Intended for healthcare professionals


Oil, health, and health care

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 01 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4596
  1. Angela E Raffle, consultant in public health
  1. 1NHS Bristol, Bristol BS1 3NX
  1. angela.raffle{at}

    Future health and prosperity require that we prepare for life without cheap oil

    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° 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.”1 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.2 This has substantial implications for transport, food, jobs, health, and health care.3 Yet many people still haven’t heard of “peak oil” and few are discussing it.

    Phillip Hayson/Science Photo Library

    The International Energy Agency says that we are running out of time to build the skills, systems, and infrastructure needed for a prosperous future.4 They forecast a depleted energy supply in the next decade. Energy availability underpins economic growth, and without the opportunity for future repayment of debt the financial system as we know it could stop working.5

    The science of peak oil is not difficult.6 Nation by nation, oil discovery has risen then declined in a bell shaped curve. Production follows a similar curve and peaks some 40 years after peak discovery. Global discovery peaked …

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