What is Energy Descent?

by Rob Hopkins

Much has been written about the geological and economic aspects of the Age of Cheap Oil, or what we might call ‘energy ascent’, as well as the peak oil concept, but very little which looks beyond the peak, into the period this paper will refer to as ‘energy descent’. Despite this term being a relatively new one, it is used increasingly by an emerging movement which focuses on solutions to peak oil. The concept of energy descent was put forward by ecologists Odum and Odum;

That the way down can be prosperous is the exciting viewpoint whose time has come. Descent is a new frontier to approach with zeal … if everyone understands the necessity of the whole society adapting to less, then society can pull together with a common mission to select what is essential. Presidents, governors, and local leaders can explain the problem and lead society in a shared mission. Millions of people the world over, if they see the opportunity, can be united in the common quest for a prosperous way down. The alternative is a world of selfish battles for whatever resources remain.

A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies
by Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum

The term was further developed by Holmgren (2003b.); “I use the term ‘descent’ as the least loaded word that honestly conveys the inevitable, radical reduction of material consumption and/or human numbers that will characterise the declining decades and centuries of fossil fuel abundance and availability.

It has been refined and promoted by subsequent authors to describe a period of contracting energy supply. This website defines energy descent as;

“the continual decline in net energy supporting humanity, a decline which mirrors the ascent in net energy that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution. It also refers to a future scenario in which humanity has successfully adapted to the declining net energy availability and has become more localised and self-reliant. It is a term favoured by people looking towards energy peak as an opportunity for positive change rather than an inevitable disaster.”

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