The Great Turning Times – a free quarterly email newsletter about finding our power to respond to global crisis. Bringing together ecology, psychology, spirituality and global politics, it lists events, news and resources to support the shift towards a life sustaining society.

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the June 2005 Great Turning Times.

Many people emailed me after reading the Michael McCarthy article on Climate Change sent with the last newsletter (see for pdf). Reporting the recent international conference in Exeter, it contained disturbing news. Climate disturbance is proceeding more rapidly than previously thought. The western Antarctic ice-sheet is beginning to show signs of breaking up. Were it to collapse, sea levels would rise by more than 16 feet. “Good London; goodbye Bangladesh” writes McCarthy.

When reading alarming reports like this, common responses include horror and disbelief. The disbelief track is easier; it doesn’t disturb sleep or drop your mood. Like water off the proverbial duck’s back, disbelief protects against all known threats to peace of mind. Some might regard this as a useful filtering device, because problems that are serious enough become obvious sooner or later. But how bad do things have to get before the alarm is sounded? If we wait till things are really awful, we miss the chance to take preventative action. Feeling horrified may be a better bet for human survival. The problem is that it doesn’t feel nice, leading to resistance at a number of crucial points.

The first points of resistance are in reporting and publishing information in the first place. For example, last October scientists announced that levels of carbon dioxide were rising much faster than previously expected, making earlier estimates of climate change overly optimistic. This made it to the front page of the Guardian and Independent (11.10.04), but wasn’t even mentioned in most other UK newspapers. When the alarm is sounded loudly in niche circles, but ignored elsewhere, a double reality is generated where small numbers of people are horrified while the majority wonder what the fuss is about. The gap between mainstream media and alternative reporting adds to the disbelief many feel when they first encounter the horror stories of what is happening to our world. Can it really be this bad? Surely not.

This was my reaction when I first read about Peak Oil. I was so alarmed by Thom Hartmann’s book “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” that my sleep was disturbed for weeks. He described how our society is totally dependent on energy from sunlight millions of years old stored as oil. When this runs out, as is likely in the coming decades, we face a massive collapse. We use oil to fuel intensive agriculture, transport food, heat our homes, pump our water and take away our rubbish. How will we manage when supplies dwindle? Feeling disbelief, I asked the US Centre for Energy Information how long world oil supplies would last. 42 years at current rates of consumption they said. But as world consumption rates are rising fast, it won’t be as long as that. The UK government’s White Paper on energy puts it at 30 years, but reckons that with advanced technology and new discoveries, we may stretch to double this.

Oil is more difficult and expensive to extract once you are in the second half of an oil field’s life. Hence the term Peak Oil – the point at which we move over the peak and into the second half of the world’s supply of oil. Once this point is reached, oil will become progressively more expensive. It might not be a sudden crash, so much as a falling apart of industrial society. As oil prices shoot upwards, recession sets in. When oil dependent agriculture can’t be sustained, food shortages will follow. For more information, read the article by John Vidal of the Guardian at the end of this email, or hear the interview with Jan Lundberg listed in point (5) below.

Climate Change and Peak Oil are two of the adversity trends we face. Duane Elgin, in his book Promise Ahead, suggests we are on course for an ‘evolutionary crash’ if we don’t respond to these in time. But if we rise to the occasion, for example, by having a massive cultural shift towards sustainable ways of living, we could have an ‘evolutionary bounce’ instead. This is what the Great Turning is all about. We are at a crucial period in human history. We face massive challenges, and biggest being that the alarm has not yet been widely heard. But the beacons are being lit. A change is happening and we each can be, or already are, part of this.

The Work That Reconnects is an empowerment approach developed by Joanna Macy and others to strengthen our ability to constructively participate in these changes. It is based on the principle that by deepening our connection with life, we can open up the spiritual and psychological resources needed to face and respond to global issues. This can turn around the feeling of powerlessness that many feel when facing concerns about our world, whilst also helping us tap into a deeper source of energy, joy and purpose in life.
That is the focus of this newsletter, plus resources, news and events that are broadly to do with the Great Turning.

With you in this Great Turning Adventure

Chris Johnstone
Editor, The Great Turning Times

If you like this email newsletter, please do pass it on. If it has been forwarded to you and you’d like it regularly, email me with SUBSCRIBE in the subject header. If you want to stop receiving it, please email me with “REMOVE” as a subject header. It comes out four times a year, with editions in September, December, March and June. Copy date for entries is last day of month before next edition. Please let me know of events, news, resources etc that you would like included. Please also keep entries short, ideally about 100-200 words.
(1) If you’re from outside the UK and would prefer the international edition of this newsletter that includes the same insights and resources for the Great Turning, but without details of the UK events, please email me at
(2) It was Joanna Macy who coined the phrase ‘The Great Turning’ to describe the story of change required in our times. An interview with her about this can be downloaded from the Yes magazine website at
An article by her about The Great Turning is viewable at
There is more material on her website at
(3) Personal Power for the Planet - The Work that Reconnects in Dorset
September 9th – 11th 2005, Cost £160 (concs £130) full board.
A residential weekend workshop at Monkton Wyld Court, nr Charmouth, Dorset, UK.
With Chris Johnstone, Alex Wildwood, Maitrisara and Claire Carre.

The Work That Reconnects is an empowerment approach developed by Joanna Macy and others. It is based on the principle that by deepening our connection with life, we can open up the spiritual and psychological resources needed to face and respond to global issues. This can turn around the feeling of powerlessness that many feel when facing concerns about our world, whilst also helping us tap into a deeper source of energy, joy and purpose in life.

This workshop additionally includes an optional Sunday afternoon session for those interested in training in this approach.

To book or for further info, contact Alex Wildwood at or phone 01453 – 836566
Or Chris Johnstone at email: or see website at
(4) Personal and Planetary Renewal - The Work that Reconnects in Spain
September 17th – 24th 2005 at Cortijo Romero, Southern Spain.
With Chris Johnstone and Kathleen Sullivan. Cost £425 To book, phone 01494 765775
or see web details at or at

This one week residential course combines personal renewal, deepening connection with life and personal power training in a splendid setting among the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Come to this if you want to strengthen your ability to play your role in this Great Turning whilst having a great week/life too.

Chris and Kathleen have worked closely with Joanna Macy over many years in facilitating this work.
For more information contact Chris by email at
(5) For an interview with Jan Lundberg on peak oil and cultural change (audio)
After musical introduction, oil analyst and activist Jan Lundberg introduces the Peak Oil issue
and the need for a deep level cultural shift to respond. He is describing The Great Turning.
He also produces a web based newsletter at
(6) If you’d like more information about Peak Oil, here are two useful websites.
(7) Climate Change Resources
If you’d like more information about the Exeter Climate Change conference mentioned in Michael McCarthy’s article,
Check out the website at
You can see list of presenters and even download their presentations.
They list expected outcomes of climate change at

For up to date news on climate change, check out

For an interesting article on the link between climate change and extreme weather events see

If you’re concerned about climate change and would like to reduce your carbon emissions, COIN (The Climate Outreach and Information Network) have a very clear guide on how to do this at their website. Check out
At you can work out an estimate of your carbon impact,
and then look at the areas you’d need to act to reduce this.
Information about COIN’s speaker series in Oxford is available at
(8) For a personal ecological footprint analysis, check out the web of hope website at
(9) Register of Facilitators of ‘the Work that Reconnects’
A message from Alex Wildwood.
At the recent Intensive with Joanna Macy at Monkton Wyld, there was a sense of the need for a Register of Facilitators in the UK offering – or wishing to offer – ‘the work that reconnects’ (and ‘deep ecology workshops’). We want to compile a simple database of those who feel either: A) they are ready to offer this work and want to be part of the ‘pool’ of people who might work together – or:
B) they want to train/prepare themselves/gain skills to do this (If you’re not sure where you ‘fit’, we suggest that for A) you have participated in at least three experiential workshops yourself – one of these in a supporting, co-facilitating role. But part of what the register would be about is to have a forum for sharing ideas/discussion/experience about issues like self and peer assessment/mutual support/the need for ‘training’ - so that the network of facilitators can grow in a sustainable and responsible way).

Please do contact me to be on this register – and also if you are specifically interested in training/preparing yourself as someone offering this work. Alex Wildwood tel: 01453 836566
(10) News - Rainforest loss shocks Brazil
Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest last year was the second worst ever,
figures released by the Brazilian government have shown. Satellite photos
and other data showed that ranchers, loggers and especially soy bean farmers
felled more than 10,000 square miles.
The figures shocked Brazil's environment minister, Marina Silva, who told
delegates to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre earlier this year that
she believed that increases in deforestation had been stemmed and that
illegal deforestation was under control.
In fact, the destruction was nearly 6% higher than in the same period in
2003, when 9,500 square miles were destroyed.
For article by John Vidal Friday May 20, 2005 Guardian,8542,1488779,00.html
(11) Inspiring rainforest activists/deep ecologists John Seed and Ruth Rosenhek continue their series of workshops in North America in June – August this year. You can see details of their workshop programme at
They are some plans underway for John and Ruth to offer some workshops in the UK in 2006, but this is just at the planning stage at the moment. If you would like to invite John and Ruth to run a workshop in your area and you can help set this up, please do get in touch with John at
(12) Thanks to John, you can see past editions of The Great Turning Times, and its predecessor Deep Ecology News, at
(13) Something beautiful - Among the giants
Sebastião Salgado , spent weeks in the company of right whales, and saw the ocean turn into a jumping field.,15021,1478348,00.html
If you feel moved by this, you might like to join the virtual anti-whaling march: - deadline is June 19!
(14) 'LIVING ON THE CUSP' is a new seminar linking ecology, limits to growth, and one of the most important but virtually
unknown constraints - 'Peak Oil'. It is taking place at the Braziers Park eco-village near Oxford, June 17-19th, 2005.
(15) Starhawk's workshop at Alternatives

Sunday, June 26
London, England

"Holding Power Well'

This workshop explores issues of power and leadership. How do we take our power and own it as a life-giving force? How do we recognize when we do have power, and use it in ways that empower others? How do we nurture and support leadership in our groups, while also holding our leaders accountable? This is a workshop for anyone who has struggled with these issues in relationships or groups. All of us have internalized models of power as domination, which often interfere when we attempt to form new structures based on power-from-within. We will consider power within sacred space, and through ritual, trance, and energy work develop the tools we need to transform destructive patterns into energies freed for change.

For more information, contact: Alternatives
Tel: 020 7287 6711
(16) For Starhawk’s occasional newsletter/writings
To subscribe to this list, send an email to
(17) G8 Protest Highlights The G8 countries account for 84% of CO2 emissions in recent history.

Saturday 2nd July - Make Poverty History Demonstration, Edinburgh - expected to be the biggest demonstration ever held in Scotland. Sunday 3rd July - The Alternative Summit, Edinburgh - workshops including George Monbiot, Susan George, Ken Wiwa and Starhawk. Monday 4th July - Faslane Nuclear Submarine Base blockade. Six of the G8 have nuclear weapons on their soil. The replacement or otherwise of Britain's Trident system must be decided by Parliament shortly. Tuesday 5th July - Climate Justice Day & demonstration at Dungavel detention centre called by Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees. Wednesday 6th July - Mass demonstration over the hills to Gleneagles Hotel on first day of G8 summit. Further information at: <> <> <> Dissent is the main group organizing actions. <> Website for alternative forums, etc. <> <> <>
(18) Cre8 Summit June 12-17

Cre8 Summit has been organised by individuals wanting to protest 'for' something rather than 'against' the G8. We are planning to work with the ongoing community protests against the building of the M74 in Glasgow, in particular the council estates of Govanhill and Gorbles.
The plan for the work is to reclaim a vacant piece of land that is on site for the construction of the motorway, and than to turn it into a community social space with gardens, sculptures, benches, artwork, etc.

The work on this project is underway. During May we will be running weekly workshops with the communities. During the second week of June, we will reclaim the land (community open day 12th of June) and begin a week of work (from the13-17th of June) to turn this bit of waste land into something the community can enjoy.

There is an email list that announces news on this project:
you can subscribe here: <>

Little Brimley, Appley, Nr Wellington,Somerset.
18th - 25th June 2005

A residential week bringing together activists, therapists, theorists and
interested newcomers for workshops, seminars, practical projects, rituals,
parties and networking; all as guests of a rural community.

Ecopsychology asks: why do we allow the destruction and degradation of our
planetary environment? And how can we mobilise our energies to do things
differently? Many people are exploring ecopsychology in a huge variety of
ways, practical and theoretical sometimes without even knowing the word!
This Gathering will bring some of us together in the same place to share,
exchange, celebrate and learn.

Cost on a range depending on income: £187, £228, £269, with a concessionary
low-income rate of £146. This covers all food and accommodation.

For full details and booking, go to, email or phone Sandra White, 01992 503451.
(20) Heather Witham, who was at both Joanna Macy’s recent UK talks, and her workshop in Oxford
Has made her excellent notes from these events available on the web.
Here’s an entry she sent.


As part of her tour of England in April, Joanna Macy gave a talk in
Bath about The Great Turning, a talk in Oxford about climate change,
and a two-day workshop in Oxford for climate change activists. All
three events have been/are being written up in Heather Witham's
MoonLetters. To begin the sequence, go to:

To sign up to receive the weekly MoonLetter,
which explores ecopsychology and The Great Turning, go to: Beginning in July, MoonLetters will be
available for postal delivery and will follow a lesson plan based on
Joanna Macy's and Andy Fisher's teachings. See for more information then.
(21) From Claire Carre and Anne-Marie Culhane
“How can creativity be integrated into The Great Turning?’
Artists/performers and those with uncontrollable creative urges are invited
to participate in a weekend exploring this and other issues connecting creativity and deep
ecology (the interdependence of all things).

There are many, many different ways to share this experiential and
discursive journey. Possible outcomes could be: a great turning arts network, future delivery of
interdisciplinary workshops and events, finding ways to actively integrating the arts with The work that
reconnects…We will be considering the arts and creativity from individual and group perspectives,
as a way of sharing ideas with others as well as deepening and nurturing our own relationships
with our world.

We hope to meet in the UK over a weekend in late Autumn/Winter 2005
So, if you paint, perform, dance, write, tell stories, sculpt, sing, make
music, make things, make art with food, design, photograph, film, print, sew etc. please email both
Claire & Anne-Marie. It would be great if you can include a little bit of info about yourself and what
your interests are.

We are on the lookout for a suitable, cheap and preferably rural venue for
this weekend with space
to work inside and outside and would welcome suggestions.

Anne-Marie Culhane:
Claire Carre:
Faciltators Zita Cox and Ty Francis
Insight and Resolution through exploring family, organisation and earth
systems.We are all interconnected parts of family, organisation, community and
earth systems. Constellations (based on the therapeutic work of Bert Hellinger)
are an innovative way of gaining insight into the systems we are part of. This
can support the resolution of personal, professional and environmental

A constellation provides a way to see below the surface of things. After
describing a deeply felt "burning" issue, you will be asked to invite people
from the group to stand in a special configuration (called a constellation).
This provides a "living map" of the the interconnected issues you are dealing
with. You then stand back and observe. With guidance from the facilitators,
the representatives in your constellation are invited to feedback their
experience. The aim is to reach a resolution.

contact for bookings and information or
Tel 01244 329 429.
Zita Cox will be presenting an Eco System Constellation at The Centre for Alternative
Technology Symposium July 2nd 2005 and at UNIMAGINABLE SOLUTIONS:Introducing
Constellations at Work;Conference in Chester: 18/19/20 October 2005.
Ty Francis: an organiser of Unimaginable Solutions Conference will be presenting at
the conference.
(23) Arts-based Ecotherapy Ongoing Group

Explore your relationship with self, people and planet. Group therapy using voicework, music, drama, discussion, ceremony & activities in nature. Groups meeting fortnightly in outdoor centre locations in both Bristol & South Devon areas. Quarterly weekends away.

Led by Mel McCree, music therapist & environmental arts practitioner.
Ffi tel 07970 748042 or email
Reconnecting with the healing forces of Nature.
(24) Rites of passage / coming-of-age projects survey
Mel McCree is still seeking people for her national survey on rites of passage and coming of age ceremonies / projects for young people entering adulthood (14-30).

She wants practitioners to fill in a questionnaire based on their work with young people, and is also keen to hear from people interested in this kind of work, including scholars, educators, youth workers, facilitators etc. Her particular interest is in the role of the arts in the outdoor rites of passage form.

She will be conducting a 3 year long project with youth groups in the south west as research for her PhD, and hopes to build a support network of similar practitioners. There will be a conference in 2006 with an open invite for papers, proposals etc. Website under construction;

Please contact Mel on 07970 748042
(25) Nurturing Sustainable Practice in Outdoor Education
A Four-day Residential Workshop for Leaders of Experiential and Outdoor-Based Training and Education Groups (see attached rtf file for info)
Thursday August 18 to Sunday August 21 - 2005.
The workshop is now open for enrolments and expressions of interest. Bookings will be taken on a first-in-first-served basis.

Contacts for enquiries:Robbie Nicol <> <>
(26) Ecotherapy

Working with the healing power of wild places.

12 - 18 September, 2005 - GBP £550.00
At Cae Mabon, Llanberis, North Wales
With David Key & Mary-Jayne Rust

This five-day course offers a rare chance to explore the emerging field of ecotherapy in a magical and beautfiul setting in the heart of Snowdonia. Set in an ancient oak forest on the shores of a lake, Cae Mabon is truly a place for reconnecting with the Earth.
For info, see website at
(27) Your Community, Your Planet: promoting sustainability through participation
Conference, Fri 8 July, Guildhall, Bath
Exploring the issues and sharing practical solutions - speakers, workshops and demonstrations (programme attached)

climate change - biodiversity - pollution - recycling and waste - transport - gardening- food production - sustainable consumption - healthy communities - energy

Speakers/presentations include:
Professor Bill Scott, Director, Centre for Research in Education and the Environment, University of Bath - Sustrans - NIACE (National Institute for Adult and Community Education) - Global Action Plan - Learning South West, Sustainability South West - Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens - Walking the Way to Health - Professor Geoff Hammond, International Centre for the Environment, University of Bath - and many more...

Participant fee £50 plus VAT, * also reduced-rate bursary places available on application *

Kate Allport
Community Team, Envolve
Green Park Station, Bath BA1 1JB
t. 01225 787912
e. <>
Actions now announced in Iceland, Australia (<>)
& brewing in Scotland, Reading, Bristol, USA, Venezuela & France
Next update and discussion meeting; London, June 20th, location tbc
Website now up:
LILI is running the following courses during July.
Build your own earth oven: 1-3 July 2005
Straw-bale buiding: 1-3 July 2005
How to make biodiesel: 22-24 July 2005
LILI, Redfield Community, Bucking ham Road, Winslow, Bucks, MK18 3LZ
(01296) 714184
(30) Stroud Community Agriculture is a local social enterprise initiative
involving a partnership between members of the local community and farmers,
whereby the responsibilities and rewards of farming are shared.

Due to phenomenal success over the last two years, Stroud Community
Agriculture is looking to acquire plots of land of 20 acres or more local to
Stroud, in order to increase and diversify its range of organic food production.

More details on SCA at
(31) for your organic entertainment,
A short film promoting the organic revolution.
> Join the adventures of Cuke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Cannoli, Chewbroccoli and the
> rest of the Organic Rebels fighting against Darth Tader and the Dark Side of
> the Farm. And if you like the movie, pass it on!
(32) Don't forget you can get Low Cost Calls and Broadband from a Green, Ethical provider at the Phone Co-op - copy, paste & follow this link:
(33) Freecycle invites us to advertise on line and give away our belongings we no longer need as part of a Gift Economy. We don't add to landfill and others get what they want for free. How great is that!!

There are schemes over the country, but the Norfolk group website is at
(34) Regenco & the Earth Mystery Initiation School (Devon)
The Wilderness Quests for Vision & Self healing - The Wilderness Quest for Vision or Self-healing/Vision quest offers a powerful opportunity to learn with Nature and meet ourselves supported, yet undistracted by our normal circumstance.
It supports us particularly in relation to changes we are going through, guides and challenges us.
Facing the challenges it becomes a place where we can experience our own strengths, our own resources and our own truth.
Though threshold times vary all quests include thorough preparation and time for integration.
July 6th-10th (preparation weeked June 24th-6th - 3 day threshold time)
August 22nd-25th & Sept 12th-15th (24 hour threshold times) (Jeremy Thres + support)

Walkabout: Walkabout is a nomadic form we have been developing based on fresh and time honoured tools and insight as to how to support people to better know themselves, their relatioonship to community and world of which we are a part (not apart). It is an attentive journey offering a balance of community, self-discovery, practicality, depth and play. Folks have to be relatively fit as we tend to carry all that we need for the journey.
July 30th - Aug 4th Dartmoor Jeremy Thres & Charlie Loram
Sept 18th -23rd (Jeremy Thres & Chris Salisbury of Wildwise - Sea - source)

ReSourcing - an alternative to the above supporting individuals and small groups to go deep, reconnect to the greater field and feel more fully resourced in their life and work.

We work with adults of all ages and are holding a door open particularly to young adults who feel a call to such experiences (16 & up). Annually we also offer a month long experiential traing in this work and other support for those with experience in this and related fields.
contact Jeremy Thres 01647 432840

Trebbe johnson a quest guide from the States is also offering a weekend retreat entitled "the Divine Lover - our Soul's quest for wholeness" June 10th - 12th in Kent
contact Stuart Woodin 020 8694 2828

also stop press....
- Regenco's summer camp/gathering
7th-10th August (poss' also camping to the 12th) at Epona, relax, enjoy, beautiful land, beautiful place North East Dartmoor contact Charlie Loram 01647 281217 or Jeremy 432840
(35) One day courses in “Gaia Theory for Beginners”
The Great Turning involves a shift in the way we see ourselves and our world, moving away from a fragmented view that sets us apart from each other and our world, towards one where we see and experience our connectedness. Gaia Theory is a view from science
that has vast spiritual and ecological significance. In the adult education section of Bristol University, Chris Johnstone runs regular one day introductions to Gaia Theory, focusing on the science in the morning and the personal/ecological significance in the afternoon.
Next courses Saturday Oct 15th, 9.30am-4.30pm. Repeated Saturday 3rd December. For more information and for other courses,
see Chris’s website at
(36) 2005 Weekend Courses on the Welsh Borders nr Hay-on-Wye
Organised by Gaia Cooperative in association with Resurgence and Schumacher College
Lots of interesting and inspiring workshops - check out their website at
(37) Copydate is end of August for next edition coming out beginning of September. Contact

The end of oil is closer than you think

Oil production could peak next year, reports John Vidal.
Just kiss your lifestyle goodbye

John Vidal, The Guardian, Thursday April 21, 2005,13026,1464050,00.html

The one thing that international bankers don't want to hear is that the second Great Depression may be round the corner. But last week, a group of ultra-conservative Swiss financiers asked a retired English petroleum geologist living in Ireland to tell them about the beginning of the end of the oil age.

They called Colin Campbell, who helped to found the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre because he is an industry man through and through, has no financial agenda and has spent most of a lifetime on the front line of oil exploration on three continents. He was chief geologist for Amoco, a vice-president of Fina, and has worked for BP, Texaco, Shell, ChevronTexaco and Exxon in a dozen different countries.

"Don't worry about oil running out; it won't for very many years," the Oxford PhD told the bankers in a message that he will repeat to businessmen, academics and investment analysts at a conference in Edinburgh next week. "The issue is the long downward slope that opens on the other side of peak production. Oil and gas dominate our lives, and their decline will change the world in radical and unpredictable ways," he says.

Campbell reckons global peak production of conventional oil - the kind associated with gushing oil wells - is approaching fast, perhaps even next year. His calculations are based on historical and present production data, published reserves and discoveries of companies and governments, estimates of reserves lodged with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, speeches by oil chiefs and a deep knowledge of how the industry works.

"About 944bn barrels of oil has so far been extracted, some 764bn remains extractable in known fields, or reserves, and a further 142bn of reserves are classed as 'yet-to-find', meaning what oil is expected to be discovered. If this is so, then the overall oil peak arrives next year," he says.

If he is correct, then global oil production can be expected to decline steadily at about 2-3% a year, the cost of everything from travel, heating, agriculture, trade, and anything made of plastic rises. And the scramble to control oil resources intensifies. As one US analyst said this week: "Just kiss your lifestyle goodbye."

But the Campbell analysis is way off the much more optimistic official figures. The US Geological Survey (USGS) states that reserves in 2000 (its latest figures) of recoverable oil were about three trillion barrels and that peak production will not come for about 30 years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that oil will peak between "2013 and 2037" and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran, four countries with much of the world's known reserves, report little if any depletion of reserves. Meanwhile, the oil companies - which do not make public estimates of their own "peak oil" - say there is no shortage of oil and gas for the long term. "The world holds enough proved reserves for 40 years of supply and at least 60 years of gas supply at current consumption rates," said BP this week.

Indeed, almost every year for 150 years, the oil industry has produced more than it did the year before, and predictions of oil running out or peaking have always been proved wrong. Today, the industry is producing about 83m barrels a day, with big new fields in Azerbaijan, Angola, Algeria, the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere soon expected on stream.

But the business of estimating oil reserves is contentious and political. According to Campbell, companies seldom report their true findings for commercial reasons, and governments - which own 90% of the reserves - often lie. Most official figures, he says, are grossly unreliable: "Estimating reserves is a scientific business. There is a range of uncertainty but it is not impossible to get a good idea of what a field contains. Reporting [reserves], however, is a political act."

According to Campbell and other oil industry sources, the two most widely used estimates of world oil reserves, drawn up by the Oil and Gas Journal and the BP Statistical Review, both rely on reserve estimates provided to them by governments and industry and do not question their accuracy.

Companies, says Campbell, "under-report their new discoveries to comply with strict US stock exchange rules, but then revise them upwards over time", partly to boost their share prices with "good news" results. "I do not think that I ever told the truth about the size of a prospect. That was not the game we were in," he says. "As we were competing for funds with other subsidiaries around the world, we had to exaggerate."

Most serious of all, he and other oil depletion analysts and petroleum geologists, most of whom have been in the industry for years, accuse the US of using questionable statistical probability models to calculate global reserves and Opec countries of drastically revising upwards their reserves in the 1980s.

"The estimates for the Opec countries were systematically exaggerated in the late 1980s to win a greater slice of the allocation cake. Middle East official reserves jumped 43% in just three years despite no new major finds," he says.

The study of "peak oil" - the point at which half the total oil known to have existed in a field or a country has been consumed, beyond which extraction goes into irreversible decline - used to be back-of-the envelope guesswork. It was not taken seriously by business or governments, mainly because oil has always been cheap and plentiful.

In the wake of the Iraq war, the rapid economic rise of China, global warming and recent record oil prices, the debate has shifted from "if" there is a global peak to "when".

The US government knows that conventional oil is running out fast. According to a report on oil shales and unconventional oil supplies prepared by the US office of petroleum reserves last year, "world oil reserves are being depleted three times as fast as they are being discovered. Oil is being produced from past discoveries, but the re-serves are not being fully replaced. Remaining oil reserves of individual oil companies must continue to shrink. The disparity between increasing production and declining discoveries can only have one outcome: a practical supply limit will be reached and future supply to meet conventional oil demand will not be available."

It continues: "Although there is no agreement about the date that world oil production will peak, forecasts presented by USGS geologist Les Magoon, the Oil and Gas Journal, and others expect the peak will occur between 2003 and 2020. What is notable ... is that none extend beyond the year 2020, suggesting that the world may be facing shortfalls much sooner than expected."

According to Bill Powers, editor of the Canadian Energy Viewpoint investment journal, there is a growing belief among geologists who study world oil supply that production "is soon headed into an irreversible decline ... The US government does not want to admit the reality of the situation. Dr Campbell's thesis, and those of others like him, are becoming the mainstream."

In the absence of reliable official figures, geologists and analysts are turning to the grandfather of oil depletion analysis, M King Hubbert, a Shell geologist who in 1956 showed mathematically that exploitation of any oilfield follows a predictable "bell curve" trend, which is slow to take off, rises steeply, flattens and then descends again steeply. The biggest and easiest exploited oilfields were always found early in the history of exploration, while smaller ones were developed as production from the big fields declined. He accurately predicted that US domestic oil production would peak around 1970, 40 years after the period of peak discovery around 1930.

Many oil analysts now take the "Hubbert peak" model seriously, and the USGS, national and oil company figures with a large dose of salt. Similar patterns of peak discovery and production have been found throughout all the world's main oilfields. The first North Sea discovery was in 1969, discoveries peaked in 1973 and the UK passed its production peak in 1999. The British portion of the basin is now in serious decline and the Norwegian sector has levelled off.

Other analysts are also questioning afresh the oil companies' data. US Wall street energy group Herold last month compared the stated reserves of the world's leading oil companies with their quoted discoveries, and production levels. Herold predicts that the seven largest will all begin seeing production declines within four years. Deutsche Bank analysts report that global oil production will peak in 2014.

According to Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review, a monthly magazine published by the Energy Institute in London, conventional oil reserves are now declining about 4-6% a year worldwide. He says 18 large oil-producing countries, including Britain, and 32 smaller ones, have declining production; and he expects Denmark, Malaysia, Brunei, China, Mexico and India all to reach their peak in the next few years.

"We should be worried. Time is short and we are not even at the point where we admit we have a problem," Skrebowski says. "Governments are always excessively optimistic. The problem is that the peak, which I think is 2008, is tomorrow in planning terms."

On the other hand, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome, Chad and Angola are are all expected to grow strongly.

What is agreed is that world oil demand is surging. The International Energy Agency, which collates national figures and predicts demand, says developing countries could push demand up 47% to 121m barrels a day by 2030, and that oil companies and oil-producing nations must spend about $100bn a year to develop new supplies to keep pace.

According to the IEA, demand rose faster in 2004 than in any year since 1976. China's oil consumption, which accounted for a third of extra global demand last year, grew 17% and is expected to double over 15 years to more than 10m barrels a day - half the US's present demand. India's consumption is expected to rise by nearly 30% in the next five years. If world demand continues to grow at 2% a year, then almost 160m barrels a day will need to be extracted in 2035, twice as much as today.

That, say most geologists is almost inconceivable. According to industry consultants IHS Energy, 90% of all known reserves are now in production, suggesting that few major discoveries remain to be made. Shell says its reserves fell last year because it only found enough oil to replace 15-25 % of what the company produced. BP told the US stock exchange that it replaced only 89% of its production in 2004.

Moreover, oil supply is increasingly limited to a few giant fields, with 10% of all production coming from just four fields and 80% from fields discovered before 1970. Even finding a field the size of Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, by far the world's largest and said to have another 125bn barrels, would only meet world demand for about 10 years.

"All the major discoveries were in the 1960s, since when they have been declining gradually over time, give or take the occasional spike and trough," says Campbell. "The whole world has now been seismically searched and picked over. Geological knowledge has improved enormously in the past 30 years and it is almost inconceivable now that major fields remain to be found."

He accepts there may be a big field or two left in Russia, and more in Africa, but these would have little bearing on world supplies. Unconventional deposits like tar sands and shale may only slow the production decline.

"The first half of the oil age now closes," says Campbell. "It lasted 150 years and saw the rapid expansion of industry, transport, trade, agriculture and financial capital, allowing the population to expand six-fold. The second half now dawns, and will be marked by the decline of oil and all that depends on it, including financial capital."

So did the Swiss bankers comprehend the seriousness of the situation when he talked to them? "There is no company on the stock exchange that doesn't make a tacit assumption about the availability of energy," says Campbell. "It is almost impossible for bankers to accept it. It is so out of their mindset."

Crude alternatives

"Unconventional" petroleum reserves, which are not included in some totals of reserves, include:

Heavy oils

These can be pumped just like conventional petroleum except that they are much thicker, more polluting, and require more extensive refining. They are found in more than 30 countries, but about 90% of estimated reserves are in the Orinoco "heavy oil belt" of Venezuela, which has an estimated 1.2 trillion barrels. About one third of the oil is potentially recoverable using current technology.

Tar sands

These are found in sedimentary rocks and must be dug out and crushed in giant opencast mines. But it takes five to 10 times the energy, area and water to mine, process and upgrade the tars that it does to process conventional oil. The Athabasca deposits in Alberta, Canada are the world's largest resource, with estimated reserves of 1.8 trillion barrels, of which about 280-300bn barrels may be recoverable. Production now accounts for about 20% of Canada's oil supply.

Oil shales

These are seen as the US government's energy stopgap. They exist in large quantities in ecologically sensitive parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah at varying depths, but the industrial process needed to extract the oil demands hot water, making it much more expensive and less energy-efficient than conventional oil. The mining operation is extremely damaging to the environment. Shell, Exxon, ChevronTexaco and other oil companies are investing billions of dollars in this expensive oil production method.

If you’d like a clearer picture of what this could mean for us, read Thom Hartmann’s book
“The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” (Hodder and Stoughton, 2001)
Described by Neale Donald Walsch as “One of the most important books you will ever read in your life”. I agree!
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