Transition Culture

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

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

22 Oct 2007

New Report on Peak Oil Argues That We Have Already Peaked…

oil The Big Melt report that caused me sleepless nights last week showed that climate change is happening far faster than anyone, the IPCC included, had predicted. Over the last week the peak oil argument has similarly sped up, exceeding predictions almost on a daily basis. It crashed through the $80 a barrel ceiling, which set experts talking about $90 a barrel sometime next year, but before the end of the week, there it was. Now the mythical $100 a barrel level could be as little as days away. It is worth remembering that when prices are adjusted for inflation, the highest oil prices we have ever had were during the last oil crisis in the 70s, and were around $102 a barrel, and that caused a major recession. Beyond $102 we are into new terrain; all bets, as they say, are off, with regards to what we might find when we get there.

This morning’s Guardian appears to have beaten the rest of the media to the story of the imminent release of a report by the Energy Watch Group which argues that in fact we peaked in 2006, and that annual decline rates from hereonin will be 7% a year. This is chilling stuff. The report, rather than make guesses about total world reserves, focused instead on global production data, which it sees as being a lot more reliable.

Given the EWG’s previous work assessing uranium and coal reserves, room for optimism in the report is also dampened by their forecasts that both of those ‘alternative’ fuels are close to their own peak, and offer no long term solutions. This report will be explosive. Although the article states that it will be released this afternoon in London, the EWG website shows no indication of when it will become available. I’ll let you know as soon as I track it down, as I suspect it will be a ‘must read’.

The report’s author, Joerg Schindler, is quoted as saying, “the world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life.” However, this rising oil price is, ultimately, great news. I am reminded of this quote from Ted Trainer in his essential book Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society;

>“If a significant petroleum crunch occurs, as is very likely, that will concentrate minds wonderfully. We are so extremely dependent on petroleum that any significant increase in scarcity or price will surely jolt people into the realization that radically different social arrangements will be turned to. Without petrol it will be glaringly obvious that only localized economies will make sense”.

EWG founder and German MP Hans-Josef Fell is quoted in the Guardian as saying “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have talked a lot about climate change but have not brought in proper policies to drive up the use of renewables. This is why they are left talking about nuclear and carbon capture and storage”.

I refuse to see this report as bad news though. It is chilling, and it gives no further room for putting doing things off for a few more months while we get one more cheap flight to Prague in, but it is, ultimately good news. The Oil Age has brought many benefits, but mostly to us in the world’s wealthier nations, and at a huge cost. As the Big Melt study set out, we need to cut emissions to zero yesterday, and if the EWG report is correct, the illusion that we can choose what we do at this point just crumbled to dust. We need to plan now for contraction, for relocalisation and for a decoupling of happiness and economic wellbeing from the amount of fossil fuels we consume. Lester Brown’s concept of a ‘wartime mobilisation’ keeps returning to the front of my mind, we need this, but clearly cannot wait for Governments to do this.

David Strahan’s recent interview with Robert Hirsch is also essential listening, Hirsch argues that peak oil means peak economy, that once we pass the peak the economy contracts in line with the depletion rate. The rebuilding of local resilience is key and is of the utmost urgency, and the viral spread of the Transition concept is evidence of the hunger out there for facing this problem with creativity rather than denial. As these two great issues accelerate before our eyes, we can choose to, as I did as a child watching Dr Who, hide behind the sofa waiting until the scary bits are past, or read what’s happening as the best opportunity we have ever had to actually get to work and rebuild local economies, bringing people together again and starting to relearn the essential skills we will need. As the great South African poet Mark Mzwake put it “Now is the Time”.

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


Patrick Cleary
22 Oct 3:59pm

Energy Watch Group’s report available here:

[…] at Transition Culture, blogger Rob Hopkins says: “I refuse to see this report as bad news…. It is chilling, and it gives no further […]

Tom Hitchman
22 Oct 6:11pm

7% a year?

In the executive summary and the full report they say “several” percent a year and at one point they liken it to the depletion rate of US; “According to the scenario calculations, oil production will decline by about 50% until 2030.
This is equivalent to an average annual decline rate of 3%, well in line with the US experience
where oil production from the lower 48 states declined by 2-3% per year.”

I could not find the 7% used in the guardian article, did anybody else?

Here is the page where the two reports are:

22 Oct 7:27pm

Looks like the executive summary of the report is up here:

22 Oct 8:17pm

Just logged in to tell you about it and you already have it
see the shock taking hold at

22 Oct 8:36pm

no it’s ‘several’

22 Oct 8:46pm

The article says that production peaks in 2006, and falls in half by 2030. That works out to a 3% decline per annum (0.97^23 = 0.4963), not 7%.

WIlliam Lucas
23 Oct 3:05am

Ah yes, Dr Who. I remember reacting the same way as you. The original black and white series featuring William someone or other really had that end of the world feel to them. By the way, I ran into Pernilla West in the weekend. She and her partner, Andrew?, are teaching Kiwis how to build cob ovens. I’m trying to interest our Polytechnic in having one built on campus. Care to email our CEO and twist his arm? ( – Phil Ker)

[…] at Transition Culture, blogger Rob Hopkins says: “I refuse to see this report as bad news…. It is chilling, and it gives no further […]

23 Oct 3:52pm

Dr Who?

24 Oct 12:50am

Finally, a realistic forecast of peak oil!

Here is another forecast of oil, from The Oil Drum, that may be of interest

It shows a peak oil plateau starting in 2006 and ending in the middle of 2009

26 Oct 4:34pm

[…] Transition Culture on peak oil […]

Mark Forskitt
9 Nov 5:37am

There’s a fair bit of breaking coverage being given to ‘a huge’ oil find off Brazil. This turns out to be around 6 billion barrels (I figure american, not british billions, so 6,000 million). Given world consumption is around 30,000 million barrels a year, thats about 2.5 months world supply. Hardly a dent on the date of Peak Oil, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the doubters make a big play on it.

(It early morning – so please check the figures for yourself!)

Mark Forskitt
23 Jan 8:20am

Peak Coal?? from the New Scientist
Coal: Bleak outlook for the black stuff
19 January 2008
David Strahan
Magazine issue 2639
“THERE used to be a saying about taking coal to Newcastle, but these days the issue is getting the stuff out. Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, may be the biggest coal export terminal in the world’s biggest coal-exporting country, but even it is having trouble keeping up with demand. The line of ships waiting to load coal can stretch almost to Sydney, 150 kilometres to the south. At its peak last year, there were 80 vessels in the queue, each forced to lie idle for up to a month.

The delays have been increasing since 2003, and not just because of the port’s limited capacity. Gnawing doubts are also beginning to emerge about the supply of coal, not just in Australia but worldwide, and not only because of logistics but also because of geology. In short, coal may be running out.”

Robert Bystrom
7 Sep 12:57am

Tough site to navigate. In preparation for a trip to GB, I’m looking for a list of transitions towns (I understand there to be about 30 of them) and can find them nowhere, either in your new book or on the site. I clicked on “Transition Towns” and was taken to a blog. Not what I wanted. Can you give me some help here?

Please put me on your mailing list. We are active with a new initiative out here in Bellingham, Washington.