Peak-Oil: definition, key dimensions and relevance for Degrowth horizons
Some of the most prominent Degrowth authors have once been criticized for their apparent lack of understanding of energy and ‘thermodynamic price tags’. Since then, we have seen an intensification of the antagonistic battle between Degrowth and Decoupling supporters waged at the empiricist level with biophysical data and published in the highest ranked journals. While most welcome for the movement, the above criticism still stands. The supportive theoretical framework is either lacking completely or remains a poorly connected patchwork stemming from highly inhomogeneous fields (Ecological Economics, Social Metabolism, Systems Ecology, Energy Studies, etc.) and authors (Georgescu-Roegen, Holling, Odum, Hall, Tainter, etc.). What’s more, a reconciliation of the ‘biophysical’ with the ‘political is still missing, despite notable efforts of eco-socialists like Alf Hornborg. In this article we argue that the almost forgotten and still often poorly understood concept of Peak-Oil may be an important building block for the above challenge. What is needed for the concept to unfold its full explanatory power is a solid definition, conceptualization, and theoretical backing. We revisit the so far most comprehensive definition of Peak-Oil supported by a causal loop diagram of four key dimensions (quality vs. quantity and supply vs. demand) and set within a solid theoretical framework integrating the above fields and authors. This approach goes beyond Hubbert’s Peak; bell-shaped production curves and net energy to do justice to the fact that Peak-Oil is an inherently socio-ecological phenomenon and may help to populate the theoretical vacuum of some of the most recent empiricist debates.