Peak Oil

bicycle powered smoothie maker at Redland May FairElectricity pylon

Bristol is the first city in England to have commissioned a thorough look at how Bristol can thrive after Peak Oil. ThisPeak Oil Report published in October 2009 is a ‘must read’ document, and the facts that it contains need to underpin all planning and decision making from now on.

Oil scientist M King Hubbert coined the term peak oil fifty years ago. It means the point when extraction reaches its peak and starts to decline. It doesn’t mean that oil is suddenly ‘running out’, it means that half is used up.

This is important because the global growth economy is founded on growth in production of cheap oil year on year. Rob Hopkins’ Transition Handbook gives a very readable account. If you want a deeper insight into how the economic and money collapse fits with it all then look at the Crash Course. Some environmental campaigners have viewed peak oil as an unhelpful distraction that could lull people into thinking that carbon emissions don’t matter. They do matter because even with peak oil there’s enough oil and coal to drive atmospheric CO2 levels to dangerous levels.

What we can’t ignore is that scarcity of oil and gas in relation to demand – which will happen now because global production is plateauing now, will undermine the whole way our market systems operate. This could;

  • cripple food supply chains, transport systems and the global economy
  • trigger a dash to coal and destroy any chance of reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere

Richard Heinberg’s books, either The Party’s Over or Power Down tell you more. If you like technical information then look at The Oil Drum: Europe. James Hansen Director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, put the facts into a detailed letter to the Government, but there is not much sign yet of any real new thinking.

The take-home message is that we need to work out ways of prospering without cheap fossil fuel sooner rather than later. This is starting to happen and it is individuals, families, and local communities leading the change.