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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As the oil patch runs dry, 9 April 2006
This review is from: Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (Paperback)
This is one of the best books on peak oil and the consequences to come that I have read. Heinberg goes into considerable detail not only delineating the rise of industrial societies based on fossil fuel riches (the "treasure found in the basement," is how he phrases it), but on what is going to happen when the oil is gone. A couple of other good books are Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak (2005) by Kenneth S. Deffeyes and The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (2005) by James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler in particular is in close agreement with Heinberg. For a different point of view--and an amazingly pollyannaish one in my opinion--see The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy (2005) by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills.
When the party animals go out at night they think not of the morrow or of the headache to come. This is Heinberg's analogy except the consequences of the binge will be quite a bit worse than a headache. Note well the subtitle: "the Fate of Industrial Societies."
Heinberg hints at some possible political consequences as the oil patch begins to run dry. He notes that young people "will see evidence of the extravagant party their elders have thrown, while for themselves there will be only dregs left over." (p. 209) They may take a sharp turn to the left (as historically happens during times of stress or deprivation), and "in wealthier countries (such as the US) may be branded as traitors to the cause of maintaining their nation's unequal control of global resources." (p. 207) I believe there is already evidence of this as Bush tries to discredit his critics.
But can it really happen that industrial society will collapse when the oil is gone? Can it really be the case that there will be horrific wars over the remaining oil in the ground? Is it true that there is no substitute for the black gold, no energy source that comes close to replacing it?
These are questions that Heinberg addresses and addresses well. His conclusions are largely pessimistic, but I am not sure he is right. The slide down from Hubbert's peak may be gradual and give us time to make the switch from oil to something else. But what might that something else be? Heinberg, as other authors have done, goes through the list of possible alternatives--coal, natural gas, hydrogen, nuclear, renewables like wind, solar and biomass, etc., and comes to the dreary conclusion that economically-speaking, nothing can come close to replacing oil.
One of the chilling ideas he expresses is that the current "Industrial Age" or "Petroleum Era," now little more than two centuries old, is really just an "Industrial Bubble"; and as soon as the cheap energy is gone, humankind will revert to a pre-industrial way of life. Without the treasure trove of oil and all that it provides--not just fuel, but plastics and fertilizers, paved roads, and a myriad of other products--the planet will no longer be able to support the present population of six billion plus. Heinberg believes that a sustainable human population without oil will be closer to two billion.
The least that will happen is that we will undergo a reduction in our standard of living based on the fact that whatever replaces oil will be more expensive. Conservation on a level currently unthinkable will also be required. We can all kiss our SUVs goodbye, and ask ourselves the really relevant question: how do you spell b-i-c-y-c-l-e?
The point I want to make is that we can spell bicycle, and indeed it is not necessarily true that we clever humans are going to stand by and let our societies collapse and inflict a lot of pain on ourselves. My belief is that the transition to a planet on which there are fewer people living in a less energy-intensive way than is currently the case, especially in the United States, can be relatively painless and actually something to look forward to. Heinberg makes a similar point about the human value of returning to a more agrarian, less competitive way of life. But a smooth transition will require a complete re-education of society, especially of those in positions of power, corporate heads and government leaders. A public works project greater than any the world has ever seen will be required. Conservation and the use of a variety of energy sources will be required. Careful planning and cooperation will be necessary. Finally, we who have been taught to conspicuously consume will have to change our ways. Heinberg observes that "people currently have to be coaxed and cajoled from cradle to grave by expensive advertising to consume... If the message of this incessant propaganda stream were simply reversed, people could probably be persuaded to happily make do with less." (p. 182)
Right now our government is intent on securing access to what remains of the world's oil instead of working toward the inevitable time of no oil. This short-sightedness is dangerous and if we don't elect leaders who will address the problem and work toward solutions, the dire consequences spun out by Heinberg, Kunstler and others will surely come to pass. Every day that goes by with us mired in this Neanderthal mind-set increases the probability of famine, war, pestilence and brutal poverty for our children and grandchildren. If we don't act now, our legacy may very well be a return to something resembling the Stone Age.
By the way, be sure to get this, the 2nd Edition of "The Party's Over" from 2005, and not the first edition from 2003. Heinberg has revised and updated the book to take into account the invasion of Iraq and other recent developments.
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Initial post: 22 Aug 2010 02:00:52 BDT
Some two hundred years ago, the Reverend Malthus wrote the first of these 'harbingers of doom' type books. The 'Malthusian Crisis' is named after him, but although there have indeed been numerous famines between his times and our own, civilization did not collapse as he predicted. In fact the British population has increased massively since that time and our biggest problem today is overeating not starvation! Why? Because in any age, those attempting to predict the future can only base their judgements on the social/industrial realities around them and must obviously be unaware of future technological/scientific developments. As steam engines, railways, petrol engines, electricity, aircraft, organic fertilisers etc... did not exist in the good Reverend's times; he was unable to factor them in to his calculations. Hence he saw looming disaster when by the standards of his age, the future was amazingly bright.

Today's prophets of doom make this same mistake. Example:- Pres. Obama may feel America no longer has the industrial strength to lead humanity out into the Cosmos; but China, India and Japan all have plans to establish human colonies on the planet Mars within fifty years, regarding that planet just as Europe's buccaneers once regarded 'The New World'; a vast untapped treasurehouse awaiting those with the courage to claim and tame it.

The liberal/socialist 'doctrines' now gripping the Western World may well bankrupt us as their Soviet counterparts bankrupted the USSR, but despite egalitarian/welfare legislation, homosexual liberation, abortion, credit crunches etc..... mankind as a species today is as resourcefull, intelligent and determined as ever. We also have vastly greater opportunities open to us and I firmly believe that in future centuries our children will exploit power sources that we cannot envision, terra-form Mars, mine the asteroid belt, genetically increase our lifespan and voyage to distant stars; while looking back with amusement on our futile pesimistic attempts at 'prophecy'.
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