Transition Handbook: Chapter 2 : Energy Descent

View from the top

As we saw during the reading of chapter 1, peak oil and climate change cannot be seen separately. Since the beginning of our trip we talk about our approach and these imminent issues, it is interesting to see how many people feel concerned, but actions do not necessarily follow. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that people do not think it can happen imminently.

«It’s for later, it will happen, but will not affect us, however, the next generations … »

transition hanbook

In Chapter 2, Rob Hopkins tells us about the perception we can have of peak oil and climate change, but also how we escape intellectually with visions of the future where technological innovation will solve everything, to the other extreme, that is, the destruction of society. In order to explain it, he divides into three attitudes:


Adaptation: scenarios that take for granted that we will always find inventions that will pull us out of trouble
scenarios that require a certain evolution, a change of attitude, but which take for granted that society will manage to preserve its coherence, although in a more localized form that consumes less energy.
Scenarios that take for granted that peak oil and climate change will inevitably result in fracturing and disintegrating, at once or gradually, society as we know it.

The adaptation scenario is unlikely for Rob Hopkins because according to planner Pierre Wack, they would rely on what he calls the “Three Miracles”.

  • 1. A technological miracle: extraordinary levels of new exploration and production or free or hydrogen-based energy.
    2. A socio-political miracle: Government policies and cultural values will enable the eradication of social exclusion.
    3. A fiscal miracle: the public sector will finance the application of this scenario.

The scenario of evolution as for him, cannot be functional, if one takes the change is global in the society and not only on the technological level. This is where the transition approach is positioned. Because although the scenario of the collapse is possible, it is against its possibility that the change must be done.

In 2006 the city of Portland (Oregon, USA) created a working group on peak oil, which produced a report entitled “Descending the Oil Peak” which evaluated the range of impacts that it could have. From there they drew three possible scenarios:

  • 1. The long-term transition; in this scenario, the decline in supply and price increases both occur gradually, allowing for mitigation options to be addressed and implemented.
  • 2. Oil shocks; this scenario is similar to the one above, but is punctuated by sudden interruptions and price spikes, triggering prolonged periodic emergencies.
  • 3. Disintegration; here, the effects of peak oil become so severe that the social fabric begins to fall apart, leading to socially catastrophic competition for scarce resources, including food, shelter and energy.

The reason Rob Hopkins talks about this report is that he quotes the psychologists Winter and Koger as saying that “healthy functioning requires faith in meeting our needs in the future, otherwise the credit we let’s give it to the world. A damaged trust can lead to four neurotic reactions that will probably affect our behavior in the environment: narcissism, depression, paranoia and compulsion.

In highlighting the various scenarios set out in his handbook and the results of this report, Rob Hopkins explains that it is by explaining and recognizing the risks of each that we can help people to choose the transition for the future. Best of all. By opting for an adaptation of our environment to be more resilient and local, this is how we will be able to combat the adverse effects that we would have to continue heading on.

Why the energy descent


Like the degrowth movement, the foundations of the transition movement lie in bringing about an energy descent from our way of life. It is in this principle that the initiatives of transition are above all an ecological movement, at least at the beginning, because the goal is well to make our way of life more durable and in harmony with the resources on the ground.

There are many reasons for the need for energy descent, as Rob Hopkins discusses in the chapter explaining the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested Energy (EROIE). which is the ratio of usable energy acquired from a given source of energy.

Oil production in the United States in the 1930s had a REEI of over 100: 1, which means that for every unit of energy used in the extraction process, more than 100 were obtained. […] in 1970 this rate had fallen to 30: 1 and is now somewhere between 11: 1 and 18: 1.

Not present in the chapter, but I take the liberty to add it, one speaks now of the Earth overshoot day, that is to say the day of the year or the humanity to use the set of resources that can produce the land in 1 year. Every year on the date which it falls approaches the beginning of the year. In 2017, we are currently at August 2nd. The Global Footprint Network offers many interesting resources.

The term energy descent is chosen according to Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture for the less negative aspect that it conveys rather than the degrowth, but one can also speak of the Sober Happiness of Pierre Rabhi or the Buen Vivir South American.

The energetic descent of our way of life is important because oil, as energy slave, was the one with the best yield so far. Renewable energies are a solution, but they can not support the weight of our current consumption. The figures of the EROIE at the time of writing the book (2008) may have changed, but represented: the wind of 11: 1, photovoltaic cells 2.5: 1 and hydroelectricity of 23: 1.

Finally, the importance of putting forward the concept of the energy descent is to stop focusing on the peak oil, but to put importance on his after and the social issues that the greatest difficulty to acquire energy will bring.

While doing a search for an image on energy efficiency, I came across the site of young designer, who puts online his comic books on ecology. There is one on peak oil and energy slaves. It is free access and in several languages, I advise you.



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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