Peak oil is the term coined by a Texas geologist by the name of M. King Hubbert in 1957 to describe that point in the earth’s history when mankind has consumed one half of all the petroleum that is or would ever be available. After that peak, called “Hubbert’s Peak”, production of oil would go into decline. Hubbert prediced well in advance when that point would be reached and what he felt would be the consequences for an oil addicted economy. Few people believed him then and even fewer understood the consequences of Peak Oil.
I stumbled on this book while researching ways to reduce volatility and risk in an investment portfolio. One afternoon a flashbulb went off and I realized that cheap energy poses the greatest risk to an investment portfolio. How energy flows through an economy determines the growth and direction of that economy. Our modern economy is oil. Oil is our economy. If I am right, removing that oil, that unbelievably cheap and concentrated energy source, will bring down this economy.It is the sine qua non whose inevitable departure will end this 150 year party of suburban spawl, population explosion and hypermobility, resource extraction and industrialization. It is typical of organisms and communities that experience an unexpected energy subsidy to go through a process of overshoot and collapse. Think of predator/prey populations,the Roman, Mayan, Inca civilizations for example. Oil drives all aspects of our economy. It is the basis of our transportation infrastructure; It is the feedstock for plastics, fertilizer,pesticides,paints,fabrics and lubricants as well as a myriad of building materials from insulation to asphalt. Missed by most contemporary economists, and this bears repetition, Oil is THE basis of our economic system. Most economists maintain that it is the allocation of capital and labor that is the basis.The growth in cheap energy allows and promotes the growth in gdp, productivity, debt and credit. It is THE foundation. Remove the foundation of a building and what happens? Malthus will likely be proven to be correct. His and to some extent, Erlich’s contention that population increases exponentially and food production arithmetically did not take into account oil’s effect on food production. Remove that energy prop and history will judge these men differently.
This book by Richard Heinberg is superior to most of the other books available on the subject because of the care with which he builds his argument starting with an ecologic approach of how energy, nature and society are interwoven. His approach is sober, scholarly, and logical but it never lags. He goes out of his way to avoid being harsh, sarcastic or judgmental and he analyzes the arguments against peak oil, what alternatives there might be, and what approaches we might take to mitigate and attenuate the consequences of the depletion of this, the world’s most important resource. The strength of the book is the concise argumentation, the data he marshals to link geopolitical and climate change events into the fabric, and the consequences to America and the world if we fail to acknowledge this, the most important event facing the world today. My apology to Al Gore. Let’s hope he will wake up and realize that he has devoted a good part of his life to the second most important issue of our time. Perhaps he can now devote his next film to Peak Oil. If there is a weakness to the book, I would say that he does not explain vociferously enough why if this Peak Oil concept is so important, why then has it been so totally ignored by the media, and our political and corporate leaders? I wish he had spent more time delineating more possible solutions to this looming collapse of our energy supply and economy. Richard Heinberg is a brilliant scholar on the subject . He is a gentle soul. That is his strength and his weakness. This bookin its most recent edition deserves a place on absolutely everyones bookshelf. If you accept his argument, your life will never be the same again.