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GLOBAL PEAK OIL SURVEY 2009

GLOBAL PEAK OIL SURVEY 2009 – INITIAL FINDINGS

INTRODUCTION
‘Peak oil’ has emerged from being a fringe ‘crackpot’ topic in the first years of the new millennium to become a widespread concept that is now frequently spoken about by leading industry and political figures, covered seriously by the mass
media as the data continues to emerge, ever strengthening the argument and understanding that peak oil is soon upon us. For anyone who has spent any length of time looking at the peaking of global oil supplies, it soon becomes clear that the implications are startling. With no viable equivalent energy alternative that matches the properties of oil, especially within the context of climate change, and a large proportion of employment, wealth creation, agriculture and high standards of living based on the ever increasing consumption of oil, the concept of permanently declining oil supplies is likely to challenge existing assumptions.

As with any topic, there are those more actively interested than others. The interest may range from purely academic to entirely transformative, such as those taking their knowledge of peak oil and using it as the basis for planning for the future. This broad set of people actively interested in the issue can be referred to as the ‘peak oil community’, present on internet forums such as peakoil.com, theoildrum.com and powerswitch.org.uk, or maybe as part of ‘offline’ groups such as transition initiatives.

Until now there has been no attempt to really understand what the peak oil community thinks as a collective. Is there a consensus on the expected impacts? Are people throughout the community acting in a similar way? Is there agreement on solutions to peak oil? The UK based peak oil group
PowerSwitch.org.uk wanted to get the answers to these questions, so, from the 23rd May to 31st August 2009, collected responses from across the world as part of the first annual Global Peak Oil Survey.

Nearly 300 people participated, taking, on average, thirty minutes to answer the 150 questions. The comprehensive survey was directed to those who considered themselves knowledgeable about peak oil and so the results will show the thinking of people well-informed on the subject. Each question was given as a statement, and then people were asked to strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree or mark as undecided. At the end of each section people were given the option to provide more details about their response.

The full set of anonymous data is available for public download and use (see end of document). The purpose of the rest of this document is to give a top level view of the Global Peak Oil Survey 2009 findings, although there is an intention to give, at a later date, deeper analysis of the findings. Percentages given are rounded to the nearest whole number. The authors recognize that some of the questions are duplicated and/or were open to interpretation. The authors look forward to receiving more input on the questions during a consultation period in advance of the Global Peak Oil Survey 2010. Peak oil is used throughout as a phrase but sometimes it means the actual point of peak, other times the period after the global peak. The sections have been reordered for the purpose of this document.

Peak oil is more than an energy problem – it is about how individuals, families, societies, governments, react. We hope that the findings of this survey will give some understanding to how even those most aware of the problem see the future unfolding, and would be prepared to let if unfold.

PROFILE OF RESPONDENTS
The answers given to the survey have to be understood in the context of those responding. 45% became interested in peak oil via the internet with only 6% not interested in climate change. Approximately 30% have been interested in Peak Oil for more than 5 years. 50% are part of a group dealing with Peak Oil. Timing of peak oil is a commonly asked question, and over 50% place peak oil occurring 2007 to 2010, but 15% place it at 2011 to 2013 and 12% think it happened in 2005.

77% consider themselves ‘green’, and 44% consider themselves to be ‘spiritual’. 86% consider themselves to be scientific. Peak oil conscious individuals (peakists) are often open to the charge of being ‘doomers’ but actually 63% think of themselves as optimistic. 77% also like to read as much as they can about anything relating to peak oil, which suggests that those responding are ‘peakoilogists’! 85% feel they understand the world more now since they learnt about peak oil. 55% of respondents were aged 40 to 59, 33% aged 20 to 39, and 76% were male.

PEAK OIL AWARENESS
To solve a problem, you first need to know that there is one. 92% think a widespread campaign for raising awareness of peak oil is a good thing. 89% do not think the coverage about peak oil in their country is good. 90% think the internet is a vital tool for dealing with peak oil.
72% consider themselves to already be active in speaking about peak oil, and a similar number think they could be more active in talking about peak oil. 44% would be more active in talking about peak oil if they had the time or money.

71% find that most people they tell about peak oil aren’t interested. 24% don’t talk about peak oil in case people see them as being odd.
85% find it helpful talking to other peak oil aware people, but 59% think there is too much talk and not enough action on peak oil by individuals.

PERSONAL PREPARATION AND TRANSITION
Once you know about peak oil, what do you do? Within the peak oil community, there is a lot of focus on preparing for a post-peak world. 30% agree they are happy with their preparation for a post-peak world, and 44% have decided to change their career due to peak oil. 55% want to make changes due to peak oil and know what to do, and 21% want to make changes but don’t have the time.

There is not much question about when to make changes though, with only 17% wanting to make changes, just not yet. 50% agree that the idea of changing is daunting, but reassuringly 50% say their families are willing to change with them.

87% disagree that there is no point in making changes and 86% disagree that there is no point in reducing personal energy consumption until everyone else is forced to.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF PEAK OIL
An often reported reaction to ‘getting’ peak oil is hairs standing up on the back of your neck, butterflies in your stomach, and a few minutes of suddenly seeing the world through different eyes. There is undoubtedly a psychological and emotional impact related to having your most fundamental assumptions stripped away. 51% agree that peak oil has caused them to feel depressed, but 29% say they have actually been happier since learning about peak oil. Only 6% wish they didn’t know about peak oil.

It isn’t all negative. Despite the size of the problem, 74% think they can make a difference, and 37% are more excited than worried about the post-peak oil years.

Indeed, 50% see peak oil as an opportunity not a problem. This follows with 50% optimistic about their future but only 21% are actually optimistic about their country’s future and just 17% are optimistic about the World’s future.

PEAK OIL AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The debate about the ‘twin crises’ of peak oil and climate change is a fascinating one, with a lot of discussion about the dynamic of their interaction. 81% are worried by climate change, but only 31% find climate change more worrying than peak oil. 48% disagree that peak oil means climate change is more likely.

Interestingly 63% value energy security over climate security and 76% believe most people value energy security over climate security. However, 73% think the solutions to climate change and peak oil solutions can be the same. 73% favour some form of carbon rationing. 72% think peak oil will change society more than climate change over the next 25 years but that number drops to 40% over a 100 year period. 40% are not sure if runaway climate change is unavoidable, but a similar percentage thinks it is unavoidable.

STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH PEAK OIL
With only 8% thinking that things won’t generally be worse for most people, it is clear that there is a demand for strategies to deal with peak oil. The questions in this section were loosely based around the options defined by Richard Heinberg in ‘Powerdown’. 64% think their country will wait for a technology or technologies or energy source to save us from the impacts of peak oil, but 89% are doubtful such a solution will occur. 61% think their country will fight for control of the remaining energy resources but just 7% think their country actually should.

92% think their country should implement a national powerdown strategy, but only 22% think their country actually will. 40% think people in their country will build ‘lifeboats’, 86% think we should. Only 21% think their country will be a better place to live by 2100, although 46% are undecided.

ENERGY AND OIL
Only 5% believe there are energy alternatives now or forthcoming that would mean we won’t be affected by peak oil, but 33% think we have the technical ability to deal with peak oil, and 18% think we can limit the impact of declining oil supplies largely through efficiency. 56% do not believe we have time to prepare for a smooth energy descent.

78% agree with energy rationing for the future. 27% are more worried about declining electricity supplies than declining oil supplies. 50% think it is morally wrong to use oil for anything other than providing basic needs. Nuclear energy is a hotly discussed option and 47% do not consider nuclear as having an important role to play, while 37% think it does. A resounding 90% favour localized renewable energy.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
What role will government and politics play in relation to peak oil? 95% are not happy with their government’s preparations for a world of declining oil supplies.

78% are convinced their government knows about Peak Oil but doesn’t acknowledge it. 91% think their government should warn its population about Peak Oil. 87% think their government should support an oil depletion protocol Just 16% think a leaner energy world will lead to greater levels of democracy. 77% think extreme political parties and policies will become more prevalent.

42% see state power and state control growing post peak, with 30% think political power will become more centralized. 21% agree that we may need to sacrifice democracy in return for energy and climate security, and 14% would be prepared to do so.

PEAK OIL AND SOCIETY
The last thirty years has seen a large swing from the focus on ‘society’ to the ‘individual’ or more accurately, the ‘consumer’. 67% agree that society will mean more in a post-peak world. For the impact on society generally, the views are broadly in agreement. 66% see crime increasing, 51% see religion experiencing resurgence, and 69% see increase in xenophobia and nationalism. 32% see a reversion to traditional gender roles, but 42% were undecided on this.

Only 6% think the political will exists to deal with Peak Oil, and 15% think the public will exists. 29% think we may need to sacrifice our liberties in return for energy and climate security, and 21% would

COMMUNITY AND FAMILY
The feeling of community has generally weakened with cheap oil fuelling cheap transport, atomizing the localized living that previously existed. However, 66% still consider themselves part of their local community and 44% could rely on their neighbours in a time of crisis. 81% believe family will become more important than it is now and 67% think ultimately you have to look after yourself and your family first.

Only 4% think that those who focus on community solutions are mistaken. 82% think a community response is the best response to peak oil and only 25% doubt that people in their area would like to develop a sense of community even in a time of crisis. Even though 54% would like to live where they are living now in a post-peak world, 58% find it difficult to see how their local community could sustain itself. 85% would encourage people to join transition initiatives.

PEAK OIL AND AGRICULTURE
Agriculture has become so dependent on oil, and food is so essential to us, that it is an area of focus for a lot of peakists (62% are more worried by food security than energy security). Some postulate that population levels are only as high as they are because of the increased food supplies based on increasing oil supplies. 94% of respondents think declining oil supplies will contribute to global hunger. 96% think it will affect their country’s agriculture, 88% think it will affect food diversity, and food security within their country.

On an individual basis 65% have considered changing their diet, and 85% see declining oil supplies resulting in reduced meat consumption. 91% are now more interested in growing their own food which is useful as 63% see a large shift of the working population from cities back to the fields

HEALTH, EDUCATION AND TRANSPORT
Compare life to a pre-industrial world, or even just to 100 years ago, and it is easy to see how much health, education and transport has improved due ultimately to increased energy inputs. Will that continue in a post-peak world?

Only 23% see declining energy supplies as generally having a positive impact on healthcare. 25% see declining energy supplies as generally having a positive impact on education. 89% think the education system should be rapidly changed to focus on the necessary skills necessary for a world of declining oil supplies.

In terms of transports, 23% agree that we should fly while we still can. 69% have reduced their travel by personal transport such as cars, and 86% think people should reduce their travel by personal transport. 50% have increased their travel by public transport, and 78% think that people should increase their travel by public transport. 27% believe it doesn’t matter if they reduce their oil consumption as other people will just use the oil anyway.
PEAK OIL AND CONFLICT
The twentieth century was scarred with some of the most atrocious wars in human history, but a period of stability largely existed as more people enjoyed larger slices of the ‘pie of wealth’ that grew due to increasing oil consumption.

What happens when there is less ‘pie’ to go around? 81% agree that civil conflict will increase, and 85% see state vs. state conflict increasing. This could manifest in the most deadly way as 54% see nuclear war or war involving weapons of mass destruction as more likely, even though 74% do not believe nuclear weapons are necessary for their country’s security.

Only 4% think their country should go to war if it would lead to energy security, but 55% think their country actually would. 93% agree that resource wars will increase (although some would argue that all wars are resource wars). 88% see trade wars and protectionism increasing, as well as conflict between rich and poor.

PEAK OIL AND POPULATION
Population is the ‘hot potato’ of topics related to peak oil. It is the often the one most difficult to discuss as it can be a very sensitive topic, both on a micro and macro level. However, 81% expect a significant decrease in human population across the global by the end of the 21st century, although only 58% see it happening in their own country. This would be disappointing to the 69% who think there are too many people in their country.
86% think there are too many people in the world but a massive 96% think there are too many people who consume too much, suggesting that it is not population alone that is the problem, but population multiplied by consumption.

How should we deal with so many people though? Projections are for increasing population levels. 26% think no-one should have more than one child, 50% think no-one should have more than two children. 28% have decided to have no more children due to peak oil. 31% agree that future population levels should be controlled and enforced with year-on-year reductions, which may or may not be preferable to the Malthusian option seen by the 45% who think there is no need for human intervention as population levels will be controlled by natural limitations such as food shortages, conflict, illness etc.

CONCLUSION
We would like to encourage you to draw your own conclusions from the data provided. However, what appears to be the case within the peak oil community is a mixture of negative views of the future as a whole, but a resolute optimism on an individual basis that they can make a difference. There is a big difference between what the peak oil community thinks should happen, and what the community thinks will happen, such as going to war for energy security. There is also a big difference between what the peak oil community values, and what is perceives non-peakist society valuing. The community is very concerned about climate change, but would not be willing to sacrifice democracy and liberty for energy and climate security.

RESOURCES
The reports produced by the survey software, questionpro, can be found at the following link:
http://tinyurl.com/peak-oil-survey-2009-results
The anonymous raw data, as an excel sheet, can be found at the following link:
http://tinyurl.com/gpos2009-raw-data

About the author:
James L. Howard has a background in collecting climate change data from corporations. He is the founder of the UK peak oil online community group PowerSwitch.org.uk, is involved in the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, and has recently launched localpower.org.uk, a website for finding community groups. He can be contacted at james@powerswitch.org.uk