on May 3, 2004
I'm sure that the economists would debate just about every point made by Mr. Heinberg in this (end of the world as we know it) book but the author offers justification and factual evidence for almost every claim made.
Since I was born, the population of the world has grown from two billion to almost seven billion and this population explosion corresponds exactly with our industrialized society's almost total dependence on oil and coal for food production, transportation, heating and cooling our homes, manufacturing products and transporting them to market and just about everything else the US and other advanced nations do.
All of this growth has been happening because we have been discovering more oil than we are currently using. This will end within 5 or 10 years and all the readily available oil on earth will be gone within 30 years. Oil shale (organic marlstone) is not the answer because it takes more energy to get the oil from the stone than the end product plus you wind up with more waste that the raw materials you started with.
If we had started planning for this when OPEC shut down our supply in 1973 and part of 1974 in retaliation for our support of Israel during the Arab-Israei war, much of the coming crisis could have been avoided but we all remember what happened to President Carter when he started talking about conservation. Reagan was elected and no politician since has followed Carter's path. Now it is time to pay.
The author gives us two ways to cope with the upcoming crisis: We can join the international community and try and make the transition from fossil fuels to other sources as smoothly as possible or we can continue to try and maintain our priviledged status even as our civilization falls. The United States currently has 5% of the world's population and the majority of the weapons of war.
Since we are at war right now in Iraq and Iraq is supposed to have the second highest oil resources in the middle east, I believe the choice has already been made.
If my father was a member of "The Greatest Generation", I am ashamed to admit I am a member of the worst generation. I pray that Mr. Heinberg is wrong but I am afraid that my children and grandchildren will hate each and every one of us "baby boomers" who wasted all these resources and left them nothing.
on November 28, 2004
I ordered this book after viewing the documentary, "The End of Suburbia". This was a page turner. I had an understanding about the problems with energy and how we need to change society or our inactions will change it for us. I was moved, cornered, and energized. This is the best book for a lay person who wants to know how the West was brought about and how we're sharing our glamorous view of life with the rest of the world. I hope everyone who reads this will know what to invest in. And I hope if you read this book, you have intelligent people around you who will be able to critically think and ponder the reality of this. This book really excited me, not because I'm a Luddite at heart, but as a person who deep down knows there is so much more to life than what is being packaged and delivered to the masses. This will reinforce to those who already walk lightly on the earth and to those who have no idea how life as we know is sustained and how we got here. This is the ultimate history lesson because life comes down to accessing free energy and molding it to suit us and to thrive. Only now, we have learned the hows and whys. Are we smart enough to move or are we so tied up with politics and capitalism that only a small group of the human population will know what to do. And we're locked up and muted. This book is empowering and at moments, I cried.
on July 5, 2004
Notice how almost all of the criticism of the book is not directed at what is said in the book but at some doomsayers from 30 or so years ago. Since the 1970's technology has given us a much better handle on what we have in the ground. We know from such innovations as 3-D seismic mapping that only 40% of the world's land and oceans have any potential for oil discovery and that there is a 50% chance that less than 1 trillion barrels of recoverable oil are in this 40%. This is something we had no clue about before the 1990's. As technology has enabled us to become more efficient at extracting the oil we know we have, it has ominously showed us how little is actually left. Heinberg's greatest success is in showing how the energy returned must exceed the energy spent when analyzing a source of energy. Hence it does not matter how cheap all these renewables get. Since oil is needed to build solar panels and ethanol plants and nuclear plants, we will not have enough cheap oil to upgrade the infrastructure in time to prevent a collapse.
on October 13, 2003
This book is important and disturbing. The author tries to remain fair, and for the most part succeeds. The problem of oil depletion has been debated for quite sometime, but it certainly seems to me that we're now experiencing the effects. The book is most useful in that it does a good job framing the problem, the debate, and what our alternatives are.
Why I find this disturbing is I don't believe Americans have the will to seriously confront the issue of oil depletion.
on April 16, 2004
The book is well-written and easy to understand. Basically, the world oil production is set to reach an all-time high around the year 2008. But this is a bad thing, since oil production is going down forever after the peak. There is going to be a worldwide scramble for the remaining half of the world's oil resources, resulting in an "Oil Crash". This phenomenon known as "peak oil" has a growing number of proponents among prestigious geologists.
But not all is bad news. There are several alternate sources of energy, such as Solar, Wind and Nuclear. Moreover, there is a new technology called "Thermal Depolymerization" or TDP which can convert any organic material into oil with an output-to-input oil ratio of 5.7 (One gallon of oil plus organic waste can make 5.7 gallons of oil). There was an article in May 2003 in the DISCOVER magazine about TDP titled "Anything into oil". TDP is slowly coming into mainstream commercial production with the help of billionaire investors such as Howard Buffett (Warren's son), so there is hope after all.
Unfortunately, the author wants everyone to "BELIEVE that all hell is going to break loose after oil production peaks" -- and panic, rather than give several scenarios (such as implementation of Solar, wind, TDP) that can pan out in the future. I can believe in the author being an expert on oil production, but his claim to understand the details of the alternate sources of energy without answering the proponents of those fields -- such as the economic viability of TDP, which is making waves -- is not believable.
on March 8, 2004
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?
on February 8, 2004
Once upon a time there was an oil crisis. That was the 1970s. Then oil prices went down, availability seemed assured, and so it was thought the crisis was solved. But of course oil is non-renewable, so this was just wishful thinking -- whistling in the dark. Now 9/11 has woken some of us back up to the reality of our situation -- metaphorically hurtling toward a cliff at an accelerating velocity.
The guts of Heinberg's presentation is a summary of the projections of the oil geologists. Following Hubbert, they use the best information on reserves to estimate the global peak for oil some time in the next few years, probably by 2010. Some see this as alarmist (see my review of Vaitheeswaran's "Power to the People"), but the mainstream estimate is only a decade further off, at 2020. The world is going to become an uglier place than it already is after Hubbert's Peak -- prices will go up, and wars for control of oil and gas (ie, Afghanistan, Iraq) will certainly intensify as the demand is still increasing exponentially both in the rich countries and the industrializing countries such as China and India.
So what do we do? Heinberg does not flinch from a hard-headed examination of the limited options. He applies a physics analysis of EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) to such possibilities as solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen, nuclear and others. His conclusion is that there is currently nothing that is likely to make energy available at nearly the same EROEI as oil and gas once they run out. A tragic "what might have been" is his observation that if we had taken concerted action beginning in the 1970s, we might have had time to use the remaining fossul fuels to fuel the building of a renewable solar/hydrogen infrastructure that would have made possible in principle a long, prosperous, ecologically sustainable, civilized planet. It may well be too late.
This is no reason not to try, though. In the best-case scenario, there's no collapse and we minimize global warming by shifting to renewable energy. And better than the worst-case crash scenario is to urgently develop renewable energy, thus providing some cushioning for the crash that will come as we run out of oil. Reducing the size of a huge neomalthusian catastrophe (measured in millions or hundreds of millions of people dead, and ecostems and species lost) may not seem like much of a choice, but it may be all we've got. Carpe diem!
on January 19, 2004
Again we have a Small Earth Model that ignores markets. How many times can the same mistake be made and credibility be maintained? When The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 its dire predictions were taken with the same seriousness as those in this tome are sure to be. Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say fortunately for mankind, these predictions were radically and irrecoverably wrong.
Again the same "small" models trying to predict "huge" events appear again in this book. In addition to the lessons Mr. Heinberg could have used in Economics, this Biologist could have also used some lessons in Physics. You see, as powerful as we like to think we are, we simply cannot violate the laws of Physics, that is to say that we could spend eternity trying to destroy the matter and energy of the Earth and we'll be no closer to that goal at the end of such an enterprise than we were when we started. That's right folks . . . it can't be done.
The worst we can possibly do with the matter and energy available on this planet is change its form, disperse it, move things around. It is absurd to conclude that human beings do not have the capacity to reorganize and innovate in their search for energy, to increase efficiency in response to scarcity.
on December 8, 2003
I just ordered a bunch of extra copies to give to friends, and when I run out I'll order more - everyone should read this book. It is by far the best overview available on the 21st century's biggest problem, describing a perfect arc through the whole picture making it impossible to ignore the ramifications and fitting an amazing amount of very readable information into a very small book. In short, the perfect introduction to a subject you really want to know about.
By now you know what The Party's Over is all about, so I'll skip to the point. Though I've been buying books from Amazon for a long time, this is the first review I've written and I'm writing it for one reason: to convince you to buy the book. The Party's Over isn't just what everyone should read, it's what YOU should read. I know, you've got a tall stack of books waiting to be read, but I think you'll agree when you've finished that none of them are as valuable to you as this book.
If Amazon had a system for it I'd give you a free copy. But I can't. So please, do yourself, your children and the rest of us a huge favor and buy the most important book you'll read this year.
on November 22, 2003
Part history and part prophesy, this book is an outstanding summary of many major issues facing Western industrial society. Author Richard Heinberg provides a scholarly critique of modern industrialism, focusing on its current use of energy, and a sobering forecast based on predictable trends.
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.