1 The Prize by Daniel Yergin, 1991 is often quoted as the “definitive history” of oil and its role in shaping the 20thcentury. It certainly corrects ignorance on the importance of energy. With the perspective of almost two decades hindsight however, it is easier to see the author’s bias in portraying the power plays of the West as protecting national interest while those of competing powers and ideologies as evil, greed and stupidity (see this review by Derrick Jensen).
Yergin’s focus on the technology and politics of oil, while reinforcing the orthodoxy of the 80’s and 90’s that resource limits were not a concern, also laid the foundations for the currently widespread and dangerous view that current supply restriction are due to “above ground factors” rather than geological limits of Peak Oil.
For a recent and up to date overview of oil history from a left perspective see Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalisation by Michael P. Byron 2006. For a very humorous but informative introduction to the history of oil (including the Iraqi invasion and Peak Oil), see A Short History of Oil by Robert Newman (downloadable from Google Video).
2 This faith derives from European Enlightenment thinking.
3 In 1950 Sir Earnest Titterton, the chief advisor to the Australian government on nuclear power at the time, asserted that by 1980 nuclear power would be too cheap to bother metering the use.
4 For example, cheap energy allowed energy dense plastic, aluminium, steel and concrete to replace wood in the building industry, thus depressing the demand and price for wood and value of forests. Similarly fossil fuel based fabrics reduced the demand for cotton and wool, depressing their price with flow on effects to all agricultural commodities. The Green Revolution increased grain production by increased use of energy dense fertilisers and pesticides. This in turn increased food surpluses and depressed prices.
5 Since 2001 many of the positions of established players in the global economy including corporations, governments and multi-lateral institutions have constantly shifted. This could be interpreted as open and flexible response to new evidence, or more cynically, as defensive repositioning to protect established interests for as long as possible from public awareness of the problems. This process in relation to climate change is now widely understood.
Ironically the evidence for the approximate timing of Peak Oil was around for decades before the evidence for Climate Change, so the potential misleading of the public (and the intelligentsia) by those with the best information about global oil production and reserves is greater.
6 Some very influential authors such Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies, 1988) and Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005) use the term collapse to describe any ongoing reduction in complexity of the organization of civilisations. While their work is of great importance, I want to draw a distinction between what I mean by "Collapse" as the sudden failure and loss of most of the organisational complexity (such that succeeding generations retain little use or even memory of such systems) and "Descent" as a progressive if erratic process where the loss of complexity is gradual and succeeding generations have some awareness of, and knowledge from, that peak of complexity.
7 From advice to governments that nuclear power would be too cheap to bother metering the use, to children’s magazines promising holidays to Mars, the hubris about the Techno-explosion in the boom era of the 1950s and 60’s was exceptional.
8 By social capacity, I mean the informal processes of mutual support and conflict resolution that allow communities to provide education, welfare, insurance and other functions, with or without support from the formal structures of government. The level of volunteerism is one widely recognised measure of social capacity, but even this measure only captures the more formal end of social capacity which mostly works as a by-product of very ordinary interactions between citizens.
9 EMergy accounting as developed by Howard T Odum provides a systematic and quantitative synthesis of how these forms of wealth combine, with more basic energy and resources, to drive human systems.
10 See William R. Catton. , 1980.
11 Clearly by pinning the relevance of permaculture to an energy descent future, I may contribute to the current perception of its marginal relevance to a world of energy growth. But on balance I believe this transparency about our own assumptions and biases is a strength rather than a weakness. In this way we acknowledge ourselves as activists rather than simply observers.
13 See Downshifting in Australia (pdf), The Australia Institute 2003, suggesting that "down-shifters" moving to a lower consuming, more satisfying lifestyle, make up as much as 23% of the Australian population.
14 The Transition Towns process in Britain, initiated by permaculture activist Rob Hopkins, is an excellent example of this positive community response to the realities coming from Peak Oil and Climate Change. The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience by Rob Hopkins 2008 is an invaluable resources for this positive change process.
15 For example, Australian sociologist Ted Trainer’s The Simpler Way: Working For Transition from a Consumer Society to A Simpler More Cooperative, Just and Ecologically Sustainable Society, and Swedish systems ecologist Folke Gunther.
16 This apparent familiarity with permaculture can be misleading. For an in depth understanding see Holmgren, D. Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability 2002. For an overview see The Essence of Permaculture at www.holmgren.com.au (Writings Page).
17 The 2007 Living Planet Report recently released by the World Wildlife Fund claims that the only truly sustainable country in the world is Cuba--Sustainable development being defined as a commitment to “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems”. The two key parameters employed by WWF for measuring sustainable development were the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) as the indicator of human wellbeing --calculated from life expectancy, literacy and education, and per capita GDP; and Ecological Footprint calculated at 1.8 global hectares per person to measure the demand on the biosphere.
Cuba was the ONLY country on earth to achieve both criteria for sustainable development.
In terms of ecological footprint, Australia rates as the 6th highest nation on earth. If everyone lived like the average Australian we’d need almost 4 planets to support the earth’s current population.
18 This theme about permaculture as a change process is one that runs right through Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.
22 In late 2007 the IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol gave a presentation that marked a major turning point in the official position of the the IEA on future energy supplies. The presentation acknowledged peaking of oil production outside core OPEC countries and the likelihood that global demand will now grow faster than supply. See Oil Drum http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3336#more
24 By the International Energy Agency.
26 Australia is one of the few long-affluent countries that might continue to “prosper” based on nonrenewable resource extraction. These longer term prospects do not detract from the potential of a short term crisis, due to Australia losing 20-30% of its oil imports by 2012 from collapsing production and rapidly rising consumption in its main sources of supply in South East Asia. See Australia and the Export Land Model, by Aeldric on The Oil Drum, 2008.
28 EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested) is a measure of the degree to which any energy source (those with a EROEI above one) can sustain the rest of society outside the energy-harvesting sector and so lead to the creation of real wealth.
32 By Jon Friese, published on the Oil Drum website http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3673#more
35 See for examples Hamilton, C Growth Fetish
36 Daniel Quinn gives the analogy of the loss of 200 species a day being equivalent to people who live in a tall brick building and every day knock 200 bricks out of the lower floor walls to continuously build new stories on the top. See What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire DVD 2007, a hard hitting but inspiring overview of climate change, peak oil, population overshoot and species extinction, their cultural origins and what sane responses remain open to us at this late stage.
37 The well credentialed Hirsch Report to the US
government made these assessments assuming a collective societal effort similar
to that mobilised in WWII. http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf
38 E.g. Lester Brown World Watch Institute
39 See The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience given more of the rationale and methods for stimulating this change
40 The key finding is that energy inequities between countries will increase
41 It may be unrealistic to expect any open acknowledgement by governments and institutions of the severity of the challenges posed by these scenarios without major crisis that breaks the paradigm of continuous economic growth.
42 The failure of global trade negotiations at Cancun Mexico in 2003 to lock in global trade agreements can now be seen as the last desperate effort to maintain the fruits of globalisation for the corporations before the onset of resource nationalism.
43 For example, Russia has being using the tight supply of gas and oil to enforce world prices on eastern European countries and in the process giving warning to western European countries about their vulnerabilities and dependence. Turning off the gas for even short periods has acted as a powerful enforcer. Similar actions by Argentina in cutting flows through new pipelines to Chile in response to shortages at home may force Chile to negotiate supplies from its old enemy Bolivia.
44 An increasing amount of evidence suggests the explosion in biofuel production is a major factor driving grain prices higher and reducing world grain stocks. See for example work of Lester Brown at the World Watch Institute Washington USA.
Also modelling by Stewart Staniford (Fermenting The Food Supply on The Oil Drum website http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2431), suggests that steeply rising oil prices can accelerate demand for biofuels to consume unlimited proportions of world grain production within 7 years leading to global famine on a massive scale. Without regulation by government, free and global markets will see motorists in rich countries outbid the global poor for food.
45 The very large but unused detention facilities built for the US government by the Halliburton corporation in several states of the USA raises questions about their likely use. http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/february2006/010206detentioncamps.htm
46 Super rationalism in this context recognises the energetic/ecological basis of human systems without any recognition of higher values or consciousness typified by spiritual and ethical frameworks that constrain the exercise of power.
47 In Australia where a single large city dominates in each state, state governments may be thought of as a bioregional government controlling a city and its economic hinterland.
48 For example increases in medical intervention, legal litigation and even crime and accidents all contribute to GDP.
49 An increasing number of peak oil experts are suggesting the current peak of crude production in May 2005 may mark the beginning of a plateau that will end about 2010 in an accelerating decline
50 See a review of the latest evidence of acceleration in climate change well beyond any previously credited predictions see The Big Melt:Lessons from the Arctic Summer of 2007 http://www.carbonequity.info/PDFs/Arctic.pdf
51 Triage is a process for managing the medical care of the injured during war or natural disasters where not all victims can be saved with the available resources. Those that have a chance of survival are the focus of most attention while the others are given palliative care to ease their pain.
52 Plants that grow better in foreign environments than in their original environment. Usually called invasive species by conservationists. See "Weeds or Wild Nature " at Holmgren Design Services website
53 In the 1960’s a massive earthquake around Valdivia in southern Chile created huge new wetlands following subsidence of the land. These wetlands had very high biological productivity based on an exotic aquatic plant that supported huge new populations of swans. The wetlands were recognised as being of global conservation significance under the RAMSAR convention. More recently pollution from a local cellulose plant has lead to a collapse in the population of swans.
54 Helana Norbert-Hodge and Vandana Shiva are perhaps the most articulate critics of how these globalisation processes have adversely affected traditional communities in Ladakh and India respectively.
55 In Powerdown (2004) Richard Heinberg provides an overview of some of the lessons from Cuba, Zimababwe and North Korea. Dmitry Orlov has used his experience and study of the collapse of the Soviet Union as a model to understand the likely effects of Peak Oil on the USA. See Closing the Collapse Gap: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US on Energy Bulletin http://www.energybulletin.net/23259.html
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil a film by The Community Solution has popularised the positive aspects of the Cuban case study. See website http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/
56 For detailed documentation of the development of Urban Agriculture in Cuba see Agriculture In the City: A Key to Sustainability in Havana Cuba by M.C. Cruz and R.S. Medina, Ian Randle Publisher 2003 translated from the original Spanish edition 2001
58 I was not able to confirm this while in Cuba.
59 A shift to greater use of goats and less use of cattle would make Cuban agriculture more productive and sustainable
60 Permaculture course participant discussion at Gaia Ecovillage and personal communication Pam Morgan, research in progress.
61 The projection of energy descent as an opportunity for economic and community renewal at the local level is illustrated by the rapidly growing Transition Towns movement in Britain, inititated by permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins see Transition Culture website and new book Transition Handbook.
62 Clearly this is only likely if there also remains enough of a global economy to buy Australia’s mineral and fossil fuel wealth (and to generate the greenhouse gas emissions that are fundamental to the Brown Tech scenario).
63 Some of the documents and statement from some of the American neo-conservatives are almost open in acknowleging this future.
65 Rising energy costs will see less resources available for conservation projects that are not also productive of food, fodder and/or fuel. Changing climate will involve migration of plant and animal species on a scale that will overwhelm efforts to maintain and reinstate locally indigenous ecologies.
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 13 August 2008 )|