1 Jul 2008

Paul Mobbs: Less is a four letter word

As oil prices today hit their highest ever at $143 a barrel Transition Stroud presents this timely talk by Paul Mobbs, author of Energy Beyond Oil. That was the first book I read on the subject of Peak Oil - he is touring the UK speaking about his views on the fast approaching energy crisis and why he believes LESS is the only response that can work.

Paul Mobbs - LESS IS A FOUR LETTER WORD at the British School, Painswick Inn, Stroud. Thursday 10th July, Doors open 7pm for a 7.30pm start.On junction of Gloucester Rd and Slad Road - for directions google GL5 1QG Admission FREE - donations to Transition Stroud and for Paul's travel expenses.

More background to the talk: www.fraw.org.uk/ebo/index_less.shtml
A little about Paul Mobbs: www.fraw.org.uk/mobbsey

Yesterday I got my email of The Great Turning Times from Chris Johnstone which also covered oil prices and I include the bulk of it below as it is well worth a read - but it is also well worth subscribing free to it.....

At the end of last year, oil prices were creeping up towards $100 a barrel, having started the year at about $60 a barrel. A BBC website article in November 2007 discussed this in the context of past oil price fluctuations, and concluded: "The lesson of history, is that when oil prices soar up to record levels, they usually then fall back down". This is the 'business as usual' story of conventional economics, where oil prices go up and down in a world with plentiful supplies.

Basing its policies on this view, the UK Government, in its 2007 Energy White Paper, estimated that world oil prices will be $57 a barrel by 2010, and $53 a barrel by 2020. But what we're seeing is very different to this and much closer to the scenario predicted by an understanding of Peak Oil. Oil is more difficult and expensive to extract from an oil field once it is past its peak production point and the same is true of the world's oil supplies as a whole. Discussing Peak Oil in the June 2005 edition of the Great Turning Times, I wrote:
"Once this point is reached, oil will become progressively more expensive."

When we pass the world peak of oil production, supply won't be able to keep up with rising demand, pushing prices up even more. Is this what we're beginning to see? By June this year, oil prices had climbed to $139 a barrel, nearly seven times the $20 a barrel they were in 2002. If we are reaching Peak Oil then we can expect the price of oil to continue to rise. Each big rise in oil prices over the last 35 years has been followed by a recession, and it looks reasonably likely we'll be facing this too, but on a larger scale.

What will this mean for us?
David Korten, in his book The Great Turning, uses the term The Great Unravelling to describe the falling apart of an unsustainable society as it pushes past its limits. He saw increasing oil prices as one of the indicators of this unravelling process. He writes: "Increasing oil prices are but one indicator of the unravelling of an economy based on the depletion of non-renewable natural resources." Korten also comments on other aspects of this Great Unravelling, like extreme weather events linked to climate change and terrorist attacks in a divided world. You may have witnessed aspects of this wider unravelling process. It can be frightening to observe.

The story of the Great Turning is about finding our positive response to this and participating in a collective deep-level transition towards a sustainable and life-affirming society. This is an inspiring story, and it is much helped by the publication of Rob Hopkins' new book - The Transition Handbook, which I'd like to tell you about.
The starting point for the Transition approach is a recognition that life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable and that it's better to plan for it now than be taken by surprise later. If we want to avoid a societal collapse as the oil age ends, we need to wean ourselves off our collective oil dependence. But the transition approach is about much more than just 'giving up oil'. It is also about developing a positive vision of what a post-petroleum society could be like and then taking active steps towards this.. A central assumption is: "That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognise the biological limits of our planet."

The Transition Handbook is an invitation into this process (see my previous blog entry on this
here). It describes how to be part of a positive, inspiring response to the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change. I own up to a bias here, in that I contributed to one of the chapters (Chapter Seven, on the psychology of change). But I rate this book as one of the single most important contributions to the Great Turning in recent years. If I were to award a "Great Turning Book Prize", I'd give it to Rob Hopkins.

The central concept of the Transition approach is 'resilience', which Hopkins defines as "the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside." Resilience is also a key theme of Positive Psychology, the new science of happiness, which I teach in Bristol. Each May, I organise a big public talk called The Bristol Happiness Lectures, and the theme this year was Happiness and Sustainability. Sustainability isn't often thought of as a happy word, a negative association I countered by giving my talk the title "How facing world problems can make you happier!"

I'll explain how.
In my talk, I made the distinction between a happy picture and a happy sequence. In a happy picture, you see the things you associate with happiness. Typically this involves smiling faces, cuddly pets, flowers and things going well. A trillion dollar advertising industry is based around linking consumer products to such pictures of happiness. But basing our mood on the scene we inhabit can make us less resilient, as it increases our vulnerability to falling apart when the required "happy" ingredients aren't there. With this way of thinking, sustainability issues are often viewed as threats to happiness, as they risk spoiling the picture with bad news or guilt. This can lead to a resistance to disturbing information and a blanking out of global issues. If we're to engage enthusiasm for, and participation in, the Great Turning, we need to approach happiness differently. I think of a happy sequence as more like a cartoon strip or story-board with a number of different frames. While the initial picture may not be happy, the response to difficulty can be what makes for good mood. When someone responds to a challenge by rising to it, they give their life three important contributors to good mood: purpose, engagement and the warm afterglow of feeling happy about what you've done. No wonder research links environmental activism with higher levels of happiness.

I come back to the rising price of oil. In the business as usual story, this is a temporary blip, and prices will come down again soon. The more this doesn't happen, the more obvious it will be that the age of cheap oil is over and end of the oil age isn't so far away. Dramatically lower energy consumption is coming our way and it's better to plan for it now than be taken by surprise later. If we view this in terms of a happy sequence, might high oil prices be a wake up call to our collective oil dependence? Might future generations look back on this as a significant trigger event in the Great Turning? That's the version of history-being-made this newsletter aims to support. If you're reading this, it is likely you're part of this story too.

Another positive approach to managing the changes ahead I found in a blog called 'Resilience' - see it here.

Talking of oil I was sent a link to the NY Times - see here - "Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat."

Clearly for the US government, increasing output in Iraq, as elsewhere, is daily becoming more urgent - particularly with worsening situation re Iran. This can only add weight to the now overwhelming evidence that this war was about oil and regional control and nothing to do with human rights.

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