Peak Oil Futures: Same Crisis, Different Responses



Peak oil theory predicts that global oil production will soon start a terminal decline. Most proponents of the theory imply that no adequate alternate resource and technology will be available to replace oil as the backbone resource of industrial society. To understand what may happen if the proponents of peak oil theory are right, I analyze the historical experience of countries that have gone through a comparable experience. Japan (1918–1945), North Korea (1990s) and Cuba (1990s) have all been facing severe oil supply disruptions in the order of 20% or more. Despite the unique features of each case, it is possible to derive clues on how different parts of the world would react to a global energy crunch. The historical record suggests at least three possible peak oil trajectories: predatory militarism, totalitarian retrenchment, and socioeconomic adaptation.


Renewable Energy Industrial Society Liberal Democracy Resource Curse Crisis Condition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks to Martin Kraus for stimulating discussions and amicable feedback. I would also like to express my gratitude to Jocelyn Alexander, Andreas Goldthau, Barbara Harriss-White, Eva Herschinger, David Von Hippel, Dan Hicks, Robert Hirsch, Peter Katzenstein, John Mathews, Rana Mitter, Avner Offer, Gianfranco Poggi, Jochen Prantl, Jörg Schindler, Mary Stokes White, Marisa Wilson, and the anonymous reviewers of Energy Policy, for helpful suggestions and comments.


  1. 1.
    Akins JE (1973) The oil crisis: this time the wolf is here. Foreign Aff 51(3):462–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Aleklett K, Höök M, Jakobsson K, Lardelli M, Snowden S, Söderbergh B (2010) The peak of the oil age: analyzing the world oil production reference scenario in World Energy Outlook 2008. Energy Policy 38(3):1398–1414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Alvarez J (2004) Cuba’s agricultural sector. University Press of Florida, GainesvilleGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Barnhart MA (1987) Japan prepares for total war: the search for economic security, 1919–1941. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Beasley WG (1987) Japanese Imperialism, 1894–1945. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bradford T (2006) Solar revolution: the economic transformation of the global energy industry. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Brandt AR (2007) Testing Hubbert. Energy Policy 35(5):3074–3088MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Burchard H-J (ed) (2000) La última reforma agraria del siglo: La agricultura cubana entre el cambio y el estancamiento. Nueva Sociedad, CaracasGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Carrasco A, Acker D, Grieshop J (2003) Absorbing the shocks: the case of food security, extension and the agricultural knowledge and information system in Havana, Cuba. J Agric Education Ext 9(3):93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cobb JC (1984) Industrialization and Southern Society, 1877–1984. University Press of Kentucky, LexingtonGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Cruz MC, Sánchez Medina R (2003) Agriculture in the city: a key to sustainability in Havana, Cuba. Ian Randle, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Díaz Briquets S, Pérez López J (2000) Conquering nature: the environmental legacy of socialism in Cuba. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    FAO/WFP (1999) Special Report: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 8 Nov 1999Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    FAO/WFP (2008) Special Report: FAO/WFP crop and food security assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 8 Dec 2008Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Fitzgerald MW (2007) Splendid failure: postwar reconstruction in the American South. Dee, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Fogel RW (1989) Without consent or contract: the rise and fall of American Slavery. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Goodkind D, West D (2001) The North Korean famine and its demographic impact. Popul Dev Rev 27(2):219–238Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Greer JM (2009) The ecotechnic future. New Society Publishers, Gabriola IslandGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Greer JM (2008) The long descent: a user’s guide to the end of the Industrial Age. New Society Publishers, Gabriola IslandGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Haggard S, Noland M (2007) Famine in North Korea: markets, aid, and reform. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Heinberg R (2009) Blackout: coal, climate and the last energy crisis. New Society Publishers, Gabriola IslandGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hirsch RL (2008) Mitigation of maximum world oil production: shortage scenarios. Energy Policy 36(2):881–889Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Hirsch RL, Bezdek R, Wendling R (2010) The impending world energy mess. Griffin Media, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hirsch RL, Bezdek R, Wendling R (2005) Peaking of world oil production: impacts, mitigation and risk management. Available online at Downloaded 31 March 2010
  25. 25.
    Höök M, Aleklett K (2009) Historical trends in American coal production and a possible future outlook. Int J Coal Geol 78(3):201–216Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hubbert MK (1969) Energy resources, in: Committee on Resources and Man (ed.), Resources and man: a study and recommendations. Freeman, San Francisco, pp 157–242Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    IMF (2011) Tensions from the two-speed recovery: unemployment, commodities, and capital flows. International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook, Washington, DC April 2011Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Kerr, RA (2010) Do we have the energy for the next transition? Science 329:780–781, 13 Aug 2010Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Kershaw I (2007) Fateful choices: ten decisions that changed the world. Penguin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Klare, MT (2008) Rising powers, shrinking planet: the new geopolitics of energy. Metropolitan Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Leder F, Shapiro, JN (2008) This time it’s different: an inevitable decline in world petroleum production will keep oil product prices high, causing military conflicts and shifting wealth and power from democracies to authoritarian regimes. Energy Policy 36(8):2850–2852Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Lin, B-Q, Liu, J-H (2010) Estimating coal production peak and trends of coal imports in China. Energy Policy 38(1):512–519Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Miller, ES (2007) Bankrupting the enemy: the US financial siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor. Naval Institute Press, AnnapolisGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Moriarty P, Honnery D (2009) What energy levels can the earth sustain? Energy Policy 37(7):2469–2474Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Natsios A (2001) The Great North Korean famine. United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Owen NA, Inderwildi OR, King DA (2010) The status of conventional world oil reserves: hype or cause for concern? Energy Policy 38(8):4743–4749Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Pérez-López, JF (1995) Cuba’s second economy: from behind the scenes to center stage. Transaction Publishers, New BrunswickGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Podobnik B (2006) Global energy shifts: fostering sustainability in a turbulent age. Temple University Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Record J (2009) Japan’s decision for war in 1941: some enduring lessons. Strategic studies institute, CarlisleGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Rosset P, Benjamin M (eds) (1994) The greening of the revolution: Cuba’s experiment with organic agriculture. Ocean Press, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Rubin J (2009) Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller: oil and the end of globalization. Random House, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Smil V (2010) Energy transitions: history, requirements, prospects. Praeger, Santa BarbaraGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Smil V (2008) Global catastrophes and trends: the next fifty years. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Sorrell S, Speirs J, Bentley R, Miller R (2010) Global oil depletion: a review of the evidence. Energy Policy 38(9):5290–5295Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Sorrell S, Miller R, Bentley R, Speirs J (2010) Oil futures: a comparison of global supply forecasts. Energy Policy 38(9):4990–5003Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Stevens P (2010) The "shale gas revolution": hype and reality. Chatham House, LondonGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Taylor, HL (2009) Inside el barrio: a bottom-up view of neighborhood life in Castro’s Cuba. Kumarian Press, SterlingGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Twain M (2006) Life on the Mississippi. Folio, LondonGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    United States Government Accountability Office (2007) Crude oil: uncertainty about future oil supply makes it important to develop a strategy for addressing a peak and decline in oil production. United States Government Accountability Office, Washington (GAO-07-283)Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Vivoda V (2009) Resource nationalism, bargaining and international oil companies: challenges and change in the new millennium. New Political Econ 14(4):517–534Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Walsh B (2011) Could shale gas power the world? Time Magazine, 31 March 2011Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Weiss C, Bonvillian WB (2009) Structuring an energy technology revolution. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    WFP/FAO/UNICEF (2011) Special Report: WFP/FAO/UNICEF rapid food security assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 24 March 2011Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Williams JH, Hippel D Von, Nautilus Team (2002) Fuel and famine: rural energy crisis in the DPRK. Asian Perspective 26(1):111–140Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Wright G (2006) Slavery and American economic development. Louisiana State University Press, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Wright G (1986) Old South, New South: revolutions in the Southern Economy since the civil war. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Wright J (2009) Sustainable agriculture and food security in an era of oil scarcity: lessons from Cuba. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Yergin D (1991) The prize: the epic quest for oil, money and power. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International DevelopmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations