“Decline is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Welcome to Health after Oil (HAO), a place for news, opinion, research, discussion, networking, planning and action in response to the unprecedented and sweeping challenges peak oil, energy decline, and population pressures poses to human health and the institutions whose purpose it is to protect and promote human health. We invite submissions -original content and links- about energy and health and related fiscal/economic and environmental and ecological issues. We note in particular that: 1) Climate change and peak oil are indivisible threats, both stemming from reliance on fossil fuels; and 2) The fiscal and economic crisis now enveloping world economies are intertwined with population growth, energy decline and resource depletion. Infinite growth cannot continue on a finite planet.

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Dan Bednarz

The WHO (World Health Organization) has released its latest in a series of reports[i] on public health in 53 European nations, and presents this assessment through a focus on the social determinants of health[ii]. Rather than sounding an alarm or considering the possibility that epochal economic decline is underway which threatens the health of the public, it serves up tepid criticism of government policies that have resulted in surging poverty[iii] and high unemployment[iv], fiscal cuts to health and other social services, increases in suicide and a host of other declining health indicators deforming people’s lives in most –possibly all- of the countries examined. Put directly, the social determinants of health are being laid to waste in several European states and endangered in others, yet the report casts this as a few dark shadows on an otherwise bright picture.

I find the report psychologically dissociative, ethically compromised, and in an intellectual malaise. Sociologically, however, it makes sense: it is self-destructive to analyze or challenge[v] the political/economic system that funds your work, even if it is destroying what your organization was founded to analyze, protect and ensure. As such, this report represents a conflict-ridden and unstable posture of ignorance and subservience to political power.

Revealingly, the report takes virtually no notice of the portents of socioeconomic and political[vi],[vii]upheaval[viii] –like UKip and Golden Dawn- spreading through Europe.[ix],[x] Naïvely[xi], the report calls for slight reforms –like giving health ministers a “seat at the table” of austerity[xii] budgeting to make the case for “proportionate to need” funding cuts[xiii]- as sufficient to ensure, maintain or in some conceded instances restore a portion of the underlying fundamentals of the health of European populations now being sacrificed in the name of balancing budgets and debt repayment. The authors give every indication of having no inkling that their flaccid calls for a realization that too much austerity endangers the public’s health is too little too late and, in any case, will have zero influence on neoliberal policymakers.

Politically, then, this WHO[xiv] report offers no recognition, let alone opposition, to the class-based austerity imposed by neoliberal governments[xv]. Accordingly, this report personifies developing turmoil[xvi] in organizational mission and collective identity for health professions as the divergence between the imposition of neoliberal austerity measures and the mission of public health deepens. This compromised stance, of offering mild warnings about austerity while accepting it as a legitimate policy response, is part of a cultural phenomenon of an inability to democratically address genuine problems while offering rhetoric to reassure and soothe a public that is losing economic ground and its faith in government.[xvii]  Read the rest of this entry »

 Peter Gray, MD.

I’m a small town family physician in Ontario, Canada with an unremarkable practice consisting mainly of obesity, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, anxiety / depression and the “worried well” who want to know why they feel tired all the time.  Nothing unusual, nothing particularly glamorous.  One thing which is different about my practice is that I became aware of peak oil five years ago, and since then I have been struggling to integrate this knowledge into my medical practice and family life. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Bednarz

 Understanding the interplay of power[i],[ii] identity, and social change is critical to those who recognize that modern societies are at the limits to growth, in ecological overshoot[iii] and undergoing a first phase reaction of economic contraction;[iv] disintegration of modern finance, as evidenced by massive corruption and wealth destruction;[v] and political upheaval[vi]. While responses to these dilemmas can take the form of involvement in community localization, disengagement from modernism, studying yoga and Zen Buddhism, shrugged shoulders, political activism, or focusing on one institution –like health care, education, transportation, public banking, or the food supply, they all contain layers of nuance involving the relationships among power, identity (personal and collective) and social change.    Read the rest of this entry »


The health community in Australia is calling for strong action on climate change as the prescription for political parties looking for a winning formula in the upcoming federal election. The electorate is becoming more aware of the growing risks to the wellbeing, safety and health of communities around Australia.

The Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a national coalition of health groups, representing over 300,000 doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, psychologists, physiotherapists, allied health professionals and health care consumers, has launched its policy platform this week, outlining the priorities of health groups for effective climate action to protect health.

Leading experts such as Professor Tony McMichael from Australian National University have joined the call, saying climate change should be the key health issue in this election….

…CAHA President Dr Liz Hanna said: “The health sector is already under pressure, and increasing heatwaves, fires, floods and storms will place even greater demand on frontline and community health services as people struggle with associated injuries, illnesses and trauma. The long recovery period from these events is often under estimated, as the toll upon human health and local economies linger for years.”……

…..The Climate and Health Alliance is calling for Australia to commit to the major emissions reductions now urgently required by developed nations in order to avoid the globally agreed ‘safe’ maximum of a two degrees Celsius increase.

A national strategy is a key issue, health groups say, as is the establishment of a sustainable healthcare unit within the Department of Health and Ageing to help drive the health sector’s transition to low carbon operations.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said: “The health sector has an important role to play in terms of responding to changing demand patterns arising from climate change but also by improving the sector’s sustainability relating to emissions, energy production and waste management.  This can not only deliver significant financial savings, but also support improvements in health status of staff and the community.”

See full press release at: http://caha.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/130805_Health-groups-put-climate-first-in-election-poll_final.pdf
For more information about the Climate and Health Alliance federal election 2013 policy platform, visit: http://caha.org.au/campaigns/federal-election-2013/ <http://caha.org.au/campaigns/federal-election-2013/

Dan Bednarz

Detropia[i],[ii] stirs anxiety and disorientation among its viewers[iii] through poignant visuals[iv] of the desolate and denuded cityscape blended with the accounts of Detroiters. But what are we to learn from this surfacing of collective dread? Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Chivian MD, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University.

Repost of an article by Steven Johnson, an independent writer, speaker and creative consultant specialising in sustainability, CSR and behaviour change. He blogs and tweets as @Considered. Original article at The Guardian.

Experts in public health have struggled with enabling behaviour change for years. The sustainability sector should learn what it can from their experiences:

Consumer behaviour change is the challenge of our time. As governments and brands are beginning to realise, upstream improvements are relatively easy to make compared with the herculean task of shifting consumer behaviours downstream.

While the sustainability community is just beginning to get to grips with the gravity of this challenge, our colleagues in public health have been wrestling with it for decades. Great progress has been made, but hard lessons have been learned – costly, time-consuming lessons that we can all learn from.

Continued at original site: The Guardian

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

- Aldo Leopold

Dan Bednarz

A previous article discusses the future of health systems operating under neoliberal ideology as it comes a cropper in a world undergoing degrowth.[i] Here I consider how this thrusts public health[ii] into in a “Which side are you on?” dilemma[iii] likely to separate its institutional administration from its frontline professionals –and the public it is meant serve- as part of the larger process of political/economic conflict, cultural and environmental decline, chaos and (possibly) cultural renewal.

The effects of government-imposed austerity[iv], erroneously claimed to restore fiscal responsibility and restart economic growth, are a reflexive (or cybernetic[v]) reaction to protect the economic interests of wealthy elites at the expense of other citizens.[vi] The funding and operation of the public health system and the array of socioeconomic factors that ultimately ensure a nation’s health[vii] are damaged by austerity.

The deep-seated reasons for recent and continuing financial and economic crises (despite mountains of propaganda and self-delusion that a recovery is underway) lie in neoliberalism’s congenital rent seeking,[viii] its class-based dynamic to channel wealth to a tiny economic elite,[ix] and its inability to realize that modern economies are reaching the thermodynamic limits to growth.[x]  (This third characteristic is shared by most modernist forms of political thought, from the left to the right.)

It follows that neoliberal leaders of governments and their corporate masters view the ongoing economic contraction as a temporary deviation from the “natural” pattern of wealth accumulation-to-elites-trickle down-to-the-masses economics made possible by constant growth. Therefore, economic elites see an “opportunity” to use austerity as a cover to increase upward wealth transfer.[xi] A bonus is to accomplish the long-standing atavistic goal of rolling back[xii] the gains of the New Deal and Great Society.[xiii] Hence the massive governmental and corporate propaganda assaults on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid –and other social benefits programs- as “Entitlements” that allegedly weaken the collective moral character, fiscal integrity and work ethic of the nation. The central premise of this attack -which is arrantly false yet widely disseminated without skepticism by mainstream media- is that these entitlements[xiv] for the “Lesser People”[xv] place the United States government at high risk of debt[xvi] default[xvii] or bankruptcy.[xviii]

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 Josephine Smit and Norman Pagett

Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”

Winston Churchill

Faced with inevitable decline in our access to hydrocarbon resources, we read of numerous ways in which we will have to downsize, use less, work less, grow our own food, use goods and services close to home, consume only what we can manufacture within our own personal environment, or within walking distance. If we are to survive, we must ‘live local’ because the means to exist in any other context is likely to become very difficult. There is rarely, if ever, any mention of the healthcare we currently enjoy, which has given us a reasonably fit and healthy 80 year average lifespan.

There seems to be a strange expectation that we will remain as healthy as we are now, or become even healthier still through a less stressful lifestyle of bucolic bliss, tending our vegetable gardens and chicken coops, irrespective of any other problems we face. And while ‘downsizing’ – a somewhat bizarre concept in itself – might affect every other aspect of our lives, it will not apply to doctors, medical staff, hospitals and the vast power-hungry pharmaceutical factories and supply chains that give them round the clock backup. Nor does downsizing appear to apply to the other emergency services we can call on if our home is on fire or those of criminal intent wish to relieve us of what is rightfully ours. Alternative lifestylers seem to have blanked out the detail that fire engines, ambulances and police cars need fuel, and the people who man them need to get paid, fed and moved around quickly. In other words ‘we’ can reduce our imprint on the environment, as long as those who support our way of life do not. Humanity, at least our ‘western’ developed segment of it, is enjoying a phase of good health and longevity that is an anomaly in historical terms. There is a refusal to recognize that our health and wellbeing will only last as long as we have cheap hydrocarbon energy available to support it.

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What we're reading:

Turner, Graham. "A comparison of limits to growth with thirty years of reality." June, 2008.

Korowicz, David. "Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production." (From the Feasta and the Risk/Resilience Network). March, 2010.

Heinberg, Richard. "‘Searching for a Miracle. Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society." Post Carbon Institute & International Forum on Globalization - September, 2009.

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