Towards an Oil Depletion Agenda:
Sustainability, the Construction of
and The Uppsala Protocol
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
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,
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
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.
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.,  1991; Granados & López, 1996; Odum,
1971; Páez, 2002; Pimentel & Pimentel,  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)
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
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
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
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
The nature, scope and progress of work at present being done in the field of
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
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).
nature, scope and progress of work at present being done in the field of
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
possible time and place for the Conference;
range of financial implications for the United Nations of the holding of the
Conference (UN, 1968).
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:
convention of nations shall be called to consider the issue with a view to
agreeing an Accord with the following objectives:
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
d. to encourage consumers to avoid waste;
e. to stimulate the development of alternative energies.
an Accord shall having the following outline provisions:
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.
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.
signatory countries shall cooperate in providing information on their
reserves, allowing full technical audit, such that the Depletion Rate
shall be accurately determined.
Countries shall have the right to appeal their assessed Depletion Rate in
the event of changed circumstances (Campbell & Aleklett, 2003).
Some comments to
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
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:
Strengthening the scientific basis for sustainable management
Enhancing scientific understanding
long-term scientific assessment
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
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 ( 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.
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.
accord, support, investment, scientific research, foresight: reasons that
justify the convening of a UN Conference, a world programme.
5. An Oil
needs an Oil Depletion Agenda to define: 1) certainty, 2) a precautionary
approach, 3) international accords, 4) programmes and policies, 5) budgets
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:
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
2. Democracy and disposition to change inside institutions.
C. Local/regional policies
1. Local/regional energy
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
3. Petroleum (energy) required on potable-water supply.
4. Petroleum (energy) required on waste management.
F. Agroecology (5)
1. Use of petroleum-derived
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
I wish to thank Pedro Prieto and Miriam Ojeda for their review and comments.
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). <http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/60/statements21.html>.
5. Suggestions 3, 4 and 5 are inspired in Rosset & Bourque
ALLEN, T., J.
TAINTER & T. HOEKSTRA. Supply-side sustainability. Nueva York.
Columbia University Press. 2003.
BERNSTEIN, S. The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism. New York.
Columbia University Press. 2001.
BRUNDTLAND, G. (Ed.). Our Common Future: The World Commission on
Environment and Development. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1987.
CAMPBELL, C. & K. ALEKLETT. The
2003. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
CAMPBELL, C. & J.
LAHERRÈRE. “The End of Cheap Oil”. Scientific American
278(3): 60-65. March 1998.
CHOW, S. Petroquímica
y Sociedad. (Petrochemistry and Society). Mexico City. Fondo de Cultura
DEVUYST, D. “Sustainability Assessment at the Local Level”. In D.
Devuyst, L. Hens & W. De Lannoy (Eds.). How Green Is the City?
Sustainability Assessment and the Management of Urban Environments. pp.
175-206. New York. Columbia University Press. 2001.
DIAZ, E. “El
Conocimiento como Tecnología de Poder”.
(Knowledge as Technology of
Power). In E. Díaz (Ed.).
La Posciencia. El Conocimiento Científico en las Postrimerías de la
Modernidad. (Postscience. Scientific Knowledge in the Decline of
Modernity). pp. 15-36.
Buenos Aires. Biblos. 2000.
GEVER, J., R. KAUFMANN, D. SKOLE & C. VOROSMARTY. Beyond Oil: The
Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades. Niwot. University Press
of Colorado.  1991.
GRANADOS, D. & G. LOPEZ.
Chapingo. Chapingo Autonomous University (Mexico). 1996.
HARREMOES, P., D. GEE, S. GUEDES, J. KEYS, M. MacGARVIN, A. STIRLING & B.
WYNNE (Eds.). The Precautionary Principle in the 20th Century: Late
Lessons from Early Warnings. London. Earthscan. 2002.
MARTEN, G. Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development.
London. Earthscan. 2001.
MEADOWS, D. L., D. H. MEADOWS, J. RANDERS & W. BEHRENS, III. The Limits
to Growth: A Report to The Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of
Mankind. New York. Universe Books. 1972.
ODUM, H. T. Environment, Power, and Society. New York. John Wiley &
La Dimensión Sociopolítica del
Fin del Petróleo: Desafíos a la Sostenibilidad.
(The Sociopolitical Dimension of
the End of Oil: Challenges to Sustainability).
2002. Document Online (February
“Sostenibilidad y Límites del Pensamiento”.
(Sustainability and Limits
of Thought). Theomai Journal. Special issue on Political Ecology.
Winter 2004. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
PIMENTEL, D. & M. PIMENTEL (Eds.).
Food, Energy, and
University Press of Colorado.  1996.
RICHTA, R. Civilization at the Crossroads: Social and Human Implications
of the Scientific and Technological Revolution. White Plains.
International Arts and Science Press. 1969.
ROSSET, P. & M. BOURQUE. “Lessons of Cuban Resistance”.
In F. Funes, M. Bourque, L.
García, N. Pérez & P. Rosset (Eds.).
Sustainable Agriculture and
Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba.
pp. xiv-xx. Oakland. Food First Books, Cuban Association of Agricultural and
Forestry Technicians & Center for the Study of Sustainable Agriculture of
the Agrarian University of Havana. 2002.
SCHUMPETER, J. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York. Harper
& Row.  1975.
TAINTER, J. “Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies”.
In R. Constanza, O. Segura & J. Martínez-Alier (Eds.). Getting Down To
Earth: Practical Applications of Ecological Economics. pp. 61-76.
Washington. Island Press. 1996.
TAINTER, J. “Problem Solving: Complexity, History, Sustainability”.
In Population and Environment 22(1): 3-41. 2000.
THE ASSOCIATION FOR THE STUDY OF THE PEAK OIL & GAS. Newsletters. Documents
Online (September 26, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS (UN). Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly during its
Twenty - Third Session, 3 December 1968. Document Online (February 15,
UNITED NATIONS (UN).
Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly during its Twenty - Fourth
Session, 15 December 1969. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS (UN).
1992. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS (UN). Programme for the Further Implementation of
Agenda 21. 1997. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS (UN).
2000. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS (UN).
Report of the World
Summit on Sustainable Development.
2002. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (UNDP). Energy for Sustainable
Development: A Policy Agenda. 2002. Document Online (February 15, 2005).
UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (UNDP), UNITED NATIONS
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS (UNDESA) & WORLD ENERGY COUNCIL (WEC).
World Energy Assessment: Overview - 2004 Update. 2004. Document
Online (February 15, 2005).
YERGIN, D. The
Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York. Free
YERGIN, D. “Crisis and Adjustment: An Overview”. In D. Yergin & M.
Hillenbrand (Eds.). Global Insecurity: A Strategy for Energy and Economic
Renewal. pp. 1-28. Boston. Houghton Mifflin. 1982.