Energy scarcity and food security
: Strategies for transition to resilient food system governance

  • Wayne Foord

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis addresses the impacts of emerging energy scarcity on food security, and explores strategies for transition to a sustainable food system. The core research questions focus on the Transition movement and implications for its political strategy generally, and proposals for food security specifically. The thesis also explores contextual questions, including: What post-peak oil scenarios are plausible or implausible given current evidence regarding global oil production, resource constraints, and available energy alternatives? Do any current trends or signals indicate the unfolding of one scenario, in particular, and if so, how will this scenario impact on food security, and what are the implications for the Transition movement?

Evidence is presented that global oil production has already ‘plateaued’, and the most likely scenarios for industrial societies now lie on a continuum between forced, gradual energy descent and rapid collapse. Emerging trends indicate that energy scarcity is associated with the evolution of a post-liberal order, as anticipated by the more pessimistic contributions to the ‘politics of scarcity’ debate, initiated in the 1970’s. These trends are also manifesting within the global food system, in the form of ‘landgrabbing’ and the widespread imposition of GM-based industrial agriculture. Given continuing fossil fuel depletion, this new order will be unsustainable.

In light of imminent forced energy descent, the emergence of an elite retrenchment scenario, and learning from the Cuban Special Period, it is argued that green politics, and Transition movement strategy, should focus on the contested politics of forced transition, in conjunction with a prospective politics that steers transition towards a new societal equilibrium. A diverse, adaptive repertoire of political strategies is proposed, including: solutions-based activism; oppositional activism; insurgent citizenship; transformative engagement with local government; as well as ‘de-linking’ initiatives. Scaling up of local Transition initiatives should include: promotion of regional solidarity networks between urban centres; regional food system planning; and building alliances with other counter-hegemonic social movements. It is further proposed that a ‘food sovereignty’ framing is adopted, and that scaled up, farm sector agroecology is promoted, to complement existing permaculture and organic approaches.
Date of AwardJul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJohn Barry (Supervisor) & Geraint Ellis (Supervisor)

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