When, and how exactly, does the party end?
Some interesting discussion between Rich Duncan and Richard Heinberg:
On 9/13/02 3:19 PM, "Richard Heinberg" wrote:
Dear Richard Duncan,
My name is Richard Heinberg and I've just finished writing a book titled THE
PARTY'S OVER: OIL, WAR AND THE FATE OF INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES, due out in
March from New Society publishers, foreword by Colin Campbell. I mention
your work in the book and would like to reproduce your list of oil
production peaks by country and region as a sidebar. I was wondering if I
might have your permission to do so. I'd be happy to e-mail you chapters
from the book if you would like. Many thanks for your fine writings!
From: Richard Duncan
To: Richard Heinberg
Sent: Friday, September 13, 2002 7:14 PM
Subject: Re: Permission
Yes certainly. You have my permission.
BTW: If you don1t have a copy of my Geological Society of America Summit
presentation (Pardee Keynote Symposia, Reno, Nov. 13, 2000, then I1ll gladly
send one (ŒEnergy Production, Population Growth, and the Road to the Oldvuai
Gorge1, Population & Environment, May, 2001). Just send your USPS mailing
On 9/13/02 8:43 PM, "Richard Heinberg" wrote:
Thanks so much! Yes, I have that one, your earlier "Olduvai Theory" from
dieoff.org, and a piece you did in collaboration with Walter Youngquist--all
are excellent. Your zeroing in on the significance of the peak in per-capita
energy use is brilliant. Here is a sidebar from my book that briefly
discusses that topic.
When, Exactly, Does the Party End?
It is probably simplistic to equate the coming peak in petroleum production
with the end of industrialism. There are at least six major linked events
that could be considered markers of the end of the interval of cheap energy.
Two of them have already happened:
1. The peak in global per-capita energy production. According to White’s Law,
"culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is
increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting energy
to work is increased." During the period from 1945 to 1973, world energy
production per capita grew at 3.24 percent per year. From 1973 to 1979,
growth slowed to .64 percent per year. Since 1979, energy production per
capita has declined at an average rate of .33 percent per year. Thus the
global peak in global per-capita energy production occurred in 1979. Since
then, for the world as a whole, population growth has outpaced growth in
2. The peak in global net energy. Throughout the past decade or so, more
total energy has continued to be produced each year, on average, from all
sources combined; but the amount of energy spent in obtaining energy has
increased at a faster pace. This is especially true for oil, coal, and natural
gas, for which net yields are falling precipitously: it requires more
drilling effort to obtain a given quantity of gas or oil now than it did only
a few years ago, and more mining effort to obtain the same amount of coal.
The peak in the total net energy available annually worldwide has almost
certainly already passed, but it is unclear exactly when: complex
calculations are involved and no official agency has bothered to undertake
them. A good guess would be that the net-energy peak occurred between
1985 and 1995.
3. The peak in global oil extraction. As discussed in chapter 3, this will
probably happen between 2006 and 2015. The exact year is uncertain,
and the event may be masked or altered by economic factors. We will
know only in retrospect exactly when the peak has come and gone.
4. The global peak in gross energy production from all sources. This is
likely to coincide closely with the oil-extraction peak.
5. The energy-led collapse of the global economy. Even if an economic
collapse occurs first for other reasons (as fallout from the bursting of
the global stock-market bubble, war in the Middle East, or the implosion
of more scandal-ridden American corporations), energy constraints will
eventually take their own hit on the global financial system. Energy
scarcity will cause a recession of a new kind — one from which anything
other than a temporary, partial recovery will be impossible. We humans
may, if we are intelligent and deliberate, create a different kind of
economy in the future, building steady-state, low-energy, sustainable
societies characterized by high artistic, spiritual, and intellectual
achievements. But the industrial-growth global economy that we
are familiar with will be gone forever. The timing of this event
will again depend upon that of the petroleum production peak.
6. The collapse of the electricity grids. This may occur at somewhat
different times, and at different rates, in various nations and regions,
depending on the robustness of the grids themselves, on the resource
basis of the generation infrastructure (whether coal, nuclear, hydro,
wind, etc.), and on the continued local availability of particular fuels.
For example, the peak in natural-gas production in North America
may hasten grid failure in
this part of the world. But everywhere, except in regions where electrical
power is already supplied mostly from renewable sources (and such places
are rare), the grids are extremely vulnerable; given the time and the
investment levels needed to switch to renewable sources of electricity
on a large scale, even if extraordinary efforts are undertaken now the
electrical generation and distribution systems on which industrial
societies depend may ultimately be unsustainable. If and when
they come down for good, it’s lights out.
The party will truly be over.
From: "Richard Duncan"
To: "Richard Heinberg"
Sent: Monday, October 21, 2002 1:46 PM
Subject: BLACKOUTS 101
Dear Richard Heinberg,
Your forthcoming book, THE PARTY'S OVER: OIL, WAR AND THE FATE OF INDUSTRIAL
SOCIETIES, is very timely and should be widely read, both at home and
abroad. It picks up on two crucial points (and much more, of course). The
following topics are relevant.
1. THE 1979 PEAK OF WORLD ENERGY PRODUCTION (USE) PER CAPITA --
ŒEnergy1 means crude oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear and hydro power
combined. The ratio of energy (a surrogate for all resources) and population
(E/P) measures the advance (stagnation, decline) of culture (civilization,
well being), as first stated in 1959 by anthropologist Leslie White. In 1977
MD and Director of the Office of Population, USAID, R. T. Ravenholt
independently discovered the E/P indicator and expressed it as,
Well Being = Resources/Population.
As far as I know, neither White nor Ravenholt ever published any E/P
time-domain curves or data.
The first person to publish data on world energy production per capita was
physicist Robert H. Romer in 1985. His data had gaps of 5 years and it did
not include 1979. Scientist (and later Science Advisor to President Clinton)
John Gibbons in 1989 published a curve of world energy production per capita
from 1950 to 1985. But he erred by showing the peak in 1973. In 1991
Professor John Holdren published the world E/P data from 1850 to 1990 (8
data points with gaps of 20 years). But he did not include 1979. None of
these scientists appears to have discovered the 1979 peak of world energy
production per capita or discussed its significance.
That brings us to September, 1991 when (while working in Saudi Arabia) I
received a letter from Professor Virginia Abernethy (then editor of P&E)
suggesting that I submit a paper on (what else?) energy and population. With
remarkable foresight she sent along the eight raw data points from Holdren's
paper. I quickly set to work.
Laboriously, with Holdren's eight numbers and some calculus, I estimated
that the peak of world energy production per capita had occurred between
1978 and 1980. Rounding that up to 1980, the resulting paper 3The
Life-Expectancy of Industrial Civilization: The Decline to Global
Equilibrium2 was published in P&E, March, 1993. Complete with
data, math, and graphs, I believe this was the first publication of the
1979 peak of world energy production per capita. Moreover, I
devoted 10 pages to explaining its meaning and importance.
Curiously, the 1979 peak was history by 12 years when I discovered it in
1991. 3Maybe it will it go away if we don1t notice it?2 Whatever the case,
it was five pound gold nugget just waiting to be picked up. With sincere
thanks to White, Ravenholt, Abernethy, et al.
2. BLACKOUTS 101 --
In February, 2000, I received an invitation to give the leadoff presentation
at the Geological Society of America Summit 2000, Pardee Keynote Symposia,
Reno, September 13, 2000. Knowing that this would be a good chance to
recheck the Olduvai theory against the data, I agreed. After updating the
data, I quickly confirmed the 1979 E/P peak and, in addition, that world oil
production per capita had also peaked in 1979.
All very well. But because I was to give the leadoff presentation in Reno,
it seemed rather prosaic to present again what I1d already published 1993.
Moreover, my 1993 paper had hardly caused a ripple in the scientific
community, not to mention the media or general public. Is there something
important that I1ve missed, I wondered?
Then in the middle of the night it hit me. The main threat (vulnerability)
to civilization is BLACKOUTS, not hydrocarbons. All of these years I1d been
blinded to blackouts (loss of electric power). 3Familiarity breeds contempt
(blindness).2 How much does a fish think about water? How much does a
man/woman think about the switch on the wall?
I1ve been through several blackouts in residential areas. All the neighbors
come out -- bewildered, flashlights flickering, powerless. 3We1ll lose all
of the food in our freezer.2 But it1s the big cities are the 3Hearts of
Darkness2. Remember the pictures of the New York blackouts of 1965 and 1977.
The instant that the lights went out there was panic everywhere and looting
in the stores. And those blackouts lasted for only a few hours. 3Past is
prologue,2 some say.
Widespread blackouts (temporary and permanent) can be caused in many ways.
To name just a few: Lack of primary fuels (especially gas, coal, and
nuclear); high prices of same; high cost of new power plants, substations,
transmission and distribution lines; lack of maintenance of same; the
massive and growing debts by power companies; and the scarcity or high price
of the OIL that is required by all the cars and trucks, construction and
maintenance equipment, and the millions and millions of the power
transformers and circuit breakers that must be filled with high-purity oil
for insulation and cooling. And, if the Department of Homeland Security can
be believed, you know what else.
Blackout Scenarios: (1) A month-long blackout occurs in New York City; the
stores are looted bare in 48 hours; half the population is 3gone2 within a
week. (2) A permanent state-wide blackout occurs; anarchy reigns for 72
hours; all of the urban populations 3disappear2 within a month.
3. EPILOGUE --
I first recognized the importance of the energy use per capita indicator
(E/P) in 1978, wrote about its importance since 1989, and published the E/P
curve and the 1979 peak several times since 1993. But it wasn1t until after
my presentation in Reno, November, 2000, that the Olduvai theory (OT) really
began to catch on. So why did it take that long? I can think of dozens of
possible reasons, but mention only a few.
A. No escape. When 3the ghost in the machine2 has been threatened, denial
usually worked well. Examples: For a century or more, most people denied the
Copernican theory and got by with it unscathed. Likewise with the Darwinian
theory, where recent polls show some 65% of Americans still reject it. But
the OT is not that accommodating. It can be denied, yes, but everybody will
be scathed by it in one way or another. However the 3selfish genes2 are now
kicking in. Thus, some people are preparing to survive the challenging times
ahead. Remember that selfish genes promote both cooperation and competition.
Think of the warring Scottish clans. Viva Braveheart!
B. My Pardee Keynote presentation, complete with blackout scenario (2)
above, was given some three months before the rolling blackouts began in
California. That boosted OT credibility.
C. The Internet has helped. Emails like this one have spread far and wide.
Several web sites and news groups have carried everything from the Olduvai
cartoon and pro-and-con chat to my complete Pardee Keynote presentation. In
fact, the authors of four out of five recent books that reference the OT,
first found out about it on the web. The fifth is a novel by a friend of
long standing. His novel is not yet scheduled for publication, perhaps
because recent events may require some revisions. See item D, following.
D. Osama, George, and Tony. This unlikely trio has probably Œhelped out1.
Your guess is better than mine.
If there be historians 100 or 200 years hence, then, in my view, they won1t
look back on the 1979 peak as the Cheops pyramid of Industrial Civilization,
but rather it will be the moon landing of July 20, 1969. These hypothetical
historians, however, will cite the worldwide epidemic of permanent blackouts
of the electrical power grids as the end of Industrial Civilization.
It was good to hear from you.
With kind regards,