INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
works at the
Croatian Institute of History
, Zagreb, Republic of Croatia. He is the author of "Limits of Spiritual Enlightenment", "Two Roads Diverging: Integral Theory and Contemporary Science", "Twilight in the Integral World: Integral Theory and the Desintegration of Industrial Civilization", "Pitfalls of Wilberian Ecology: A Critical Review of Integral Ecology
" and "Paul Shepard and Integral Theory", all published on Integral World.
In 2009 and early 2010 I published 5 essays by Tomislav Markus on Integral World. Markus, a Croatian historian with a deep interest in ecology from the point of view of anthropological history and evolutionary theory, offered a radical critique of the "idealistic" integral ecology presented by Hargens & Zimmerman. When trying to contact him about new material for Integral World I discovered to my dismay last week that he had died in 2010. During our last mail conversation (July 21, 2010) he mentioned a longer paper about Peak Oil posted on his professional website. I repost this paper here below, so that his views on radical ecology can get the wider readership they deserve to have. If anyone holds the copyrights on this text, please contact me directly. Note: I have not edited Markus' English, which typically lacks words such as "a" or "the". (FV)
Peak Oil and the Disintegration
of Industrial Civilization
Tomislav Markus (1969-2010)
I. The rise of industrial civilization and fossil fuels
Peak oil doesn't mean the end of oil, but the end of cheap oil or the extraction and
consumption of the most easily extracted and the best quality.
Wood and labour of living beings (humans and domestic animals) were the
chief sources of energy in the agrarian civilizations. Coal was used in some
regionsas in England from 14th century on or in the Song Chinabut that was
exception. So, the vast majority of the population had to live as peasants and in an
urban environmentcities and townswere living only 5-10 % of the population.
In favourable circumstances human population rose, depending on available food,
and then crashed by hunger and various diseases. Majority of population in
agrarian civilizations was living on the brink of hunger and demographic-social
crises were often. Many agrariran civilizationsMaya, Roman Empire, ancient
Summerbadly damaged ecological foundations of their existence and perished
or significantly weakened. Main ideological forms in agrarian civilization were
axial religionschristianity, islam, buddhism, confucianism etc.which were
originaly protest against social repression and other anthropogenic problems in
their society but quickly became consolation for supposedly inevitable human
Faith in «historical progress»the fundamental metanarative of all modern
secular ideologies was created due to the discovery of the New World, but
became widespread due to new energy sources. Traditional economy, from 17th to
the middle of 19th century, often acknowledged natural limits, especially in very
influential population theory of Thomas Malthus. But mass urbanization and
gradual harnessing of oil and gas, from the middle of 19th century on, created faith
in unlimited natural resources or, what was the same, unlimited human power in
exploiting these resources. After that, modern enocomy was builded on the
negation of natural limits and on faith in free market's capability to overcome all
(temporarily) restraints. For sc. scientific economy resources depletion has no
meaning, because free market will always find some solution, either by increase of
production (and price falling), or finding alternatives. Liberalism, marxism and
other modern secular ideologies also proclamate their faith in unlimited power of
human „conquest of nature“. For them, nature is just storehouse of resources
existing for human exploitation and consumption.
The most common explanation of sc. industrial revolutionlack of wood
in the Great Britainremains the best one, despite many criticisms. Other
countries had to follow British example if they didn't want to stay behind in the
international competition. Industrial revolution had many deep social and
ecological consequences but it was, in the main aspects, deepening and
accelerating of fundamental trends of the last several thousand years: expansion of
population, agriculture and cities, ecological destruction, centralization and
bureaucratization etc. Industrial societies, with mass urbanization and
mechanization, in the last 200 years are created by finding and exploiting new
energy sources: coal as fundamental mover of the first and oil and gas as movers
of the second industrial revolution. New energy sources were crucial factors for
vast increase of human population, from below 1 billion around 1800 to cca 7
billions around 2010. Fossil fuelsenergy sources with high quality and density
and high net-energy valueare the main factor in creating an industrial
civilization in the 19th and 20th century, including mass urbanization, mass
transportation and consumer society. All industrial megastructure, in the last two
centuries, was building on the fossil fuels and their consumption was steadily
growing in the last several decades (see graphs I and II). Oil dependence is not
„addiction“ (famous sentence of former American president Bush Jr., that
„America was addicted to oil“), because drug addict can overcome his/her
addiction and leave his/her drug behind. Industrial society can't „leave behind“ oil,
certainly not in some easy-going fashion. In some vital parts, like transportation or
industrial agriculture, oil is absolutely crucial. Technology is not a some kind of
autonomous force, but only a transformer of energy. Technology never creates
energy, but only uses up available energy, that is, in industrial society, fossil fuel
energy and its derivatives.
Graph I: world consumption of several chief energy sources 1965-2005
Graph II: oil „production“ in the long-term perspective from 17th to 25th century
Energyand in industrial society this means fossil fuelsis not one aspect
of economy or one resource among others, as economists think, but the basis of all
economy and the fundamental resource for all others. Oil and other fossil fuels are
the life-blood of the industrial economy and for all important activities:
manufacturing, transport, agriculture, industrial and mass-production, tourism,
military, mining, production of electricity etc. Without them, nothing can work.
Especially oilwith its versatility, ease of transportation and storage, high
thermodinamic quality and densityhad crucial significance for demographic and
technological expansion in the last 100 years. Conventional oil always had very
favourable rate (although decreasing one) of EROEI (energy returned over energy
invested): 1:70 (one barrel consumed for 70 barrels extracted) in 1970, 1:30 in
1970 and 1:10 today. Basis of optimism and economic expansion of the industrial
societies, especially in great boom after WWII, always were the low prices of
fossil fuels, primarly oil. The golden age of neoliberal globalization, in the 1980s
and 1990s and till recently, was possible only because of the constant flow of
cheap energy in the world economy and trade. And, on the contrary, the most
economic contractions and increase of unemployment („recession“ in terminology
of conventional economics), in the last 60 years, were caused primarily by
increase of oil prices. „Cheap energy“ here means cheap net-energy flow (that is,
amount of energy usable for some industrial purpose, not amount of extraction).
Low price of net energy usually (but not necessarily) means low market price of
oil and other energy sources.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources and there were always
warnings about their exhaustion, especially oil, from the 1920s on. But the
discovery of new oil-fields were coming up continuously, with a big discoveries
first in North America in the 1920s and 1930s and then in the Middle East after
1940. The peak of discovery was in 1960s (see graph III), but, although there were
some big findings after that, as in the North Sea in the 1970s, the rate of discovery
was continuously slowing down. Since discovery cannot replace existing oilfields,
peak is inevitable and only datation can be matter of dispute. American geologist
King M. Hubbert predicted in 1956 that peak oil for the USA (lower 48 states) will
peak in 1970. Original Hubbert's curve (see graph IV) suppose that oil
„production“ follows ascending line, comes to peak and then start to fall, at first
slowly and later faster. Hubbert predicted peak oil for world-extraction frist in
1995, then in 2000. („if current trends continue“), but nobody listened to himhis
home company (Shell) even tried to supress his analysisand he died in 1989,
forgotten. His name became famous in the last ten years, when men from different
background and professionsretired oil geologists, journalists, academic analysts
– reaffirmed his original ideas with more sophisticated models and with some
different conclusions. The first generation were retired petroleum geologists, like
Colin Campbell, Walter Youngquist, Jean Laherrère and Kenneth Deffeyes, and
the second one were writers, journalists and academicians, like Richard Heinberg,
James Kunstler, Nate Hagens, Jan Lundberg, Michael Lardelli, Jeremy Leggett,
Ugo Bardi, Guy McPherson, Gail Tverberg, Dmitry Orlov, John Greer, Sharon
Astyk, Michael Klare, Rob Hopkins, Peter Goodchild, George Mobus, Carolyn
Baker and many others.
Graph III: rate of discovery of oil fields from 1930s to today with future forecasts. Notice
significant slowing of increase of oil „production“ after 1980. After 2005. rate of increase of
„production“ was almost zero. Two last succesful years were 1999 and 2000, but after that there was
no significant discovery till 2007-8. There is a big lack in discoveries in 2001-2007 and this is oil
which should be come on line 2009 and after.
Graph IV: Original Hubbert's curve from 1956.
Peak oil doesn't mean end of oil, but end of cheap oil or extraction and
consumption of the most easily extracted and the best quality. Peak oil means
end of the first (ascending) phase of fosil fuel's era. Peak oil is diminishment of
ability to produce high quality cheap and economically extractable oil on demand.
The most relevant thing is not when oil „production“ is gone, but when
„production“ begins to taper off. Peak oil means maximum of oil production in
one year or in one quartal but it can also mean sc. pick plateau, longer period in
which oil production is more-less flat (unlike original Hubbert's curve which
supposes sharp decline in oil „production“). Contemporary peak oil, as we will
see, is just the case of pick plateau after 2004. Term „peak oil“ is, however, a bit
unfortunateit has not mean an extraction of the first half of oil reserves, as is
often saidbecause there can be vast resources of sc. unconventional oil, like
Canadian tar sand or Venezuelan heavy oil. But EROEIor extraction of useful
net-energyis crucial for peak oil, because vast resources of „unconventional oil“
can't help much if too much energy (and water) must be consumpted for
extraction. F. e., big parts of „unconventional oil“ can be extracted only if oil
prices are above 100 d/b, but economy can't tolerate such prices for long. So, peak
oil is not necessarily a classical case of depletion/scarcity of resources (which can
be substituted for something else) but something more importantend of
favourable rate of EROEI, start of decreasing of net-energy and end of economic
growth on the world level (although not in every single country).
The first (1973) and second (1979) oil shock clearly showed up the big
vulnerability of „advanced“ industrial society on oil import, especially from the
Middle East and that dependence was steadily increasing. The USA was importing
cca 30% of its oil in the 1970s, and today imports cca 70%. The first and second
oil shock caused big problems and interruptions of normal fuctioning of western
economies, but their effect did not last for long because they were caused by
political factorsthe Arabian embargo and Iranian revolutionwhich change
quickly. These were minor inconvenience in the long first phase of the fossil fuels'
era with ever increasing production. The discovery and exploitation of a big
Western oil field in the North Sea and Alaska from the 1970s on mitigated the
situation as well and helped in the overcoming of the energy crisis. But these
shocks were an early warning for the future. From 1985. to 2002, the average price
of oil was 15-20 d/b: the basis for the so called informational revolution and big
After 2000, the price was, with minor fluctuations, continuously, rising
untill the summer of 2008 (see graph V). In analysis of oil prices we have to look
for long-term trends, not for short-term fluctuations. In period 2003-2009 the
average price of oil was cca 80-85 d/b, enormous increase from period 1985-2002.
The great oil spike 2007-2008, with a price of 148 d/b in early summer 2008, was
partly caused by stock market speculations, but only because of expectations of an
ever increasing demand. Unlike the first and the second oil shock, which were
caused by artificial shortage, the third was caused by objective geological limits.
The OPEC was controlling oil prices from 1970s to ca. 2002 and Saudi Arabi was
a so called swing (crucial) producer, but in the last several years this was not the
case anymore. In 2009 Russia became the biggest oil producer in the world with
oil extraction above 10 m/b per day, but, regarding bad condition of its old fields,
it will difficultly sustain this level of extraction.
Graph V: oil prices from 1996 to summer 2009. After that prices grew faster, above 80 d/b in
October 2009. Notice big oil spike 2007-8, but also continued increase of oil prices from 2002
to summer 2008.
In the last 15-20 years there is the last big industrial revolution in China,
India and some other „developing“ countries. Demand was growing fast but
supply was growing much more slowly, especially after 2004. At the end of 2004,
the world extraction of all liquids (oil, gas, ethanol) was cca. 85 millions of barrel
and in the early summer of 2008, when extraction-efforts were at maxium due to
very high prices, was cca 87,5 millions of barrel. World liquid fuels extraction
reached a plateau in late-2004 and has fluctuated within a narrow range ever since.
Peak oil was in 2005, and peak energy (or all liquids peak) in 2008. This is the so
called peak plateau, when world extraction is more or less flat and probably can't
be significantly increased, no matter how hight prices are (see graph VI). Peak oil
as an event was in 2008 and peak oil as a process are continuing today as the
second phase in the fossil fuels era. Domestic consumption in OPEC countries and
Russia rises so fast that these countries have less oil for export every year. High
prices means possibility of big subventions of domestic consumers and
encouragement of domestic consumption and, given stagnating oil extraction, less
oil for export and endurance of high prices in western countries, despite deep
economic crisis. Peak oil can be identified with pick plateau or the second phase
in the fossil fuels era. In the first phase oil extractions was continually rising, in
the second phase it stagnates and in the third phasewhich can start in any year,
but probably not before 3-5 years, depending on demandit will decline. The oil
industry has been running on a treadmill since 2005 with production staying
essentially flat despite record high oil prices. Capital for oil infrastructure
investments, which might have seen new production continue to offset declines for
a few more years yet, has withered. Between 2005 and 2008 supply fell short of
demand. Real fact of peak oil will be known only after oil extraction will begin to
fall from peak plateau, but this factincapability of significant increase of
„production“ despite high pricesshows that peak oil is already here. Coming of
peak oilor the end of the first phase of fossil fuels era and start of the second
phasemeans also coming a big economic crisis, the worst world crisis after Great
Depression of 1930s. Ironically peak energy is masked by the economic
downturn, from summer 2008 on, which was primarily caused bypeak energy.
Year of 2008 was, as Richard Heinberg points out, fundamental break from past
decades, year in which industrial civilization smash into the wall of ecological
contraints. Long-held predictions about „limits-to-growth“ were finally realized.
Graph VI: „production“ (real and anticipated) oil and gas „production“ 1930-2050 in
billions of barrels. Notice peak plateau 2005-2015.
A big increase in oil price was the main cause of the contemporary
economic crisisthe economy and especially credit-and-debt economy with
continual „growth“ can't normaly function without abundant cheap energy and
there is only the question what was the cause for that. Facts tell us that the chief
reason was an ever more unfavourable relation between increasing demand and
stagnating supply. Oil companies and organizations like International Agency
Energy think that the chief reason of the third oil shock was a lack of investment
(in tankers, drill-technologies, refineries etc.) due to low oil prices in 1985-2002.
That is the opinion of many analysts, especially those working inside the oil
industry or some pro-government agencies, like IEA or CERA. But that can't
explain the low level of investment after 2002, when oil prices was going up. Oil
companies know that available (namely, suitable for extraction with favourable
relation of EROEI) oil reserves are much smaller than is officially stated and that
big investments will not be worth the trouble. In oil business investments can be
profitable after ten and more years, but for ten years there will be (much) less oil
than now, sono big investments. For non-conventional oil (tar sand, heavy oil)
it is needed triple-digit price (100-150 d/b) for extraction, but economy can't
endure such high prices for long.
For mainstream economistsonly academic intellectuals with some
measure of political influencethe basis of the economy is money and human
labour, not energy and natural wealth („resources“ in anthropocentric
terminology). For them, only constraining factors are capital and human labour,
not ecological limits. They think that energy is only one resource, but, in real
world, energy is resource of all other resource. Contemporary economic theories
are product of recent decades of robust economic growth, so it's natural that they
accept faith in eternal economic expansion. After 2008's crash many economists
abandoned neoliberal free market fundamentalism and accepted neo-
Keynesianism. Now they think that lack of state regulation in financial industry
has caused big problems and near-collapse. So, their advice to goverments is:
pump the money into the bank system, give stimulus packages and bail-outs, run
strong fiscal politics and the economy will recover. This should stop repetition of
Great Depression of 1930s. Contemporary mega-crisis is, they think, just a
„recessic cycle“, one among many, perhaps a bit stronger and longer than usual.
For them and for governments, this is just „financial crisis“ with no connection
with energy factor at all. Responding to deepening „financial crisis“, most states
were trying to expand their money supply. These measures can bring some shortterm
effects, like a very limited revival of economic activity in the second part of
2009 and cheap benefits for governments which look only for the next election,
but in the long-term it goes nowhere. It only creates new problems, like the great
dangers of a dollar-collapse and deficit-bubble which can easily explode and
create a fast deepening of the economic crisis.
Political and economic elites try to supply the banks with fresh money
which can be loaned to companies for creating new jobs and restauration of the old
economy. Idea is simple andwrong, because there is no (cheap) energy in this
equation. Without cheap energy there can no be cheap credits. Obsession with
money is a consequence of the simple fact: quantity of money can be expanded
endlessly, but quantity of energyespecially cheap net-energycan not.
„Recession“ and „depression“ are terms from conventional economics and they,
because of implicated „recovery“, are not useful here. Coming of peak energy
means start of deep structural crisis of world economy and industrial civilization
as a whole. Traditional economicseither liberal or marxist oneis simply not
prepared to deal with it because of its negation of ecological limits and, in the
liberal case, blind faith in free market mechanisms. Traditional Right and Left
were and are joining their hands in human godlike power over nature and human
omnipotence in transcendence of natural limits. As one peak oil theorist suitably
says, Right blames foreigners, „terrorists“ and leftist and Left blames riches and
corporations but neither approach can do much to solve fundamental predicament
of crucial energy depletion and deepening of mega-crisis. Public blames
governements and companies, governments blame „speculators“ and oil extractors
etc. Scapegoating is a typicall example of old-fashioned thinking, trapped in
anachronistic paradigm of endless growth.
For public and politicians 148 d/b in summer 2008 was not wake up call but
stimulus for witch hunt or scapegoating (choose your pick and blame the
speculators, OPEC, oil companies, government etc.). Many people thought that
increase of oil prices was speculative bubble, and, for them, big decrease of prices,
after 2008 summer, was „proof“ for that. There is popular opinion that peak oil is
a propaganda of oil companies and their vindication of high oil prices. But oil
companies ignore question of peak oil or argue that it is in far future. They think
that illusions about abundant quantities of oil and gas are in their interest. But, if it
is true, then high oil prices are, in part at least, consequences of manipulation of
oil companies. For high prices there can be only two meaningful explanations:
either peak oil or manipulation with significant involvement of oil business.
Official spokesmen of the political and economic elites argue that there are much
greater reserves of oil left in the ground than had previously been believed to be
recoverable and that "new technology" will make that oil recoverable. But, even if
it's so, crucial factorvery unfavourable EROEIis usually not mentioned. One
of the reasons world economy has grown so abundant so quickly over the last few
generations is precisely because oil has had an unprecedentedly high EROEI ratio.
In the early days of oil, for every barrel of oil used for exploration and drilling, up
to 100 barrels of oil were found. More recently, as oil recovery becomes more
difficult, the ratio has become significantly lower. Certain alternative energy
'sources' may actually have EROEI ratios of less than one, such as many methods
of industrially producing biodiesel biodiesel and ethanol, or extracting oil from
shale and tar sand.
International Energy Agency (IEA) is energy „watchdog“ of developed
contriescreated after first oil shock 1973. to supervise energy pricesand many
governments make their energy policy according to its predictions of future world
energy demand, supply and production. IEA always insisted peak oil was decades
off and even in the two last reports (World Energy Outlook, 2008 and 2009) global
oil extraction is not expected to peak before 2030. Moreover, in 2009 report there
was no sense in urgencyunlike those in 2008 and unlike public comments of
some IEA officials in 2009about oil fields depletion. In these two reports IEA
predicted increase of world oil production, reaching 105 mb/d till 2030 (very
unrealistic prediction, as we already said). Among peak oil circles IEA has been
often accused for deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of
triggering panic buying and that US has played an influential role in encouraging
Agency to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying
the chances of finding new reserves. Almost allpublic, governments, industry,
bankers etc.are interested not to say or know what truth is. If stock market
speculators know the truth, oil prices would be over 200 d/b in one week or so
with devastating effects for world economy. There is no plan Bor any
meaningful strategy for near futureamong political and economic elites; there is
big possibility of mass panic in stock markets and public and other dangers.
Politicians (like technicians) can think only in the perspective „problem-solution“,
but here there is no such thing as „solution“. And they, as professional optimists,
can't talk about bad news, except as some temporary „problems“ waiting for
„solutions“. Sowhy tell the truth anyway? Moreover, peak oil isunlike climate
changenew player in town, more often debated ony in last ten years or so. It has
natural connection only with long forgotten 1970s' discourse of limits to growth.
Some western governments, especially in North America, are probably
aware oil peak for several years. American military adventure in the Middle East,
especially invasion on Iraque in 2003, is meaningful only in this context. But
political elites in USA, Canada or any other country don't speak publicly about
peak oil, believing that peak oil is not peak energy. They probably know that peak
oil is real cause of economic crisisnot lack of state regulation of financial
industry or something like thatbut they believe that cheap energy will return and
make possible a return of old economy and business-as-usual. This cheap energy
will not come from conventional oil, but from combination of „alternative“, like
coal, gas, nuclear fission, wind, solar, unconventional oil plus some new forms of
energy, depending of future technological breakthorugh, like nuclear fusion. New
American president Barack Obama's program for «clean energy» and «clean
technologies» (for conventional thinking, energy and technology are the same
thing) has very wide support and popularity inside and outside the USA. There is
great enthusiasm about technological „breakthroughs“, „natural capitalism“,
„clean energy“, „solar revolution“, „energy independence“, „green revolution“ and
many other forms of quick „solutions“ and „miracles“. There is widespread
popularity of different institutions and groups, like Breakthrough Institute, with
many promises of technological wonders. But this is a big illusion and a symptom
of faith in technological miracles, very often a phenomenon in industrial society.
Graph XII : World's energy sources and consumption in 2004. Today (2010) situation is
similar, but percent of coal and nuclear were increased. Note the absolute primacy of fossil
fuels which is much bigger in indirect terms (that is, as energetic basis for all other energy
Seppo Korpela's apt wordsthat „humanity is hopelessly trapped in a
predicament unlike anything it has faced before“ are often reiterated in peak oil
literature. The vast majority of peoplepublic, mass media, political and
economic elitesare not aware how serious the human predicament is. There is a
widespread hope that either oil reserves are huge, or we can develop alternative
energy sources, just on time «to leave oil before oil leaves us». Unfortunately,
there is no such thing as «alternatives». So called alternatives nuclear power,
solar, wind, geothermal etc.are just technologies for electric energy production.
Technology is not energy and «alternatives» are really just derivatives of fossil
fuels. That means, we must have vast amounts of cheap oil and gas for the
development of alternative technologies, but, because of peak oil, we haven't. It
takes «oil energy» to make «alternative energy» or all non-fossil fuel energy
sources depend on fossil fuel-driven economy. Faith in „clean energy
technologies“ is just wishful thinking. In the real world thera are only fossil fuels
and their derivatives (for electricity production). „Alternative“ energy sources are
simply increasing along with (rather than displacing) fossil fuels energy sources.
Industrial societies are builded, in the last 200 years, on fossil fuel-energy and
can't create quicklyif can at allsome different energy base. Consumption of
other energy sources only increases along with consumption of fossil fuels, but it
doesn't replace them. In the post-peak oil world development of «alternatives» will
mean a big increase of demand for oil and gas, price will go up and the economy
will or crash or retreat into an even deeper recession. Development of
«alternatives» is possible only by constant economic growth, but the fundamental
precondition for itcheap fossil fuelsexists no longer.
«Alternative» forms of energy simply can't replace 30 billion annual barrels of oil (the problem of «net energy») and they always were, are and (probably) will
be net-energy losers.
«Alternative» forms of energy simply can't replace 30 billion annual barrels
of oil (the problem of «net energy») and they always were, are and (probably) will
be net-energy losers. There are other problems with «alternatives» as hard
collecting, because sun, wind or water are not simply in the ground, as oil, gas and
coal are, but they are not always available and depend much on (fast changing)
climate. If oil prices are low (below 40 d/b) „renewables“ are not market
competitive, and if prices are too high (above 90 d/b or so), they, as oilderivatives,
cannot be extensive developed. Hydrogen is energy carrier (and very
inefficient one), not energy source. Nuclear power, which only can produce bigger
quantities of electricity, is too expensive and dangerous. There are significant
amounts of coal, but much less then is usually thought and its masive use will
drastically increase climate changes and pollution in human habitats. Coal can't
help in some sectors, like transportation or agriculture, which are completly
depended on oil and gas. Extraction of tar sand (bitumen) in Canada and some
other countries is particularly expensive in money, oil (big problem in the context
of peak oil, EROEI is just 1:1,5) and water and has dire ecological consequences,
from pollution of immediate environment to contribution of climate changes. The
same can be said for offshore drilling, even if ecological disasterslike recent one
in Mexico Gulf, when oil platform sank in April 2010remains isolated
The second problem with „alternatives“ is that there is simply no time for
such massive energy transition. The first oil shock (1973) was a good (but wasted)
opportunity for the beginning of the energy transition, because it takes cca 30-50
years. The increasing supply gap in the next 10-20 years or so can't be closed by
all other energy sources combined. Investing in «alternatives» means a waste of
money. So, the era of cheap energy can't be returned and without it there will be
no long-term recovery. Mainstream economists simply can't understand that
because for them resource shortage is not possible. If prices go up either
production will be increased or alternatives will be found quickly. But today
neither is possible. That means that all propositions about „sustainable
development“, „ecological modernization“ and similar concepts are simply
illusions and self-deceptions. Technology is not energy and technological
innovations cannot much help if mass dependence of fossil fuels remains.
At present, world economy is in difficult situation. Despite great
economich crash 2008 worldwide oil usage has dropped only 2,7 %, fact which
shows well how oil-dependent world economy is. When economic activity picks
up, demand for oil and oil prices will rise exponentially again because supply will
not follow demand. Oil price in the last several monthscca 75-80 d/bis really
astronomic for condition of crisi. Fundamental condition for recovery is plentiful
cheap energy or return of oil prices to cca 15-20 d/b. Of course, this is not
possible. Amidst deep (and deepening) crisis oil prices were climbing to 70 d/b in
summer 2009 and above 80 d/b in October 2009. Airline industrythat means big
companies, many smaller were already goneis on the brink of collapse with
such high prices and remaining automobile industry is not in much better situation.
Federal Reserve Bank in USA issues more and more currency and credit to
prevent banks and mutual funds from collapse. American Government intentionaly
depreciates its national currency (often measure of government in the case of big
debt) but weaker dollar means higher oil prices andno economic recovery.
Unemployment continually rises in almost all countries. There are many bubbles
waiting to burst in next year or two. Governments and mass media see „green
shoots“ and „signs of recovery“ everywhere but these are just temporary quasirevoveries
in the long-term rate of economic contraction.
Bailouts and stimulus packages won't have long-term effect without return
of the cheap energy. There is not and there will be not energy bail-out. They can
only slow down a rate of economic contraction and, because of big increase of
public debt and state deficit, postpone of financial bankruptcy of the world
economy. Financial institutions cannot function without economic growth which is
not possible without cheap energy. If economy really recovers oil supply crunch
(physical shortage of oil, not just high prices) and skyrocketing prices will be
probably inevitable. In the era of cheap energy many people could live beyond
their means, but not more. Massive stimulus packages have created massive public
debtand transformation of private to public debtand deficits in state-budgets,
intolerable situation for next several years. Even mainstream institutionslike
french bank Société Générale in November 2009are warning on great danger of
economic collapse. The biggest government-sponsored bubble is, of course, in
China (and its phantomic 8+% growth), where buildings with no tenants, roads
with no vehicles and shopping malls with no consumers or employees are builded.
Massive government interventions show that economy is on the life-support
system, unable to stand on its own feets. There were no „fundamental changes“ –
promised by American president Obamato institutions and regulations in the last
year, just temporarily propping up, by massive increase of debt, of growth-based
institutions. Without cheap energy there is no growth, without growth there is no
repayment for loans, and without repaying loans whole building of debt-and-credit
economy begins to fall apart. Already, governments in many countries, must
impose „austerity measures“cuts of public spending, increase of taxes, cuts of
salaries, pensions and jobshoping for decrease of intolerable deficit and keep
confidence of foreign investors. But these measures either will remain pure
cosmetics gestures or, if seriously implemented, they will a death of social state,
much deeper stagnation and economic contraction and suicide for government. It
is doubtful that governments can insist to implement restrictive measures against
will of its own public., Nevertheless, even harsh measures can't prevent states
bankruptcy under the crashing deficit and debt in the next year or two.
II. Future trends
Peak oil and climate change are two fundamental parts of the perfect storm
and they must be understood together, not separate.
At this moment in time, we are in the middle of the first (introductory)
phase of a mega-crisis, when world oil production is flat. Or, if we look at modern
epoch in the energy context, we are in the middle of the second phase. The first
phase was the ascending one, with ever increasing of oil production (with minor
fluctuation, chiefly because of geopolitical problems). Oil „production“ and
supply were always ahead of demand. This phase ended about 2005. The second –
or stagnantphase began in the last quartal of 2004. with slowing down of the
increase of rate of oil „production“. From 2005. till today oil „production“ has
been stagnating between 85 and 87,5 m/b per day for all liquids or between 72 and
74 m/b per day for crude oil. Oil demand started exceeding supply in 2006 and in
the near future it can be expected a growing gap (graph VII). In the next several
years we can expect the deepening of the crisis with a further rise of
unemployment and a decrease of demand due to high oil prices (cca 70 d/b is the
minimal acceptable or „fair“ price for OPEC; „fair price“ was 20 d/b in 2002 and
40 d/b in 2004). In the near future (1-4 years or in the time of pick plateau) oil
prices will fluctuate wildly; deepening of economic crisis will them push lower,
but OPEC-measures and constantly rising demand in non-OECD countries (sc.
emerging economies) will them push higher; market speculations will work in
both directions, depending on „signs of recovery“ or „signs of depression“ in 60-
80 d/b range. In the long-term, especially after 1012., oil and energy prices will go
up due to ever increasing gap between rising demand and declining extraction.
The third or descending phase will begin when extraction will start to fall from
peak plateau, at first slow, then faster, probably after 2012, perhaps even earlier,
depending on demand and OPEC's capability to compensate for non-OPEC's
continual falling extraction. Only big demand destructionand deep depression -
can postpone the end of the second phase of the end of fossil fuels era for several
years. This will be the start a real crisis with an increase of supply shortages,
energy blackouts, mass unemployment, high inflation and prices, no matter of
demand. Then, even falling demand will not help in decrease of prices. Relative
low oil prices 2009-10 are just calm before the storm.
Year 2008 is a fundamental breaking point in history of modern
civilization, end of (expanding) globalization and beginning of de-industrialization
and re-localization. That year will be understood, by future historians, as a
beginning of end of industrial civilization. Of course, it has to be understood as a
long-term process, not singular event. Traditionally, peak oil analyists have been
focused on global supply-side maximum rate of oil extraction. But, net oil export
is the biggest problem today, because oil extraction is stagnating on plateau and
domestic consumption in oil exporting is countries is constantly increasing. So,
every year less oil have on the international market even if rate of extraction is the
same. Many peak oilers think that net oil export crisis may be the defining
geopolitical event of the next decade. We are probably rushing towards the „net
energy cliff“ with falling of energy profitability of oil extraction and energy
starvation of ever increasing sectors of society. So, there will be no gradual
decline in oil extraction in post-peak oil world, but much faster.
Graph VII: growing gap between oil demand and supply
In general, there are two possible scenarios for near future: 1) continual
deepening of crisis or continuation of the trends of the last 16 months towards the
second Great Depression (the most likely scenario), and 2) short recovery,
especially in China and India, and then sudden crash due to explosion of prices
and hyper-inflation. Both scenarios lead to economic crash due to collapse of
bubble economy and mass bankruptcy of many states and their incapability to
repay their credits and debts. From the perspective of peak oil awareness, the
second scenariorecovery-price increase-contraction-price decrease-recovery etc.
- is perhaps the best one. Most people can take peak oil seriously only if oil prices
are going up and they think, quite wrongly, that peak oil is irrelevant is prices are
going down. Oil peak analysts have usually predicted, before escallation of crisis
in 2008, that oil/energy peak will cause economic contraction, oil prices will fall,
there will be partial and short recovery, prices will rise again, new contraction etc.
Cycles contraction-recovery-contraction will repeat itself but every time on much
deeper and harder level. But there is other scenarion, which today (spring 2010)
looks more probable for unfolding. It seems that financial-kredit systemin
overdebted countries like USA, most European countries and Japanis beyond
repair and that its further implosion is inevitable due to impossibility to restarting
of economic growth. Bail-outs and „stimulus packages“ can buy some time, but
they can't stop further contraction of economy. Deepening of crisis, with
relatively lower prices, will mask oil/energy peakthe most important event of
our erafor a long time. In 2010, as protectionism and the economic and social
depression will increase, many states will be compelled (and some allready are) to
choose between three hard options: (hyper)inflation, high taxation and reduction
of public spending (with big increase of unemployment, hard social tensions, fall
of governments etc.) or defaulting on their debt (that is, bankruptcy). Bankruptcy –
or burst of bail-out/debt bubble, „mother of all bubbles“ is probably inevitable
for most countries. Greece crisis, in early 2010, in only beginning of this trend.
Mass discontentment, strikes and street unrest are a very real possibility in
the next couple of years, because, without the constant supply of the cheap (or not
too expensive, as now) energy, big cities are casks of gunpowder. Food crisis will
be rampant due to rise of energy prices, lack of investment and bad weather. This
will be the end, among other thing, plural liberal democratic and multicultural
society. In the era of cheap energy, government can be relatively tolerant and
various ethnic and religious groups can live together in relative peace. But in the
era of scarcity and ever increasing energy and economic crisis, social tension will
increase and governments will pursue more represive politics and more draconian
measures: capital punishment, closing of borders and ban of imigration, restraints
of civil freedoms. Constant increase of prices, unemployment and taxes will cause
impoverishment and disappearance of middle classes. Ethnic majority will look
for scapegoats and these will be often some (racial, ethnic, religious) minorities.
Some of these measuresmild indication of the future trendswe can se already
today. Some peak oil thinkers, like John M. Greer, predicts sc. catabolic
collapse, or long-term processes of social desintegration over several centuries.
More probably, it will take shorter time, maximum several decades or so,
especially because of perfect storm (about it little later) and complete dependence
of industrial economy on oil and other fossil fuels. It's hard to expect long-term
desintegration, like, f. e., Roman Empire or classic Maya civilization.
In the further future, after 2025 or so, we can expect a real desintegration of
industrial societies and fastening processes of demographic (decrease of
population) and social (decrease of political, technological and economic
complexity) collapse. In 2030 the world oil production will be half of the 2008-
level, with ca. 8,5 billions humans, not a rosy prospect in any case. This is not
apocalypse or doomsday thinking, but a new case of collapse of complex societies,
a frequent topic of scientific study. The recent drop of oil prices, from summer
2008 on, is payed for future supply crunch (psychical shortage of oil, perhaps in
the next 3-4 years) because many projects of discovery of oil fields and
investments are cancelled. These cancellations increase probability that concrete
peak „production“87,5 m/b per day in July 2008will never be surpassed.
Economic activity can rebound a little (as in the summer of 2009) in the short-term
because of governement's fiscal politics (bail-outs, stimulus packages etc.) but a
long-term and real recovery can't be attained without a return of the era of
abundant cheap energy. Increasing geopolitical violence and hoarding policy
(keeping adequate exploration and „production“ resources from being applied to
reserves) will in addition decrease quantity of available oil in world market in the
future. Conflicts about remaining energy reserves will grow in the near future.
Globalization would be relegated to the dustbin of history and big mega-cities –
supposedly too-big-to-fallwill collapse and disappear. Also, most states will
disapppear too. After collapse of American empire there will be no the next world
hegemoneventually short-term primacy of Russia, only super-power with
significant oil and gas reserves. Burdened by increasing deficit and rise of energy
prices China will collapse as well. But collapse has to be understood as gradual
and long-term process, although within just several decades. Different regions will
be affected differently, depending on population density, geo-political
environment, homogenous or heterogenous ethnic/racial/religious structure of
society, level of industrialization etc.
End of the first phase in the fossil fuels era has great significance for human
population. From neolithic domestification to 18th century population was
increasing but very gradual and with many local and regional demographic
crashes. World population was 800 million in 1800, 1.6 billion in 1900 and 6.8
billion today (see graph VIII). Big increase of population in the last two centuries
was only minor consequence of genetic engineering on edible plants and
agricultural exploitation of new arable lands. For the most part, it was
consequences of fossil fuels, especially use of of oil and in agriculture. First
industrial revolution in agriculture in the middle of 19th century, based on
peruvian guano and nitrogen fosfates (beginning of agricultural chemistry), made
possible big increase in European population. The second industrial revolution in
agricultureor sc.sc. green revolution (ironic name, because of mass destruction
of wild habitats)after 1950 was causing big increase of food production and was
completly depended on massive use of cheap oil and gas. Fertilizers, pesticides
and herbicides are made from oil and gas. Traditional organic agriculture can
support no more that one billion people, probably much less. Many former arable
land are (or will be) uselles for agriculture because of climate change
(desertification), lack of water or industrial chemicals poisoning.
Peak energy means also peak population, which will grow for the next
several years, cca 7,5 billions, and then start to fall, slower or faster, depending on
circumstances. Without cheap energy, there would be no the second „green
revolution“. Conventional demographic projectionsrise of population till 10
billions or so and then its stabilizationis symptom of demographers' wishes, not
the most probable trends. Only rational mean for population decrease is decrease
of produced food (inevitably in any case), because every increase of food is
cancelled with increase of population. But violent and abrupt demographic
collapse in 21th century, probably below one billionand much less (below one
hundred million in the case of the worst scenario (termonuclear war + pandemic
diseases)is the most realistic outcome of perfect storm, convergence of fossil
fuel depletion, climate changes and many other troubles. Diseases, social (internal
and external) violence and famine will be the main mechanisms of demographic
collapse in 21th century. Overshoot and collapse becomes possible when species
finds rich stock of resources that promotes its reproduction and depletes it in some
periods of time. In the context of the peak oil all aspirations to „American way of
life“, among poor population in Third World countries (and in „developed“
countries as well), must be abandoned forever, because affluent minority will not
sustain its profligate lifestyle for a long either. End of global industrial civilization
will be, for the long time, end of civilization as such. In recent history, collapse of
one civilization made possible a rise of some other complex society. But today
there are no longer any frontier or empty space for such rising. Also, restoration of
complex agrariran civilization will not be possible because of lack of fertile soil.
Only in the distant future, for several centuries or more, complex societies perhaps
will rise again, but industrial civilization will be never restored. It is/was one shoot
affair because fossil fuels can't be restored on the human time-scale.
Graph VIII: increase of world population from 9th to 21th century
Graph VIIIa: how many people can survive depending on specific energy source
Peak oil and energy crisis is the main theme of this article. There is many
other troubles (not: problems), making human situation particularly difficult, like
soil erosion, lack of water, new diseases etc., but we can't write about them in
detail here. The most important are, of course, fast climate changes, probably manmade
for the most part. Climate change theorists and activists usually ignore peak
oil or, ironically, hail it as stimulus for faster abandonment of fossil fuel's
economy (as if it is possible). There is much talk about climate changes in public,
mass media and even in political circlesperhaps because this is external threat,
suitable for technocratic thinking „problem-solution“. But climate change's impact
is slower and industrial societes perhaps could adapted itself if unlimited
quantities of cheap energy exist. Consequences of climate changes will be
probably devastating only in convergence with the end of fossil fuel's era. Peak
oil, although founded on firm geological facts, is internal (that is, it threatens
foundations of normal fuctionining of industrial societies) and much bigger threat
than climate change.
Peak oil and climate change are two fundamental parts of the perfect storm
and they must be understood together, not separate, as is often the caseas
probable cause of demographic and social collapse in 21th century. But they have
no equal significance as many writers and analysts think. As Kjell Aleklett and
several peak oil analysts pointed out, dominant scenarios of Iintergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change are unrealistic due to ignorance of peak energy
problematics. These scenarios take for granted business-as-usual scenario and
continual increase of extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. But, in the light
of peak oil and peak energy, it is wrong assumption and the most katastrophic
scenarios cannot be realistic. Probable collapse of industrial civilization in 21th
century will be consequence of lack of net-energy, not of lack of stabile climate.
Industrial societies will collapse long before the worst consequences of climate
change show up. Contemporary mega-crisis and shakening of foundations of the
world economy 2008-9 has nothing with climate changes but (almost) all with
energy factor or peak oil. Phenomenon of climate change is overstated and peak
energy is understated in political circles and the public. Kurt Cobb has given two
reasons for that: first, governements can hide true data about oil reserves but not
about climate, and second, oil is deep underground, hard for measurement and its
recovery is dependent on political, financial, technological and other factors.
Systematic approach to resource management and slow population
reduction is surely the most desirable option. Gradual decrease of production,
consumption, technology, population and cities should be the most fundamental
priority of governments and public. Instead suppression of symptoms, our
priorities should be elimination of deeper causes of human predicament. But this is
not realistic option, because humans hardly can work in long-term and global
vision. Worse, rational option is in direct opposition to fundamental ideological
values of the modern world: faith in technological miracles, technological and
demographic expansion as something good, faith in „historical progress“ („we
can't turn back“), humanistic prejudices about „human rights“ etc. Predicament is
and will be interpreted, by government and by public, as „problem“ for some
(technological) „solution“. But even human self-deceptions must end.
Different responses were are created as social and ecological crisis of
industrial civilization was/is increasing. One such response has to be mentioned,
that is, sc. Transition Towns movement in Great Britain, New Zealand, USA and
several other countries. These movement contains programs and preparations for
coming energy shortages and climate changes. Its main goal is de-globalization
and localization, especially in energy security and food production. Its central idea
is that town, village or other small area can make the energy and food transition to
post-petroleum world by using efforts of local people, not big government or big
business. Permaculture and other forms of local living are especially emphasized.
Citizens of Transition Towns would live with, ideally, with complete selfsufficiency
and localized infrastructure for agriculture, clothes, metal working and
othe other basics of life. Transition Towns movement is, so far, the best practical
and constructive approach to present predicament and justly tries to connect peak
oil and climate changes. Great value of transition town movement is its
community-based approach. Human beings are social animals and they will
certainly live in some kind of society/societies after collapse of industrial
civilization, not as Robinson Crusoe with armoury of weapoons and 10 acres of
land. But this transition must be understood in context of demographic and social
collapse (through collapse), not as a mean to prevent it (against collapse).
Otherwise, it will be another case of unjustified optimism of members of middle
class who firmly belive that future „will be what we want to be“. Hopkins
personally thinks that future energy descent and more local life are inevitable, but
Transition Towns movement includes many people with more reformistic
convictions. This reformistic orientation can be, as Trainer argue, dominant at the
present, but future desintegrative trends will certainly increase more radical
options. In Transition Towns movement there is widespread conviction that
alternative (renewable) sources of energy are possible „solutions“ for fossil fuels
dependency and climate changes, but, as we saw, this is not correct. For many
Transition Towns members „transition“ mean toward reformed industrial society,
based on new (renewable) energy and with some lower (but still very complex)
technological scale. Anyway, Transition Towns movement is an example how
concept of industrial collapse should not be doom-and-gloom or nihilistic
doomesterism. On the contrary, it can and should be call for constructive
disintegration of industrial megastructure and affirmation of local communities as
new/old human social context. Subjective reformistic convictions of the most of its
members are not crucial because objective processes of social and demographic
disintegration will force people to adapt to new circumstances. It is currently
placed on the light-green spectrum but it can be changed very quickly.
Peak oil theorists and activists were and are often accused for dark vision of
human future. This interpretation is often reinforced by their positive thinking
about industrial society in principle. Namely, great majority of peak oilers believe
that contemporary industrial civilizationin present form, at leastis
unsustainable and that some collapse, or reduction in population and
technological/political complexity, is inevitable in the near future. But, at the same
time, many peak oilers, especially retired geologists (Campbell, Deffeyes and
others), believe also in many aspects of official ideology of industrial society: in
myth of „historical progress“, civilization as „rise and achievment“, industrial
order as a „pinnacle of progress“, liberal democracy as society of freedom and
prosperity etc. This interpretation is not just wrongabout reasons I wrote
elsewhere but makes additional dilemmas. By acceptance of this ideology they
unnecessarily weakens their own case. If people firmly believe in official ideology
of industrialismconsumerism=wellbeing, technological expansion=progress,
medicine=health, state=security etc.they will probably make all efforts to
sustain it and ignore, till the last moment, all warnings about unsustainability. If
people believe that industrial society is something „advanced“ and part of the
„progressive cultural evolution“ they will fight hardly to sustain it. But if we
question this ideology and understand that history is not progressive and that
industrial society is the most unnatural social order in human history, its collapse
will appear as something not only inevitable but desirable. Crucial question is not:
can we sustain this civilization (or civilization as such), but: should we even try?
True, it will be mass die-off, many sufferings and destruction among humans, but
collapse of industrial civilization will not be understood as tragedy or disaster. It
will be opportunity for re-building small communities, better suitables for human
animals and in touch with human nature. Some human groups will be perhaps
able to restore hunter-gatherer life, our natural evolutionary context.
Demographic and social collapse will save many eco-systems and species from
man-made destruction. Collapse of industrial civilization will not be catastrophe or
the end of the world or even human species, but just one case of collapse of
complex societies, often phenomenon in recent human history. Collapse of
civilization is not a fall in some kind of primordial chaos, but return to more
typical/normal conditions of life in human history. Demographic and social
collapse will relax mass human pressure on the wild habitats and species and make
possible, in the long-term, restoration of many parts of the wild natural world, our
true home. We have good chances to avoid avoid restoring typical anthropogenic
problems in traditional agrarian societiespetty local wars, contagious diseases,
vast inequalities etc.because restoration of agrarian civilizations will not be
possible in near future. There is no favourable ecological conditions („frontier“ or
empty space, possibility for intensive agriculture etc.) for rise of some other
complex societies when industrial civilization will fall. Transition Towns
movement can be one good start to our uncertain post-industrial future.
 Article's last update: 6/18/2010.
 In modern physic energy is usually understood as a capability to do some work. On Earth,
practically all available energy comes from the Sun, including fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal).
Some experts argued, in recent years, for sc. abiotic theory of oilwhich holds that there is
limitless pools of liquid primordial hydrocarbons at great depths on Earth with continual
replenishing by abiotic processesbut it's very unlikely and very minor position (Heinberg
2004b). About energy in history of human societies see: Smil 1994, 2003, Price 1995, Heinberg
2005, Crosby 2006, Ruddiman 2007, Pimentel-Pimentel 2008, Markus 2009b.
 About liberalism, marxism and other modern ideologies and their ecological implications see:
Hay 2002, Sunderlin 2003, Dryzek 2005, Barry 2007, Dobson 2007.
 Some contemporary analysts warned against constant neglect of energy factorincluding fossil
fuelsrole in modern demographic theories (Zable 2002, Pimental 2008, Chefurka 2009).
 That process was not fast but very gradual. In the whole world, 19th century was still the era of
wood and in 20th century coal was (and is even today) main energy source and oil secondary.
Moreover, rate of coal extraction will be augmented in the near future as oil extraction is
stagnating on the peak plateau. About history of exploitation of oil and fossil fuels in general see:
Catton 1980, Smil 1994, Youngquist 1997, Heinberg 2005, Klare 2005, Duncan 2006, Kunstler
2006, Dekanic 2007, Greer 2008a, Yergin 2008.
 All graphs can be found in: www.wikipedia.org and in www.energybulletin.net.
 Quotation marks mean that there is no such thing as „oil (or gas, coal) production". Like air or
water, fossil fuels cannot be produced, they can ony be found, extracted and re-made in the
different industrial derivatives. We can talk about „production" of electric energy or machines but
not about production of fossil fuels. As many writers in peak oil circles pointed out, correct word
is not production, but extraction.
 About Hubber and his original analysis see: Heinberg 2005, Deffeyes 2008 (see also graph IV).
William Catton was first author who warned, in book-lenght analysis, that fossil fuels are
Achillee's heed of industrial societies (Catton 1980).
 Cambell and Laherrère published famous article „The End of Cheap Oil?" (Scientific American,
march 1998), when oil prices was very low, about 10-12 d/b. Their main conclusionthat era of
cheap energy will end very soon and abruptly, probably before 2010was ridiculed or, in
popular press, completely ignored.
 Here peak oil means absolute number of extracted oil, but it can also mean maximal quantity of
extracted oil per capita. In that second sense peak oil has happened around 1990 (4,5 barrels per
 There is widespread opinion in public that market speculation is the main cause of oil price
rising. That can be truein rising, but also in falling directionbut speculations always are
founded on fundamentals, that is, constellation between demand and production. If oil extraction
is more-less stagnant, as it was in the last several years, then expectation of increase of demand
will cause fast increase of prices. That was a case 2007-2008 and again now (summer-fall 2009),
with the first signs of economic recovery. Also, there hoarding policy and much violence in some
oil rich countries (Nigeria, Iraque) that prevent exploration and extraction, but it is possible only
because of limited amount of oil. In ideal worldwith maxium investments and international
cooperation and no hoarding and violenceextraction rate will probably be higher than present
pick plateaubut not much. Or perhaps extraction rate can be significantly higher but that is oil
of 80, 100 or 150 d/b, something what economy can't endure for long and of low quality . And
such high prices should be stable for ten years or soinvestments don't like volatile pricesbut
it exists neither.
 There is opinion that the production numbers for 2008 were inflated, and that the May 2005 (85
m/b) record is an all-time record that has never been (and probably will) exceeded. But there is
also a difference between oil peak (2005) and all liquids peak (2008).
 There is some uncertainty here because exact data of world oil (recoverable) reserves are not
known. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC-countries dont' want to show all relevant data, regarding
them as state top secret. But stagnation of world oil extraction 2005-2008 can be understood as
indirect proof of often statement about inflated or overblown official data by OPEC. There is no
reason, if proclaimed facts are corect, why OPEC does not repeat the same strategy as in 1980s:
significant increase of extraction, overflowing of market by cheap oil, decrease of prices and –
voilà, no more crisis. Events of the second half of 2008 have shown that fast and big increase of
prices is dangerous for not only importers of oil but for exporters as well. In this articles terms
peak oil and peak energy are used as synonims.
 See good analysis in Rubin 2009.
 There are often analogies and comparations with Great Depression and today's crisis, but
similarities are superficial and differences are much more important. Great Depression had
nothing with energy prices, in fact, oil prices in USA and other developed countries was very low
(peak of oil discovery in USA was exactly in 1930s). It was primary caused, as most earlier crisis
in capitalistic economy, by overproduction and low consumption. Later crises, including three oil
shocks (1973, 1979 and 2007-8)., were primarily caused by increase of energy prices. Today,
situation is quite different and much more difficult. Contemporary crisis was primarily caused by
peak oil (or, more correctly, peak energy) which is part of process of end of fossil fuels'era,
combined with climate changes and many „minor" problems. So, neo-Keynesianism will not
 Heinberg 2010b.
 Obsession with „growth" is not some subjective mistakeas many adherents of „steady state
economy" or „living within limits" thinkbut objective consequence of economic system based
on revolving debt and credit. Without „growth" old credits and debts can't be payed back, banks
go down, unemployment fast rises and whole system starts to fall apart. Massive state
interventions can temporarily slow down this proces, but, without return of cheap energy, cannot
restore the old economy.
 Mills 2008, Yergin 2008. We'll analyze details of peak oil debate in separate essay.
 True, there were some significant discoveries in 2007-2008 in deep waters (Brazil's coast, Gulf
of Mexico) and some other hardly accessible places (and there will be future discoveries as well),
because high oil prices make sense for exploration. But it will be needed 7-10 years of mass
investmentsand stable oil price, not too low (collapse of investment), not too high (collapse of
economy), cca 70-80 d/bfor start of extraction. This is not realistic prospect regarding
deepening of economic crisis (big overspending and deficit in budget of the most „developed"
states) and big volatility of oil prices in the recent years. From where will money needed for
investment in future oil extraction come? EROEI will be much smaller because new deposits are
less accessible than older ones. If „production" ever start, only small amount of oil will be
extracted, cca 15-20 %, after 2016 or so. In the meantime, old gaint oil fields, which give cca 70
% world „production", will fall 40-50 %. So, there is no room for enthusiasm, often present in
mass-media presentations, about „new discoveries". These discoveries only affirms central peak
oil thesis: humans were already exctracting and consuming about half of oil, the most easily to
get and the best quality. If there are really vast amounts of oil worlwide, as critics of peak oil
approach argue, it should be expected that rate of discovery, in the last 5-6 years, will be much
greater than it was. A lot of confusion is also caused by failure to distinguish between resources
(total estimated amount of oil in oil reservoir) and reserves (recoverable part under present
operating conditions). After oil peak, only small part of resources are really reserves and can be
extracted. For the sake of convenience, I am here retaining habitual anthropocentric talk about
„resources", „reserves" etc., but my sympathy is with radical ecocentric philosophy, which
acknowledges intrinsic worth of wild nature and other species.
 There are many short but good analysis of economic myopia in peak oil circles (f. e. Hanson
1999, Heinberg 2008, 2009b, Rubin 2009, Lardelli 2009c).
 In November 2009. two „whistleblowers" (anonymous sources inside Agency) confirmed these
statements. This is the first internal recognition that governments have been intentionally
overstating the amount of oil that we have and could pump out of the ground. Of course, this is
old news for anyone familiar with peak oil topic. In fact, these statements were often said and
written by many peak oil theorists and writers in last several years. IEA is not neutral institution
striving for scientific objectivity, but institution created and sponsored from western
governments, established in 1974 as a quasi-political body to prevent another oil crisis, track and
study the global oil market and safeguard oil supplies to the West. It always had to say what
Western (especially American) governments wanted to hear. An there are other problems with
IEA (and similar institutions, like US Department of Energy) which now includes in "oil
production" all liquid fuels, including ethanol and synfuels, synthetic fuels, obviously for rising
 About it see Klare 2005, 2009.
 Obama is the first non-white president of the USA and his election was for many protest
against politics of Bush' regime. But in 2009 nothing was really changed and old (domestic and
foreign) politics was and is continued (see: Cohen 2009). Obama's politics was (and is) mere
extension of old late-Bush failed politics, trying to restore some fragments of the old economy.
This is not Obama's fault because he is part of the system (especially Too-Big-To-Fail Wal Street
banks) and, in peak oil world, system cannot normally funcion anymore. Personality is more-less
unimportant. Obama's obsession for reform of health care system is a another symptom of his
complete misunderstanding of situation and concentration on insignificant problems. Health care
systemor, more correctly, medical society and industrial medicineis typical product of era of
cheap energy which cannot be sustainedmuch less expandedwhen that era is over. Obama's
program for massive development of „alternatives"unrealistic goal in any caseis consequence
of climate changes and „energy independence" from foreign oil, not awareness about energy
 F. e. see: Huber 2004, Frazier 2004, Hawken 2007, 2008, Pernick-Wilder 2008, Friedman
2008, Nordhaus-Shellenberg 2009. These authors think that talk about natural limits is selfdefeating
and superfluous, because there are vast resources and only problem is lack of
appropriate technology and investment. Certainly, it's not ideologically correct to talk about peak
oil and other ecological limits in industrial societies, even in post-peak oil era.
 Korpela 2008.
 Many authors wrote about problems with «alternatives». See: Catton 1980, Youngquist 1999,
2000, Goodstein 2005, Heinberg 2005, 2009c, Kunstler 2006, Homer-Dixon 2006, Greer 2008a,
Holmgren 2009, Hall-Day 2009). There is some limited faith, in peak oil circles, that some
sustainable energy mix, with primacy of „renewables", will be possible in distant future (f. e.
Leggett 2006, Klare 2006, 2009b, Heinberg 2009c), but overall there is no big enthusiasm. Dark
warnings about painful energy transition, with probable mass die-off, are quite common and main
reason for habitual accusation for „doomsterism".
 About different perspectives on nuclear power see: Goodstein 2005, Mahaffey 2009, Cooke
2009. Adherents of nuclear powerJames Lovelock, „father" of Gaia theory, is probably the
most famous oneoften argue that it doesn't contribute to climate change and pollution. But this
is true only if we see on nuclear chain reaction which doesn't produce carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gasses. All other activities (mining and refining uranium ore, transportation, building
of nuclear power plants etc.), necessary for nuclear power, produce vast amounts of carbon
dioxide and pollution of environment and are very expensive. And there are other very big
problems, from waste to proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iranian nuclear program, for example,
should be banned by the same people who are ardent believers in nuclear power (but, of course,
they are enlightened democratic and peacefull leaders, not fanatical theocratic mullahs…).
 About coal see Heinberg 2009a. Heinbergand some other analysts and institutions (as
German Energy Watch Grouppredicts peak coal in the next 15-20 years, perhaps even less,
depending of its use as substitutive for dwindling supplies of oil and gas. Some experts question
Heinberg's analysis and think that recoverable quantities of coal are much bigger but they usually
ignore central problem of peak oil. Another problem with coal is that we don't live in 19th
century with 1 billion humans or so whose great majority were traditional (not-yet-included in
industrial order) peasants.
 Hypothesis about sc. abiotic oilthat oil is continuosly created and replenished in the _Earth's
mantle by anorganic processeswas often mentioned several years ago. But it is probably
scientifically wrong and, even if correct, its practical consequences are nil. Natural replenishment
cannot compensate for human extraction (Heinberg 2004b).
 For a good discussion of economic situation from peak oil perspective see: Rubin 2009,
Heinberg 2009b, Tverberg 2009a, b.
 Some economists and eternal-growth analysts found „solution" in „peak demand" in rich
countries. But peak demand means end of growth and no escape from permanent ever-deepening
crisis. Peak demand is just a consequence of peak energy, that is, intolerable rise of energy prices.
Peak demand thesysand previously mentioned peak plateauare the last line of defence of
peak energy deniers. As M. Lardelli aptly says, this is nothing but delusion to disguise the fact
that dwindling oil supplies have ended economic growth in „developed" world (Lardelli 2009b).
 From 2009 on, CERA maintains that peak plateau will last for several decades, but this is likely
its one more incorrect prediction. Considering basic factorsrate of depletion of old oil fields,
slow rate of discovery of the new fields, increase of oil consumption in oil exporting countries,
cancellation of many mega-projects about non-conventional oil etc.it is realistic to argue that
pick plateau will not last more than 5-10 years, even if the West will submerge into second fullblown
Great Depression. Of course, every increase of consumption in the Westsymptom of
„recovery"will make plateau shorter. But, even if CERA prognosis is correct, there will be no
muh help for western oil-importing countries, because of rising net-export crisis. Oil „producing"
countries consume even more quantities of oil and there is less and less oil for international
 See good analyses in Kunstler 2006, Greer 2008, Rubin 2009 and other peak oil writers.
 Rubin 2009, Chefurka 2009, Heinberg 2009a, 2009c
 Marshall 2009a. Marshallalthough without knowledge about oil peak and energy-economy
connectionpoints out that massive stimulus packages were only delaying the inevitable
(economic collapse and Great Depression), making it much worse when debt-bubble bursts. Sc.
economic recovery is just illusion, existing only in stock market financial speculations. This time
Keynesian economists will be proven wrong, because public spending and easy kredit is not way
out (Marshall 2009a, 2009b). This is, of course, true, but real reason is that era of cheap energy is
overforever. However, in classic Keynes's theory public spending doesn't mean increase of
state deficit and public debt, contrary to contemporary practice, because Keynes has been living
in the era of cheap and plentiful energy.
 Demographer William Stanton predicted death of multiculturalism and liberal regimes several
years ago due to coming era of scarcity and energy depletion (Stanton 2003). Not suprisingly, he
was attacked from the right and from the left because his malthusian statementsbanning of
immigration, every woman has right on one (healthy) child, obligatory infanticid of deformed
childs, voluntary euthanasia is legalized and forced euthanasia is obligatory for terminal patients
– are not just politically incorrect, but anathema for liberal, leftist, christian and other humanists.
But in the post-peak oil era, era of increasing scarcity and social tensions, these will be quite
reasonable propositions and their opponents will be treated as lunatics.
 Greer 2008. There are also many excellent Greer's articles on the Internet.
 About different approaches and visions of future trends see: Price 1995, Smith-Lyons-Moore
2000, Cocks 2003, Heinberg 2004, 2009b, 2009c, Kunstler 2006, Thompson 2006, Chew 2008,
Smil 2008, Smith-Shearman-Positano 2008, Hopkins 2008, Greer 2008a, 2009, Holmgren 2009.
Many survivalist-books, often in novel form, were published in recent years about survival in
gradual collapsing industrial civilization (f. e. Kunstler 2008, Rawles 2009). We can talk about
the most probable trends in the near future, situation can be changed, f. e. with sudden discoveries
of many easy to recoverable oil and gas fields (very unlikely, but possibly).
 About energy and geopolitics see: Homer-Dixon 2001, 2006, 2009, Heinberg 2004a, Klare
 Except some courageous thinkers, like P. Erhlich and G. Hardin, there was long silence, in
ecological and other circles about demographic explosion after 1945. It was slowly changed in
the recent years and many thinkers and activist openly problematize demographic question,
emphasize that demographic explosion was and is a big (probably the biggest) problem and/or
argue for population reduction (Catton 1980, 1998, 2009, Youngquist 1999, Smail 2002, 2008,
Stanton 2003, Sunderlin 2003, Heinberg 2004a, 2007, Linner-Ola 2004, McKee 2005, Pimentel
2008, Hall-Day 2009, McKillop 2009, Lardelli 2009a). Of course, their concrete propositions are
very different. Michael Lardelli thinks that poor overpopulated countries are the true enemies of
human survival, because hitting the ecological limits is much harder with larger population.
Demographic growth can't be so fast stopped and reversed as economic growth (Lardelli 2008,
 As recent experience shows up, only very high oil prices, above 100 d/b can make peak oil
discourse visible in mass media and in political circles. Otherwise, there is prevailing silence not
only because talk about absolute ecologica limits is incorrect but because politicians simply don't
have any plan about energy crisis. If you don't know what to do about peak oil don't talk about it
at all. However, level of understanding of peak oil problematics in governments remains mystery.
Oil depletion was important stuff in American administration from 1998 on, especially after
2001. (see: Klare 2005). Main goal of American occupation of Iraque in 2003. was control of its
big oil reserves. There were some early official warningslike famous Robert Hirsch's 2005
report for US Energy Department about „Peaking of World Oil Production"but with no lasting
effect. Governments in some minor countries (Ireland, New Zealand) latently appointed
commissions for investing peak oil question in 2007-2008, but this effort was abandoned after
collapse of oil prices. This silence will be probably broken in the nex several years after oil prices
will start to rise exponentially and governments will no be adherents of status quo anymore,
simply because there would be no status quo any longer. Even arch-defenders of industrial
society, like IEA, already recognize that traditional way of life is „patently unsustainable" (World
Energy Ouolook 2008). IEA has argued, in 2007 report, that world oil resources will be sufficient
to meet growth in demand to 2030. In 2008 (and 2009) report peak oil is projected till 2020, and a
rate of decline in oil fields output by 6.7 %, not 3.7 % as in 2007 report. But for governments and
publicif they recorded it at allthis was just minor technical changes in numbers.
 Heinberg 2007, 2009a, Holmgren 2009. Heinberg admits that energy factor and peak oil are the
fundamental present threat but thinks that technological innovation can make profitable future
extraction of coal and non-conventional oil with catastrophic climate effects (Heinberg
2009a:113-127). We don't think so, because deepening of economic and social crisis, in the near
future, will cripple economy and make impossible vast extraction efforts. Technological
innovations are possible if there are stable and growing economy, plentiful cheap energy and
normal functioning of industrial megastructurebut that situation doesn't exist anymore. And
Heinberg emphasizes that, due to coal (and fossil fuels) supply constraints, the worst scenarios for
climate changes will not be realized (Heinberg 2009a:146). Heinberg has aptly criticized leaders
in Copenhagen's summit in december 2009, for living in fantasy world with no mention about oil
peak and energy crisis, faith in eternal growth and world-wide urbanization (Heinberg 2010a).
 Aleklett-Campbell 2003, Aleklett 2007, 2010. Here we can't talk about question about cause(s)
of climate changes in detail. There is a numerous minority of „sceptics" among climate scientists
who don't deny that climate changes are real but question hypothesis about crucial anthropogenic
factor and its use of fossil fuels. For our position, this is not particularly relevant because energy
peak is much more significant predicament than climate changes.
 Recently, several short climatological articles tried to include peak oil problematics (f. e. Lynas
2008, Kharecha-Hansen 2008; for overview see: Bardi 2009) but they think that coal will be used
as a supstitution for declining supply of oil and gas. This is problematic position, because oil peak
and all liquids peak mean beginning of great crisis of industrial civilization, as we can see in the
last 2-3 years. Many projects for extraction of coal and non-conventional oil had to be cancelled
due to lack of capital and decrease of prices. Increasing disintegration of industrial infrastructure,
in the near future, will make normal extraction of coal (and other supstittutives) even harder.
About that see good analysis in Heinberg 2009a.
 Cobb 2006.
 Briton Rob Hopkins, probably the most notorious person of Transition Towns movement,
recently wrote one handbook (Hopkins 2008) which contains analysis of different aspects of
future energy transition and re-localization. There are several friendly critiques of different
aspects the movement, from too big optimism (Greer 2008) to limited questioning of middle-class
consumer culture and capitalism in general (Trainer 2009a, b, c). However, there is also other
criticism, that Transition Towns movement is too radical, giving too much attention to collapse
(Steffen 2009) but this is not valid description of the most Transition Towns participants. Peter
Goodchild's critique is much sharper, postulating that TTM is some kind of middle-class show
which ignores sheer enormity of the human predicament (Goodchild 2010). This is probably
correct, taking prevalent middle-class optimism in TTM, but transition to post-industrial future
must start from something.
 This community-based approach is emphasized by other peak-oil analysts, like John M. Greer,
Guy McPherson, Richard Heinberg and many others. Obviously, peak oil „movement"if that is
correct labelis not simple „doomsterism" or even „survivalism" as its detractors think.
 Typical for this approach is well-known book The Long Emergency by James Kunstler with his
defense of „project of civilization". Many other members of peak oil community also accept
official ideology of industrial society, although, of course, not believing in its sustainability.
„Salvation of civilization" is a call in climate change theorists as well. But, there is also some
ambiguity among many peak oil writers who believe in positive consequences of collapse of the
industrial megastructure and restoration of small communities. Richard Heinberg writings are
typical for this approach (Heinberg 2004a, 2005, 2007). Richard Heinberg, one of the most
prominent peak oilers, was radical critic of not just industrialism, but civilization as a whole in
1990s (Heinberg 1995, 1996). But, in recent years, Heinberg significantly changed his mind and
now he is ambivalent even about „benefits" of industrial order, although there are many
occasional „primitivist" remarks in his recent articles and essays as well. For many peakers,
principal questioning of civilization and „progress" is completely out-of-question. Chuck Burr is
exception in his problematizing of „historical progress" and civilization in peak oil circles (Burr
2008). So, it is quite wrong labelling peakers as „neo-luddites" or „anti-progress" (Mills 2008).
 Markus 2006, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c.
 This point is very often emphasized in writings of Greer, Heinberg, Kunstler, Baker and other
members of the humanistic „current" in Peak Oil movement. There is certainly a positive aspect
of future vision in their writings, not just doom-and-gloom.
 For millions years our ancestors were living not in „Stone Age" (or R. Duncan's „Olduvai
Gorge"), but in Green Age, or in wild natural world, clean and organic environment, not some
kind of paradise, but in normal social and ecological circumstances for which we are genetically
adapted. From the perspective of quality of human life (that is, satisfaction of fundamental needs:
community, homeland, equality, clean and wild environment etc.) civilization looks as very bad
experiment and always was Dark Age. So, reduction in social complexity is not so bad thing at
 About earlier cases of collapse see: Caldararo 2004, Homer-Dixon 2006, Tainter 2007, Ponting
2007, Diamond 2008, McAnany-Yoffee 2009. This kind of literature often neglects specifical
position of industrial societies and their complete dependence on new (fossil fuels) energy
sources. Overshoot and collapsethat is, reduction in population density and social complexity -
was one possibility in agrarian world, but it is inevitability (or so it seems today) in industrial
world due to its dependency on non-renewable energy source. This crucial fact was rightly
ephasized by William Catton thirty years ago (Catton 1980). It means that collapse of industrial
civilization will be much fasterseveral decades at mostthan it was earlier.
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