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Customer Review

385 of 406 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse Now?, March 8, 2004
This review is from: The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (Paperback)
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?
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2007 7:12:08 PM PST
Dave K says:
Excellent review. Minor quibble though, peak oil is not when "one half of all known reserves will have been recovered", it is the point when production volume is at a maximum (when the rate of extraction can no longer be economically increased). The volume of oil left in the ground has little to do with peak oil.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2008 9:26:37 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 27, 2009 12:56:17 PM PDT]

Posted on Apr 4, 2010 5:02:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 4, 2010 5:04:26 PM PDT
Ironically, people were already warning about this possibility during the oil crisis of 1973. They were saying that the world would essentially run out of oil within 50 years, and that we needed to start developing other energy technologies if were to be survive. That was 37 years ago, and conservatives have been ridiculing alternative energy sources ever since, because they see it as a liberal issue.

The height of foolishness was this whole SUV craze. The extra gas they burn compared to other uses of oil, like for electric power, may be low relatively speaking. But that's not the point. The point is that every drop adds up! And the SUV craze is an example how foolish our energy policy has been and how blind our leaders are.

We've had 37 years to get ready for what's about to happen. Did we get ready? No. Both parties are to blame for this, because they hijack political discussion toward issues of far less importance. But conservatives are the most to blame. They have been standing in the way of research and development of new energy sources, and they are still doing it!

They have no vision. Democrats are only a few percentage points better by comparison. They should both be renamed Nero Party One and Nero Party Two, because they both fiddle and squabble while the United States Burns.

Posted on Jul 23, 2011 8:30:52 AM PDT
Rashomon says:
While your review was factually helpful, it's not at all accurate to insinuate that everyone talking about peak oil is somehow outside the mainstream. Off the top of my head I can recall reading carbon-copy peak oil prognostications by a U.S. energy official, a French energy official, and the former CEO of Shell. And unless I'm mistaken, the entire government of Sweden has basically endorsed the idea that this is happening, and has begun taking appropriate measures.

I'm too lazy to find citations, but I know that I've come across a good number of 'mainstream' experts pushing these ideas. Are they Cassandras too?
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