Medical literature review
A Medline search using the terms "peak oil" and "peak
petroleum" produced the following results relevant to medical
practice (listed in reverse date order). For each paper
I have provided an abstract or summary. "Abstract" means
that I have used the online abstract provided by
Medline. Where no abstract was provided, I have chosen
one or two paragraphs from the paper which appear
to represent the views of the author in his own
words, and these I have labelled "summary".
Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Feb;1219(1):52-72. doi:
Energy return on investment, peak oil, and the
end of economic growth.
Murphy DJ, Hall CA.
College of Environmental Science and Forestry,
State University of New York, Syracuse, New York.
Economic growth over the past 40 years has used increasing
quantities of fossil energy, and most importantly oil. Yet,
our ability to increase the global supply of conventional
crude oil much beyond current levels is doubtful, which may
pose a problem for continued economic growth. Our research
indicates that, due to the depletion of conventional, and
hence cheap, crude oil supplies (i.e., peak oil), increasing
the supply of oil in the future would require exploiting lower
quality resources (i.e., expensive), and thus could occur only
at high prices. This situation creates a system of feedbacks
that can be aptly described as an economic growth paradox:
increasing the oil supply to support economic growth will
require high oil prices that will undermine that economic
growth. From this we conclude that the economic growth of the
past 40 years is unlikely to continue in the long term unless
there is some remarkable change in how we manage our
© 2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
PMID: 21332492 [PubMed - in
BMJ. 2010 Nov 2;341:c5796. doi:
Oil, health, and healthcare. Ramifications of
McCartney G, Hanlon P.
There is an urgent need to emphasise the potential for
positive transformation change inherent in this crisis.
Understanding the threats to health of peak oil is important
but change comes from values, inspiration, empathy and other
much less abstract influences.
The uncertainties relating to
peak oil are not about whether it will happen, but about when
it will happen and what the impacts will be. Policies pursued
now will have the effect of either increasing resilience or
increasing vulnerability to the effects of peak oil. Raffle's
editorial is therefore a commendable step in highlighting some
of the policy directions which are required if we are to
achieve population health benefits in the face of
PMID: 21045030 [PubMed -
indexed for MEDLINE]
BMJ. 2010 Sep 1;341:c4596. doi:
Oil, health, and health care.
The April 2010 oil leak in the Mexican Gulf
illustrates the risks being taken to extract oil from
inaccessible fields, and in June a Lloyd's 360
degree risk insight report said, "we have entered a
period of deep uncertainty in how we will source energy for
power, heat and mobility and how much we will pay for it." The
reason why such damaging extraction methods are pursued, and
why Lloyd's are telling us we face a "new energy paradigm"
rather than normal market volatility, is that oil discoveries
peaked 40 years ago, and oil supply is probably at its
maximum, with decline soon to follow. This has substantial
implications for transport, food, jobs, health, and health
care. Yet many people still haven't heard of "peak oil"
and few are discussing it.
PMID: 20810476 [PubMed -
indexed for MEDLINE]
Am J Disaster Med. 2010 Sep-Oct;5(5):315-9.
Mitigate, adapt, or suffer: Peak oil's new
Division of Emergency Medicine, University of
Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
address the impacts of peak oil (PO) on human health and to
propose new public health preparedness models and measures
mandated by these impacts.
of relevant literature. Articles were obtained by searching
the PubMed database (including manual searches using "related
citations" tool) plus Google and Google Scholar search engines
using terms such as "peak oil," "energy scarcity," "human
health," "public health," and "preparedness."
Forty-six journal articles were
The projections about PO are concerning, as
illustrated by minor PO events in the recent past. There are
many opportunities for devising beneficial solutions within
healthcare to mitigate the effects of PO. It is essential for
disaster medicine professionals to become aware of PO and to
advocate for change in clinical practice with patients as well
as policy leaders. If we fail to mitigate the effects of PO on
healthcare, we will be left with the less pleasant options of
adapting to PO or suffering its effects.
PMID: 21162413 [PubMed -
indexed for MEDLINE]
Sci Prog. 2010;93(Pt 1):37-112.
Solar energy: principles and
Fresh-Lands Environmental Actions, Reading, UK.
As the world faces an impending dearth of fossil fuels,
most immediately oil, alternative sources of energy must be
found. 174 PW worth of energy falls onto the top of the
Earth's atmosphere in the form of sunlight which is almost
10,000 times the total amount of energy used by humans on
Earth, as taken from all sources, oil, coal, natural gas,
nuclear and hydroelectric power combined. If even a fraction
of this could be harvested efficiently, the energy crunch
could in principle be averted. Various means for garnering
energy from the Sun are presented, including photovoltaics
(PV), thin film solar cells, quantum dot cells, concentrating
PV and thermal solar power stations, which are more efficient
in practical terms. Finally the prospects of space based
(satellite) solar power are considered. The caveat is that
even if the entire world electricity budget could be met using
solar energy, the remaining 80% of energy which is not used as
electricity but thermal power (heat) still needs to be found
in the absence of fossil fuels. Most pressingly, the decline
of cheap plentiful crude oil (peak oil) will not find a
substitution via solar unless a mainly electrified
transportation system is devised and it is debatable that
there is sufficient time and conventional energy remaining to
accomplish this. The inevitable contraction of transportation
will default a deconstruction of the globalised world economy
into that of a system of localised communities.
Conserv Biol. 2010
Apr 20. [Epub ahead of print]
The Impending Peak and Decline of
Petroleum Production: an Underestimated Challenge for
Conservation of Ecological Integrity.
Czúcz B, Gathman JP, McPherson GR.
Department of Plant Ecology, Institute of Ecology and
Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2163 Vácrátót,
Hungary, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last few decades petroleum has been consumed at a
much faster pace than new reserves have been discovered. The
point at which global oil extraction will attain a peak ("peak
oil") and begin a period of unavoidable decline is
approaching. This eventuality will drive fundamental changes
in the quantity and nature of energy flows through the human
economic system, which probably will be accompanied by
economic turmoil, political conflicts, and a high level of
social tension. Besides being a geological and economic issue,
peak oil is also a fundamental concern as it pertains to
ecological systems and conservation because economics is a
subsystem of the global ecosystem and changes in human
energy-related behaviors can lead to a broad range of effects
on natural ecosystems, ranging from overuse to abandonment. As
it becomes more difficult to meet energy demands,
environmental considerations may be easily superseded. Given
the vital importance of ecosystems and ecosystem services in a
postpetroleum era, it is crucially important to wisely manage
our ecosystems during the transition period to an economy
based on little or no use of fossil fuels. Good policies can
be formulated through awareness and understanding gained from
scenario-based assessments. Presently, most widely used global
scenarios of environmental change do not incorporate resource
limitation, including those of the Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Considering the potential magnitude of the effects of peak oil
on society and nature, the development of resource-constrained
scenarios should be addressed immediately. Ecologists and
conservation biologists are in an important position to
analyze the situation and provide guidance, yet the topic is
noticeably absent from ecological discussions. We urge
politicians, corporate chief executives, thought leaders, and
citizens to consider this problem seriously because it is
likely to develop into one of the key environmental issues of
the 21st century.
Ambio. 2010 Feb;39(1):85-90.
Climate change and peak oil: the urgent need
for a transition to a non-carbon-emitting society.
Peñuelas J, Carnicer J.
Global Ecology Unit CSIC-CEAB-CREAF, CREAF,
Edifici C, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193
Bellaterra, Catalonia, Spain. Josep.Penuelas@uab.cat
PMID: 20496657 [PubMed -
indexed for MEDLINE]
Aust N Z J Public
Health. 2009 Aug;33(4):307-11.
global warming: fiddling while the globe burns?
Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, Curtin
University, Western Australia, Australia.
OBJECTIVE: To assess the extent that the health
consequences of global warming and the responses to it take
due account of its impact on poverty and inequality. METHOD:
Reviewing the relevant literature on global warming, proposed
solutions and the impact. RESULTS: To date, too little
attention has been paid to the health consequences arising
from the increased poverty and inequality that global warming
will bring. When these are combined with issues arising from
the economic melt-down, food shortages, peak oil, etc. we are
heading for a global public health crisis of immeasurable
magnitude. CONCLUSION: Solutions lie in rethinking the global
economic system that we have relied upon over the past several
decades and the global institutions that have led and fed off
that global system - the IMF, the World Bank and so on.
IMPLICATIONS: Public health practitioners need to look and act
globally more often. They need to better recognise the links
between global warming and the global financial crisis. How
the latter is dealt with will determine whether the former can
be resolved. It is in this global political economy arena that
future action in public health lies.
algae; salvation from peak oil?
University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, UK.
A review is presented of the use of algae principally to
produce biodiesel fuel, as a replacement for conventional fuel
derived from petroleum. The imperative for such a strategy is
that cheap supplies of crude oil will begin to wane within a
decade and land-based crops cannot provide more than a small
amount of the fuel the world currently uses, even if food
production were allowed to be severely compromised. For
comparison, if one tonne of biodiesel might be produced say,
from rape-seed per hectare, that same area of land might
ideally yield 100 tonnes of biodiesel grown from algae. Placed
into perspective, the entire world annual petroleum demand
which is now provided for by 31 billion barrels of crude oil
might instead be met from algae grown on an area equivalent to
4% of that of the United States. As an additional benefit, in
contrast to growing crops it is not necessary to use arable
land, since pond-systems might be placed anywhere, even in
deserts, and since algae grow well on saline water or
wastewaters, no additional burden is imposed on freshwater-a
significant advantage, as water shortages threaten. Algae
offer the further promise that they might provide future food
supplies, beyond what can be offered by land-based agriculture
to a rising global population.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S
A. 2009 Feb 24;106(8):2483-9.
Overcoming systemic roadblocks to
sustainability: The evolutionary redesign of worldviews,
institutions, and technologies.
Beddoe R, Costanza R, Farley J, Garza E, Kent J, Kubiszewski I, Martinez L, McCowen T, Murphy K, Myers N, Ogden Z, Stapleton K, Woodward J.
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources,
George D. Aiken Center, Gund Institute for Ecological
Economics, and Community Development and Applied Economics,
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.
A high and sustainable quality of life is a central goal
for humanity. Our current socio-ecological regime and its set
of interconnected worldviews, institutions, and technologies
all support the goal of unlimited growth of material
production and consumption as a proxy for quality of life.
However, abundant evidence shows that, beyond a certain
threshold, further material growth no longer significantly
contributes to improvement in quality of life. Not only does
further material growth not meet humanity's central goal,
there is mounting evidence that it creates significant
roadblocks to sustainability through increasing resource
constraints (i.e., peak oil, water limitations) and sink
constraints (i.e., climate disruption). Overcoming these
roadblocks and creating a sustainable and desirable future
will require an integrated, systems level redesign of our
socio-ecological regime focused explicitly and directly on the
goal of sustainable quality of life rather than the proxy of
unlimited material growth. This transition, like all cultural
transitions, will occur through an evolutionary process, but
one that we, to a certain extent, can control and direct. We
suggest an integrated set of worldviews, institutions, and
technologies to stimulate and seed this evolutionary redesign
of the current socio-ecological regime to achieve global
PMID: 19240221 [PubMed - indexed for
MEDLINE]PMCID: PMC2650289Free PMC
Public Health Rep.
Energy and public health: the
challenge of peak petroleum.
Frumkin H, Hess J, Vindigni S.
National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Hwy., MS F-61, Atlanta, GA
30341-3717, USA. email@example.com
Petroleum is a unique and essential energy source, used as
the principal fuel for transportation, in producing many
chemicals, and for numerous other purposes. Global petroleum
production is expected to reach a maximum in the near future
and to decline thereafter, a phenomenon known as "peak
petroleum." This article reviews petroleum geology and uses,
describes the phenomenon of peak petroleum, and reviews the
scientific literature on the timing of this transition. It
then discusses how peak petroleum may affect public health and
health care, by reference to four areas: medical supplies and
equipment, transportation, energy generation, and food
production. Finally, it suggests strategies for anticipating
and preparing for peak petroleum, both general public health
preparedness strategies and actions specific to the four
expected health system impacts.
Sci Prog. 2008;91(Pt 4):317-75.
The oil question: nature and
University of Reading, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
A review is given of the nature and origins of crude oil
(petroleum) along with factors relating to its production and
demand for it. The modern globalised world economy and its
population has grown on the assumption of limitless supplies
of cheap crude oil. Almost all agriculture now is completely
dependent on available oil and natural gas to run machinery
and to make chemical fertilizers. Our complacent regard for
oil is however invalid and a gap between the relentlessly
rising demand for oil and its supply is expected to appear at
some time in the period 2010-2015. The global peak in oil
production "peak oil" predicted by M. King Hubbert in 1956,
will exacerbate the situation, and the world must seek to run
and organise itself in an imminent reality where supplies of
conventional crude oil are both limited and increasingly
expensive. Providing the equivalent of 30 billion barrels of
oil a year as is currently used across the globe, by
unconventional kinds of oil, e.g. from oil shale and tar sands
is not realistic. Since most of the oil produced in the world
is refined into liquid fuels to run transportation, human
survival will depend on devising localised economies and
communities that necessarily rely far less on personalised
PMID: 19192735 [PubMed]
Public Health. 2008 Jul;122(7):647-52. Epub
2008 Jun 6.
Peak oil: will it be public health's
Hanlon P, McCartney G.
University of Glasgow, 1 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, UK.
The health of populations is determined more by the social
and economic determinants of health than by changes in
technology, health services or short-term policy
interventions. In the near future, there is likely to be a
significant shortfall in energy supply, resulting in high
energy prices and a reversal of many of the aspects of
globalization that are currently taken for granted. If this
happens, economic recession and restructuring could have a
negative impact on health, not dissimilar to that experienced
by the former Soviet Union when it attempted a rapid change in
its economy. There is, however, the potential, through
economic planning and sustainable development, to reduce the
adverse effects of this change and use this opportunity to
impact on a range of diseases which are, at least in part,
caused by overconsumption, inequality and loss of
Public Health. 2008 Jul;122(7):667-8;
discussion 669-70. Epub 2008 Jun 4.
The days of cheap oil have gone, but
the peak oil theory is far too bleak.
Arbuthnot Banking Group and London School of Economics,
London, UK. email@example.com
Oil prices will remain high and almost inevitably
rise further. Production costs will be greater, and
demand will be such that, for those who can pay, high prices
will have to be paid. The days of cheap oil as a source
of energy have surely gone. However, this should not be
seen as an inevitable disaster for the poor. High oil
prices will inevitably stimulate technological developments
into substitute energy sources, and these technological
developments may well provide energy sources at very
affordable prices. Let us hope they do.
Public Health. 2008 Jul;122(7):664-6;
discussion 669-70. Epub 2008 Jun 4.
Peak oil: threat, opportunity or
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.
Even if peak oil is not the threat that many believe
it to be, it is increasingly clear that there are many ways in
which current lifestyles, based so heavily on fossil fuels,
are detrimental to health. Tackling that dependence is
likely to lead to very worthwhile net benefits for
health. This is an important message for public health
to make, and ensuring it is fully recognised in the
development of public policy will require the type of vision
and leadership that McCartney and Hanlon describe.
Technol. 2007 Nov 1;41(21):7193.
Peak oil or peak emissions?
We're in a dramatic race to decrease fossil fuel
demand (and emissions) before the looming economic disruption
caused by scarce oil and global warming becomes reality.
Energy security, the climate, and the economy are all at
stake. Declining oil demand will trump the effects of
peak oil. But we need leaders who will challenge us, we
need a plan, and we must start soon.
JAMA. 2007 Oct
Peak petroleum and public health.
Frumkin H, Hess J, Vindigni S.
National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, US Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA.
At some point early in the 21st century, likely well
before mid-century, petroleum production will peak and begin
to decline. This will increase prices for petroleum and
for the many goods and services that require petroleum for
their production and transport. This transition will
have far-reaching effects across society. Within the
health sector, direct and indirect effects will be felt in
medical supplies and equipment, transportation, energy, and
food. Health professionals need to anticipate, prepare
for, reduce, and adapt to petroleum scarcity to protect public
health in coming decades.
Nature. 2007 Mar 15;446(7133):257.
Scientists need to confront economists
about peak oil.
The proponents of the peak-oil theory are
predominantly scientists whereas the vocal opposition are, to
a significant extent, economists. They seem to believe
that the geological reality of finite conventional oil
resources and the thermodynamic constraints on energy
production from alternative hydrocarbon sources can be
overcome by a sufficiently high price signal. Most
people lack sufficient scientific training to appreciate the
strong evidence for, and dire consequences of, an imminent
decline in oil production. They are easily lulled into
complacency by those with a vested interest in delaying any
mitigating responses. The scientific community must
unite behind the issue of energy decline.
Nature. 2007 Jan 4;445(7123):14-7.
PMID: 17203036 [PubMed]
Don’t say they didn’t warn us.
The poster for the meeting of the Association for the Study of
Peak Oil and Gas in Boston this October featured American
revolutionary Paul Revere on his midnight ride, bringing news
of imminent calamity. Only this time it is not the British who
are coming, but the end of the oil era, and with it much of
western civilization. Many attendees at the meeting were
people who could tell you how to stock a bunker to survive the
inevitable collapse of civilization, and then opine at length
about the extent and characteristics of the great tar-sand
deposits of Canada. Some of them conduct a thriving
mini-business in preparing for the coming
apocalypse — “deal with reality or reality will deal with
you”, as one website claims — while scrutinizing table after
table of data on world oil production.
J R Soc Promot
Health. 2006 Mar;126(2):62-3.
Peak oil, climate change, public
health and well-being.
All public policy will have to develop a wider, more
connected analysis than is currently being envisioned.
Indicators show that, since at least the early 1970s,
increasing gross domestic product has not increased measures
of life satisfaction. If the long-term protection of
both planet and public health is increasingly connected to
reduced carbon dependency, then we need to consider
"consumption" as a public mental health