Monday, April 24

energy descent plan

The Kinsale Energy Descent Energy Action Plan – an introduction.
by Rob Hopkins, course co-ordinator, Kinsale FEC

Oil is an amazing material. It can power aeroplanes, run cars and lorries, heat our homes and generate electricity. It can be turned into a huge array of plastics and other polymers the world has never seen before, allowing us access to a great diversity of products our ancestors could only have dreamt of – what Kinsale’s ancient mariners would have given to get their hands on fibreglass and silicon mastic! It can be manufactured into medicines; the vast majority of modern drugs are petrochemical-based. Oil is used to power the production of high embodied energy materials such as cement, aluminium, steel and glass, which we use to house ourselves.

It has facilitated a huge growth in employment and economic wealth, created prosperity previous generations could only have dreamt of. It has allowed us to build an economy where we manufacture less and less and import more and more. We export butter and we import butter. We remove our native orchards and buy apples from the cheapest seller wherever that may be around the world. We have created a façade of wealth while at the same time wantonly discarding the very things that at any other time in history constituted real wealth - well managed diverse woodlands, local, vibrant, diverse food markets, local skills and traditions, local genetic diversity, breeds and varieties uniquely suited to local climate and soils.

However, while oil has brought undeniable benefits, these have come with a price tag. The dangers posed to us all by global warming are known to all at this stage, but suffice to say we have altered the climate in ways that are already causing chaos around the world, and it is only just the beginning.

We live in a world where oil has allowed us to create a huge range of chemical compounds never seen in the world before, many of which have been linked to problems in human health and environmental pollution. It is estimated that we all carry about 400-500 chemicals in our bodies that did not exist sixty years ago. It has also allowed us to create a lifestyle where we live faster - we drive to shop, drive to work, drive to be entertained. We are more stressed and unsatisfied, we sit down to meals with our families less and less, we have less and less time to relax with friends, there is a growing sense that “something is missing”.

The Peak
As Dr. Colin Campbell’s article below sets out, we are reaching a pivotal point in human history. At that moment, global oil production will peak, and from then on, demand will always exceed supply. There will never again be as much oil available as there is now. In short, we will reach (or have already reached) the point at which growth will become impossible. Our economies will need to make the transition to continual contraction rather than relentless growth. There will still be oil in the ground, but its extraction will become unfeasibly expensive and impractical, and our economies, designed on the fundamental assumption that they will always be growing, will have a traumatic period of adjustment to the new reality.

The co-founder of permaculture, David Holmgren, likens our situation to being on the top of a mountain, from where we have views that no-one has ever seen before, but where the storm clouds are gathering. We have to navigate a way down the mountain while we still can, while we still have favourable weather and daylight. If we just allow the peak to happen, without planning for it, we will be in for a very rough ride.

Energy Descent
A planned way down
There is an old saying, “there are three kinds of people; one who watches things happen, one who makes things happen and one who says 'what happened ?'. We do have an alternative to just sitting back and allowing a deeply uncertain future to simply unfold. Our collective dependence on fossil fuels leaves us very vulnerable, and indeed is largely responsible for the instability we see in the world today. To quote Jan Lundberg of the Sustainable Energy Institute, “real peace in a petroleum-fuelled world means rejecting petroleum dependence in all ways possible”.

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