flawed.
Soehow the climate change issue is deemed more PC because it is more abstract, while Peak Oil goes right to the heart of what sustainability means.

Mandy Meikle
13 Apr 10:13am

Some great posts since my last one – so good to see so many people understanding the energy crisis. Gareth Doutch says “Let us unite with Peak Oil pioneers to spark the public in a massive campaign” – absolutely! I’ve been speaking on peak oil, net energy & energy descent to people already concerned about climate change for this very reason. It’s those who don’t seem to give a toss I don’t know how to include in the debate.

And Graham Strouts raises the question that Peak Oil is just too scary to use as a motivator to change. I belong to Depletion Scotland (a tiny group trying to raise energy awareness) and we have discussed the importance of not scaring people into inaction. The trick is to explain the problem and then the solutions & Transition Towns is one of the best solutions I’ve found.

And regarding saving penguins vs. saving yourself, I think this could also have something to do with the fact that most people are more likely to watch David Attenborough than some economist talking about global finance (me included!). 150 years of cheap oil has made us (in the ‘west’) forget that the world doen’t owe us squat! We are used to being taken care of, provided for (i.e. not many people starve to death in the west).

I’ve ben into Peak Oil for 3 or 4 years now but only recently started considering the ‘die-off’ arguement. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, is a fantastic way to understand how civilisations have survived & failed. I’d recommend it (haven’t finished it yet, but he does compare past collapses with the current situation). And he makes the point that “a society’s fate lies in its own hands and depends substantially on its own choices”.

21 Apr 1:19am

If we don’t prepare for peak oil, we’ll suffer a recession when it comes – though recent oil price jumps show how much people in the West are willing and able to pay for fuel, so I suspect they’ll manage the switch to alternative fuels and (in the medium term) LNG without a massive recession. The biggest impact will be on the poor, particularly through a likely jump in food prices due to competition between fuel and food crops. Horrible, but unlikely to provide an incentive for the rich to take early action.

Compare that to climate change: Do nothing and we will really screw with the planet, far more than the major damage we’ve already done. Food crops will be affected, and we don’t know how badly. If we lose the Greenland ice sheet and get a 7m sea level rise, many millions of people will be displaced.

Note also that dealing with climate change requires dealing with our oil dependency. If we focus on dealing with our oil dependency, we don’t focus adequately on climate change. And there is the specter of oil companies exploiting this to lie about being environmentally responsible.

Monbiot is right to focus on climate change. The science is stronger, there is far more at stake, and by doing so we address both issues. Climate change is also scarier for rich people and (sadly) it’s the rich that are going to make the decisions that determine the fate of the planet.

Btw I created a stub article on Transition Towns in the sustainability wiki, Transition Towns

21 Apr 2:29am

I just want to boil this down to the essence:

  1. Peak oil is a likely problem that will cause serious damage to our economies; like Cuba we may be forced to become more sustainable quickly and painfully.

  2. Climate change is an almost certain problem that will cause severe damage to the planet and our economies. If we wait till it takes hold, then respond by becoming more sustainable, it will be too late. Dealing seriously with climate change now will also deal with peak oil.

That said, I can see the value in talking about “Climate change and peak oil” – for example, when promoting the Transition Towns concept. Having the two concepts together probably helps emphasize the real urgency for action. I would never mention peak oil in isolation, though as it’s not the more catastrophic issue, and we shouldn’t be doing anything to distract from climate change.

Jason Cole
27 Apr 2:43pm

“Peak oil is a likely problem”

How can you say that? Like it might not happen? It is most certainly a DEFINITE problem, and one which is more believable to both laypeople and USA government officials than anthropogenic global warming.

For me it’s more to the point to look towards solutions to Peak Energy that don’t exacerbate climate change – always keeping both issues in mind.

PS Mandy – you might like to check out the “Dark Age” site in the context of “Collapse”:

30 Apr 3:01am

“How can you say that?”

There is a scientific consensus on climate change, but not on peak oil.

“It is most certainly a DEFINITE problem, and one which is more believable to both laypeople and USA government officials than anthropogenic global warming.”

That may be changing. However, I do acknowledge the value of peak oil, as an additional issue, especially in appealing to people’s self-interest. Even without peak oil, it’s in the West’s interest (especially America’s) to not rely on the Middle-East for energy.

Jason Cole
30 Apr 3:33pm

I think you’ll find there are far fewer degrees of freedom in the predictions of oil production (and the global peak) in comparison to the global temperature rise over the next 100 years.

1 May 12:07am

Jason – not sure I get your point. Are you disagreeing with my statement that “There is a scientific consensus on climate change, but not on peak oil”?

Of course we’ll run out some time – I don’t know if there’s consensus on when that is, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

And of course it will be hard, but the “how hard” is much more open to debate than climate change. Personally I think it will be a walk in the park compared to climate change, for the developed world, at least. So what if we have to start walking and cycling, shift quickly to renewables and lose some of the luxuries we’ve only had for a few decades? Hard, but not devastating. We’ll be in a much stronger position than Cuba was, as we have more resources to throw at the problem. It presumably won’t be as sharp a change as Cuba’s, whose sponsor stopped subsidising them, almost overnight. We at least have warnings, price signals that warn people against driving SUVs… and frankly, if someone hasn’t take that warning already, I have little sympathy.

1 May 12:20am

Another thought, about past experiences that might parallel future challenges.

Peak oil – if the proponents of the theory are right – seems a lot like the shortages that civilians in Europe faced during World War 2. Tough, but they did it because there was no choice. Little meat to eat (and their health improved in some ways!), growing food in their gardens, driving much less, and using their inventiveness for adapting cars to use alternative fuels.

Climate change has more in common with Hurricane Katrina and the Boxing Day tsunami, combined with the same WW2-style shortages that peak oil promises. That’s an extreme comparison, but it will be the reality for many people.

I’m not telling you that peak oil is irrelevant, just trying to get things in perspective.

Chris Vernon
1 May 5:53am

…like Cuba we may be forced to become more sustainable quickly and painfully.

Cuba is one case study, North Korea is arguably a more realistic one. They experienced the same external shock to the system as Cuba did but due to less “revolutionary” leadership and harsher environment failed totally to adapt leaving the country in ruin to this day. Will the global impact of peak oil be more like Cuba’s or North Korea’s? I have no reason to think Cuba is any better a case study.

1 May 6:47am

Hmm, a few other variables there. , like the facts that North Korea

Cuba is run by a corrupt, autocratic regime and has a centralized economy. North Korea is run by an even more blatantly corrupt and dysfunctional regime, with a highly centralized economy, without the benefit of the foreign remittances from relatives in the USA and elsewhere. North Korea also appears to be run by lunatics.

Neither of these countries were economically successful even during the Soviet era. It makes no sense to assume peak oil, whenever it comes, will be as bad as Cuba’s experience, let alone North Korea’s.

Now, the point of my saying this is not to convince you of the absolute truth of my words. If you work with passion to reduce our dependence on oil, that’s fantastic, regardless of whether I think you’re wrong about peak oil.

My concern is to help you see that peak oil is open to doubt, and if it’s doubted by passionate sustainability advocates including myself, and notably including Monbiot, then others are also likely to doubt it.

It is less convincing and compelling compared to climate change, especially when viewed in isolation from climate change, and particularly it is less compelling for (and even distracting from) the need to change the significant part of fossil fuel usage which is not oil.

1 May 6:48am

(Sorry, ignore the sentence fragment ending the first paragraph inthe last comment.)

Tony Weddle
1 May 10:42am

“So what if we have to start walking and cycling, shift quickly to renewables and lose some of the luxuries we’ve only had for a few decades? Hard, but not devastating.”

Oh yes, it will be devastating. The societies of the developed world are built on wasting a lot of energy. Many, perhaps even most, jobs rely on consumption; it’s not just a question of cycling to work. Peak oil, followed by peak gas and coal, will be devastating for western economies. It is already causing problems in some underdeveloped countries, which can’t afford the current high prices for oil.

There is a very wide consensus on peak oil. Most scientists who offer an opinion would put it within 30 years, with many saying it is very close. Unless we are tipped into some catastrophic climate collapse, peak oil most certainly is, or should be, of more concern to those alive today.

Maybe the threat is too much for even the likes of George Monbiot to imagine. A world with decreasing available energy will be a very different world from today, as would a sustainable world.

1 May 10:58am

Tony: If devastating means serious adjustment to our lifestyles, to be less wasteful, you may be right. Personally I think a bit of simple living would do us all good, but even that isn’t likely to happen. Look at the costs of taking serious action on climate change, involving a much broader move away from fossil fuels – Stern estimates them at less than 1% of GDP.

Re consensus: Where’s a source? Repeating a claim doesn’t make it true.

The IPCC report is a clear demonstration of consensus on climate change (not to mention the fact that most skeptics are lawyers and/or sponsored by industry groups). Is there anything equivalent re peak oil?

Jason Cole
1 May 11:00am

People on the street
When I speak to people in the street, they don’t really believe what’s said in the media about Climate Change.
To them, there’s too much disconnect between their actions and what happens with the climate.
When I speak to people about Peak Oil, they get it.
It’s an easy concept to follow; perhaps that’s why the message of Peak Oil is suppressed by the media.
Don’t forget the “positive” spin from the newspapers, “lots of sunny days now, and the flowers are in bloom for longer.”
Telling people about Peak Oil or Climate Change is not enough; they need to be told both.

Essential energy
If it were the case that energy is being used for luxuries, then its loss would not mean a great deal.
However, that is not the case; for the last 50 years we have restructured our society so that it’s utterly dependent on energy in order to function.
Estimates such as the Hirsch Report indicate we’d need 20 years to adapt to working with much less energy, and that’s with no resistance from people.
Western societies are now so decadent that the NIMBY/BANANA fraternity has taken hold and is severely affecting our ability to adapt.
Democracy therefore diminishes our ability to adapt quickly; Castro had a far easier job in Cuba, he just told everyone to grow food locally and organically, and they just got on with it.

CC is more stochastic than PO
We can say, hand-on-heart, that both PO and CC will happen, with their effects being felt within our lifetime.
Chances are, at some point within the next 100 years, London is going to get flooded due to extreme weather.
It is far less likely that, say, Oxford will get flooded due to extreme weather.
Peak Oil, however, will most likely hit both of them equally hard.

PO/CC reinforce one another
Just because Monbiot says “CC is the ONLY big issue” does not make it right.
I think it’s a big mistake to focus on the differences between PO and CC.
Saying “My issue’s bigger than yours” is as puerile and pointless as “My cock’s bigger than yours”.

In poor countries, CC will have the primary impact, since they have not industrialised, they do not rely on energy to function, so are closely coupled with Nature, and will not be able to cope very well with extreme weather.
Their problems will be exacerbated by PO since not only will they not be able to afford to buy energy to decouple them from Nature, rich nations won’t be able to donate because they won’t have any surplus.

In rich countries, PO will have the primary impact, since the energy-intensive system that isolates them from Nature will break down, meaning they have to adapt to restructuring their economies.
CC will exacerbate this process by diverting energy towards CC mitigation, thus hastening the breakdown of the industrial system.
This will be worse if people think there’s plenty of energy available to use for CC mitigation (e.g. some of the hair-brained schemes such as “mirrors in space” which take a tunnel-visioned look at CC whilst assuming we have oodles of energy to expend).

Jason Cole
1 May 11:01am

“Is there anything equivalent re peak oil?”

Yes. ASPO.

Jason Cole
1 May 11:12am

“Cuba is run by a corrupt, autocratic regime and has a centralized economy”

Erm, no it isn’t. That’s just propaganda, and there’s an awful lot of it where Cuba’s concerned. Watch “the community solution” and read “Eating Fossil Fuels”:

Remember that autocratic regimes are better at responding to emergencies. That’s why the Armed Forces are run in that way. Democracy is not a “catch-all”.

1 May 11:49am

“Castro had a far easier job in Cuba, he just told everyone to grow food locally and organically, and they just got on with it.”

My impression was that the regime was dismissive of permaculture-type solutions to the oil shortages, and it was sheer necessity and experimentation that led to their adoption by the populace. (That’s based on a video I saw.) When the regime is stuck in their ways, as most are, then being an autocracy isn’t likely to help much. The relative strength and resilience of the economic system would be the more important factor.

ASPO seems to be a group endorsing one particular viewpoint? The IPCC is intended to be neutral, I think, and I would presume that there are measures in place to stop it going too far one way (and indeed the summary appears to have been watered down slightly). It is a UN body, and its recent report cited thousands of peer-reviewed papers. My strong impression is that the IPCC’s conclusions have wider recognition and scientific support – but if asked to verify that claim I’ll have to surrender as I’m not willing to spend my time researching for this argument.

Like Jason, I don’t want this to be a dick-measuring competition. I can see your point that “climate change + peak oil” is a more powerful message than just “climate change” and I need to try it out on the street. I need to think about my wording, as I’m not going to say something I don’t believe, naturally… I can certainly say it’s a real likelihood that we’ll feel the impact of oil shortages and zooming prices in the near future.

I continue to be concerned by the idea of a “peak oil” message without emphasising climate change as well, but I hope noone here is doing that.

So I’m keen to drop the debate and get back to documenting solutions. I’d encourage people to think about contributing info on solutions and strategies to

1 May 12:07pm

If you think that Cuba is not autocratic, then go there, talk to the locals, try visiting them in their homes – and observe their fear of the secret police, lest they be seen to be associating with foreigners. (Observations made to me by a die-hard Marxist, who was dismayed to find oppression in her communist paradise. Imagine that – an oppressive communist regime!)

“Remember that autocratic regimes are better at responding to emergencies. That’s why the Armed Forces are run in that way.”

Sometimes, and to some extent. JK Galbraith concluded, in his study of the German war economy made immediately after WW2, that the American democracy was more efficient, because bad decisions were challenged, instead of being implemented out of authority and fear.

Jason Cole
1 May 12:08pm

“I need to try it out on the street. I need to think about my wording”

I would suggest you point out that diminishing availability of energy will make Climate Change mitigation a lot harder than people think it will be. In other words, CC mitigation should utilise the absolute minimum amount of technology.

TV programmes such as “Superstorms” that immerse themselved in the technofix are completely unrealistic when viewed through “PO+CC” tinted spec’s.

Jason Cole
1 May 12:27pm

“the American democracy was more efficient….”

Their government “democracy” caused them to spend too many years not getting involved in WW2 in the first place, despite Churchill’s badgering. Democracy yields indecision.

Their military “democracy” meant that thousands of their troops died at the beaches of Normandy because subordinates failed to follow orders to bring the ships close to shore (the amphibious craft were deployed too far out to sea and didn’t make it to shore).

When the USA touts “democracy”, what they’re really saying is they want everyone to buy into their system of commerce, that always puts them at an advantage. Take a look at the WTO. Or the Petrodollar. Or Sterling convertability.

Autocracy fails when the leader lets the power go to his head and stops listening. This happened to Hitler during WW2, he stopped delegating responsibility to his immediate subordinates; making every decision go through him, slowing down their ability to adapt (e.g. generals had to ask for his permission to respond to the D-Day landings).

It is true that Castro initially ignored the permaculturists, but as soon as it became obvious to him their methods were needed, he called them in, and rapidly deployed their solutions. Castro has to hold a tight reign on his society because of the degrees of interference from the CIA over the years.

An outsider to the UK would speak to people on the street and come away with the impression that the government fleeces them at every opportunity.

Now why is it that the work shown by the “community solution” documentary never finds its way onto mainstream TV?

Jason Cole
1 May 12:30pm

By the way, I didn’t mean that Cuba isn’t autocratic; it clearly is. I meant that it isn’t centralised.

1 May 12:43pm

“Autocracy fails when the leader lets the power go to his head and stops listening.”

Or if he’s just wrong. Both are fundamental problems of autocracy – they don’t always happen, but by the nature of the system, they generally do. (Fair assumption that it’s a he.)

“An outsider to the UK would speak to people on the street and come away with the impression that the government fleeces them at every opportunity.”

But they wouldn’t freeze in fear at a knock on the door, in case it was the secret police. I know what you mean about CIA interference. I don’t find it an adequate excuse for autocracy and repression, but I’m not getting into that here.

“By the way, I didn’t mean that Cuba isn’t autocratic; it clearly is. I meant that it isn’t centralised.” says:

The Cuban Government adheres to socialist principles in organizing its largely state-controlled planned economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and most of the labor force is employed by the state. Recent years have seen a trend towards more private sector employment. By the year 2006, public sector employment was 78% and the private sector at 22% compared to the 1981 ratio of 91.8% to 8.2%.[48] Capital investment is restricted and requires approval by the government. The Cuban government sets most prices and rations goods to citizens.

I imagine that a lot of business (selling of food) goes on at the lowest levels of the economy, but it still sounds quite centralized.

Jason Cole
1 May 12:59pm

“Or if he’s just wrong.”

That’s the whole point of the leader being able to listen; someone will identify his errors.

Tony Weddle
2 May 10:44am

“If devastating means serious adjustment to our lifestyles, to be less wasteful, you may be right. Personally I think a bit of simple living would do us all good”

I’m not sure you’ve quite grasped it, Chris. Devastating means a starting point of the Great Depression, only getting worse and with no end in sight. It won’t be a case of getting over it and settling to a new prosperous energy efficient society, it will need a completely new society. If we do it in an orderly fashion, it might turn out OK, but very different. If we do it as a kicking and screaming reaction, then you have no reason to be complacent about it, because it ain’t gonna be pretty.

“Where’s a source? Repeating a claim doesn’t make it true.”

I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Look for “peak oil”. There are plenty of reports of scientists and oil analysts stating likely dates for peak production, with many suggesting it has happened or will happen within a few years. Colin Campbell is still touting 2010, Jean Laherrere is going with a couple of years later. Kenneth Deffeyes cites May 2005 as the peak production (backed up by EIA figures). Matthew Simmons also says peak is now, as does T Boone Pickens and Ali Samson Bakhtiari. The optimists, CERA (with Daniel Yergin) goes for 2030, or therabouts (though they have been badly wrong with their predicted discoveries so far). Oh, yes, there is plenty of consensus, if one regards 25 years as a very short time to come up with alternatives, if there are any (which is by no means a given). As for a consensus on whether oil production will peak at all, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find many who give that serious consideration.

This is why Monbiot is very wrong. There is certainly no reason to assume that the 40 year decline in discoveries will be reversed enough to push peak out to a time frame where climate change will be a serious problem well before peak oil.

3 May 1:17am

Re impact – I can’t see it. Coal will let us warm our homes and provide most of our energy needs while screwing up the planet for decades to come.

But let’s not debate it here – it’s distracting us from what we should be doing (and I’m directing that at myself as much as anyone). I’d really encourage people to add info and reliable sources – re implications of peak oil as well as scientific consensus – to the Wikipedia article on peak oil. Far more people will see that will see this page, and the structured nature of the info makes it easier to follow for someone looking for info. The other advantage is that it’s scrutinized by people with different perspectives on the debate, which is healthy and makes it more believable in the eyes of a doubter, compared to the site of an advocate of one POV.

3 May 1:22am

btw, I encouraged contributing to Wikipedia – note that Wikipedia is for sourced information, not original research or arguments (however valid). Consider contributing to Appropedia with info on solutions, and Issuepedia for debate of the issues.

Issuepedia hasn’t taken off yet, but I like the concept. Appropedia is taking off, so information placed here will be seen by a lot of people.

Tony Weddle
3 May 10:38am

Re impact – I can’t see it. Coal will let us warm our homes and provide most of our energy needs while screwing up the planet for decades to come.

Maybe, but have you seen the latest report from the Energy Watch group? It suggests that peak coal is a lot closer than many assume. But peak oil is not about heating homes, it’s primarily (though not exclusively) about transport fuel. Coal will not substitute for the quantities required and, if it did, would peak within years.

Peak oil will have a much greater impact than most imagine including, it seems, you and George.

3 May 6:33pm

Given the significance of the issues related to climate change and peak oil/gas/coal, and population explosion, and fresh water etc, and the way we have built our modern world – there is no way out. Especially given the short time frames for major decisions and the inability to formulate effective responses. It is time to recognize that finding an alternative fuel for our cars is not going to happen, that controling CO2 is not going to happen, and that the whole system we have created in the last few hundred years is not sustainable. There is no point fiddling around with these issues when the fundamental problem is how we have built our whole civilization. And the collapse of a civilization cannot be avoided just because the problems are recognized. That recognition does not ensure that there is a solution. There are problems without solutions. And that’s the state we are in right now.

Lionel Orford
8 May 5:25am

I think George is correct in his overall thrust – that as we get more desperate, we may decend to dirtier and dirtier forms of energy that will have a disasterous effect on any meaningful attempts to get our greenhouse gases under control and save our planet. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that this may happen as a response to Peak Oil, not as a means of putting it off. It is blatantly obvious that these dirty alternatives – oil from coal, tar sands, shale oil can’t be bought on line at anything like the rate that conventional oil will decline, so the Peak can’t be avoided.
I think the ultimate nightmare scenario will occur if the Peak is gentle enough to allow us to continue the current economic system, which will allow the oil price to remain high and allow these very dirty technologies to become widespread. This is a certain death scenario for the planet.
My hope is that Peak Oil causes a massive collapse of the Capitalist system soon – while there is still a planet left to save. We may then be able to rebuilt a sustainable society from the ruins. This bleak scenario is the very best we can realistly hope for.

Mr Kim Gyr
1 Jun 6:34pm

We are the blind, leading our children into the fog of energy poverty – unless we take positive action on a global scale. Please see for a project that I hope will stimulate some of your own!

We’ve got to start working NOW to safeguard the lifestyles of the infinite generations that will follow ours. We need ONE grassroots society to promote both transition towns and the study and construction of the aforementioned global solutions – why not put Britain in the lead in this crucial movement once again!?

Let’s get this up and running NOW!!!

Thank you for your consideration

Kim Gyr

18 Mar 1:46pm

The problem with focusing on climate change as primary to that of peak oil is twofold:

  1. Peak oil is here right now or very soon
  2. We may already have passed a climate tipping point

If #2 is right then we will need more than just going back to wearing hair shirts and eating lentils. We are going to need a manhatten project on international scales. That will require a lot of energy.

So unfortunately we may have to run harder to jump the chasm instead of slowing down and falling in.

As the saying goes: “He who rides the tiger cannot get off”

[…] Secondly, quite recently there have been various innovations for enhancing the amount of oil removed from existing oil fields, particularly something called Enhanced Oil Recovery, which uses carbon dioxide that becomes super-critical at 800 metres down and is used to drive the dregs of the oil fields out. Also there is horizontal drilling, there is deep drilling, it is not going to happen as soon as Kenneth Deffeyes and Colin Campbell and one or two others say, Im pretty much convinced of that. […]