tisdag 10 januari 2017

Shifting away from oil (article)

Back in July we submitted a proposal to a special issue of the journal Energy Research & Social Science on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" and I wrote about it on the blog. The proposed article we submitted back then is the first in a multi-article series about "Coalworld" (it was previously called "Consider Half") and we are still working on the first article. [TEMPORARILY ANONYMIZED] and me recently however submitted a new proposal for another Coalworld article for a special issue of the same journal. While the first article is setting the scene for the whole project and what is to come, this new article in more detail "constructs a scenario in terms of natural resources, e.g. a “baseline natural resource scenario.”"

The new special issue to which we submitted our proposal is called "Energy and the Future". For some reason, the journal deletes the calls directly after the deadline to submit proposals so I can not at this moment go back and have a look at it, but there were five different themes and aimed our proposal (below) towards the theme "Ways of thinking about the future of energy":

Shifting away from oil: designing allohistorical production curves for studying global transformation narratives 

[TEMPORARILY ANONYMIZED] (1) and Daniel Pargman (2)
(1) Global Energy Systems, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
(2) School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Continued reliance on petroleum and other fossil fuels is environmentally and socially incompatible with prevailing visions on sustainable development. Yet, little has happened with humankind’s oil dependency despite earlier and vocal concerns over resource scarcity and environmental impacts such as anthropogenic climate change and oil spills (e.g. Tainter and Patzek, 2011; Höök and Tang, 2013; Miller & Sorrell, 2014). Instead of shifting from petroleum to renewable energy sources, the world has in essence increased the rate of exploration and extraction - with a few temporary hiccups such as the Oil Crises in the 1970s (Borasi & Zardini, 2007, Merrill, 2007).

While there does exist historical analogies for societal development in the light of declining oil supply (i.e. Friedrich 2010, 2012), they are limited to individual nations. Visions that expresses concerns over continued (or increased) global reliance on oil has been countered by the idea that future oil discoveries will be sufficient and driven by higher prices and/or new technologies (e.g. Radetzki, 2010; Becken, 2014; Jefferson, 2016).

In this paper, we employ a special kind of narrative - an allohistorical scenario – to envision possible global developments using counterfactual history to model an alternative world (Fogel 1964, Todarova 2015). We more specifically model an alternative world where only half the oil ever existed, and, we have chosen to call this alternative world “Coalworld” in comparison to our world, “Oilworld”. By design, the global peak in oil production happened more than 40 years ago in Coalworld and that world has since had to manage with continuously declining oil supplies.

The design decisions and fundamental assumptions underlying the Coalworld scenario are presented in this paper. We further elaborate on a consistent narrative explanation for “removing” half of the world’s oil while compromising as little as possible of the other world characteristics compared to Oilworld (i.e. adhering to the “minimum rewrite rule” (Gilbert & Lambert, 2010)). How and where the oil was removed influences the resource endowment of key nations by limiting their possible trajectories of oil exploitation. The production curves of key nations are quantified and systematized into a set of scenario boundaries for oil production in Coalworld.  

We argue that this approach outlined here complements existing post-oil energy visions by providing a consistent framework for exploring energy transformations induced by oil scarcity while avoiding traditional counter narratives. Hence, this allohistorical scenario can in the here and now help us to illuminate and analyze what factors are hindering or aiding us in initiating a global transformation of the world energy system away from oil.


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Borasi, G., & Zardini, M. (Eds.). (2007). Sorry, Out of Gas: Architecture's Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis. Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Fogel, William R. (1964). ​Railroads and American economic growth: Essays in econometric history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Friedrich, J., 2012. ​Peak oil futures: same crisis, different responses. In: Inderwildi O, Sir King D (Eds). ​Energy, Transport, & the Environment. London: Springer-Verlag, 2012, 55–75.

Gilbert, D., Lambert, D. 2010. Counterfactual geographies: worlds that might have been. Journal of Historical Geography 36, 245–252.

Höök, M., Tang, X., (2013) Depletion of fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change-A review. Energy Policy, 52, 797-809

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Tainter, J. A., & Patzek, T. W. (2011). Drilling down: The Gulf oil debacle and our energy dilemma. Springer Science & Business Media.

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Radetzki, M. (2010) Peak Oil and other threatening peaks—Chimeras without substance. Energy Policy, 38(11), 6566-6569.

PS. For more information about the "Energy and the Future" special issue, see the following blog post.

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