Carbon Civilisation and the Energy Descent Future: Life Beyond this Brief Anomaly

As flagged last week, I’m very pleased to announce the release Carbon Civilisation and the Energy Descent Future: Life Beyond this Brief Anomaly, co-authored with Sam Alexander.

From the back cover blurb:

Carbon civilisation is powered predominately by finite fossil fuels and with each passing day it becomes harder to increase or even maintain current supply. Our one-off fossil energy inheritance is but a brief anomaly in the evolution of the human story, a momentary energy spike from the perspective of deep time.

Today humanity faces the dual crises of fossil fuel depletion and climate change, both of which are consequences of the modern world’s fundamental reliance on the energy abundance provided by fossil energy sources. Can renewable energy replace the fossil energy foundations of carbon civilisation?

This book examines these issues and presents a narrative linking energy and society that maintains we should be preparing for renewable futures neither of energy abundance nor scarcity, but rather energy sufficiency. For industrial societies, this means navigating energy descent futures.

Continue reading

Degrowth in the Suburbs

While I’m on the announcements train, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A radical urban imaginary, by Brendan Gleeson and Sam Alexander (my co-author for the forthcoming book flagged in the status update just posted) has just been released. Full details are available from the publisher here (there’s also a page for the book on the website of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, where Brendan and Sam both work). From the blurb: Continue reading

Status update

It’s now well over a year since Beyond this Brief Anomaly went into one of its periodic and not exactly planned hibernations. If your are still sufficiently tuned in to be reading this, well thanks for hanging in there. A quick explanatory note, and a primer for some upcoming posts, is due. Continue reading

Pathways to the Post-Carbon Economy

Back in June, Nafeez Ahmed published an article, 3 ways Clean Energy will make Big Oil extinct in 12 to 32 Years — without subsidies, that provoked critical feedback from a reader. True to his stated mission to redesign investigative journalism for the 21st century based on ‘generative dialogue’, Nafeez responded with an offer to run a symposium via his online publication Insurge Intelligence, to explore a wider spectrum of perspectives on his article’s theme. The symposium, Pathways to the Post-Carbon Economy, responds to the framing question ‘how do we transition away from fossil fuels toward societies that are both environmentally sound and prosperous, allowing their members to live fulfilling, meaningful lives?’ So far it has featured eight articles, from Mark Disendorf, Graham Palmer, Saral Sarkar, Ted Trainer, Jonathan Rutherford, Felix Fitzroy and me.

My contribution, which Resilience.org also ran as it’s feature article, is reproduced in full below, including Nafeez’s editorial intro.

Continue reading

Retrofitting Suburbia for Energy Descent Futures

Last week I attended the Eco-city World Summit in Melbourne.[1] On Friday, permaculture co-originator David Holmgren presented an ‘alternative keynote’ based on his forthcoming book RetroSuburbia. The session was arranged and chaired by Sam Alexander, Research Fellow in Sustainable Economy and Consumption with Summit co-organisers Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. Sam invited me to join award winning landscape architect and urban designer Kate Dundas in responding briefly to David’s presentation. My brief was to drill down a little further into the energy context and implications for RetroSuburbia. Continue reading

The Unseen Cost of Travel

Back at the start of May I was invited to speak at a business networking event run by Moral Fairground on the theme ‘The Unseen Cost of Travel’, alongside Intrepid Travel co-founder Geoff Manchester and Janine Hendry of Reho Travel. The invitation came about as a result of my posts here last year on the climate impacts of air travel. My brief was to cover the implications of carbon offsetting.

Here’s what I had to say, under the rough title ‘Carbon offsets or carbon penances? What a finite emission budget means for air travel and tourism futures.’


For a period pretty much identical to my own lifetime, travel for most rich-world citizens has effectively been synonymous with flying. In broader historical terms that’s a very small blip, and I’ll come back to that at the end in thinking about how those of us who take climate change seriously might deal with the dilemma that commercial aviation presents. Continue reading

How do we transition to a renewable society?

Earlier this year, The Rescope Project launched with a forum series titled Regenerating Society, run in conjunction with the annual Sustainable Living Festival. The final forum, ‘Renewable Energy and Beyond’, focused on what transition to renewably powered societies asks of us and featured Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. Richard, speaking via skype, joined Rescope Project host Anthony James, Melbourne-based energy and climate researcher Andrea Bunting, and myself. The event was introduced by Brendan Gleeson, Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (see the note at the end of this post for news on The Rescope Project’s participation in the 2017 Ecocity World Summit, co-hosted by MSSI).

To kick things off, each speaker responded briefly to the framing question ‘How do we transition to a renewable society?’. Anthony then opened the floor for a wider conversation with the audience. Video of the full forum is available here. A slightly edited version of my own primer follows. Continue reading