Revista THEOMAI   /  THEOMAI   Journal
Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo / Society, Nature and Development Studies


número 12 (segundo semestre de 2005) 
number 12 (second semester of 2005)


ISSN 1515-6443

Towards an Oil Depletion Agenda:

Sustainability, the Construction of International Problems,

and The Uppsala Protocol

Armando Paez*


* Puebla,México. Email:

Abbreviations: ASPO – The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas; IMF – International Monetary Fund; UN – United Nations; UNDP – United Nations Development Programme; UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; WCED – World Commission on Environment and Development.


As man receives auxiliary energies from fossil fuels, he uses less and less of the natural network of species but replaces them with work functions of his own society.
HOWARD T. ODUM (Environment, Power, and Society, p.129, 1971)

WHEREAS all the major [oil] productive provinces had been identified with the help of advanced technology and growing geological knowledge, it being now evident that discovery reached a peak in the 1960s;
WHEREAS the past peak of discovery inevitably leads to a corresponding peak in production during the first decade of the 21st Century, assuming the extrapolation of past production trends and no radical decline in demand.
THE UPPSALA PROTOCOL (fragments) (2003)


1. Introduction

Reality is not what is around us, is what we say that is around us: how we name and symbolize phenomenons, beings, and things. In modern times science plays a major role in the definition of reality, the voices of moral and political leaders and charismatic individuals that through centuries have usually determined what is true, are now questioned by science. The differences between scientists are part of the scientific method. While those differences are only relevant to an academicians community, the discussed views do not change either the perceptions and routines of persons nor social reality, they are just a symposium problem. But when scientific views define policies, laws, and national budgets, science goes beyond unaccesible papers and auditoriums, they are not any longer a matter of MAs, MScs, MPhils or PhDs: become a reality that will affect how the world is created; the realm of ‘scientific objectivity’ spreads its frontiers effecting people. Nevertheless, besides theories and epistemological limits, power and money destroy ‘objectivity’; sometimes, against the will of researchers, scientific knowledge and data are used or ignored to satisfy political and/or economic ends. The philosopher Esther Díaz (Díaz, 2000), named “postscience” to the subordination of science to market interests. This is happening with oil depletion, a scientific/postscientific debate. Who defines what is real? Of course oil depletion is a multi-billion dollar problem, a top secret issue for companies and governments, but it is an inevitable phenomenon that endangers the future of humanity as our global civilization depends on oil. Moreover, while a group of respected scientists, The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO), publishes a monthly newsletter since January 2001 analyzing the oil depletion problem, respected scientists that work with or in the United Nations (UN) do not write a word about this. Different views. For some geologists peak oil will occur soon, before 2010 (ASPO newsletters); for UN’s experts there is enough oil in the ground (UNDP, 2002; UNDP et al., 2004). It can be understood that petroleum companies and governments that administer oil fields reject peak oil studies, but the UN position creates uncertainty, immobility, a silence that is against its own goals (to build a better world, to create a sustainable global society); there is no future vision. Before a strategy that allows countries to deal with the end of cheap oil and the implementation of posthydrocarbons measures, the challenge is the official acknowledgement of oil depletion, its construction as a primary world problem.

Nowadays, the UN is still an influential institution that generates and impels discourses and consensus, despite the diverse situations that affect its structure, activities and legitimacy, the former aspects required for the creation of a postpetroleum economy, culture, and human ecology. The present and future world needs an organization of ‘united nations’. The oil problem is not only an energy problem: food, dwellings and medicines massive production depends on petroleum, and what is more, environmental management too. The human ecology of contemporary societies is an oil-based ecology. We must understand the complex net of interdependences created by oil refining. Is not enough to say, as the critics of ASPO point out, that there are plenty unconventional oil reserves, or that technology will resolve the problems of scarcity, or that market economy will find solutions. If so, other questions arise: What will be the cost? Will it be affordable for all? Will technology and laisser faire policies resolve all the societal conflicts and critical environmental emergencies and disturbances? We must analyze oil depletion, not only as a resource question, but as a human ecology process: How will human societies will survive in degraded territories with an oil too expensive or in its absence? Even more, due to the UN silence, it becomes necessary to review the documents promoting the ‘sustainable development’ discourse, new desideratum of the global society, introduced by the UN since the late 1980s: Agenda 21 (UN, 1992) (1) is not a postpetroleum programme, the Johannesburgh Conference (UN, 2002) did not consider it either. However, the construction of the environmental discourse shows us the path that the oil depletion discourse must follow, the construction of international problems has its procedure. The Uppsala Protocol, redacted by Colin Campbell and Kjell Aleklett (the first, the founder, the second, current president of ASPO) (Campbell & Aleklett, 2003), is a first step toward making the oil depletion problem officially ‘real’. This Protocol must be supported by a world summit convened by the UN: it is necessary that international organizations, governments, universities and different institutions all over the world include this issue on their agendas. Today international discourses have more influence in creating national policies than do local suggestions. Budgets and governmental investments follow the acknowledgement of global problems, international political agreement. UN Conferences create reality.

2. Sustainability

Ecology teaches us that populations can not exceed the carrying capacity of the ecosystems in which they live: if there are not enough food and water, individuals will die until the demands of the surviving population do not exceed the quantity of resources and do not alter the quality of services offered by nature (Marten, 2001). Human species has become an anomaly. Until the first half of the 20th century, human subsistence was a consequence of its fitness to natural cycles, human settlements were dependent on rural zones, environmental degradation was a factor of disturbance or collapse. But something has changed. Dramatic human population growth registered since 1950 coincides with the global environmental degradation and ecosystems destruction: human multiplication-expansion and ecocide. How to explain this ecological paradox? Human ecology of contemporary civilization goes beyond biology, it is settled in biosphere but depends on lithosphere. The ‘magical’ word of our times is substitutability: productive processes based on human beings, animals and tools substituted by automation; natural resources and services substituted by synthetic products and machines; limited and hard obtainable energy substituted by abundant and cheap energy. These are the pillars of the scientific-technical revolution that has modified over the world human settlement patterns, land surface and oceans since the end of World War II (Richta, 1969). The foundation of this revolution is oil. Postnature. Health, education, housing, communications, transport, largely governmental and enterprise management all reach new possibilities and acquire new characteristics due to petroleum. Social development and economic growth no longer find their limits in nature’s capacity: the substitutability, ecocide, environmental restoration, the rich societies’ ecological footprints, social complexity, the global market economy based in artificial needs… show that mankind depends on its technology (transformed energy) and organizations. Sustainability goes beyond ecology: if machinery works, human settlements work (Allen et al., 2003; Chow, 1997; Gever et al., [1986] 1991; Granados & López, 1996; Odum, 1971; Páez, 2002; Pimentel & Pimentel, [1979] 1996; Tainter, 1996, 2000). Nevertheless, the new human ecology and its limits are not analyzed. Thanks to petroleum, mankind can live in a postnatural world. Could humanity blossom, as we know it, without oil—due to its high price or nonexistence?

Substitutability and oil depletion present new questions, ignored by the international discourse that promotes a new global vision: sustainable development. This concept, a result of the environmentalist and progressive thought arisen in the 1960s, now seeks to harmonize development practices (economic growth and social welfare) with the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity as well as the promotion of a healthy human environment that takes into account the needs of the people that inhabit the Earth today and of those that will live in the future. Integrative discourse: it pretends to go beyond the existing fights among different sectors, social movements, political parties, governments and enterprises. Chameleonic discourse: it takes the color of that who use it. The ‘sustainable development’ concept was officially formulated in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (established in 1983) in a document entitled Our Common Future, also known as The Brundtland Report. The idea is to make the development sustainable, to create a new age of economic growth to solve the problems of the world, principally of underdeveloped countries. To the WCED, the limits to this project are human: technology and social organization. The challenge is to improve them and manage them while not surpassing the biosphere’s carrying capacity and executing an efficient promotion (Brundtland, 1987). Our Common Future defines the problem, Agenda 21 established the measures to implement the recommended policies. The four axes of the programme being: 1) to globalize and maintain the economic model based on international trade, 2) cooperation, 3) technology transference, and 4) education. Oil depletion, or its price increase, do not appear in the UN’s documents as Agenda 21 (1992), Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (1997), United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000), Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), Energy for Sustainable Development: A Policy Agenda (UNDP, 2002), World Energy Assessment: Overview - 2004 Update (UNDP et al., 2004). Certainly the oil depletion discussion took strength since the publication in March 1998 of the article “The End of Cheap Oil”, written by Colin Campbell & Jean Laherrère (Campbell & Laherrère, 1998), however several articles and books already considered oil limits or oil depletion before the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992) (2).

A book about petroleum won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. Its author, Daniel Yergin, does not analyze oil depletion but talks in some chapters about the 1970s oil crisis and our oil dependence (he named contemporary society the “hydrocarbon society”, thus petroleum is the “vital sap” of our civilization) (Yergin, 1991).

If we consider oil as an energy source and as a raw material for several industrial activities, the importance of its depletion is widely ignored. In the UN’s documents the aim is to promote development by assessing the environmental impact of human activities. Petroleum use is considered unsustainable, due to the pollution and/or destruction it causes, not because it will be expensive and scarce. Actually, some measures promote the use of renewable energies and industrial alternatives, but there is not an oil depletion framework that let us visualize the difficulties that petroleum scarcity will create, in case mankind does not soon develop a cheap substitute. Although the problems pointed out by the UN are not irrelevant, the diagnosis is incomplete. The situation is more complex, additional measures must be proposed. Environmental and socially sound projects, programmes and policies do not guarantee sustainability: if these initiatives were/are implemented without a postnature-postpetroleum sense, they will not hold up to the economic, political, social, energy, and environmental adjustments that the next oil crisis will bring. Are villages and metropolis, regions and countries, enterprises and governments, prepared to face them? Which type of adjustments? The 1973 oil crisis provoked, in developed capitalist economies, a combination of macroeconomic problems: recession, inflation, and unemployment (Yergin, 1982). Will it be possible to sustain the fight against poverty, health programmes, environmental restoration and conservation policies, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects under stagflation (inflationary recession)? Will it be possible to sustain substitutability and live in a degraded world? Will it be possible to support the high-technologized organizations that manage or resolve the problems created by contemporary complex societies? Will it be possible to maintain current human settlement patterns (transport and communications, architecture and urbanization, water services, food supplying, wastes disposal, energy consumption)? Will it be possible to feed a growing global population (many without a job or a piece of land to produce food) under changing and unpredictable weather conditions? Sustainable development is a correct discourse, but unsustainable.

3. The construction of international problems

UN Conferences are events where reality is ‘officially’ defined. In the scientific meetings the problems are, of course, presented and analyzed, but between a scientific paper or manifesto and a national law or international agreement a chasm has emerged. The success of scientific recommendations not only depends on clear and simple expositions, but also on culture and politics: social imageries and lobbying.

The acceptance or rejection of new perspectives (not only scientific) is determined by the ideas and beliefs that cohere societies, they function as filters or catalysts. Scientists are also influenced by the ideologies and myths of the groups and societies to which they belong. The first scientists were God believers, science was done without questioning ‘divine’ rules, theories and research had to fit on them. Today, many scientists are agnostic or atheist, the design of God must be outside of their thinking. The first images of the Universe and human capacities were faithful to the ideas contained in the holy books, other ideas shape people’s minds at present; ideas which are the consequence of mankind’s attainments and cravings, ideas and beliefs that are implanted lenses: perpetual progress, superabundance, development, technological optimism, postmateriality, and globalization. These ideas are rooted in contemporary ‘postmodern’ men and women. Is not easy to outline theories against the backdrop of this ideology, it is hazardous to talk about limits, scarcity, stationary state, questioning technological success, pointing out injustice or visualizing an unhappy global village. And this difficulty is because we, as Westerners and graduates, were educated to sustain growth and live (fight) for it: societies and science for plenty and comfort. It is heretical to talk about oil depletion, both inside and outside scientific frontiers. But we need an oil depletion culture, a thought and symbols (imageries) of the limits of the world and the contemporary society (Páez, 2004). Oil depletion times are ours.

New actors are required to lead scientific knowledge beyond symposiums: political operators. In order to change reality, to influence legislation—lobbying—is an activity as vital as research. But the oil depletion lobby is different from other social movements lobbying: there is no suffering or human rights violation and it is not an obvious problem. However, in spite of the differences that exist between ecocide and oil depletion, the environmental problem had some characteristics during its international construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s that today also characterize the oil depletion problem: 1) it is a global problem, 2) it is introduced by scientists, 3) it questions the dominant ideology, 4) it is rejected by governments, influential enterprises, and some academicians 5) it has multiple ramifications, 6) it requires more research, 7) presents a gloomy future.

Books and papers on ecology were published before the environmental revolution of the 1960s, dealing with human ecology and environmental problems; scientific conferences were organized and international accords about nature conservation, seas and natural parks were signed, but an international strategy supported by governments against ecocide was not entered until 1968, as a consequence of the international scientific discussion of the problem and its inclusion on the UN General Assembly agenda. There were two decisive moments:

1) The international scientific discussion. The UNESCO Biosphere Conference held in Paris from 4 to 13 September 1968 was the first great international scientific meeting on world’s ecology. Delegates of 63 countries participated in the “Intergovernmental Conference of Experts on the Scientific Basis for Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources of the Biosphere”. Its recommendations were considered by the UN General Assembly to convene the UN Conference on the Human Environment. Michel Batisse, engineer and physicist expert in arid lands and water resources, was its Secretary-General. This conference was the seed of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme.

2) The inclusion on the UN General Assembly agenda. The UN Economic and Social Council resolution 1346 (30 July 1968, 45th Session), supported the Swedish proposal of holding an international conference on the problems of the human environment, this resolution was considered by the UN General Assembly. Sverker Astrom, Swedish Ambassador to the UN, placed the environmental issue for the first time on the UN General Assembly agenda (3). The UN General Assembly resolution 2398 (Problems of the Human Environment) (3 December 1968, 23rd Session), convened a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, and requested that the UN Secretary-General issue a report concerning:

The nature, scope and progress of work at present being done in the field of human environment;
The main problems facing developed and developing countries in this area, which might with particular advantage be considered at such a conference, including the possibilities for increased international cooperation, especially as they relate to economic and social development, in particular of the developing countries;
Possible methods of preparing for the Conference and the time necessary for such preparations;
A possible time and place for the Conference;
The range of financial implications for the United Nations of the holding of the Conference (UN, 1968).

a.       The nature, scope and progress of work at present being done in the field of human environment;

b.       The main problems facing developed and developing countries in this area, which might with particular advantage be considered at such a conference, including the possibilities for increased international cooperation, especially as they relate to economic and social development, in particular of the developing countries;

c.       Possible methods of preparing for the Conference and the time necessary for such preparations;

d.       A possible time and place for the Conference;

e.       The range of financial implications for the United Nations of the holding of the Conference (UN, 1968).

The UN Secretary-General’s report underlined the necessity of such a conference. The Swedish government offered to be the host. The UN General Assembly resolution 2581 (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment) (15 December 1969, 24th Session), endorsed the Conference on the Human Environment and accepted the Swedish government invitation, reaffirming “the importance and urgency of the problems of the human environment” (UN, 1969).

The role of Astrom as political operator was crucial in defining the international agenda. Why did Sweden take the international initiative on environmental problems? The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was created in July 1967, first in the world, this group of experts and authorities succeeded to the State Environmental Protection Board, formed in 1963 to respond to rapid industrialization and nature exploitation. Since the early 1960s large scale fish death was reported in lakes and rivers in the country. On October 24, 1967, an article entitled “Nederbördens Försurning” (The Acidification of Precipitation), published in the Swedish leading diary Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) warned about the increase in the acidity of the precipitation over Europe since the 1950s, with the consequent damage to soil and water ecosystems. Its author, the soil scientist and chemist Svante Odén, also claimed that sulphur emissions from the United Kingdom and Central Europe were contributing to the acidity of Scandinavian’s lakes and streams, because of this acidification fish and other organisms died and the health and productivity of forests’ soils and trees could also be damaged. Some months later, in 1968, Odén published “Nederbördens och Luftens Försurning, dess Orsaker, Förlopp och Verkan i Olika Miljöer” (Ekologikommittén Bulletin, No. 1, Statens Naturvetenskapliga Forskningsråd) (“The Acidification of Air and Precipitation and its Consequences on the Natural Environment”, Ecology Committee Bulletin, No. 1, National Science Research Council, Sweden). Acid rain—a phenomenon already reported in the United Kingdom in the 19th century—was a transboundary problem, air pollution was transported over long distances, the concerns of some old Scandinavian scientists came true. Odén stated that acid precipitation could only be limited through international cooperation at a political level. As a political operator he succeeded in convincing politicians (he was advisor to the government and a television personality). The Swedish government proposed that the UN convene an international conference on the problems of the human environment. Once the sponsorship of the Conference was official, the Parliament of Sweden appointed a scientific committee to present the phenomenon in the summit. Transnational air pollution was a main issue in the Stockholm Conference (Bernstein, 2001; Harremoes et al., 2002).

It took time, but acid rain and cross-border transport of pollutants was set on the agenda: governments invested to resolve the problem. The UN Conference on the Human Environment was possible due to the lobby made by Svante Odén and Sverker Astrom. Beyond the UN General Assembly resolutions, Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the Conference, former president of the Canadian International Development Agency, was another major political operator that made ‘real’ the environmental problem in the early 1970s. The world would be worse today without the accords reached in Stockholm in June 1972.

4. The Uppsala Protocol

Odén was professor of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science at Uppsala, city located 65 kilometers north of Stockholm. There, in October 2003, at Uppsala University, a document signed by scientists Colin Campbell and Kjell Aleklett was publicly presented: The Uppsala Protocol (Oil Depletion Protocol). It proposes the following:

1. A convention of nations shall be called to consider the issue with a view to agreeing an Accord with the following objectives:

a. to avoid profiteering from shortage, such that oil prices may remain in reasonable relationship with production cost;
b. to allow poor countries to afford their imports;
c. to avoid destabilising financial flows arising from excessive oil prices;
d. to encourage consumers to avoid waste;
e. to stimulate the development of alternative energies.

2. Such an Accord shall having the following outline provisions:

a. No country shall produce oil at above its current Depletion Rate, such being defined as annual production as a percentage of the estimated amount left to produce;
b. Each importing country shall reduce its imports to match the current World Depletion Rate.

3. Detailed provisions shall be agreed with respect to the definition of categories of oil, exemptions and qualifications, and scientific procedures for the estimation of future discovery and production.

4. The signatory countries shall cooperate in providing information on their reserves, allowing full technical audit, such that the Depletion Rate shall be accurately determined.

5. Countries shall have the right to appeal their assessed Depletion Rate in the event of changed circumstances (Campbell & Aleklett, 2003).

Some comments to these suggestions:

1. On “convention on nations” (suggestion number 1): This convention must be a UN Conference. The challenge is that some country takes first the initiative, placing “Oil Depletion” as an issue on the UN General Assembly agenda. The first step was taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Dominican Republic, Carlos Morales. In the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly (September 2005) he stated: “This is the right time for the United Nations to launch an initiative with broader scope than the agenda of the Millenium Development Goals, to set a course that leads Member States to a civilization without oil” (4). Dominican Republic experienced economic and social problems due to oil price increase during 2005. It is important to notice that Morales talked about a postpetroleum civilization, not only oil price increase. The UN initiative must consider energy and petroleum-derived products substitution challenges.

2. On reduction of oil production and imports (suggestion number 2): Reducing oil production will increase prices; for oil exporters it will also diminish their national income. Reducing imports will rise prices in purchasing countries, and will slow or stop economic growth. Recession could be the result, unless programmes and alternatives to face the adjustment are previously taken. The reduction of oil production and imports presents again an old discussion: steady-state economics. The authors of The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972), proposed ideas about the “state of global equilibrium”, “zero growth” or “steady-state economics” wherein population and capital may be essentially stable. To this purpose a carefully controlled equilibrium of the forces that tend to rise or diminish them must be kept. It is visualized as a sustainable world system—without a sudden and uncontrollable collapse—capable of satisfying basic material needs of all its inhabitants. It proposed to implement energetic measures to avoid a situation that could compromise the survival of mankind and its coexistence during the second half of the 21st century. The key of the project: to apply deliberate controls to population and economic growth. The steady-state theory is an attempt to develop a world economy that considers world’s limits. But countries need economic growth to finance social, environmental, and energy-alternative policies, and to support research and development activities to construct a postpetroleum system. How should human development be managed under a scenario of scarcity? How could resources be distributed? What are the fundamental principles of this new economy? We must find economic benefits and opportunities in this transition. The ideas of Joseph Schumpeter could help us to imagine alternatives and policies (I will return to this in point 4).

3. On “scientific procedures” (suggestion number 3): Agenda 21 does not consider oil depletion (it does, however, consider the impact of energy extraction and consumption), however, Chapter 35 (Science for Sustainable Development) can be used to understand the oil depletion management challenge. This chapter presents four programmes:

A. Strengthening the scientific basis for sustainable management
B. Enhancing scientific understanding
C.  Improving long-term scientific assessment
D. Building up scientific capacity and capability.

Programme A states in its objectives the identification of the state of the scientific knowledge of each country and its research needs and priorities in order to achieve, as soon as possible, substantial improvements in:

The interaction between the sciences and decision-making, using the precautionary approach, where appropriate, to change the existing patterns of production and consumption and to gain time for reducing uncertainty with respect to the selection of policy options (paragraph 36.6.c) (UN, 1992).

The summit on oil depletion must adopt measures to support scientific research and to implement precautionary policies. Energy is not the only issue that should be discussed: food production, housing, health, environmental management (conservation, restoration, waste disposal, recycling, water, etc.) are activities that depend on petroleum (energy) and will be affected by the economic adjustment that will produce oil price increase. The sociopolitical dimension takes on more importance as oil depletion and our dependence on petroleum are demonstrated. The problem becomes bigger when we realize that contemporary human ecology is an oil-based ecology. Agenda 21 states the necessity of addressing uncertainties and improving the scientific basis for decision making to stop environmental destruction. We need also a ‘Programme’ that implements this idea, while simultaneously managing the transition to a postpetroleum age. It is necessary to identify areas where environmental management, development management, energy management and oil depletion management coincide. Thus moving from substitutability to synergism.

4. On “providing information” (suggestion number 4): It could be naive to hope that countries and companies will share information about their oil reserves, considering that petroleum is a multi-billion dollar business and a national security issue. If it can be demonstrated that petroleum production may not be such a good business in a near future, because of the high costs of extraction and refining (both need energy), investors will search for different alternatives to gain profits in less risky enterprises. Top secret. Governments rescue strategic companies when they go bankrupt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assists governments in crisis (although the IMF medicine sometimes is worst than the disease). Could governments rescue billionaire enteprises and/or thousands of little companies with financial problems due to an energy crisis? What will happen if IMF and other financial institutions go bankrupt, in its turn, due to a global stagflation? Will it be possible to support oil companies and nations? Joseph Schumpeter, I guess, would not see a catastrophe at all. In his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy ([1942] 1975) he exposed a new idea: “creative destruction”. The fundamental impulse of capitalism is innovation: new consumers’ goods, new methods of production and transportation, new markets, new forms of industrial organization… created by enterprises. Creative destruction: industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. Competition is the foundation: competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization. Competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage. Innovation that is a consequence of investing in itself.

Oil depletion demands new consumers’ goods, new methods of production and transportation, new forms of industrial organization, new technology, new supplies, new resources, new energy. However, it is a new mutation consequence not of business management, but rather of ecocide and petroleum scarcity. Can there be a mutation beyond competition—capitalism? The opening of oil enterprises and countries is a fundamental condition for this. Creative destruction: oil and petrochemical profit must be invested in creating the postpetroleum economy, culture, and human ecology. It is necessary that financial institutions, investors, enterprises and countries not only search their own benefit. It is necessary to design policies to prevent economic and environmental crisis and political and societal conflicts. Creative destruction to restore natural cycles and biosphere’s resources, to strengthen local/regional economies, to create new jobs, to construct and sustain healthier and safer human settlements. Solidarity, besides information and technology, is also required to move beyond oil.

Opening, trust, accord, support, investment, scientific research, foresight: reasons that justify the convening of a UN Conference, a world programme.

. An Oil Depletion Agenda

Humanity needs an Oil Depletion Agenda to define: 1) certainty, 2) a precautionary approach, 3) international accords, 4) programmes and policies, 5) budgets and investment.

To propose an agenda for change, as Dimitri Devuyst states, scenarios and initiatives which lead the way out of an unsustainable society should be developed. He also suggests the identification of those forces that hinder a more advanced sustainable development of the initiatives and the assessment of the sustainable character of the initiatives and their alternatives in a comparative way (Devuyst, 2001).

I suggest, with a postnature-postpetroleum perspective, to study the next issues to measure the transition to sustainability capacity of a society: 

A. Knowledge

1. Scientists, professionals, and technicians in research and development activities working in postpetroleum projects (alternative energies, environmental restoration, agroecology, local/regional management, etc.).
2. Population (rural and urban) that employs non industrialized techniques (not depending on petroleum-derived products).

B. Social imageries

1. Key ideas (ideologies) transmitted through the media (awareness of environmental and energy limits).
2. Democracy and disposition to change inside institutions.

C. Local/regional policies

1. Local/regional energy policy.
2. Local/regional environmental restoration policy.
3. Local/regional formation and training of civil servants policy.

D. Local financing

1. Existence of local financing institutions (local development and savings banks).  
2. Local trade balance.  

E. Petroleum use

1. Petroleum consumption (analyzed by activity).  
2. Petroleum (energy and derived products) required in environmental restoration.
3. Petroleum (energy) required on potable-water supply.  
4. Petroleum (energy) required on waste management.  

F. Agroecology (5)

1. Use of petroleum-derived agrochemicals.  
2. Use of machinery activated with petroleum-derived fuels.  
3. Free prices.  
4. Agrarian reform.  
5. Alimentary sovereignty.

Oil depletion marks the end of an epoch, it is hard for us to visualize the relevance of the years we are living and the difficulties of the years to come. It is a challenge, ours generations challenge. Better a global agenda than local improvisation. Better international programmes and cooperation than war statements. Better precaution than indifference or technological optimism—Will there be cheap energy to move machines, to create ‘something’ that substitutes nature and petroleum?



I wish to thank Pedro Prieto and Miriam Ojeda for their review and comments.



1. International strategy presented in 1992 in the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro), reviewed and appraised in 1997 in the 19th UN General Assembly Special Session (Rio + 5) and in 2002 in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg).
2. The list presents some papers and books published after the UN Conference on the Human Environment (June 1972) and before the UN Conference on Environment and Development (June 1992):
·   1972. Warman, H. “The Future of Oil”. Geographical Journal 138: 287-297.
·   1976. Hubbert, M. K. “Energy Resources: A Scientific and Cultural Dilemma”. Bulletin of the Association of Engineering Geologists 13: 81-124.
·   1978. Bartlett, A. “Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis”. American Journal of Physics 46(9): 976-888.
·   1980. Cook, E. “Charting Our Energy Future: Progress or Prudence?”. The Futurist 14: 64-69.
·   1980. Barnet, R. The Lean Years. Politics in the Age of Scarcity. New York. Simon & Schuster.
·   1980. Office of Technology Assessment. World Petroleum Availability, 1980-2000: A Technical Memorandum. Washington. Congress of the United States.
·   1984. Kerr, R. “How Fast Is Oil Running Out?”. Science 226: 426.
·   1986. Gever, J., Kaufmann, R., Skole, D. & Vorosmarty, C. Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades. Cambridge. Ballinger. (Third edition, 1991).
·   1986. Gall, N. “We Are Living Off Our Capital”. Forbes 138: 62-66.
·   1987. Hubbert, M. K. “Exponential Growth as a Transient Phenomenon in Human History”. In M. A. Storm (Ed.), Societal Issues, Scientific Viewpoints. pp. 75-84. New York. American Institute of Physics. (Hubbert presented this paper in 1976 before the World Wild Fund, Fourth International Congress “The Fragile Earth: Toward Strategies for Survival”, San Francisco).
·   1987. Ivanhoe, L. F. “Time Is No Longer On Our Side”. Oil & Gas Journal 85: 70-71.
·   1988. Ivanhoe, L. F. “Future Crude Oil Supply and Prices”. Oil & Gas Journal 86: 146-148.
·   1991. Campbell, C. The Golden Century of Oil 1950-2050: The Depletion of a Resource. Dordrecht. Kluwer.
·   1991. Cleveland, C. J. & Kaufmann, R. “Forecasting Ultimate Oil Recovery and Its Rate of Production: Incorporating Economic Forces into the Models of M. King Hubbert”. The Energy Journal 12: 17-46.
3. Years before, population growth was considered in the UN General Assembly resolutions 1719 (19 December 1961, 16th Session), 1838 (18 December 1962, 17th Session) and 2211 (17 December 1966, 21st Session) (Population Growth and Economic Development). Recommendations to conserve nature were presented in the UN General Assembly resolution 1831 (Economic Development and the Conservation of Nature) (18 December 1962, 17th Session). The survey of sea and natural resources was stated in the UN General Assembly resolutions 2172 (Resources of the Sea) and 2173 (Development of Natural Resources) (12 December 1966, 21st Session).
4. Document Online (22 September 2005). <>.
5. Suggestions 3, 4 and 5 are inspired in Rosset & Bourque (2002).



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Instrucciones para los autores /Instructions for Authors
Consejo Editorial/Editorial Board

Revista Theomai está auspiciada por:
* Universidad Nacional del Comahue (Argentina)
*  Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Doctorado en Estudios del Desarrollo (México)
* Università degli Studi di Camerino, Dipartimento di Scienze Giuridiche e Politiche (Italia)
*  Programa Nexos, Secretaria de Extensión - UNQ  (Argentina)

Theomai: palabra de origen griego que significa ver, mirar, contemplar, observar, pasar revista, comprender, conocer
Theomai is a word of greek origin wich means: to see, to contemplate, to observe, to understand, to know

Revista Theomai es una publicación de la Red de Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo
Theomai Journal is published by  Society, Nature and Development Studies Network