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saying goodbye to oil
by richard cole

Sure as a dog chases it's tail, I know we’re going to run out of oil one day. And that’s a sobering thought, if you sit for a moment on your front porch sipping your chosen tipple and allow yourself to think about it.

Extreme pessimists believe we’re all doomed, that scarce oil supplies will lead us to nightmarish scenarios of hunger and unemployment, of worthless currency and wealth evaporating quicker that water in Death Valley; and of desperate armed gangs roaming the countryside scavenging for what food and shelter they can find, killing anyone who stands in their way.

Extreme optimists believe Man’s superior intellect, innate humanity and stunning scientific and technological inventiveness will come up with a solution to keep things pretty much as they are now.

I have three children and it’s sharpened my interest in all this stuff since it’s they who will have to deal with whatever happens. I’ll be long gone or so senile I won’t care. The more I thought about it the more depressing it became. How could modern industrialised economies possibly survive on little or no oil?

Then I stumbled upon a solution so awesomely simple it sent my depression off on its holidays with a one way ticket and instructions not to send me a postcard.


It began in Ireland with one man, a permaculture teacher called Rob Hopkins who may well turn out to be one of the greatest human beings ever. He challenged his students to think how their lives would change because of the end of cheap oil and a changing climate. The result was the notion that there is plenty we can do about it if we start now.

Rob’s website http://transitionculture.org/ defines a Transition Initiative as “a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye…”

And to do something about it. But what can individuals actually do that will make any difference. Surely, it's up to governments? Actually no. For an answer, we need to rummage around in our past to see how we not only survived but thrived before the oil era began in about 1850.

The key to it is “local.”

For example, before oil, everything a community needed was produced locally and transported short distances to market, often daily. Foods were eaten in season. If it couldn’t be provided locally and was essential (to life continuing) it was brought in from further away but there was a logistical limit. Oil has pushed that limit out to include the whole planet. Post oil we must draw that limit back in again.

And this is what transition is: the agreed and planned gradual reduction on oil dependency so that each community becomes resilient (to mitigate the effects of less oil) and drastically reduces their carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of climate change, which can't be a bad thing no matter which side of the climate change causes argument you take.)

The very act of getting together to do something about the issue has two effects.

Firstly, people begin to realise it’s not a hopeless situation and that we can bring the same ingenuity and adaptability that we brought to bear during the hundred and fifty years of increased dependence on oil and apply it to the era of diminishing dependence on oil.

Secondly, people find that they can create a way of living that is hugely superior to anything our oil-sodden economies can give us today. Look any number of happiness surveys from around the world and there is a strong correlation between misery and the endless process of acquisition. The happiest are those with less, not more.

But localising more aspects of our lives does not mean loosing all the good things we enjoy. I can buy an electric car today that I can recharge every night using electricity I’ve made myself with a simple wind turbine and some pv cells. It will go 100 miles at least between charges, more than enough if my food is local and my work is local.
Solar panels on my roof heat water for showers for free during the summer and my wood burner does the job in the winter. I can buy a refrigerator and lights that run on tiny amounts of electricity I can make myself.

In the valley where I live there are dozens of people who have the skills we thought we’d lost, skills vital to a post oil economy, skills of making, repairing, building, farming, animal husbandry, horticulture, engineering. I look around and I can see who is well placed to make the most of the enormous range of opportunities post oil will provide and who is not. The well placed have begun to make the transition. To be sure, lives will be turned upside down and a more ancient set of values will make a return, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am now of the view that life post oil is only possible, but can be better and more sustainable than anything we now have.

My depression never did send me that postcard and it hasn’t come back to live with me either.


I live in Suffolk, England with my family. After teaching for years I ended up in a high octane job in London advising the UK government on educational stuff. I retired early to pursue my writing career. Now, I write and ride a ridiculously large motor cycle, although not at the same time.

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