The phrase “peak oil” is now commonplace, especially among sustainability circles. Yet a solid understanding of what it really means and where the concept came from is decidedly less so.
If you’d like to learn about it without trawling through dense specialist books, want to easily explain it to someone else, or just hold a real appreciation for quality science-communication, then the online comic Peak Oil by Stuart McMillen is well worth a look.
With 120 panels of vivid graphics and snappy text, it tells the story of geologist M. King Hubbert and his scientifically sound yet politically controversial theory of peak oil. Hubbert successfully predicted the peak and subsequent decline of the US oil industry, which follows a bell curve where production starts slow, rapidly increases, peaks, and then declines year on year until it reaches zero. This curve applies to each oil well, field, state, and country. Within his lifetime the production of oil in the US peaked and started to decline, as Hubbert’s theory predicted. He later extrapolated his theory to the global scale, and it is now generally accepted by those that do not have a vested interest in the oil industry that his theory is just as valid for the whole planet, with staggering consequences.
What I like most about this comic is that it explains a very serious and difficult topic in a way that can engage a mass audience and be understood by someone with no prior knowledge of the issue. This isn’t just because of the pictures and short copy — although that helps — but also because the issue is interwoven with the human story of M. King Hubbert and the problems he faced with Shell’s vested interests and a hysterical media. Also, the comic uses the analogy of a roller-coaster as a rather genius way of avoiding constant graphs, which can be very dry. Cartoonist Stuart McMillen describes this as a “graph which is not a graph”.
Below are a few of my favourite panels, not in any kind of order. You can read the whole thing for free here, in several different languages.
Stuart McMillen says he was motivated to create “the ultimate peak oil primer”, bringing this complex and often ignored or misunderstood topic to a mass audience. For a deeper insight into his creative process you can also read his series of “making of” blog posts here.
All images are extracts from the Peak Oil comic by Stuart McMillen at www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/peak-oil/.