An Introduction to


Chapter 5


Annotated Bibliography

  1. Whitehead, Mark 2014, ‘Resources: oil and water’ in the book Environmental Transformations, London: Routldedge

    Chapter 2 of this book presents good overview of unsustainable trends in use of energy resources within a very well-crafted textbook.

  2. Robertson, Margaret 2015, Sustainability: Principles and Practices, chapter 10 on ‘Energy’, Abingdon: Earthscan/Routledge

    Chapter 10 presents a good overview of sustainability challenges posed by forms of energy used by humans.

  3. Hopkins, Rob, 2008 The Transition Handbook: Creating local sustainable communities beyond oil dependency, Sydney: Finch Publishing.

    UK-based environmental activist and writer Rob Hopkins trained in the use of permaculture principles, which originated in Australia. In 2004 he began to apply permaculture principles in thinking about local responses to the global problem of ‘peak oil’ and in 2005 he moved to Totnes in England to launch the first ‘transition town’ action plan. Transition Towns has subsequently become an international movement and Hopkins writes as an advocate of this approach to climate change and peak oil. He obtained a PhD from Plymouth University in 2011.

  4. Bayliss-Smith, Tim, 1982, The Ecology of Agricultural Systems, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    A pioneering account of the environmental impacts of farming practices as seen through the lens of energy flows. Bayliss-Smith is an international expert on food production systems in Pacific Island nations.

  5. Brown, Lester, 2009, Plan B 4.0: Mobilising to save Civilization, New York: W.W. Norton.

    Fourth edition of a book on major global sustainability challenges and possible solutions from the founder of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute.

  6. Pfeiffer, Dale Allen, 2006, Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture, Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society.

    A provocative book which predicts the impending collapse of agricultural systems that have a heavy reliance on the use of fossil fuels.

  7. Tainter, Joseph, 1990, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Well before Jaryd Diamond attempted something similar in 2005, archaeologist Joseph Tainter reviewed the rise and fall of complex societies over a period of 2000 years. His rather surprising conclusion is that increasing complexity creates increasing vulnerability.

  8. Tainter, Joseph and Tadeusz Patzek, 2012, Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma, New York: Springer Science Publications.

    In this book, Tainter worked with geologist Tadeusz Patzek to examine the causes of a disaster triggered by an explosion and fire at the Deep Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Tainter used the disaster to highlight the dangers of oil dependency for societies that require increasing sources of energy to sustain increasingly complex systems.

  9. Urry, John, 2011, Climate Change and Society, Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Famous for his work on the increasing mobility of people in the wake of economic globalisation, Urry used this book to call for a ‘resource turn’ in sociology in order to focus on the kinds of social adaptations that will be required to radically reduce carbon emissions.

  10. Heinberg, Richard, 2007, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Decline, Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

    Having attracted interest with his provocative 2003 book The Party’s Over, US journalist and environmental writer Richard Heinberg uses wry humour to argue that radical changes will be need to attitudes and expectations as we move from the Age of Excess to the Age of Modesty.

Annotated Links to Further Web Resources

  1. International Energy Agency

    The International Energy Agency was formed in 1973/74 at the time of the first global oil ‘shock’, and its aim has been to examine ways to use existing energy supplies more efficiently while stepping up the search for alternative energy sources. The non-aligned agency has 29 member countries and it provides information on trends in the use of various energy sources. It publishes an IEA Journal.

  2. Climate Tipping Points

    A website resource produced by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the insurance company Allianz with support from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. It defines what is meant by a ‘tipping point’ and discusses the likely implications of 12 possible climate tipping points from around the world.

  3. UN Food and Agriculture Organization

    The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provides access to good information about world poverty from the perspectives of food and water shortages.

  4. Transition Towns Network

    The international Transition Towns network is based in Totnes, Devon, England, where it began. The website provides information about international projects and groups as well as providing access to relevant reports and other resources, books and films about the work that was pioneered by Rob Hopkins. The Transition Towns Network promotes the notion of ‘relocalisation’ of food production.

  5. Urban farming

    Urban farming provides information about urban food production projects globally. The website provides access to educational videos and information about urban farming projects across the world.

Annotated Links to Video Clips

  1. The Energy Crisis and the End of the Industrial Age, Joseph Tainter

    Duration: 1:02.50

    This YouTube video was produced by Legalise Freedom ( It features an interview with Joseph Tainter about his two books, The Collapse of Complex Societies and Drilling Down (written with Tadeusz Patzek).

  2. The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

    Duration: 53:05

    A 2012 video produced by the US-based Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions ( It argues that Cuba’s experience in having to deal with the sudden loss of oil supplies following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 shows that local communities are capable of dealing with the gathering global crisis of ‘peak oil’.

  3. My Town in Transition, Rob Hopkins

    Duration: 18:17

    A 2012 TEDxExeter talk by Transition Towns Network founder Rob Hopkins, in which he tells the story of how the town of Totnes embraced his ideas for relocalising food production.

  4. The Future of Food in the UK  

    Duration: 7:08

    This documentary nicely outlines the connection between food production and energy (in particular, oil). It outlines the concept of Peak Oil and then applies it specifically to food production and distribution. Refers to the Cuban experience.

  5. Urban Agriculture, Roman Gaus

    Duration: 8:31

    A TEDxZurick talk by Roman Gaus, who surprised himself when he got involved in urban food production. A very popular presentation.

  6. Urban Farming: Oakland California

    Duration: 12:42

    This video presents the story of Novella Carpenter, who started small in growing food in an abandoned parking lot in the ‘food desert’ of west Oakland before progressing to bigger and better things.

  7. First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

    Duration: 2:57

    A short video which shows how people can join in an activity that might at first seem unattractive.

Group Activities

  1. Energy Return on Investment exercise

    Submitted by: Anthony Richardson, RMIT University, Australia

    Activity description

    Scatter Easter eggs or some other chocolate treats in a range of hiding places, including some that will require considerable effort to retrieve. Make sure there are large numbers of chocolates in some locations and very few in others. When participants arrive, give them a certain amount of time to collect the chocolates. Work out who has won the Captain of the Chocolate Industry Award for the exercise. Complete the activity by getting people to indicate on a mud-map the location of the goodies they retrieved.

    Discussion questions

    1. How much of your bounty was retrieved from near or more distant hiding places?
    2. What would be a rough estimate of the time taken to retrieve each item?
    3. Who won the Captain of the Chocolate Industry award and why did they succeed?
    4. How does this exercise relate to Energy Return on Investment (EROI) calculations?
    5. How does the exercise relate to recent trends in oil exploration?
  2. ‘Progress or Apocalypse’; views of the future

    Submitted by: Anthony Richardson, RMIT University, Australia


    An activity designed to get students to think about the images or ‘narratives’ of the future they have been exposed to and those that they most identify with (and why!). Start by playing these three clips, which all outline a particular view of ‘the future’:

    1. Mad Max 2 opening credits -

      (the ‘apocalypse’ view of the future)

    2. Star Trek -

      (the ‘utopian’ view of the future)

    3. Jetsons -

      (the ‘more of the same’ view of the future)

    First ask students, in groups, to identify and describe these views of the future: Positive; Negative; Essentially the same as now. Then ask each student to explain to the rest of their group which view of the future they personally find most likely, and why.

    Then get each student in the class (or each group) to come to the whiteboard and enter the reasons for their opinion (whether positive or negative) in one of two columns (positive or negative). Then, as a class, they can start to see what connections there may be between the two columns, e.g. do any elements cancel each other out? The point is to start to see how ‘dichotomous’ much of our thinking about the future actually is, i.e. it lacks subtlety or a willingness to embrace uncertainty.