The 10 best ways to respond to Peak Oil

by Chris Harries

There is no “quick fix” that can resolve the problem of world oil depletion. There”s no silver bullet, no magic energy source that can replace oil.

But there are many positive responses that we can make right now.

Our responses to both climate change and peak oil need to 1) be multi-facetted and 2) started right now whilst there is time to make an orderly transition. Below is a summary of the 10 steps that are considered to be vital.

The main thing to remember is that adjusting and adapting can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling journeys you could undertake. Enjoy the adventure!


1. Dealing with denial

How do you personally cope with peak oil and climate change news?

Do you meet them head on and do your brilliant best to respond? Do you deny that they are happening? Do you just want to shut them out and get on with your private life? Does it make you want to bunker in and defend your own patch? Do you fear the worst and respond with despair?

All of these are normal human reactions when a person faces confronting news. They are called stages of grief, and most people go through a range of such emotions, and work them out over time. Being fully aware of our own level of denial (or avoidance behaviour) is the first step most of us need to take if we wish to move forward.


2. Building personal resilience

The concept of resilience is central to building a sane, positive future.

As our society has become more and more complex and centralised we have enjoyed many consumer benefits, but, in turn, we have largely lost control over our lives and over our personal security.

We have allowed ourselves to become almost totally reliant on distant resources and skills to provide us with our basic needs. And if things break down then we no longer have nearby resources and connections that can replace those needs. In short, we have become very vulnerable to chaos and would not survive very well at all in times of great change.

There are many things we can do right now to increase our personal resilience.


3. Strengthening community resilience

Building personal resilience can help us along the way, but history shows that “going it alone” rarely works in times of change or social stress.

A community is much stronger than the sum of its parts. You and the people around have a great array of skills and resources that they can share. The people who thrive best during times of upheaval do so when those around them pool their efforts and draw on each other”s resources.

“If we try and do it on our own it will be too little, if we wait for government to do it it will be too late, but if we can gather together those around us—our street, our neighbourhood, our community—it might just be enough, and it might just be in time.” (Rob Hopkins)


4. Creating “Transition Communities”

Informal communities are great, but much more can be done when communities of people get together with a real commitment to collectively confront the “big picture” issues facing us.

With this in mind, Transition Communities came into being – starting off in Ireland, at Kinsale Community. Transition initiatives have since sprung up in many communities throughout the world, including Tasmania. Their aim is to build resilient communities that are able to withstand severe energy, climate or economic shocks while creating a better quality of life in the process.

Grand Vision: “Every community will pool together its collective creativity to unleash an historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is more vibrant and resilient; one that is ultimately preferable to the present”.


5. Reducing our footprints

In a wealthy nation like ours, any citizen born into the age of oil can’t help but have a heavy ecological footprint – our cities and highways and homes and transport and industrial infrastructure have all been built around a notion that the energy binge can go on forever. And we are all an intrinsic part of that culture.

Even the most morally indignant person is confronted by a range of barriers that make it hard to change our ways, so it’s all too easy to just go along with it, rather than make an effort to break our lifelong habits and change our consumer choices. Until now.

Spiraling energy prices are rapidly changing all that, and doing what’s good for our hip pockets ends up being surprisingly good for our health and well being.


6. Re-localising our economies

The globalised economy is making we good citizens far too dependent on a system that may one day fall apart. What’s more, rising fuel prices will force globalisation to go into a partial reverse anyway, leading to a much greater focus on local production.

The economies that thrive best will be those that start to provide those basic services and commodities that can be produced in their locality. Strengthening of local economies will also have many spin-offs in the strengthening of community bonds, sense of purpose and cultural richness.

Re-localisation is… “the process by which a region or local neighbourhood frees itself from its overdependence on the global economy and invests its own resources to produce a significant portion of its food, energy and other needs from local financial, natural and human resources.”


7. Creating “Energy Descent Action Plans”

As fossil fuels dwindle and become more expensive, our whole society and economy will be forced to live within the annual energy budget that can be provided by the sun and wind and hot rocks and such.

But, as Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales argues, the idea that modern consumer society can be powered entirely by renewable energy sources is fanciful and impossible. Redesigning our society and economy to use much less energy is absolutely imperative.

One of the most useful policy tools to do this is the Energy Descent Action Plan. It’s a way of taking a big complicated problem and breaking it down to managed, bite-sized pieces. An EDAP shows how a community (or even a whole nation) can work together to move stepwise towards a sustainable world.


8. Fostering alternative energy

For many people, ‘alternative energy’ throws up images of idyllic wind farms and solar panels taking over from dirty fossil-fuelled power stations. End of story, problem solved!

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so easy. Wind, solar and geothermal energy are all very positive and need to be promoted where sensible, but it’s important to put them into an intelligent context. They can’t, for instance, replace the 95 percent of liquid fuel energy that is used in both food production and transportation. Bluntly put, dilute energy alternatives can not solve the oil crunch, they can only play a part.

Addressing the oil crunch requires a wide mix of solutions, like dealing with our diets and wasteful consumption patterns and the design of our cities. Once we accept that broader context, then alternative energy options have a tremendously important role to play, and deserve our strong support. In doing so, let”s be careful with our choices of alternative energy so that we aren”t just creating new problems somewhere else or sometime else.


9. Forcing our governments to act

“I don’t consider an issue is important to the public until 100 people come knocking on my door to tell me that it is”. (Tasmanian politician)

Well, that’s just honest plain speaking. Politicians rarely rise up and take action unless their constituency is banging on the door.

Although the process of government can be horrendously slow, only government has the power, finances and resources to respond adequately to critical issues like that of oil depletion, so it is vital that they have a strong policy platform in place.

In the face of rising oil prices, there are many things that state and local governments should be doing to adjust economic levers, to prepare the public for oil depletion, to reduce costly energy imports and to protect vulnerable sectors from avoidable hardship.


10. Signing the “Oil Depletion Protocol”

This one is mainly for governments and large institutions. The Oil Depletion Protocol is an international agreement that enables governments of the world to cooperatively reduce their dependence on oil.

How does it work? Each nation, state or agency that agrees to sign the protocol commits to reduce its oil imports (or usage) and exports by a specified amount each year – about 2.6 percent. Doesn”t sound much but when compounded each year for 20 years that small commitment amounts to a hell of a lot of energy.

This simple formula is, in effect, a global rationing system. If the entire world adopted the Protocol, world oil usage would decline by almost 3 percent per annum, thus stabilizing prices and preserving the resource base.

You can explore the Protocol”s website by just clicking on the graphic above.

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