Transition Culture

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

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Energy Descent Pathways

Click to view large version‘Energy Descent Pathways: Evaluating potential responses to Peak Oil’ by Rob Hopkins

This PDF document can now be downloaded free here.

About ‘Energy Descent Pathways’

For the past year, Rob Hopkins, co-ordinator and editor of the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan, permaculture activist and producer of, has been looking deeper into the concept of Energy Descent Planning, in preparation of the Transition Town Totnes initiative which has recently begun. As part of an MSc at Plymouth University , he evaluated the literature on peak oil, the concept of energy descent, relocalisation and the spectrum of thinking as to what might come after the peak in world oil production. The resultant document, produced as his dissertation, is an invaluable addition to the Peak Oil literature and a groundbreaking piece of work which draws together many threads in the peak oil debate, as well as exploring exciting new ground.

Of particular interest are;

  • the first exploration in print about how insights from the field of addictions such as the Stage of Change model and Motivational Interviewing could inform energy descent initiatives,
  • a new model which combines the many post peak scenarios found in the literature to offer new insights into the thinking underlying them
  • a concise review of the peak oil literature and its main debates
  • a collection of the principles that could underpin a community energy descent process
  • extensive references

Some Reviews

“…these proposals are formulated in sound, well-considered, pragmatic terms, wreathed in good common sense. Far from it being a doomsday message, we are left with a sense of real hope that a more benign age may follow the oil-based excesses of the present world.
This report deserves to be studied by governments at local and national levels, and is indeed being reviewed by the European Commission, but more important than that it needs to be standard reading in school curricula and find a place on everyone’s bookshelf. It truly is a guide to the future – and a good future at that.. It is most encouraging to learn that certain cities are already adopting its recommendations”.
C.J.Campbell (Founder of ASPO – The Association for the Study of Peak Oil)

“Rob’s vision of peak oil and its effects are stark but his conclusions indicate the possibility of a significant shift in our collective worldviews, in keeping with Joanna Macy’s Great Turning towards a life-affirming ecological culture. He says, “if humanity is able to mobilize and respond with creativity and imagination, [peak oil] may yet turn out to have been the trigger for a future of abundance with a higher quality of life”.
This is a first class, well-sourced academic document. It you want to explore these issues it is highly recommended. Personally, I’m looking forward to Rob’s PhD research that will further formulate the principles behind conscious community engagement in energy descent planning and research emerging projects that are already doing just that all over the world. These have been in no small part inspired by Rob himself”.
Maddy Harland – editor, Permaculture Magazine

“Energy Descent Pathways: evaluating potential responses to Peak Oil is a A4 50+page publication that achieves two tasks. Firstly it provides a brief overview of peak oil and likely energy descent future scenarios of great value for policy makers, community activists, and academics to get up to speed on this issue. This is background to an exploration of the methods for empowering rapid and effective community level adaptive change. It a novel mix of academic literature review, (to avoid reinventing the wheel) and a hands on agenda for making it happen. A surprising combination in an academic work, but not from Rob Hopkins, given his leadership track record with the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan, one of the first and well regarded examples of bottom up community response to Peak Oil”.

David Holmgren – co-founder of permaculture

“Rob Hopkins’s dissertation, “Energy Descent Pathways,” is a thorough analysis both of a problem–the inevitably and probably imminent peak in world oil production–and, more importantly, of the positive policy responses that could help communities and whole societies address it by adapting to a regime of declining petroleum. Whether because of Peak Oil or the need to avert climatic catastrophe, the energy transition away from fossil fuels represents the central imperative of the new century: if we get this transition right, then we will survive to address all of the other challenges facing us as a species–some of which have been around for a very long time, such as economic inequality. But if we don’t succeed with the energy transition, there may be no organized human society or habitable environment left in a hundred years; thus other problems pale in significance by comparison.

Other discussions of this topic (e.g., by Amory Lovins) emphasize the strategy of substituting other energy sources for fossil fuels. Following the analysis of Howard Odum, Hopkins concludes that substitution will not enable a continuation of current consumption levels; he charts instead a path for “energy descent”–adaptation to a situation of lower levels of energy available per capita. Hopkins wisely includes a discussion of human motivation and behavior, because these will undoubtedly be important factors in shaping societal response to energy scarcity. This is an extremely valuable resource for community leaders and other policy makers, all of whom must make the energy transition their first priority in the years ahead”.

Richard Heinberg – author of ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘Powerdown’