Peak Oil News: Who Really Needs a Silver Mercedes?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Who Really Needs a Silver Mercedes?

An evening with Dr. Colin Campbell and Graham Strouts, Schull, West Cork, Dec. 14th 2005

By Graham Strouts

After a successful presentation with Dr. Colin Campbell in Bantry in September, I was asked to join him once again last night to talk to some 60 people who turned up at the Community School in the small village of Schull in West Cork, at an event organised by the Irish Country Women’s Association.

Dr. Campbell opened proceedings with a talk entitled “The Decline of Oil can Bring a Positive Awakening”. After a brief discussion of his early life as an oil geologist- including the now almost iconic photo of himself 45 years ago on a mule in Columbia- he went on to show some slides illustrating how oil has formed and been trapped in only very select and special geological circumstances. The story of how oil is formed is actually very important to gain an understanding of depletion- to the uninitiated, finding oil is merely a case of drilling down far enough until we hit some kind of underground lake awash with the stuff.

Once we understand how painstaking and arduous field work was gradually able to identify the specific source rocks and conditions that gave rise to the formation of oil, it becomes much easier to accept that once these rare places have been discovered, drilled and their treasures consumed, there will be no more. “As every beer drinker knows, the glass starts up full and ends up empty”.

The presentation continued with a few graphs showing the characteristic depletion curves of various countries: first, the United States, which as the most mature oil producing nation of all reached a peak in production in 1971 and is now in an advanced state of depletion which no amount of investment or new technology has been able to reverse. World oil production peak now seems to be at hand, and Dr. Campbell finished his presentation with some musings on the consequences and impact of the looming energy crises: the end of cheap air travel in a few years perhaps, the end of motoring even- ultimately a complete transformation of what we have come to know as the modern way of life.

Will this be a bad thing? – we were invited to question this- do we really enjoy our trips to Stanstead Airport? Do we really need that Silver Mercedes?

The final slides showed a man with a wheelbarrow, clearly living close to the land, and happy with it too- in 1950; and then again, the same slide, the same man, the same look of rural peace and fulfilment- a simple life that perhaps we can look forward to again as we enter the Age of Energy Descent.

Following Colin’s talk was a showing of the film by the Norwegian film producer Amund Prestegard, “Peak Oil- Imposed by Nature” and this time we were treated to some previously unseen footage of Peggy Coughlan, the (now retired) postmistress from Ballydehob, who talks to Colin of how life used to be in the pre-industrial era: in many ways, a happier time, when everyone had time for each other and life was generally less stressful.

It then fell to me to talk about possible responses to all this- what can communities do to prepare for the inevitable and imminent decline in available energy supplies?

As co-ordinator of the course on Practical Sustainability at the Kinsale College of Further Education, I have been working on developing the next steps to implementing the Energy Descent Action Plan. This publication- written by my predecessor at the college, Rob Hopkins, with second-year students last year, has now sold out but is available as a pdf download from

Last week in a historic move, the Town Council officially endorsed the Plan after a proposal by Louise Rooney of Transition design. Backing up this support, the Mayor of Kinsale, Thomas O’Brien, together with and Cllr. Dermot Collins and Cllr. Isabelle Sutton, attended the prestigious Cork Environmental Awards Ceremony on Dec. 8th where John Thuillier , Principle of the college, accepted an award for the Plan .

There could be no better introduction that I could use to talk about possible responses- for a town council to put its name to a process to move the town towards local energy and food security is a strong indication that the time may be ripe for change, that the world is indeed waking up.

Graham Strouts talks about the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan At the Community School in Schull

Building on Colin’s presentation, I tried to tease out what the real issues are: not so much the reduction of available energy, but more the fact that, as a culture, we have allowed ourselves to become completely dependent on- addicted to in fact- a non-renewable energy source, and that for the most part, consume enormous quantities of energy with little thought: it has been calculated that a 40-litre fill of diesel in a car is equivalent to something in the region of three years of manual labour in terms of the work it can do.

One of the first things a community can do, then, is to educate itself about energy- try to achieve a basic level of energy literacy: how many of us have much idea about how much energy we actually use in the running of our homes? In heating and lighting? Or the embodied energy in the food we eat or the energy it has taken to transport it, often over a thousand miles, to our plates? A good idea is to form a group of concerned people and hold events, film-showings and talks.

The next step may be to do some kind of energy audit- at first, on a domestic scale, but eventually it may be possible to do it on a town level, as we are hoping to achieve in Kinsale.
There are many ways we can individually reduce our energy consumption- from car-sharing to changing to energy-efficient lightbulbs- but the real change will come at the community level, as we re-adjust our lifestyles and learn to produce more of our basic necessities close to home, and reduce commuting.

It is big task of course, but like breaking any addiction, will reap many benefits. We may find the words of Peggy Couchlan to be very apt and that we will feel more fulfilled as we reduce our energy consumption and rebuild our communities.


Graham Strouts teaches Permaculture at the Kinsale College of Further Education. He has been giving talks and presentations about community responses to Peak Oil around Ireland for the past 18months. Contact: gnstrouts at


At 3:58 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger reason said...

Why do we need to do an energy. Just announce plans to tax energy use increasingly in the future and the market will do it for us.

At 4:00 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger reason said...

Sorry too fast there - end of the first sentence should be "energy audit". You see I don't think it is possible to calculate total energy density accurately(including everything - some things some as energy embodied in capital and in waste disposal are bound to be forgotten or miscalculated). But the market would do it. Thats what markets ARE good at.


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