Peak Oil 101: Why Isn't This Class Available Yet in My College?

This is a guest post from Max Arturo Alcala Sainz.

Currently, the list of academic institutions offering relevant and up-to-date information and courses geared to confront the imminent energy slope is awfully short. If you have ever tried to enroll in your local university for some hands-on Peak Oil learning experience, you may have found yourself disappointed in knowing that no such course is offered.  Even in certain high-level economics courses that scrape at energy depletion and natural resources, you will probably be able to teach your professor a thing or two (if you are a keen reader of TOD). :)

Now, this is a very wide generalization. There are quite a few universities that are currently pushing the envelope in Ecological Economics, Energy Economics and developing some very insightful research (Dr. Hall's EROEI paper is a good example of students and  prof. working together in these issues). Every day, more and more faculty is ramping up on their knowledge of Peak Oil nationwide and passing on the news to students. Still, if students are not fortunate enough to be near the handful of universities that offer Peak Oil-related syllabi (including DukeOregon U, URI, Vanderbilt and others), chances are they will be stuck without any classroom education regarding declining energy and what to do about it. Even in universities where one may find Peak Oil information, open conferences and non-official meetings are significantly more frequent than formal classes and structured courses. Given that universities are the ideal spawning grounds for elaborating on and raising awareness of declining energy-related topics, it's worth to analyze a bit more why such a weighty matter is not being fully discussed and integrated into university curricula all over the country.
Some of the links are kinda old. You might do well contacting the university directly if you are interested in taking classes.

It might not seem that Peak Oil is taking a long time to propagate itself in academic circles, because the standard protocol for new theories dictates a hefty amount of time for discussion, peer review, and proven results(in fact, some may say that this issue has been spreading out incredibly fast for academic standards). There is no getting around this buffer, since it puts a barrier against unfounded knowledge and weak arguments ever getting into the classroom. Nonetheless, the inherent urgency of Peak Oil and the disastrous consequences entailed command a higher priority in the list of newcomer theories to be tried and proven by academic circles in all disciplines. One might dream as far away as to think that Peak Oil theory will be included in syllabi for children in elementary school in a near future, but even climate change being taught to kids is still receiving attacks nowadays. It is a good bet to first tackle university settings.

Here is a tiny list describing some of the problems Peak Oil runs into while trying to get into the classrooms. In this post I wish to remain focused on the academic, administrative barriers for Peak Oil in the classroom; other elements that also affect the acceptance of Peak Oil in the media, politics and general public have been discussed far more skillfully in other posts(and here, and here). I will gladly accept contributions from readers. For the time being, some of the most noticeable issues in my opinion are:

- The University's flexibility regarding course syllabi and lecture acquisition: The location of the university, its funding (state or private) and the university's internal regulations will all affect how much liberty a professor has while teaching his classes. Different states will have unique requirements for university syllabi and these affect how much cutting-edge discussion (Peak Oil included) a lecturer will be able to inject into his class. Many professors will use seminars and open discussions to discuss topics not neccesarily included in their syllabi, but we are interested in full-fledged, compulsory classes that will hopefully reach all of the students and let them know about Peak Oil.

- The conservative approach of many Economic schools. Let us think of "conservative" as a broad, neo-classical economics perspective where growth is considered to be exponential and infinite without taking into account the geophysical limitations of planet Earth. This stereotype only serves to help paint the typical situation in an Economics school of a "typical" university. I am aware that the logical structure I am following has several flaws, but I intend to use it only for illustrating purposes.

This conservative approach we are talking about will busy itself more with the financial, socioeconomic, equity, and international aspects of economics, rather than the energy standpoints of sustainable economics. We can stereotype this approach as what has been taught in Economic schools for the last decades: everything but sustainable, energy-measured economics with strong ties to Natural Sciences, Ecology and Geophysics.

Now, if "Peak Oil 101" existed, it would more than likely first be housed in the School of Economics (Maybe the school of Natural Sciences?) of the "typical" university. If this is to be true, then that means that at least a group of lecturers and professors from that School have a good understanding of Peak Oil and consider Economics to be a wholesome, interconnected discipline that lacks many current "conservative" assumptions. From point A of current conservative economics, to point B of energy econometrics-orientated Economics, a number of situations could take place.

One possibility is that the change in economic schools could take a great deal of time (or never happen at all), regardless of the forthcoming consquenes of Peak Oil. It's all too easy to throw the blame around, especially with Peak Oil. In this scenario, experts and academis would go back and forth, blaming the government, the society and Tuna fish for the eventual break-down of financial systems and conventional institutions. Thus, the real cause of economic failure would never be subject to academic study. Another more hopeful alternative is that Economic schools trace the symptoms of market failure and societal breakdown to their roots on their own, and eventually come to terms with Peak Oil knowledge. The acceptance of Peak Oil would imply a change in many fundamental economic assumptions that would, in turn, take a great deal of time to take hold of classrooms. Then again, the would not be the first time that academia lags behind on accepting evidently visible facts. Only time will tell how Peak Oil knowledge will trickle down from the Sustainable Economics roots it is based upon to commonplace Economics, but in my personal opinion it is a bleak immediate future. It will take fierce determination from both students and professors to put Peak Oil in the university map, at least in the Economic disciplines.

Note: This is a particular situation of the School of Economics. I am personally inclined to think that other schools (such as Geophysics) would more easily understand Peak Oil, and embrace it faster. I would like other ideas regarding this.

- The multidisciplinary nature of Peak Oil. Peak Oil is multidisciplinary in nature: Geophysics, petrophysics, Economics, Forestry, Physics, Sociology, Chemistry... the list goes on. If it would take a determinate amount of time for a single School (Economics, say) to fully adopt Peak Oil as a reality, it is likely that the other disciplines would be more inclined towards following suit. But the amount of time for multiple disciplines to take full swing would be deadly in the long run, as some predictions state. Economists have been taking a liking to introducing Psychology, Sociology and other interdisciplinary elements into their work in the last years. Let us hope that this trend continues into the Natural Sciences and the other disciplines that help Peak Oil make sense.

- Funding orientation and Trustee objectives. Many universities don't exactly have their focus placed upon promoting new ideas, such as Peak Oil. While private universities have the most lax funding available, they also have diverse priorities: promotion, prestige, and grants all play a decisive factor as to how much incentive professors have to get entrepenurial. State educational systems have the strong money leverage to play a big part in promoting Peak Oil, but policy decisions and politics also constrain that budget.

There is a multitude of other reasons why Peak Oil isn't quite taking off in many universities, and even the above points would each make for essays of their own. But it seems as if we won't be able to expect classes like Peak Oil 1101 available throughout all universities to freshmen anytime soon. This is no light topic, and requires deep, thorough analysis and discussion. But I think this is a good start to put issue out there. I would also like to open this up for discussions on how to get the ball rolling in many universities through the help of the excellent contributors we have here in TOD. I know we already have some faculty here on board, so it would be great to hear from them!

Gail the Actuary's University syllabus seems like a good start for any potential classes regarding Peak Oil. I will try pushing harder in my own university to see if we can crank up some sort of seminar, at least. With any luck at all, I'll be able to register for some Peak Oil-ish class before I graduate.  Please leave your opinions!

I wish I could say that I earned a BS in Economics, but it's actually a BA. Looking back now, I'd say most of what we are taught in social sciences is BS.

1. We are talking about some very depressing predictions. Psychologically, most people cannot handle it. Especially those in the 'dismal science'. Their number one assumption is: More is better!

2. What's that saying about a person's salary depending on his not understanding it?
There's an interdisciplinary network of profs who like to call themselves 'futurists'. I've read their newsletters. They are clueless, more interested in sci fi fantasy than in the actual future.

3. Most academic literature is conservative in scope also. Research papers tend to focus on minutiae and ignore the big picture. Publication being the path to tenure, and funding of studies coming as they do from entrenched establishment corporations, is it any wonder that the status quo is the norm in academia.

4. Don't forget fascism. Universities don't let students listen to political dissidents. Basically Peak Oil recognition and study is a form of dissent. They increasingly ban political dissenters from speaking on campus or alternaitvely, they make political points excoriating them from the podium.

I generally agree. Universities are slaves to their funding, for the most part they are politically oriented businesses. While pretending to disdain money, they are among the greatest of money-mongers. They are, in every respect, perfect mirrors of human nature, so why expect otherwise? Their attempts to turn human nature into a science, as well as vain attempts to perfect humanity tells me everything I need to know about these nefarious institutions who turn our children into debt slaves as effectively as the Federal Reserves does.

Universities are tremendous users of energy---the computers, the parking lots full of cars, the machines everywhere, the subsidized cafeterias, the travel budgets for attending symposia. I work at one and my feeling lately is "this CAN'T go on!".

It's like when I go to a modern supermarket and compare this experience (the plastic, the processed foods, the parking lot, the heating/cooling system, the use of electricity) VS the tiny one-room shop (the shop owner lived upstairs or behind the shop), it's open to the air and the owner wears a jacket, nothing is wrapped in plastic, the produce or tofu is just sitting there "nakedly", there is no parking lot, no cash register, no lights (just daylight). no refrigeration, nothing except this old guy and a table of carrots, lettuces, cucumbers. etc.. (The older model of shop is still very common in the OLDER sections of cities and towns in Japan and the streets are tiny and walkable because there were no cars when they were built.)

The modern university is as wasteful as the the modern supermarket, with about as much future. People are going to find that for delivering food energy, the older model of shop is unbeatable for efficiency---you have to walk to get there, you don't have to pay for plastic, etc.

For delivering "learning" the system will come up with something else....a kind of reformulated university.....I suppose the system will crash bit by bit first as things shut down due to lack of resources. Nevertheless, pieces will remain open, limping along. I guess these will be much more efficient than they are now. I think a lot of "fat" will be cut. This budget cutting process is already in full swing here in Japan, by the way, as the population of 18 year olds shrinks every year!

Modern universities naturally don't want to think about the hard times ahead for them. Who does? That is not a pleasant thought! Much easier to organize a symposium on something more palatable than SHUTTING DOWN HALF the place down. Layoffs are an awfully unpleasant thought, too.

By the way, it should be noted that some lenders in the USA have stopped making loans to students at 2-year colleges. The colleges will obviously suffer the same fate as many supermarkets will face--cutbacks, trimming, closures, shrinking. It starts with the weakest ones and it moves up the food-chain. Harvard--or, depending on your point of view, Yale-- is last!I am not saying colleges will cease to exosts, but they'll be smaller.

And, if you look to the past for some direction, you will see that higher learning was really for a tiny fraction of the elite, not the huge percentages that attend college today. Also, monasteries or temples were the setting, not necessarily universities.

It should be noted that I love shopping in the older style shops (you have to live in a district where they are available, of course) here in Japan. I might not mind teaching in the more efficient way that evolves. Or maybe I'll be out of a job and into the garden.

Perhaps the best way to get the ball rolling is to look at how Rob Hopkins, teaching at a local community college, took a bunch of his permaculture students and let them loose on the townfolk of Kinsale Ireland, which resulted in the first professor- and student-led, community-developed Energy Descent Action Plan.

The Oil Drum is a good source in itself of academically-minded researchers and publishers studying Peak Oil.
Here's raising a glass to TOD contributers who serve as our new post grad professors in this modern field of study.

I was lucky to have taken a course called "Geology and Human Affairs" at the University of Toledo, in 1981. This was before the term "peak oil" was coined. Professor Mark Camp taught us all about Hubbert and the fossil fuels and the inevitability of a long-lasting energy crisis, unless Something Was Done.

None Was Done.

None Was Done.

thankfully we have the market and we'll suddenly discover more oil like we suddenly discovered all these homes when there was supposedly a land shortage just a few years ago.


I certainly agree with your comments and thank you for the plug of what we do (and have been doing since the 1970s when Cutler Cleveland and Robert Kaufmann were my undergraduate "special" students!).

I have been very involved in thinking about this issue and trying to implement it on our campus, no mean feat. I teach 6 integrated energy-related classes (both "ecological" and "industrial" energy courses) at my College because if I do not teach them then energy (except for technical issues) would basically not be taught. A lot of the Syllabi, pubs and so on can be found at
...although I am rebuilding the energy part of that.

For those who are interested in teaching materials and approaches we will soon have videos of my entire Freshman "Global Environment and the Evolution of Human culture" on the web through our extension service. This might serve as a teaching "role model" (good or bad is debatable) for a Freshman course of the sort that Max identifies. We also want to plug Kaufmann and Cleveland's Environmental Science text books for any such course and if interested in using it please let me know. Our students love it.

There is a big problem I think in that so much of what colleges/universities do is pretty close to greenwashing. The real issues are extremely difficult and I do not believe there will be any easy or maybe even hard solutions. The point is made on our poster "The balloon graph and your future" which I can send. Another big problem is the interdisciplinary problems we face and the entrenchment of the thinking of many (but hardly all) economists.

In addition with Tim Volk we have a new energy minor and soon to be major at our college. Please contact me if you want course lists, Syllabi etc. We are just getting started and would like ideas for labs etc. Our review of other programs found them at Boston University, Univ. North Carolina, Vermont, Florida and Delaware and not too much else.

I would be happy to share my material with others wishing to build such programs, am happy to get your ideas, and we could build and run a list serve for teachers of energy courses. If interested send an email to me with a cc to Juliana Klitgaard-Ellis, (a precocious undergraduate who is managing my list serves including now energy teaching and one on biophysical economics). Please also cc David Murphy (, the graduate TA for the energy course this fall. Best wishes to all interested in this and remember universities like traditional departments and are not unlikely to fight tooth and nail or at least not be terribly supportive. But an integrative approach to the teaching of energy is critical.

Great post.

As someone who's completing a post-grad course in environmental studies I have to say that this post is spot-on. I handed in a research essay the other week looking at energy policy with the insights from net energy analysis, declining discovery, energy quality etc. Mostly gleaned from TOD and Hall's, Cleveland's, Kaufmann's, and Reynold's work. My presentation was mostly met with blank stares and mild scepticism. I havn't got the marks back yet. Although, if I just wanted to get good marks it would have been much easier to stick with what the lecturer considered relevant rather than rock the boat. IMO if a university wants to remain relevant they're going to have address this stuff head on rather than "Oh btw, peak oil [shrug] where were we?"

I look forward to Prof Hall's web resources and I'll check out Cleveland and Kaufmann's textbook.

I agree with you, Dr. Hall. It seems that traditional academic structures won't help (at least not with the speed required) to educate higher-education students about energy issues in the comprehensive way that is required. Just as TOD can keep up-to-date much faster than many other analysts and traditional research methods, it may be able to provide high-quality information for students and professors alike. TOD could become a cutting-edge educational hub with the help of experienced professors like you, and I'd like to talk to the editors at TOD to see what they think of this. For the time being, I think you have lots of valuable experience in the field, and I would encourage you to push this idea forward along with me to the editors. I'd like to see what you think. Surely a list serve would be the easiest and fastest thing to start?

I agree with you, Dr. Hall. It seems that traditional academic structures won't help (at least not with the speed required) to educate higher-education students about energy issues in the comprehensive way that is required.

I totally disagree. when students find out how much it costs to fill up dad's SUV at their $40,000/year private college they'll learn soon enough.

The place they are more likely to learn about Peak Oil is here on TOD and other web based forums. I think we need to move beyond the formal education system, which portrays itslef as having exclusive hold on knowledge. I think that this bias comes through amply in this post that unless a student has done a recognised university course in Peak Oil, then they will have no knowledge at all and will not be able to act until they have doen such a course.

We need to recognise that the University of Life is going to be far more important than having a degree in this or that and then pigeon holing yourself into that specialisation. The future is going to belong to the adpatable generalist who will learn things as and when they need them. The whole higher education model, which takes fit healthy young people out of the productive economy, filling them with facts and then finally turning them loose at age 30 to tell the rest of us where we have gone wrong, is fast coming to an end.

Economic Geology is the study of the location and importance of rock, mineral, and hydrocarbon deposits. Economic Geology was offered at some universities.

The psychology of market dynamics and the laws of supply and demand were the subjects of interest to economics students.

While some have stated that oil demand is inelastic (does not change with price); the sales of SUV's in the first four months of the year were down 26% in the USA. Auto sales in China and India were yet growing in May, however the sales rate growth was slowing.

OPEC oil supply up about 3 million barrels since 2005.
World oil supply grew in 2008 compared to 2007.

The price where supply and demand might balance is a controversial subject. If the markets were observent and efficient there would not be as much price volatility.

Rainsong said and linked source to...
"OPEC oil supply up about 3 million barrels since 2005.
World oil supply grew in 2008 compared to 2007.

Ohhhh, what you just said! :-O!

I said something similiar the other day, asking where the big "crash" in production was that is claimed to be causing such a massive and fast runup in oil prices, and was pretty much put in my place for it.

Just as no one on the cornucopian side wants to admit that there are limits to how much oil can be produced, almost no one on the peak side can admit that oil production to this point is still growing.

Right now, the cornucopians, the financial community and the peak oil community all have one thing in common: They are all driven much more by what they want to happen than by what is actually happening.

How many people here on TOD, upon reading what the quote from rainsong said immediately thought, "that can't be right, world oil production is declining, isn't it? Didn't we peak in 2005 or so? No one here has talked about INCREASED PRODUCTION!"


Oil production may have increased but I would imagine that excess production capacity has almost certainly decreased. (don't have time to reference it) Pricing is always done at the margin and it is becasue of production capacity reductions that the oil price has been run up by the traders. Production from exisitng wells can increase but you can only turn the taps on to 100% and after that you need to build another tap. The number of new wells coming on line doen't inspire long term confidence and that is what the marketwill need to see before the price comes down.

You can't argue with the reality of the price increase and something has spooked the market enough to keep it there. Whether it turns out to be real or just imagined future shortages will be proven in time. The trend is for flattening production and discovery so I think prudence is the order of the day.

I teach Environmental Politics as an upper division general education course. My students are primarily political science, environmental studies, and environmental engineering majors. I have been using Homer-Dixon's "The Upside of Down" as my main text (along with copious additional readings). The course is organized around Homer-Dixon's five stressors (energy, climate, population, environmental degradation and economic inequality).

By the time we get through the Peak Oil section of the course, most are convinced. The important thing is that they come to realize the interconnected nature of the stressors. Once they have that, students can see how they flow through most environmental policy areas such as agriculture, urban planning, transportation as well the budgetary process for those areas.

Not to worry, Peak Oil will be a major course in all colleges within a decade. It will be a history course.

Ron Patterson

LOL. Nowadays PO discussions too often take on a history of the future quality, don't you think? I think we as teachers need to equip students with concepts and content enabling them to ask better questions, within their disciplinary tracks, and to help them deal with what seems to be coming. Most importantly we need to equip them with a sense that the future is neither pre- nor over-determined and that of many possible futures we can imagine, the future we get will depend to a great degree on what we make of the pressures upon us. Students are empowered with this approach. Students in my anthropology and environmental studies courses are quite excited with these issues and, dismayed as they are to learn about all this, are mostly very appreciative of the "cold shower" reality and sense of empowerment they develop. Some are starting to ask better questions in their Physics, Economics, Philosophy and other courses.

On another point, is the departmentalism and conservatism at the big U really this strong and stultifying? I find the liberal arts environment where I teach rather conducive to examining these issues; we're unable to be as departmental precisely because we're small and funding is always tight. I'm not saying there's a rush to accept PO issues in my or other departments, but it's definitely increasingly in the air if not in the curriculum.

Not to worry, Peak Oil will be a major course in all colleges within a decade. It will be a history course.

Yes, unfortunately. Well formulated. Until all universities have changed/adapted their curricula in whatever bureaucratic process, peak oil will have become self-evident. I just held a guest lecture on peak oil and global warming at the Macquarie Uni in Sydney (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences). If you can find interested Professors who can organise such lectures quite informally then this is the easiest and fastest way to go.

I suspect that you're missing a good number of courses that address this issue. I teach a general education course for non-science majors entitled Environmental Science - we spend about 1/3 of the course on energy issues, not just Peak Oil, but coal, nuclear, renewables, the associated enviornmental issues like global warming, etc.

The fact is that the subject of Peak Oil doesn't require an entire semester to cover - 2-3 weeks is plenty of time to go into good depth in the issue.

A note - I do use many of the postings and graphs and data from this site - keep up the good work, all!

It's funny, I taught a pretty hard core energy policy course fall semester, it was focused on peak oil and various alternatives--used a lot of TOD material. It was a senior capstone--most of those students have now graduated, and I hear from at least one of them once a week with a "so, are you going to say I told you so" kind of email.

If anyone is interested in my syllabus, happy to share. Email me at the eds box.

Hi Prof G, I am just finishing a MSSC - a Masters in Sustainability Sciences degree at the University of Southern Queensland down here in Australia.

Peak Oil hasn't been mentioned once in my course materials, which is odd considering the degree! I have strung the concept through most of my assignments and I have tried to thread the concepts and things I have learnt here through my courses. I would very much appreciate your material and will forward it on to my course convener. I will send an email through the Eds box as you request.

You forgot to mention one school, and that's Columbia University.

I'm finishing a Master's at the School Of International and Public Affairs, at Columbia University in New York. I have to say that the concentration I'm currently taking, in "International Energy Management and Policy " gives an all inclusive view of all the different aspects of the Energy sector and particularly in oil. There is no class called "peak oil" per say, but trust me, we do look at the Hubbert curve, the supply and demand, the alternatives, etc. etc. We also get several speakers from different parts of the energy chain, some with differing views, which actually enriches the discussion. The curriculum also has the option of integrating the energy topic with sustainable development and environmental issues, which gives, in my opinion, an excellent mix.

Thought I'd throw in a curriculum that's got it right, so as to shed some positive light on this thread. I'm not trying to sell it, I'm just grateful I got to go through it.

I would also like to see if there's the possibility of bringing in one of the experts here as a speaker in the fall.

Haha, lucky you. I did forget Columbia U, didn't I? Also, you're taking a Masters course. I'm sure if you look deep enough in a graduate setting, you'll be able to find more information regarding Peak oil and other matters. Although I may be generalizing, the majority of lecturers there aren't bound anymore by the academic setting: you'll have lots of people that come directly from the industry (oil, forestry, etc) and have a more aggressive take on current issues, not only Peak Oil.

I guess my take was more on the undergrad side, where students who won't necessarily major in Economics or some Natural Science will get a well-informed glimpse of what's going on. Reaching out from high-level grad courses out to the freshmen would be ideal, don't you think?

I wouldn't call myself exactly an "expert" beyond what I've learned by reading/writing the Oil Drum, but I'm only a short bike or metrocard ride away from Columbia. If you ever want to grab a drink, I'd be happy to chat with students about energy issues. I can also talk about the challenges of grassroots efforts to change the agenda even in ultra-blue areas like Manhattan.

It'd be nice to share a drink over energy issues. Regretfully, I live in Dallas. You're more than welcome to give a talk over at my university, if you ever happen to come to TX.

I've been to Dallas once for work, but if I ever come back, I'll let you know!

Columbia is also out in the forefront of research on Terra Preta. Sounds like a pretty akamai place.

I also teach a Resources, Energy and the Environment course, where we spend a significant amount of time on oil and peak production. Dare I say it, but I think that most geology majors who get a background in resources or economic geology will probably be familiar with the concept. At least they'll be familiar with reserve quantity and why some resources aren't "unlimited". I myself haven't seen any environmental science or economics courses that even come close, but I haven't looked very hard. If you're looking at taking a course at your local university about peak oil, I suggest looking in the geology department along with other places.

My biggest challenge in designing this course was finding an appropriate textbook. The problem I saw was that most books on this sort of thing are written from an environmental perspective and spend a disproportionate amount of time on alternative energy. That's fine, but what I wanted was a book that balanced geology with environmental concerns, politics and economics for our current technology. I took the course from Jim Craig and his 1979 version of the textbook does indeed mention limits on oil production, as far as I can remember. I use the newer version of his book, which is getting dated now but I spoke with Jim last fall and he says he's working on an updated version.

I come to Peak Oil from an alternative energy background and teach it at the Open University in the UK. There is a desperate shortage of teaching material so this seems like a good place to puff some of books:

Managing Transport Energy published 2007. This has material on new technologies and on such things as getting organisations to promote car sharing, use of public transport etc. It has a rosy IEA view of world oil consumption at the beginning and a Jean Laharrere Peak Oil one at the end.

We have a couple of others that might interest TOD teachers:

Energy Systems and Sustainability mostly about fossil fuels and nuclear power. See:

Renewable Energy. See:

The latter were written circa 2003-2004 so Peak Oil is only briefly included as a 'maybe' (it'll get a more thorough treatment in the next editions - in a few years alas - given the bureaucratic process of getting funding to do these things).

Study Guides for these are available from

More info on our Open University 'Energy for a Sustainable Future' course (code T206) at

The web links site

effectively has the on-line bibliography of the above books.

Note: although these books are UK based, they seem to sell well in the US and seem to be being used by a couple of US Universities.

End of blatant advert.

If you would like more info you can contact me via my email address which is on my Oil Drum user page.


Hi BobE,

It's a shame that we have to have books published by Open University lecturers given you acknowledge "There is a desperate shortage of teaching material...The latter were written circa 2003-2004 so Peak Oil is only briefly included as a 'maybe' (it'll get a more thorough treatment in the next editions - in a few years alas - given the bureaucratic process of getting funding to do these things)..."

Wouldn't it be better to put these on the Internet as an ebook? That way it would be comparatively easy to update them and almost no cost to distribute them to anyone.

The idea is right, but I would broaden it, especially for a 101: Our Home Planet - 101 or something like that. Of course peak oil and energy would be a major theme, but population, water, soil, forests, the oceans, etc.

There are many related subjects of import also: big picture history, history of technology, plus the relevant sciences.

And I would introduce some of this in high school and even earlier. There is nothing more important for young people to know about, nothing is going to have a greater impact on their lives. They are going to live in one of the most fascinating, terrifying and challenging periods of human history -- even us old farts are getting to see the beginnings of it. Nothing is more important than the world's young people being equipped to see that they face a common challenge.

Apparently, the course should be requisite for world leaders, also. From Bloomberg:
U.S., Asia Express `Serious Concern' Over Oil Prices, Urge Higher Output

We just gotta squeeze that last drop out of the ground, mop up the dregs, then ring out the mop!

Whoever the genius is that find a solution Max's request, please find a solution to the problem of non-existent classes entitled, How to be President of the United States 101.

Just imagine, 100+ specially-selected students from all over the United States participating in four+ years of extensive study of previous Presidents; their achievements and failures as well as participating in State Department one-on-one study ... all this to gain experience and wisdom before being thrust into office versus the current situation of winning a popularity contest and realizing on day-1 how rocky the road is going to be and how ill-equipped one might be.

These are perilous times that we are facing.

These are perilous times, but the peril still goes unrecognized by those who could do the most about it.

It sounds like the education system won't be leading us out of the problem because they haven't even caught up to the problem. The political system can't help because it is embroiled in a mass cat-fight of conflicting ideologies. The economic system can't help because it is still consumer oriented and rejects both restraint and conservation. The international community can't help because of the current wars, policy differences, and the (to those who need them) unfortunate location of various resources. It seems that peak oil has arrived, but the arrival still goes unnoticed by educators (by and large), politicians (by and large), and economists (by and large).

Perhaps the upshot will be, like the power station scene in the movie E.T., in which the grid is failing, and the super says, "Just let it all go down, and we'll pick up the pieces later." Right now, can anyone see any real, practical alternative to collapse, then regeneration to an alternate system, despite all the pain this method will cause?

Think that was Close Encounters????

I hide my head in are so right! They cut the part out of the DVD version of the movie, and the shock must have addled the grey matter!

I currently teach Music at a UK college of Further Education (ages 16 +).
We currently have all our first year students doing an assignment that requires them to
write music for a radio broadcast of Bartlett's lecture on 'Mankinds failure to understand the exponential curve'.
I think of the approach as Peak Oil by stealth !

For those interested in seeing the format here's the assignment I set them:

I regularly think long and hard about the value of teaching subjects like Music in the face
of being at 'one minute to midnight' so to speak, and I have to agree with Darwinian:

Not to worry, Peak Oil will be a major course in all colleges within a decade. It will be a history course.

Ron Patterson

At least my students won't be able to claim they weren't warned : (
At most I hope they learn to embrace the creative thinking that's going to have to come and
become active members in at least creatively representing and redistributing the ideas,
solutions and compromises that will need to be tried.

During the early 1970's a ZPG chapter president taught a course on population and resources under the auspices of UCSB. He had me give a guest lecture using material I had presented on energy at a ZPG meeting. However this was a fairly trivial night or adult course. Last year I attended a conference involving energy at UCSB. It was interesting but barely addressed peak oil. The main emphasis seemed to be how can UCSB make more money by working with big business.

Edit to change around 1970 to early 70's

Professor Amos Nur, an eminent Geophysicists in the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University, has been intermittently teaching a course for several decades on petroleum depletion based on the Hubbert Model. [See] Apparently each time the course is taught a few students from the Business School enroll and, about the third week of the course, become very depressed as they realize that if petroleum is a finite resource that will eventually be depleted, and the social-economy is fueled by petroleum, their high-income career may in time become toast. Hubbert taught at Stanford during the 1960s. His message seems to have taken hold in the world view of some faculty and students.

Adding new courses at most universities is sometimes difficult as most profs have a full teaching load dictated by the needs of their department.

I'll be teaching a Freshman Seminar at the University of Washington in Autumn Quarter 2008.

The course description is below.

Peak Oil and Climate Change are two historic events for humans and life on earth. Both result from societal dependence on fossil fuels. The first threatens modern industrial ways of living and the latter threatens the climatic systems that are an integral part of our world and the way we live and survive. Peak Oil is the point when global production of oil will reach a maximum for geological reasons. Climate Change is the alteration of the earth’s climate systems due to global warming by anthropogenic CO2. How do these two events affect each other? Peak Oil and Climate Change are a bigger threat together than either are alone. Our biggest hope is to similarly converge our understanding of them, and how to deal with the problems they present. The solutions to both are essentially the same – development of renewable energy sources and increasing the efficiency of our energy use. The Climate Change movement has been saying for a long time that we should change; Peak Oil means categorically we have to change. Fuse them together and hopefully we’ll get more momentum moving us in the right direction.

Having spent way too much time (according to my wife) looking at this problem, over the last ten years, I think you touched on one of the most difficult issues in that the complexity of the problem is immense, data is poor or non-existent, and number of disciplines affected or affecting is staggering.

It just ain't an easy issue to wrap your arms around. Add to that the complexities of competing economic issues limiting truth, and the generally dismal response that the average person gets when asked to think about it, the likelihood of widespread information dissemination is remote indeed.

I agree with Ron. It will be a history course if the colleges are still concerned about anything beyond agriculture. Bill

Having spent way too much time (according to my wife) looking at this problem, over the last ten years, I think you touched on one of the most difficult issues in that the complexity of the problem is immense, data is poor or non-existent, and number of disciplines affected or affecting is staggering.

that's why I said it's the price stupid(not that I"m calling you stupid). it makes the issue so much less complex.

rising costs aren't something unknown to businesses and they either adapt or lose out to better competitors.

I can't believe engineering wasn't mentioned in your article, how can I take you seriously when you leave out the department whose job it is to solve the peak oil crisis. Engineering is a combination of economics and science. Come on.

UNH is also offering a graduate level seminar entitled Peak Oil, led by Prof. John Carroll. This past semester we read a number of books on the subject, and watched a few different videos/films; The Oil Drum was required weekly reading as well, which is what introduced me to the website. Dr. Carroll along with others at the university were also able to bring Matt Simmons to talk to about 200 people. The seminar itself consisted of about 12 students from a variety of disciplines, but didn't include too much on economics, which seemed to be a weak point. The ripple effect of the course is pretty broad, and I heard several other professors in natural resources and resource economics talk about peak oil given based on the fact that Dr. Carroll has taught the course for a few semesters. It's given general credibility, I think, or at least taken more seriously than it might be on other campuses given that a tenured faculty member is passionate about it, and many students as well. UNH is viewed as a leader on sustainability issues, and will be getting about 85% of electricity used on campus from methane gas captured from a nearby landfill starting this fall, among other things. Once you get the peak oil frame of reference (Hubbert's peak, the history of discovery and supply, Simmons' explanations about the industry, etc.), it seems so bloody obvious that there is a supply problem due to physical limits, but until it's spelled out, I think it is difficult for people to grasp the reality. But the word is definitely spreading. There needs to be more discussion about HOW to evolve our economy and society to deal with it. I love the articles on Anglo Disease.

Environmental Science courses and texts have been around since the beginning, ie Rachel Carson. One standard text that has covered the energy situation is "Living in the Environment" which must be in its 14th edition by now. The author G. Tyler Miller started out as a chemist and has since worked primarily writing environmental texts at a variety of levels. He has routinely included an energy plan that covered everything that is generally mentioned in TOD articles. Howard T. Odum has a new book, "Environment, Power and Society" which should probably be the bible for all of the discussions that occur on TOD. Vaclav Smil has written several texts both detailed and general that are clear and precise as to our current situation and what is available to pursue. Salk wrote "The Survival of the Wisest" in 1973 and Henshaw produced "This Side of Yesterday - Extinction or Utopia" in 1971. A practical manual so to speak was written by Jane Jacobs, "Systems of Survial". Most of what is covered in TOD has been considered by these writers and a larger group that wrote after Carson's work became popular. The writers and responders to these articles are intelligent and have well thought out positions and concerns, but it seems that they are singularly unfamiliar with all of the work in this area that has been around since the 1970's. It must be that people don't have the time to read the literature, or don't care to pursue some basic google searches in the area. In terms of backgrounds, the engineers have the right understanding of the physics that I don't feel people without a science background really know. The basic environmental texts ala Miller et al, would provide an overview that would help the people who discuss these issues on TOD to focus their discussions. I was trained as a biochemist some years ago, and it seems that the perspective such people have would be of value to pursue for their takes on the TOD articles. They are trained in complex systems that involve lots of changing rates of reactions and I feel would have good insights for the questions discussed on TOD.


The younger generation has coined a particular way of expressing the emotion that your telling them something that any boob should already know: It is the one syllable word…”Duh!”

The problem with teaching Peak Oil as an educational class is that it will run first into the “Duh!” factor, as in, “Oil is finite and being a finite resource will run out.” The young will reply correctly “Duh!”. After all, isn’t the definition of a finite resource that it will indeed someday run out?

The question of when oil will (or has) reach peak on production will be of equally little interest to the young. They will do a basic analysis of the history of oil production, how price has moved in relation to that production, how production has often moved up and down due to a multitude of factors over time (or sometimes due to no apparent factor at all) and they will study the reliability of the database that we now have to work with and the reliability of the available information, and they will come to the only sensible conclusion: There is in fact no way to know when oil will peak, or even when we are close. They will agree with Matthew Simmons, that peak is only knowable once it has past, and possibly cannot be demonstrated until long after it has past.

So a “Peak Oil” curriculum per se will be a short one, and sound pretty much like this: Oil being a finite resource will peak on production (if it has not already) and begin to decline. We don’t know when and we have no certain methodology to estimate when this will occur. It will mean big changes for humanity, some possibly bad, some possibly good. Thank you for your time. Class dismissed.

The young (now college freshmen age to approximately graduation age from a four year degree, i.e. early twenty year old range) are part of a generation that has been called by some demographers “the transformer generation”. These are young people who have grown up as much in a virtual world as in the real one. Change to them comes with the touch of a game controller or a joystick. These people are used to change, and in fact embrace it anytime they feel that options are played out.

They have no problem believing in technology. They have seen technology come on the market that only a few semesters earlier had seemed impossible. To them, a vehicle like the Chevy Volt should be built and can be built, and will be built, simply because it is different and interesting. If GM will not build it, the Japanese or the Chinese will. It matters little to them, they have grown up buying Asian technology and images in cartoons, games and products.

The young of today simply do not accept the concept of shortage or limits in the normal way. If it cannot be obtained, it can be made from something else, “transformed” from another source code, so to speak. This is why the young have not questioned ethanol from farm product as a fuel. To them, it seems “easy”. They have not examined the mathematics. Once they realize it is a dead end, they will embrace methanol, fuel from coal, fuel from natural gas, plug hybrid cars propelled by electric charge from solar panels, fuel cells, or whatever “transformation” it takes to live the way they want to live. The young of today have been taught from birth the “YAHOO” rule, You Always Have Other Options.

Of course we can see the obvious weakness of such thinking, but no generation yet on Earth has been raised in a perfect cultural background that has no weaknesses.

The transformer thinking also has many strengths. It has created a generation that is anything but defeatist. The assumption of “collapse” simply does not register with the young. We must recall that they were at that most impressionable pre teen to teen age when 9-11-01 occurred. If the collapse was to come, they must have believed it would have occurred then. It didn’t. Within weeks America was back at the malls, the fuel kept coming to the parents of the transformers, the airliners were back in the air, the vacations continued. In speaking to a young adult female recently she informed me of her view of Y2K, the 9-11 attacks, the Iraq war, the Iranian threat and the fuel crisis…”show business” , she called it all, not distinguishing one from the other.

We can make the general assumption that “peak oil” will catch on among a handful of the youth of America who are already melancholic by nature, but certainly never enough of the mass youth to support many college courses, unless the courses are aimed at the nontraditional student (i.e. over 45 years old).

The better example of how change will occur comes from the recent past of the mid 1070’s. One of the most astounding transformations in technical and cultural history has been the advent of the home computer. We know that the pioneers of the home computer industry were often college drop outs (Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates serve as apt examples). So lacking the education and preparation that college should have provided, how did these men and others like them change the world?

They simply created their own communications, their own structure, and finally, their own industry:
The club:
The newsletter:
The culture: Steve Jobs then backpacked around India with a Reed College friend (and, later, first Apple employee), Daniel Kottke, in search of philosophical enlightenment. He came back with his head shaved and wearing traditional Indian clothing. During this time, Jobs experimented with LSD, calling these experiences "one of the two or three most important things he has done in his life."[16] He has stated that people around him who did not share his countercultural roots could not understand certain aspects of his thinking.

It has been disappointing that this type of self organization has not occurred in the alternative energy industry much sooner, but the transformer generation is only now coming of age. The nation also suffers from the cultural problem that it has no real counter culture. The gathering place now for counter cultural thought is the internet and it is watched constantly in an effort to maintain conformity.

Young people are excellent at digesting information. After all, it’s really all they have ever done, and often all they believed they would ever have to do. They will cut right to the heart of the issue, and dump any information that is not of use. I know this from working with this generation: If there is no payoff from an attachment, they will dump it, whether it is a high tech toy, a romantic partner or mate, or a job or career.

This is why they will have no interest in almost any of the discussions that have occurred up to this point in the history of the peak oil discussion. The “peak when” and the catastrophe scenarios have no payoff.

So where is the payoff? Allow me to again use a chart quoted from a post by Gail the Actuary on The Oil Drum:
The young people of America will understand clearly that the issue is transportation fuel. It is safe to say that most of them are also not going to accept that they can no longer have individually operated transportation units i.e., cars, when they want and need them. They simply do not accept the idea of giving up things, especially freedom.

To the young transformer generation, the technical problem will appear deceptively simple. Cars will have to be powered by something other than crude oil. Many here on TOD say that we must begin the process of moving away from oil. To the young, once they study this issue, they will see that that process began even before they were born. Oil has been all but driven out of electric power generation, and driven likewise out of home heating and cooling. Only the transportation sector remains.

Thus we should soon see the increased rise in “car hacking”, the modification and restructuring of cars to convert away from crude oil. This will be the method of education for the transformer young, the generation that has no doubt that anything can be transformed to something else with enough effort, information and money. This generation has never known a real shortage of money or information, so they assume these will not be problems. Effort is another story. They will not make the effort unless they feel it pays off. If they have their choice they will farm out the actual labor to others, concentrating instead on design, information and procurement and matching of components.

The tip of this iceberg is the Calcars group in California This group has singlehandedly changed the conceptual landscape when it comes to the powering of automobiles, and done it virtually out of pocket and as a labor of love. Self organized and very much in the tradition of the Home Brew Computer Club, this one and more like it (many who keep a low profile and avoid press and by extension government scrutiny) have the potential to create a revolution far greater than even the personal computer.

Very much like the first Altair Computer seems alien to the modern internet connected handheld world we know today, the ideas that will be hatched by the “car hackers” will before long be so completely alien to what we now consider automotive propulsion that it is almost useless to make conjectures concerning the path that the future will take in this area.

With current off the shelf components, one can already visualize a sedan with combined lithium ion batteries and super capacitors, that would have a small portable and removable “recharge pack” consisting of an alternator, a tiny turbine, and a compressed methane bottle all in one unit, using methane from waste only as a recharge in case the car was expected to exceed it’s normal range or performance. Charged by solar panels, the efficiency could be astounding.

Just as happened in the computer industry, the big players in the auto and auto component fields will soon begin stealing the ideas of the “open source” hackers, and manufacturing the components in China and India, thus driving costs ever downward. And just as with the computer and internet industries, the speed of the automotive revolution will astound even the insiders with the rate at which it accelerates.

So do the “transformer” young worry about peak oil? I am blessed to get to work with young people almost every day, high school and college age, in many cases technicians and statisticians. Despite some blind spots and some faulty assumptions (certainly no more than their baby boomer parents, just different ones) they are very, very bright and astute people for their age. Of all the problems that they consider problems peak oil is not one of them. They seem to sleep quite well. And after watching them and talking to them for the last several years, so do I. Thank you for your time.
Roger Conner Jr.