Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies
by Richard Heinberg (Author)

Most depressing book I have ever read., May 3, 2004
Reviewer: Donald N. Hilton from Jacksonville, Fl USA
I'm sure that the economists would debate just about every point made by Mr. Heinberg in this (end of the world as we know it) book but the author offers justification and factual evidence for almost every claim made.

Since I was born, the population of the world has grown from two billion to almost seven billion and this population explosion corresponds exactly with our industrialized society's almost total dependence on oil and coal for food production, transportation, heating and cooling our homes, manufacturing products and transporting them to market and just about everything else the US and other advanced nations do.

All of this growth has been happening because we have been discovering more oil than we are currently using. This will end within 5 or 10 years and all the readily available oil on earth will be gone within 30 years. Oil shale (organic marlstone) is not the answer because it takes more energy to get the oil from the stone than the end product plus you wind up with more waste that the raw materials you started with.

If we had started planning for this when OPEC shut down our supply in 1973 and part of 1974 in retaliation for our support of Israel during the Arab-Israei war, much of the coming crisis could have been avoided but we all remember what happened to President Carter when he started talking about conservation. Reagan was elected and no politician since has followed Carter's path. Now it is time to pay.

The author gives us two ways to cope with the upcoming crisis: We can join the international community and try and make the transition from fossil fuels to other sources as smoothly as possible or we can continue to try and maintain our priviledged status even as our civilization falls. The United States currently has 5% of the world's population and the majority of the weapons of war.

Since we are at war right now in Iraq and Iraq is supposed to have the second highest oil resources in the middle east, I believe the choice has already been made.

If my father was a member of "The Greatest Generation", I am ashamed to admit I am a member of the worst generation. I pray that Mr. Heinberg is wrong but I am afraid that my children and grandchildren will hate each and every one of us "baby boomers" who wasted all these resources and left them nothing.

Apocalypse Now?, March 8, 2004
Reviewer: Mark A. Bennett from San Diego, CA USA
Proponents of the "Peak Oil" theory argue that global oil production will "peak" (meaning that one half of all known reserves will have been recovered) at some point between 2000 and 2010, and afterwards production will irrevocably decline, never to rise again. However, the demand for oil will continue to rise and the spread between falling supply and rising demand will rapidly grow, as no adequate alternative energy source will be available to cover the shortfall. Doomsday will then be at hand. The price of petroleum, and petroleum-related products (i.e., just about everything) will skyrocket; transportation, communications, agriculture, indeed, every major industry in the world, will sputter to a standstill; the world economy will stagger and collapse; civil authority will dissolve; and the noisy, messy experiment that was industrial civilization will expire in a world-wide bloodbath, or "die-off," that will reduce the human population by 90 percent, or more, and will leave the planet devastated, ruined, and, quite possibly, dead.

It would be easy to dismiss this apocalyptic vision as alarmist nonsense if only the "Peak Oil" proponents weren't so bloody convincing. By and large, they are a sensible, reasonable-sounding group of Cassandras, who dispense their grim forecasts as soberly as the subject allows. Virtually all of them rely upon the pioneering work M. King Hubbert, a research geophysicist who, in the mid-1950s, created a model to estimate the productive life of energy reserves. In 1956 Hubbert used his model to predict that oil production in the continental United States would peak sometime between 1966 and 1972. U.S. oil production did , in fact, peak in 1970 (and has declined by 50 percent since), and Hubbert and his forecasting model, dubbed "Hubbert's Peak," passed into the arcane lore of petroleum geologists. Other petroleum scientists have refined Hubbert's model and have applied it to global petroleum reserves. Although results differ depending upon the variables used by different researchers, the consensus is that the "Hubbert Peak" of worldwide oil reserves will occur sometime between 2004 and 2007. In other words, as I sit at my keyboard writing this review the high noon of petroleum-based industrial civilization may have come and gone, and the whole human enterprise may be inexorably descending into twilight and darkness. Sic transit gloria mundi - with a bullet.

If the Cassandras are right, and the end of the world is imminent, it has received remarkably little coverage in the conventional media, although the internet hosts many excellent websites that the curious or concerned citizen may consult to learn as much as he or she would like about the post-petroleum world to come. Recently this state of affairs has started to change, and several good books have been published on "Peak Oil" and its consequences. First among these, is Richard Heinberg's "The Party's Over," a sober, detailed contribution to the literature, which clearly and fluently describes the fossil fuel bender the industrial world has been on for the past 100 years, and what we can expect to follow from it. Although Heinberg does his best not to induce white-knuckled panic in his reader, the picture that emerges from his book is absolutely frightening, particularly the notion that, at this late date, we can do nothing to prevent the catastrophe from occurring. At best - that is, if the entire human race sets aside all its disputes and immediately mobilizes its combined efforts to solve this one problem - the scale of the catastrophe might be reduced. At worst, in 50 to 100 years time, the greatest disaster in human history will have taken place, and the relatively few survivors of this disaster will dwell in a stateless, Hobbesian world that will make present-day Liberia look like Shangri-La.

Or so the argument runs. Perhaps Heinberg and the other "Peak Oil" prophets are wrong. Perhaps Hubbert's model is defective and world oil production will not peak tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Perhaps the USGS's estimate of world oil reserves is correct and the peak of production will not occur until 2020. Perhaps a previously overlooked, gigantic new field, the equivalent of three or four Saudi Arabias, will be discovered and delay the peak until the early years of the 22nd century. Perhaps. But the point is, Heinberg et al. will inevitably be right someday. Someday, worldwide production of cheap, high-grade crude oil will peak, and the longer that peak is delayed, the more horrific the following decline will be, unless the nations of the world take immediate action to prevent the disaster. This preventive action will entail much more than just developing an adequate replacement for cheap petroleum; although, as Heinberg makes clear, no alternative currently on the drawing board appears to be sufficient. Rather, if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of "Peak Oil" we will have to drastically rearrange our affairs - politically, economically, socially. Or, to be blunt, capitalism, certainly as it is currently practiced, will simply have to go. Unfortunately, it is difficult to conceive of a socio-economic system less capable of dealing with the coming crisis than neo-liberal capitalism. But there it is.

Of course, if Heinberg and the other proponents of Peak Oil are right, time has already run out for Petroleum Man, and there is little that can be done to avert doomsday. We shall see. This morning (March 5, 2004) the front page of USA Today warns that record gasoline prices will continue to rise, and there is a likelihood of gas shortages this summer. The "Nation's Newspaper" also reports that the loss of 2.1 million jobs in the USA during the last three years appears to be permanent. Both of these developments fit neatly into the predictions of "Peak Oil." One thing is certain: we live in interesting times. Anyone who wants to learn just how interesting these times are is well advised to read and ponder "The Party's Over." We've been warned. Will we act?