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Paul Mobbs &
Mobbs' Environmental Investigations –

Work Archive –
Themes Index:

Ecological Limits

I've worked primarily with community groups for many years – mostly in the UK, but also in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. The materials produced from that work have relevance not just to the people who commissioned them, but many other communities too. For that reason I maintain an on-line archive of my work.

For details of the licensing restrictions on using these resources, see the Copyright and Sharing page.

Work Archive:
'Themes' Index




Media Coverage









Ecological Limits













Video and Audio

The 'Ecological Limits' theme covers my work around the issues of resource depletion and growth economics.

The laws of physics state that you can't have continual growth within a finite environment. Why then does our society worship a 'cult' of economic growth?

That simple contradiction is almost completely ignored within the political world and mainstream media, and yet today the evidence is stronger than ever that we're pressing up against the Earth's ecological limits. Tackling that issue will, whether mainstream politics likes it or not, dominate human society over the course of this century.

The 'Ecological Limits' Theme

inc image Mobbsey's Musings: 'The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – The gaping hole in the middle of the Circular Economy'


Listening to Radio 4 this morning I heard the two juxtaposed keywords that I've learned to dread over the last couple of the years; 'circular economy'. It's a great idea, and I can't fault the true belief of those promoting it. My problem is that the way they describe it has little to do with the physical realities of the world, and hence it's really just a 'get out of hell free' card for affluent consumers.

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inc image Mobbsey's Musings: 'Methane clathrate – the last desperate hope of the fossil fuels industry'


"Extreme Energy" is a term which encompasses many different forms of 'unconventional' energy resources. From fracking, to tar sands, to some types of renewable energy which take more energy and carbon to produce than they save, these 'extreme' energy sources represent the last hope of the global energy corporations. Why this is so tells a much greater truth about the global commitment to address the issue of climate change.

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inc image "Extreme Resources" and The Limits to Growth


Have you ever considered that we divide-up human history in terms of the technology of things that we use in our day-to-day lives? For example the Stone Age or Iron Age, and latterly the Industrial and Information Ages. As a facet of our present existence, human history is a contrast to our present technology rather than a relationship between the lives of everyday people. The reality is though that the modern measure of "our lifestyles" – economic growth – is now challenged due a lack of the rare “rocks” which our modern technologies depend upon.

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inc image Mobbsey's Musings: 'Beyond failure at COP21, environmentalism has its own shortcomings to address'


Consider this: can we "save the planet?" That's a critical question if you're an environmentalist – though it requires an understanding of what 'saving' and 'the planet' means. And if those founding definitions are not based upon realistic information, what would be the result?

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inc image Ecolonomics no.16: What, is peak oil dead? Then show me the body! (of statistical evidence)

May 2015

A decade ago my first 'solo' book, 'Energy Beyond Oil', was published. The text examined peak oil theory, but more widely the issue of ecological limits and energy and resource depletion. In some respects the content was prophetic; between then and now we've had record high oil prices, followed by an economic recession. What the book didn't foresee was the rise of 'unconventional fossil fuels'. In the wake of the economic crash, "fracking" and other forms of 'extreme' energy production were hailed by some as a saviour – liberating society from the 'limits to growth' mentality which was implicit within peak oil theory. This message had a strong resonance with the pundits who, around the same time, were dismissing the basis of peak oil theory, and ecological limits generally. Now, in 2015 – as Boëthius' consolatory history wheel turns full circle – on the back of fracking's collapse has the statistical evidence for 'peak oil' finally become apparent?

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inc image Mobbsey's Musings: 'Environmentalism's 'oil price panic': concerns reflect their own existential crisis, not the victory of fossil fuels'


"Collapsing oil prices should give everyone in the 'green movement' cause for reflection." Say what! Really? Why is that? I see the introduction to Steve Melia's recent article[1] for The Ecologist as indicative of a more general problem of how the environmental debate handles complex issues. Simplistic statements, such as that above, don't necessarily reflect the complexity of the available evidence.

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inc image "Less" (is a Four Letter Word) – Economics, Ecological Limits and Politics


These are the slides from the 'new, improved' "Less is a Four-Letter Word" presentation. This version looks more towards the contradictions between the biophysical and conventional economic view of the world – and how the increasing prescience of the 'Limits to Growth' reports portends a future where existing economic rules become more dysfunctional.

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inc image Ecolonomics no.14: 'Fracking' our food and farming system: "Extreme agriculture" and the politics of denial


As we approach the ecological limits to growth, and the measures to maintain "business as usual" become even more extreme, so these technofixes have as much to do with the denying those limits as they are intended to provide more food. The problem with the debate over fracking is that it has become highly insular. It focusses on drilling, or pollution; and fails to make the wider connection to the issues of lifestyle and resources which – arguably – represent the deeper motivation behind the political support for extreme energy sources. The same is true of the current debate over farming. We argue about one form of agriculture versus another, or one type of consumer product or another; without reference to the wider patterns of lifestyle which predetermine the form of that discussion. In contrasting fracking and food, I hope to highlight – through the commonality in underlying causal factors – the wider analysis which we need to being to the ecological debate.

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inc image Mobbsey's Musings: 'Speed may shrink the time, but we still live in a very big world – the physical realities of the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370'


Today we move so quickly, relying on so many systems and mechanisms, perhaps we have collectively lost our sense of how small we are in this very great world. As we move faster, and demand greater comfort and safety, so our modes of transport become more complex – and thus prone to unexpected failure. From plane crashes to train wrecks, being reminded that things can, and sometimes do go wrong unsettles our consensual illusion of safety.

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inc image Snake Oil: how fracking's false promise of plenty imperils our future


A review of Richard Heinberg's book, 'Snake Oil', for The Ecologist. "Fracking is just another step on the fossil fuel treadmill, according to 'Snake Oil' by Richard Heinberg. High costs, diminishing returns and growing pollution will ultimately nail its future. Paul Mobbs urges readers – give a copy to your MP before it's too late!"

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inc image Jam Tomorrow: Unconventional Gas and Britain's Energy Future


These are the slides from my 2012 presentation/discussion on shale gas, coal-bed methane, gas "fracking" and the future of Britain's energy economy.

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inc image The "Limits to Technology": The annotated workshop/presentation slides


"Limits to Technology" examines the role of resource depletion and the ecological limits to human society's future use of "technological systems" – a broad term covering not only our use of computers and mobile technologies, but also the electronics, metals and chemical components of everyday goods and products, and the latest "green technologies". Like the human system in general, our use of technology is subject to certain resource specific limits; by understanding these limits, and how they affect us all, we can address our minds to devising new ways to live our lives in an inevitably more resource-constrained future.

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inc image The Simple Future Beyond Oil

June 2010

The convergence of our economic and ecological futures and the importance of change – a presentation for the Adderbury Gathering, Sunday 13th June 2010. We are living through "interesting times"; credit crises, recession and rising debt threaten to destabilise nation states. What we need to understand is the way human ecology works within these natural physical processes, how the contradictions between human systems and these natural processes define what is "unsustainable", and what this means for our future as we adjust to the natural limitations of our environment.

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inc image Face up to natural limits, or face a 70s-style crisis

January 2010

The Ecologist, January 2010. The original, unedited text of my 'Comment' article that outlines the parameters that will define our energy future. Recent gas shortages may have made politicians focus on energy security once more, but the deeper systemic problems of Britain's energy economy go far deeper than the limited capacity of our gas importation system. Energy represents far more to the economy than just a fuel source; understanding the biophysical limits on our future use of energy, and how this affects the general economy, is essential if we are to create a strategic vision that can address the ecological crises of the Twenty-First Century.

file icon Face up to natural limits, or face a 70s-style crisis (HTML version)
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file icon Face up to natural limits, or face a 70s-style crisis (PDF version)
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inc image Peak Oil, the Decline of the North Sea and Britain's Energy Future


Britain faces a series of problematic choices in order to re-negotiate our lifestyle within the biophysical limits that will assert themselves over the next few decades. These problems cannot be avoided, and they are complex because they affect so many aspects of our economic, social and material well-being today. For that reason they are innately political, and thus require the political parties of Britain to engage with these issues in order to map out a means of dealing with the crises these changes will generate.

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inc image Ecolonomics no.5: "We're all planetary hospice workers now"


The current economic crisis may, according to some pundits, be over but the trends that forced it into being are still operating in the background – and will return once the global economy takes off again. Amidst the pressures of our everyday life we focus primarily on the surface features of existence; we have so little time to peel away the surface of what is presented to us, and delve into its deeper meaning. If we did what terrors would that hold for a society inhered by the economic dogma that emerged from that previous great crash into the conference of Bretton Woods sixty-five years ago. The global economic framework that was developed in 1944 has delivered us into the world we inhabit today, but the assumptions upon which that system was based are no longer valid; such bad news might not be pleasant, but sometimes it is necessary to state such a truth in order to move on.

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inc image Free Range Sheet S1: Limits to Growth – Why the Only Solution is "Less"

October 2008

The Laws of Thermodynamics cannot be changed – if we don't have the energy we need we are unable to carry out the work we want to. Consequently, as we face a peak in global energy supply, there is only one realistic option: We have to use "less" energy, and consume "less" resources.

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inc image Free Range Sheet E8: Energy, Food and Agriculture – The importance, and costs, of food security

October 2008

There is only one source of energy that is essential to the humans; it's not coal, oil or natural gas – it's food! This briefing looks at the importance of food, our dependence upon cheap fossil fuels for its production, and how Peak Energy threatens our increasingly technological food supply.

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inc image Free Range Sheet E1: Peak Energy – The Limits to Oil and Gas Production

October 2008

The laws of physics make it clear that once we degrade the value of an energy resource we can never use it again. So it is with oil and natural gas; we are using the reserves far faster than new reserves are being discovered, and eventually we will run out. However, geological deposits of oil, gas and other minerals are not like the petrol tank of a car. We will not suddenly run out. Instead global production will reach a peak and then fall away. Recent studies suggest that this point may be sooner than most governments wish to believe is the case.

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inc image The "Less is a Four Letter Word" Presentation


The 'Less is a Four Letter Word' presentation was developed in 2005 for the Free Range Network. It follows on from the 'Energy Beyond Oil' (EBO) presentation, picking up where EBO leaves off, it starts with the simple question, "logically, if we're going to have to use less, how do we do it?". Problematically this collides with the primary obstruction to planning meaningful change – economic growth.

file icon "Less is a Four Letter Word" – presentation slides
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file icon "Less is a Four Letter Word" – annotated slides
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inc image Keeping the Lights On: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change

September 2005

A memorandum for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry, outlining the problems of both peak oil, peak gas and peak uranium as a factor in planning the UK's future energy supplies.

file icon Inquiry memorandum
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inc image Uranium Supply and the Nuclear Option

May 2005

Oxford Energy Forum (journal of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies), May 2005. A short paper on the global availability – past, present and future – of uranium, and the critical limitation that the likely future shortage of uranium represents to the much trumpeted "nuclear renaissance".

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The World According to Mr. Mobbs


Cambrian News, 3rd February 2005. "Oil will be in short supply within 20 years, and gas will start to peter out by 2040."

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151.4 kilobytes

inc image Turning the World Upside Down

December 2004

Published in The World Today, the journal of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), vol.60 no.12, December 2004. An article I wrote for Chatham House, to which they added the snappy introduction, "Could you live with the same amount of energy now available to those in the third world? A dramatic change such as this is likely within fifty years as present energy sources are used up. So future generations will have to manage with just a third of the energy we use now."

file icon Turning the World Upside Down (HTML version)
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