Peak(ed) Energy and Climate Chaos

two parts of the same problem

peak and climate are interconnected-- The "Blind Men and the Elephant" image came from this Word Info site

The most important question facing the human race is how we respond to the interconnected crises of Peaked Energy, Climate Chaos, overpopulation, and resource conflicts. These crises resemble the parable of the blind men touching an elephant. Each observer is correctly describing what a part of the elephant is, but none have a holistic understanding. Peak Oil and Climate Change are two facets of ecological overshoot, and neither can be mitigated without the other.

The global crises of the end of cheap fossil fuels and the start of climate change require global levels of solutions -- we need to relocalize everywhere.

We are not merely at peak energy, we are at peak technology, peak money, peak communication, and peak everything else. Real solutions would require us to redirect the energy, talents, resources of global capitalism, the military industrial complex, universities, media and other pillars of our society.

We have enough resources and talent to shift civilization to create a peaceful world that might be able to gracefully cope with the end of concentrated fossil fuels, or to create a global police state to control populations as the resources decline. The “War on Terror” is actually a long planned World War to control finite fossil fuels that power civilization.

Understanding why civilization did not respond to the warnings of resource depletion decades ago is needed if a shift toward sanity is still possible at this late date. This is a simple question that has a complicated answer - since these decisions were not made democratically. Addressing Peak and Climate would require world peace instead of Peak Oil Wars.

We are not "addicted" to oil -- the modern world is completely dependent upon fossil fuels for industrial agriculture systems, transportation networks, and the growth based monetary system. Addictions are things you can give up -- but oil runs our civilization.


Trying to mitigate Peak Oil and Climate Chaos separately makes both worse.

Focusing on energy shortage while ignoring ecology led to the false solutions of tar sands, shale gas, offshore drilling, liquid natural gas, biomass electricity, mountaintop removal, and nuclear power.

Focusing only on “carbon” while ignoring energy limits is one of the reasons for the political backlash against climate change awareness.  Environmental groups frame these concerns as we should reduce energy consumption instead of we will reduce consumption because we cannot burn fuel that does not exist.

Grants Pass, Oregon - "it's the climate" official signFraming the question as how we will use the remaining oil could bypass the problem of climate change denial. We will reduce our “carbon footprint” whether we want to or not. How many governments or corporations will still exist in 2050 when our footprints are supposed to be smaller? How much oil, coal and unnatural gas will be left in 2050 to extract?

Our exponential growth economy has hit the end of growth of resource consumption, imposed by nature as well as politics. Building lots of wind turbines, railroads and relocalizing agriculture would require reallocating resources used for endless warfare and wasteful consumerism. After Peak Everything there will be fewer resources available for “transition.” We need triage on a planetary scale to wisely use the remaining fossil fuels and minerals.

David Holmgren, a co-originator of permaculture, is author of Future Scenarios: How Communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change.

“Economic recession is the only proven mechanism for a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions ... most of the proposals for mitigation from Kyoto to the feverish efforts to construct post Kyoto solutions have been framed in ignorance of Peak Oil. As Richard Heinberg has argued recently, proposals to cap carbon emissions annually, and allowing them to be traded, rely on the rights to pollute being scarce relative to the availability of the fuel. Actual scarcity of fuel may make such schemes irrelevant.”

Living on our current solar budget would power a smaller, steady state economy.  We will live on our solar budget as the oil, unnatural gas and coal go away. Future generations need us to choose wisely and use remaining fossil fuels for relocalization and power down. We are past the limits to growth on our round, finite planet.

Triple Crisis conference - Washington, D.C. - September 14 - 16, 2007

"Triple Crisis" was a pathbreaking conference held in Washington, D.C., from September 14 through 16, 2007. It was the first major event sponsored by a prominent US based environmental group that blended together Peak Oil and Climate Change as parts of the same crisis. Several speakers noted that "Triple Crisis" is an understatement since civilization faces many other overlapping problems: species extinction, toxic and nuclear wastes, financial meltdown, mineral depletion, agricultural decline (from many factors), among others.

IFG Teach-In: Confronting the Global "Triple Crisis"
"Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction"
September 14th-16th, 2007, Washington, DC

Audio and Video from the Speaker at the IFG Teach-In

Panels - September 14th-16th, 2007

Panel 1 - Dimensions of the Global Triple Crisis
Panel 2 - False Solutions, Part 1 and Part 2
Panel 3 - Views From The South: Direct Impacts From Triple Crisis
Panel 4 - Toward A Global Grand Bargain
Panel 5 - Ingredients Of Systemic Change (1)
Panel 6 - Impacting US Policy
Panel 7 - Ingredients Of Systemic Change (2)

Published on 6 Oct 2007 by EarthWatch Ohio.
Confronting the Triple Crisis
by Thomas J. Quinn

A Washington D.C. teach-in on climate change, peak oil and global resource depletion included a presentation from an Ohio nonprofit organization on how to curtail energy use in housing, transportation and food production. The teach-in, entitled Confronting the Global Triple Crisis—The Problems and The Solutions, featured some 60 speakers from 16 countries and attracted close to 900 people to George Washington University over three days in mid September.

Megan Quinn Bachman, outreach director for The Community Solution in Yellow Springs, Ohio, detailed her nonprofit’s efforts to deal with “converging calamities,” including the coming peak and decline in worldwide oil production which will result in oil shortages and skyrocketing prices. “Community is a vision of the future where we conserve and share scarce local resources rather than deplete, destroy and battle over seemingly abundant distance resources,” Bachman said. “It is a vision where we consume far fewer resources, but have a better life, filled with valued relationships rather than valued possessions.”

Joining Bachman on the podium were authors, academics and activists including, as Bachman pointed out in introducing one panel, some of the “world’s foremost experts on issues of peak oil, gas and coal, local and ecological economics, sustainable lifestyles, community, overconsumption and more.” These included author, environmentalist and global warming activist Bill McKibben; Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, and Helena Norbert-Hodge, a pioneer of the worldwide localization movement and author of Bringing the Food Economy Home.

Bachman called for curtailing energy use through retrofitting the existing 90 million residential structures and 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S. She said Community Solution has a number of model housing-retrofit projects underway “as we try to determine what the most effective structural and lifestyle changes are to reducing home energy use.”

In transportation, Community Solution is working on a ride-sharing system it calls “Smart Jitney,” which aims to increase vehicle ridership from 1.5 persons per vehicle to 4-5 with the use of existing vehicles and current cell phone technology. But Bachman said this is a short-term strategy, and in the longer term by “revamping local and regional economies, living, working and shopping in the same area, we’ll be able to utilize the more sustainable options of walking, bicycling and mass transit.”

Bachman also called for less fossil fuel use in food production through more locally grown food, eating less and curtailing energy-intensive meat consumption. She pointed out that two-thirds of the U.S. population is obese or overweight as Americans overconsume food just as they do energy, water and other resources. “When we shift to using fewer fossil fuels, start to repair and rebuild the damaged soil and grow more real food, we’ll need vastly more human labor to do it,” Bachman said. “This includes more full-time farmers for sure, but all of us producing some food is the most efficient, sustainable and secure agriculture.”

And that’s just the kind of plan Community Solution has in mind for Yellow Springs, a town of 3,700 people outside Dayton. The non-profit has land for a model neighborhood community it calls Agraria, which will include small “passive” houses that do not need heating or cooling systems, plus vegetable gardens to provide food for neighbors to share. Agraria would help to produce a web of interdependent social and economic relationships and serve as an educational and cultural center to transform Yellow Springs, Bachman said.

The Agraria plan was developed after Bachman and others with the nonprofit went to Cuba in 2004 to do a documentary, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” The film details the grass-roots-based urban agricultural revolution and renewable energy movement that swept through this island nation after its oil lifeline, the Soviet Union, collapsed in the early 1990s. “I believe that this is how the change will take place, not from above, but from within,” Bachman said. “From individuals and communities and eventually entire nations pioneering a better way to live on this planet.”

The teach-in, sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization and Institute for Policy Studies, was subtitled, “Powering-Down for the Future—Toward an International Movement for Systemic Change: New Economies of Sustainability, Equity, Sufficiency and Peace.”

CD/DVD recordings of plenary sessions and workshops at the teach-in are available. Go to and for more information. For more information about The Community Solution, go to

“Planning for Hard Times” Conference on Oil Depletion & Climate Change Yellow Springs, OH • October 26 - 28

Join activists, educators and community leaders pioneering a low-energy way of life to lessen the impact on the global climate and dependence on fossil fuels.

To register, go to For more information call The Community Solution at 937-767-2161 or email

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Journalist Tom Quinn was the moving force behind the groundbreaking series on Peak Oil and energy run by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, for which they received recognition from the Columbia Journalism Review.

The original article is included in the full October/November issue of "EarthWatch Ohio" which is availble online as PDF.


Original article available here.

David Holmgren, permaculture co-originator

podcast February 12, 2014
401: Psycho-social Debt Jubilee
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
KMO welcomes permaculture co-originator David Holmgren to the C-Realm Podcast to discuss two of his essays: Money Vs Fossil Energy: the Battle for Control of the World and Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future. David has been tracking the onset of climate change and peak oil for many years, but he says that in recent years, largely due to the work of Steve Keen and Nicole Foss, he has come to see financial systems as the fastest moving and most volatile element in emerging global crisis. He describes why he considers the Bush administration to have been guided by a certain energy realism lacking in too many social and climate activists. Finally, he describes why he thinks that multiple generations of mass affluence has left us saddled with a psycho-social debt that will be very difficult for us to discharge.


"Awareness of Climate Change by the media and general public is obviously running well ahead of awareness about Peak Oil, but there are interesting differences in this general pattern when we look more closely at those involved in the money and energy industries. Many of those involved in money and markets have begun to rally around Climate Change as an urgent problem that can be turned into another opportunity for economic growth (of a green economy). These same people have tended to resist even using the term Peak Oil, let alone acknowledging its imminent occurrence. Perhaps this denial comes from an intuitive understanding that once markets understand that future growth is not possible, then it’s game over for our fiat system of debt-based money."
-- David Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, "Money vs. Fossil energy: the battle to control the world,"


David Holmgren, the co-orginator of permaculture, is author of Future Scenarios: How Communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change.

The simultaneous onset of climate change and the peaking of global oil supply represent unprecedented challenges for human civilisation.
Global oil peak has the potential to shake if not destroy the foundations of global industrial economy and culture. Climate change has the potential to rearrange the biosphere more radically than the last ice age. Each limits the effective options for responses to the other.
The strategies for mitigating the adverse effects and/or adapting to the consequences of Climate Change have mostly been considered and discussed in isolation from those relevant to Peak Oil. While awareness of Peak Oil, or at least energy crisis, is increasing, understanding of how these two problems might interact to generate quite different futures, is still at an early state. presents an integrated approach to understanding the potential interaction between Climate Change and Peak Oil using a scenario planning model. In the process I introduce permaculture as a design system specifically evolved over the last 30 years to creatively respond to futures that involve progressively less and less available energy.
– David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept. May 2008

Economic recession is the only proven mechanism for a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
... most of the proposals for mitigation from Kyoto to the feverish efforts to construct post Kyoto solutions have been framed in ignorance of Peak Oil. As Richard Heinberg has argued recently, proposals to cap carbon emissions annually, and allowing them to be traded, rely on the rights to pollute being scarce relative to the availability of the fuel. Actual scarcity of fuel may make such schemes irrelevant.”



"The dip in global emissions created by the 2008 global financial crisis was ignored by the climate activist community as an inconvenient truth."
"Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future," by David Holmgren (co-originator of permaculture)

Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics
Posted Feb 11, 2014 by Richard Heinberg


Here’s just one example of the difficulty of replacing oil while maintaining economic growth. Oil just happens to be the perfect transport fuel: it stores a lot of energy per unit of weight and volume. Electric batteries can’t match its performance. Plug-in cars exist, of course (less than one percent of new cars sold this year in the US will be plug-in electrics), but batteries cannot propel airliners or long-haul, 18-wheel truck rigs. Yet the trucking and airline industries just happen to be significant components of our economy; can we abandon or significantly downsize them and grow the economy as we do so?

What about non-transport replacements for fossil fuels? Well, both nuclear power stations and renewable energy systems have high up-front investment costs. If you factor in all the financial and energy costs (something the solar, wind, and nuclear industries are reluctant to do), their payback time is often measured in decades. Thus there seems to be no realistic way to bootstrap the energy transition (for example, by using the power from solar panels to build more solar panels) while continuing to provide enough energy to keep the rest of the economy expanding. In effect, to maintain growth, the energy transition would have to be subsidized by fossil fuels—which would largely defeat the purpose of the exercise.

Business-friendly politicians seem to intuitively get much of this, and this knowledge helps fuel their continued infatuation with oil, coal, and natural gas—despite the increasing economic problems (even if we disregard the environmental problems) with these fuels. But these folks’ way of dealing with this conundrum is simply to deny that climate change is a real issue. That strategy may work for their supporters in the fossil fuel industries, but it does nothing to avert the worsening real-world crises of extreme temperature events, droughts, floods, and storms—and their knock-on impacts on agriculture, economies, and governments.

So those on the left may be correct in saying that climate change is the equivalent of a civilization-killing asteroid, while those on the right may be correct in thinking that policies designed to shrink carbon emissions will shrink the economy as well. Everybody gets to be correct—but nobody gets a happy ending (at least as currently envisioned).
Net Energy Limits and the Fate of Industrial Society
by Richard Heinberg Foreword by Jerry Mander
A Joint Project of the International Forum on Globalization and the Post Carbon Institute. [ False Solution Series #4 ]
September 2009

Why Are Climate Scientists Ignoring Peak Oil and Coal?
2010•12•31 Hossein Turner

Climate scientists often make assumptions about large-scale growth in resource extraction without thoroughly referring to relevant studies in other disciplines. This is partially understandable given that they are not economists or political scientists. Yet I believe it is cause for concern.

While criticising the pervasive obsession with infinite growth of our political and economic institutions, it appears that many (albeit not all) climate scientists hold the belief that human ingenuity will somehow substitute declining oil with different forms of natural-gas, liquefied-coal, shale gas, and other carbon fuels at prices that can sustain growth. ....

The crucial point is that all our theoretically large supplies will not become economically viable because of a lower energy return on energy invested (or EROEI). This will ultimately have repercussions for economic growth and affordable prices.

A piece written by Uppsala University physics professor Kjell Aleklett also criticizes the level of economic awareness of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists with respect to coal.

“Our conclusion is that the assumptions of coal use that the IPCC recommended that climate researchers refer to in calculating their future horror scenarios are completely unrealistic. The question is why at all these gigantic volumes of carbon dioxide emission are to be found among the possible scenarios. The IPCC bears a great responsibility for the fact that thousands of climate researchers around the world have dedicated years of research to calculating temperature increases for scenarios that are completely unrealistic.” ....

So, are most climate scientists aware that the world has likely hit the limits to industrial economic growth already? It seems that global warming scenarios are based around assumptions of continuing emissions growth facilitated by a world where political, monetary, and energy systems are not in a state of turmoil. ....

In a world of peak oil and of escalating political volatility, the fears and worries expressed by climate change scientists (such as those at the recent Cancun summit) concerning catastrophic climate scenarios, are looking less justified. However, as discussed above, a rapid decline in CO2 output can still potentially lead to a 2.8ºC global average temperature increase by the end of this century. Although, one could argue that even this level of CO2 growth may not come to fruition if conflicts break out over energy resources in the next few decades. This could end up forcing governments to ration energy to be used only for bare essentials.

In order for any energy system in the future to work, there must be an end to the “just-in-time” market inventory system that makes us very vulnerable to shortages. (The just-in-time system is one in which the materials needed for the manufacture of a good are delivered to the factory just as they are needed. This reduces in-process inventory and carrying costs, freeing up cash for other purposes.)

Better still, instead of waiting around for governments and businesses to move beyond their growth-fetishes, people can consider getting involved in the Transition movement as a way of empowering themselves in a world where large-scale economies can no longer operate.



"I realized that one of the best use of the US Energy Policy History work may be to convince environmentalists and others that think peak oil is a scare tactic or financial manipulation, that it is in fact a real problem - not something that just popped up, it has been recognized as a problem for decades, and that access to the energy resources of other countries is the main reason that we have been able to ignore it for so long. The intention would be of course to connect the movements so that all can see the elephant for what it is."
-- David Room, Local Clean Energy Alliance
Interesting essay that suggests the environmental movement's myopia about energy limits is part of the reason public support for climate change / global warming / greenhouse effect is in decline.


This is a good discussion of interconnections: