Earth Jurisprudence and the Story of Oil: Intergenerational Justice for the Post-Petroleum Period

Posted: 16 Mar 2016

Date Written: 2011


The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 spewed millions of barrels of oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, offering an 86-day glimpse into the costs and consequences of a worldwide addiction to oil. Three thousand miles away, another disaster captured little public attention. The Alaskan village of Kivalina is disappearing into the Chukchi Sea. Kivalina is one of the first communities to experience the devastating effects of global warming, demonstrating that the catastrophic consequences of an oil-based global economy are present and mounting.

The Gulf oil disaster and the inundation of Kivalina are taking place in the looming shadow of Peak Oil. To many, the burning economic and political question is when global oil production will peak. Peak Oil will be a "watershed moment," identifying the transition from two hundred years of a ready supply of cheap oil to a decreasing supply of expensive oil. Dire predictions have been made of the state of the world on the shadow side of Peak Oil. Scarce oil is predicted to inflame more oil wars, threaten economic systems, and push extracting companies to riskier lengths and depths . . . while global warming continues to claim coastal communities like Kivalina.

This article moves from the disasters of the Gulf and Kivalina to propose that the necessary work of our generation is to make the transition from Peak Oil to sustainable energy for future generations of humans, other-than-human species, and Earth ecosystems. The transitory period of Peak Oil also presents a transformative opportunity for law, economics, and politics. Taking that opportunity, this article offers Earth-centered principles to guide the transformation of law and governance into the post-petroleum period.

Keywords: oil, Deepwater Horizon, oil spill, Gulf of Mexico, Kivalina, peak oil, ecosystem, sustainable energy, sustainability, environmental, ecological, Earth jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Koons, Judith E., Earth Jurisprudence and the Story of Oil: Intergenerational Justice for the Post-Petroleum Period (2011). University of San Francisco Law Review, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Judith E. Koons (Contact Author)

Barry University School of Law ( email )

6441 E. Colonial Dr.
Orlando, FL 32807
United States

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