Transition handbook: chapter 1; peak oil and global warming (part 1/2)

In order to understand the transition movement, we will begin by summarizing the various chapters of the transition manual written by Rob Hopkins in 2008. In order to understand the reasons for the transition, the first chapter will speak about the coming peak oil (at the time) and global warming.

As we will see, primarily the transition movement is an ecological movement trying to find local solutions. There are, however, two peculiarities which denote it to others; the first, that which interests us for this article; for the first time we take the issue of peak oil and global warming together and not separately. The second difference is its positive aspect and the proposal for local and direct action, but we will come back to this in a future article.

Rob Hopkins separates his work into three main parts: the head, the heart and the hands. The first 4 chapters are part of the head, that is to say that we will deepen the understanding of what Peak oil represents and climate change.

Chapter 1: Peak Oil and Climate Change: The Two Great Omissions of Our Time

What is peak oil?

The peak oil indicates the moment X where the extraction of oil will be at its highest point, later the possible extraction will only go downhill. Like many of us, at the beginning, Rob Hopkins had a bad understanding of what was peak oil.

… I had always assumed that the oil that feeds our economy behaves the same way as the gasoline in the tank of a car: that the engine would work the same way it is filled or almost empty.

That is, we will not be able to extract oil to the last drop in the same way as when we started, that we will not be able to operate the system from the beginning to the end in the same way. To better understand why it is important to know how to create oil.

It was formed from prehistoric zooplankton and seaweed that covered the oceans 90 to 150 million years ago… They sank to the bottom of the ocean, were covered with sediments brought rivers of the surrounding lands, were buried deeper and deeper and, over time, were heated under extreme pressure by geological processes until one day became oil.

Another important factor to know is that 1 gallon of oil extracted from the soil contains the equivalent of about 98 tons of the original algal material.

Why do we use so much oil if it takes so long to form? For the same reason that we used coal rather than steam; it’s extremely efficient energy value that makes it an invaluable material for our way of life. “It is estimated that 40 liters of gasoline in the tank of a car contain the energy equivalent of four years of manual human labor.

Understanding the energy consumption of our current lifestyle, explains the need we have for natural resources. In his gesticulated conference, Anthony Brault explains that the King of France, Louis XIV had 40 people to assist him in his daily tasks, and it was calculated that an average French, with all the machines and services that we can have at home the equivalent of 120 energy slaves.

Peak oil, when?

An American geologist, King Hubbert, predicted in 1956 that the United States would peak in the 1970s; he had the misfortune to be right. How did he do it? He had found that deposit discoveries could be compared with peak production “peak discoveries tend to occur between 30 and 40 years before peak production“. This is now called the Hubbert Peak. According to these same studies, we notice that the peak of discoveries took place in 1965 in the world.


Peak oil is there, if not already passed, several indicators demonstrate, we learn a few in the manual; knowing that the price of an Action on the market for an oil company depends on its oil reserves, it is common currency that acquisitions-mergers are among companies to increase its reserve paper. There are even some companies that buy back their own shares to keep the price constant.

The high price of a barrel, which is more than 5 times than 20 years ago, is making tar sands extraction possible, the Alberta disaster. A petroleum so complicated to use that it uses tons of water to wash it and only gives 20% of the result. It is necessary to know when the answer to the question or to the production, the production of a derrick was 1 per cent, that is to say that for an energy expenditure, on harvested 100. From now on, with the tar sands the gain is 1 to 4.
Note: Orginal book: The Transition Handbook © Rob Hopkins. 
The quotations could be a bit different from the original, I translated it from the French version of the book. “Manuel de Transition, de la dépendance au pétrole à la résilience locale” de Rob Hopkins, editor: Écosociété  ISBN 978-2-923165-66-0

Also published on Medium.

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