P2P, Peak Oil and the degrowth scenario

A contribution and challenge by Joss Winn:

“I’d be really interested in what people think about the future of P2P in a near-term scenario of energy depletion. While I am hugely supportive of P2P values and approaches, I do worry that while still in their embryonic forms, a global Peak Oil scenario will do serious damage to the gains that have already been made.

Perhaps you can offer potential opportunities for P2P in such a scenario? Simply, I see a future of greater social unrest and struggle, which may offer revolutionary opportunities, which P2P can harness in some way. I should add that I don’t view myself as a ‘doomer’ nor do I advocate a survivalist mentality in such a scenario, yet having researched this area quite closely for several months now, I am finding it hard to be optimistic for a net culture that draws on such huge energy resources, not just in sourcing electricity, but in the manufacture of hardware in which much of the embodied energy of the net lies.

The problems I see are a combination of technical, temporal, economic and social.

Technical, because we do not have replacement technologies that can be deployed on the required scale to smoothly transition to a post-oil world.

Temporal, because by all accounts, the period required to transition to a post-oil world is measured in decades, even with intense and co-ordinated effort.

Economic, because our model of growth is tied to our production of energy. I think that while in its embryonic form, P2P is still reliant on a model of growth to maintain the infrastructure required to support and spread the values of P2P and develop non-net-based forms of P2P.

Social, because unplanned de-growth and the development and implementation of alternative technologies on the scale required, to combat the negative consequences of both Peak Oil and Climate Change, arguably requires countries to be on ‘a war footing’, with intense, co-ordinated and sustained national effort. During WWII, the UK mobilised half of national productivity towards the single goal of winning the war. Is that possible today? What are the policy implications?

I say a little more about that here:


Anyway, here’s the comment I made on the P2P blog:


I have recently summarised six recent publications that provide an up-to-date overview of the social and technological challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change.


I worry that Peak Oil has serious implications for the development of a P2P culture which, in its current embryonic form, remains largely reliant on cheap energy, globalisation and economic growth, all of which are threatened by dwindling oil supplies over the next decade. As liquid fuels become more expensive and difficult to source, economies will experience zero or degrowth, providing opportunities for more authoritarian modes of government that emphasise the need for ‘stability’ and ‘efficiency’. I also fear that Net access is similarly likely to peak over the next decade and then decline as it becomes too expensive to maintain the current infrastructure.

In addition, if governments decide to seriously tackle climate change, it will require the full resources of developed countries, much like when in a national state of war, again providing further opportunities for greater authoritarianism, in contrast to the distributed, autonomous sites of P2P production.

Although I am still inclined to think that long-term, a P2P commons-based culture can still thrive, I think we face decades of struggle during a difficult transition to alternative forms of less intensive sources of energy.”

1 Comment P2P, Peak Oil and the degrowth scenario

  1. Kevin CarsonKevin Carson

    To the extent that the P2P model facilitates economic relocalization by substituting the movement of information for movement of goods (i.e., the movement of information on how to produce goods locally for the movement of centrally produced goods), Peak Oil and the increased cost of moving goods may provide strong market incentives to economic models based primarily on the movement of information. In that case, the expansion of information movement capabilities as an alternative to investment in long-distance transportation and overseas production facilities (the Ponoko/100kGarages model using local shops), and as an alternative to the movement of people (teleconferencing and telecommuting), may actually be a powerful multiplier of energy efficiency. If the money and resources devoted to Internet infrastructure results in a corresponding tenfold reduction in the money spent on containerships and trucks, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

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