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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 16 August 2004
Never mind the chances of an asteroid impact or sea levels rising in 200 years time, super volcanoes or books of cryptic religious texts. This really is the book you should read. Rooted in hard science and physical facts, we really are about to enter a man made catastrophe. Unless you live in a mud hut, gathering root vegetables and hunting wildebeest you will be affected by the up and coming energy crisis.
What is this impending energy catastrophe? It is the inability of the world to provide enough raw oil, (a finite resource) to sustain the year on year (exponential) growth of our economies and population, (an infinite goal). The crisis will affect what you eat, how you travel, the costs of all raw materials and products made from them, employment, the value of money, perhaps even the value of life itself. It will certainly change the way you live sooner rather than later.
With decent historical analysis of former civilisations which failed due to resource issues and why our civilisations have so far escaped such failures, Richard Heinberg paints a colourful yet familiar picture of our current reliance upon finite resources and oil. With some oil history, evaluation of likely supplies and demands upon it, and a debate on contrary views; a reasoned and balanced argument it formed. But few would find the Heinberg's conclusions difficult to reject, and most will find them hard to swallow.
A review of alternative energy technologies and how we might measure the benefit of any particular fuel might leave you wondering what we can do about the problem. And unlike many publications prophesising doom, it does give some potential answers and perhaps even a little hope.
The book is highly accessible, well structured, and easy to read, and will make an invaluable reference book to those people interested, as it is divided beautifully into manageable and relevant sections. However whilst it does not specialise on any one area of the consequences of oil depletion, the benefit of this book is that it is rounded and complete, leaving you in a position to make judgements and look further. It is also the most complete book I have found on the subject of oil depletion.
In conclusion, the disturbing message from this book will have the same importance to you as (for example) the captain of your next holiday flight shouting, "Brace! Brace! Brace!". Of course, that is if there is enough fuel for your flight to take off.
(Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Deffeyes should be read in conjunction with this book for a full explanation by an oil expert of the geological and technical reasons as to whywe will find oil supplies drying up soon).
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on 6 July 2003
Great book. Heinberg boils down many complex issues into clear concise explanations. His analysis of the likely knock-on effects of oil depletion on general economic activity and agriculture is chilling.
Heinberg longs for action to adjust our energy needs to be taken now. It is not really clear how much hope he has for this. Surely, the reality is the political system will only react when the trend is clearly in place and causing significant economic pain. In the last section of the book 'Managing the Collapse', Heinberg seems to avoid the fact that history shows people will respond according to narrow self-interests. He could maybe have included more detail on the projected growth in energy needs of Indian & China (who have their eyes on a Western lifestyle with subsequent energy needs) and the likely tensions this is likely to cause with the West.
Of course, the track record of people making predictions with apocalyptic themes is poor. I recall reading how people in the 19th Century expected the World to go dark when whale oil ran out. For all our sakes, I just hope Heinberg (& associated energy forecasters) have missed something in their analysis. If not, we could have our Easter Island.
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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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on 4 October 2005
A book that stops you in our tracks to think of the consequences of our actions. Very well reasoned and researched to give a rounded view of our future without oil. Quite mind blowing to me that the peak of production could come within a year from now!
I would hope that this could become a standard work for all schools and colleges in the vague hope that the young could get through to our bone headed leaders (political,industrial, community etc etc) who are heading us for an almighty crash. It is too late for the adult population (particularly in the USA)to let go of their gluttony for oil.
If political will cannot be changed popular will must for the sake of our children, grand-children and the whole future of our species.
How we will one day mourn the loss of basic and essential skills that could enable us to survive.
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on 7 September 2004
Scary, thought provoking, and very reasoned - I am very glad to have read this book. Yes I knew the war in Iraq was all about Oil, but this really brings home the scale of the issue.
I had expected a book on a topic like this to be quite dry, but instead I found it captivating. We are heading for a change, and reading this book will help all of us understand what is happening and also hopefully how we can ease the transition.
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on 22 September 2008
There are many books on the subject of peak oil with authors coming from different perspectives. Some come from people who work or have worked in the oil industry (like petroleum geologists Colin Campbell or Kenneth Deffeyss) while others are in journalism like David Strahan (author of the excellent 'Last Oil Shock').

Heinberg's background is social anthropology and this book reflects that. What's good about this book is that it takes a really wide view on the subject. It describes the basic laws of energy in physics (1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics) and looks at energy use through mankinds evolution. It also has a great history of oils use during the twentieth century including the previous oil shocks, the way General Motors and co stripped US cities of there train systems and much more. It has section on the effects of peak oil from food production to economics.

The writing is packed full of facts but is clear and easy to understand. The chapters are divided up logically and you don't have to be read them in any particular order.

More than any other book I've read on the subject this is the book I most go back to. Even though it's a few years old now the fact it takes this wide overview means it's unlikely to go out of date any time soon.

If you want to learn about the most important and disturbing subject of our times this book is great place to start.
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on 17 December 2015
An almost brand new book at a rock bottom price. The oil is running out although it probably won't affect me as I'm getting old and will probably have left this mortal coil before it really starts to bite.
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on 14 September 2006
Having read many, many books on Peak Oil and the future of modern industrial society, i can say that this is the best and most comprehensive of those works. Anyone interested in wars, oil or the future of the human race should start here. A fascinating and worrying read!
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on 29 September 2003
Heinberg is level-headed and totally scientific, but he presents a frightening scenario regarding the truth of oil depletion. This is a truth that, it seems, we are being 'protected' from by our dear politicians, who are no doubt seeking to stop us worrying about the future. Heinberg's survey of remaining resources indicates that even if all the alternative forms of energy available were employed, we will still be facing a massive reduction in energy resources - meaning, inevitably, a change in lifestyle.
In his very positive book, Heinberg shows how we can prepare. Essential reading for changing times...
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on 24 March 2008
This book is rather depressing and alarming in it's outlook, but maybe this is just what we need. We have to face facts.

Richard Heinberg has gathered evidence from a variety of sources to paint a picture of the future if we continue to use and aim to use non-renewable energy sources. The theory is, and it is a theory that is backed up by most experts, that these sources of energy will become far rarer in the future. This will have economic consequences (ie a major downturn over time) as well as geopolitical (ie more resource-based wars). We are already seeing this played out now (oil price shooting up, Iraq etc).

The outlook is gloomy.

Thinking more positively for a second, the book has a great section on the pros and cons of various alternative sources of energy (eg wind/solar etc), and a guess of how the future would look if we took the sensible option. This future is much simpler, and it may not appeal to some, but although not as economically rich as now, perhaps it will be spiritually happier. I believe so.

The book also has a very interesting opening on how we have used energy in the past, all the way up to this oil age.

Although clearly not meaning to be a book about the link between fossil fuel use and global warming (there are other depressing books about that!), I think Richard Heinberg could have included a separate, small section, just to give added impetus to the movement towards renewable sources of energy.

I would also have liked to read even more about why current governments do not make the move to renewables (cost, links with oil/car industry, lobbying etc) - just to see the forces we're up against.

Overall, a great book.
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