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The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies Paperback – June 1, 2005
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The world is about to run out of cheap oil and change dramatically. Within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We are entering a new era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times.
In The Party's Over, Richard Heinberg places this momentous transition in historical context, showing how industrialism arose from the harnessing of fossil fuels, how competition to control access to oil shaped the geopolitics of the 20th century, and how contention for dwindling energy resources in the 21st century will lead to resource wars in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South America. He describes the likely impacts of oil depletion, and all of the energy alternatives. Predicting chaos unless the U.S.-the world's foremost oil consumer-is willing to join with other countries to implement a global program of resource conservation and sharing, he also recommends a "managed collapse" that might make way for a slower-paced, low-energy, sustainable society in the future.
More readable than other accounts of this issue, with fuller discussion of the context, social implications, and recommendations for personal, community, national, and global action, Heinberg's updated book is a riveting wake-up call for humankind as the oil era winds down, and a critical tool for understanding and influencing current U.S. foreign policy.
Listen to an interview with Richard Heinberg from WRPI.(2004-11-30)
About the Author
Richard Heinberg is widely acknowledged as one of the world's foremost Peak Oil educators. A journalist, educator, editor, lecturer, and a Core Faculty member of New College of California where he teaches a program on "Culture, Ecology and Sustainable Community, he is the author of six previous books including The Party's Over and Powerdown.
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This volume represents THE wakeup call for a world society quite literally addicted to crude oil for its continuation, and, in most cases, it's very survival.
Heinberg has done his homework, and this volume should be required reading for anyone in an industrialized nation, or one just getting started down that road. It is a proven scientific fact that within a few years, we will begin to run out of oil, and it will be pretty much gone within 5 or 6 decades. Considering that we have built our entire society around an oil economy, the implications are dire - far, far beyond not being able to drive through the coffee shop with the kids in your SUV on the way home from the mall. Alternative energy sources? Dream on - read on.
The book is thoroughly researched, well-thought and organized and presents the often dissenting views at every side of this hugely important issue. It is also delightfully written and composed, and is fun and quick to read.
I highly recommend this book, and I hope at least one person reads what I'm writing and buys this book. And I hope they tell someone, too.
The key point of the book is that the Earth's crust can provide mankind with an essentially finite amount of fossil fuel energy, with primary reference to oil. Drawing on the relatively unknown, and oft-misunderstood, concept of "peak oil," the book addresses the imminent shortfall of petroleum that will not be available on world markets. That day of reckoning is far closer than most people think. "Peak oil" is a global application of Geologist M. King Hubbert's (1903-1989) studies of oil production in "mature" exploration districts. That is, exploration for oil in sedimentary basins at first yields substantial discoveries, which are then produced. Additional exploration yields less and less "new" oil discovered, and that level of discovery coming at greater and greater effort. Eventually, absent additional significant discovery, production "peaks" and then commences an irreversible decline. This has already occurred in the U.S. in the 1970's, and is in the process of occurring in oil-producing nations such as Mexico, Britain, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ominously, "peak" production can be forecast in the next few years in such significant producing nations as Saudi Arabia and Iraq (in addition to all of the other problems in those unfortunate nations.)
Much of the rise of industrial society was tied to increasing availability of high energy-density fuel, particularly oil. Western society, and its imitators in non-Western lands, is based upon access to large amounts of energy-dense fuel, and that fuel is oil. With respect to the U.S., the domestic decline in oil production has been made up, over the past thirty years, by increasing imports from other locales, with concomitant political risk. When the world production "peaks" in the next few years, the competition for energy sources will become more fierce than it already is. This book addresses issues related to what are commonly thought of as "substitutes" for oil, such as coal, natural gas and natural gas liquids, and shatters many myths. The author also delves deeply into energy sources such as "tar sand," "oil shale," nuclear and renewable sources. And thankfully, the author offers a number of proposals to address the looming problem (although these proposals are probably not what an awful lot of people want to hear.)
A book like this one could easily descend into a tawdry level of "chicken-little" squawks and utter tendentiousness. But thankfully it does not do so. This is a mature, well-reasoned and carefully footnoted effort. I could take issue with some of the author's points about "big business" and how decisions are made at high political levels, but not in this review. Instead I will simply congratulate Mr. Heinberg for writing an important contribution to social discourse. I hope that a lot of people read this book and start to look at and think about the world differently.
The other surprizing fact is that the turning point is long before you run out of oil. Heinberg shows data that indicates that half of the oil is still left in the ground when the returns start to diminish. And it appears that that we are within a few years of reaching that point.
So we've used up about half the "available" ( i.e. feasible to extract from an energy perspective ) oil. Now oil production starts to decrease. What happens next is anyone's guess, but Heinburg presents some detailed discussions on the possiblities. Don't assume that a coal, nuclear, or "hydrogen" economy are going to be as easy and profitable as the petroleum economy we are leaving behind.
I've read lots of books about energy and the environment, and this is definitely one of the best.