The Sustainability Principle
 of Energy


Home   First draft Aug  2010

About this Work and Updates  

  Online Etymology Dictionary


The Power of Symbols

What is a Prime Symbol?

Variations on the Wisdom Of Confucius

How to Conserve
the Potential

The Human Condition

General Theory

Practical Application

Index of Denial/Acceptance

The Joys in 
Are you vulnerable to denial?
Review Call
Evaluate your
teachers /media
The Compassionate Curriculum
Defining some Prime Symbols


Energy Efficiency









Climate Change





Peak Oil
Principle of Energy





















Definition: the peak oil symbol 


The Peak Oil symbol is often used by people attempting to communicate the fact that a unique combination of tectonic, climatic and other forces occurring over eons created in Earth’s crust one type of oil - mineral oil. It thus forms a rare, finite and non-renewable resource. In general these people are attempting to alert human kind to the reality that most of the systems that have enabled the explosion in the human population from 1.5 billion to 6.8 billion people in the last century are based on the extraction and wasteful destruction of this unique, very potent* resource and this behaviour is lethally unsustainable. Fundamentally a growing population is increasingly dependent on a diminishing resource. Peak oil is defined as the moment at which the maximum rate of extraction occurs.

*Some of the immense potential of mineral oil is because a 42 US gallon (158.9873 litres) barrel of the resource contains the energy equivalent of approximately 25000 man-hours of labour. ( Burning one barrel equates to 5.8 million BTUs or 6.1 Gigajoules.)
The resource is also very potent because it can be transformed into a wide range of materials enabling myriad activities in a wide range of conditions. It can be transported, stored and transformed for use with relative ease.

In particular, users of the peak oil symbol are often attempting to communicate the notion that approximately half the mineral oil on the planet has been extracted and destroyed, mainly in the last two generations. As the resource becomes scarce its price will rise.  

Click to enlarge

However the peak oil symbol is unsustainable for several vital reasons that include the denial of change on various levels:

  • No one can know how much mineral oil resides in Earth’s mantle, thus we cannot know when we have used half of it.

  • The global extraction and trade of mineral oil is controlled by a small group of very powerful speculating merchant bankers. The price of mineral oil thus has no relationship to its value. Currently most systems in Anglo-American countries are based on a valuation of $US25 a barrel, which equates to about 0.1 cents a man-hour of labour. A profound labyrinth of subsidies obscures this vast undervaluation. Thus the price bears no relationship to changes in the value or availability of the resource. Thus also the peak moment of extraction is arbitrary and communicates little about changing availability and use.

  • The human population has increased at a related exponential rate this last century and the peak oil symbol fails to reflect this change. This change is an extremely brief era even in the context of human existence.

  • Oil exists in multiple forms, including mineral and biomass-based forms.

  • Our use of a carbon resource occurs within the global flux of carbon. The peak oil symbol fails to communicate the nature of the transformations as we convert mineral oil into waste and pollution. In particular it omits the ways combustion changes the carbon balances of our atmosphere.

  • Most uses of mineral oil are characterised by addictive behaviour. The peak oil symbol reinforces this behaviour by framing the issue in terms of one form of carbon, thus accentuating the sense of hopelessness of the addicted. It denies the central issue, which is our stewardship of our carbon potential.

In summary

The peak oil symbol fails to elucidate and connect the problems caused by our misuse of our carbon potential. It does not evoke the requisite vision of hope and inspiration that enables sustainable change in behaviour. Teach our children that the Cheap Mineral Oil/Gas Era has passed and speak of the role of compassion in enabling humanity to transition to an era when we make wise uses of our carbon, solar and electrical potentials.


Enjoy the rewards of being a conservator of the potential of our greatest symbols.


Page last  updated: Aug 2010