peakThe term ‘energy descent’ is being used more and more to describe the period beyond the peak in world oil production. The concept is simple enough, the upwards left-hand side of the Hubbert curve we might call ‘energy ascent’, where each year there is more and more oil and gas available. Beyond the peak we can call it ‘energy descent’, where there is less and less available each year. For the paper I am writing at the moment I am looking to define what this much flung-about term actually means. I am attempting to draft a definition, and I would very much welcome your thoughts and input.


The initiators of the concept (although I have yet to find anywhere where he uses the actual term) were Howard T. Odum and his wife Elisabeth C. Odum who wrote “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�? (Odum & Odum 2001:4).

David Holmgren wrote in 2003 “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�?.


I have been trying to create a definition of the term. The best I have come up with so far is;

“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 availability of fossil fuels and has become more localized and resilient. At the core of the term energy descent is the concept that this reduction in fossil fuel availability is an opportunity for the creation of a truly sustainable culture”.

Please view this post as a WIKI, feel free to rewrite, edit or affirm my attempt, what is missing from it, what else should it say? Send in your versions, your thoughts on what this important term actually means. Adam Fenderson at Energy Bulletin has offered “the process of societal adaptation to moving down from the historical apex of global fossil fuel extraction and consumption into a lower energy future. It is a term favoured by people looking towards energy peak as an opportunity for positive change rather than an inevitable disaster”. Any thoughts much appreciated. Although academia can become very anally retentive in wanting to define everything, I think it could be a very useful process to really pin down a good definition of it. Thanks in advance for your input.