Re: The Party's Over

From: Al Koop <>
Date: Mon Apr 12 2004 - 13:44:55 EDT

>>> John W Burgeson wrote:
THE PARTY'S OVER is the title of a new book c 2003 by Richard Heinberg.

Subtitle "Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies."

I think it has been mentioned here a few weeks ago.

Has anyone read it? Are there weaknesses in the author's analyses?

I recommend The Party's Over above the other books I have read on the
subject. It is somewhat on the pessimistic side, but that is possibly
justified. Heinberg is now writing a second book on what can be done
about the situation, but he says that, contrary to what his publisher
wanted, it is quite pessimistic as well.

The first point to be made in this discussion on energy decline is that
the world will never run out of oil, but there will a point where the
demand exceeds the supply at the prices in today's ball park plus. When
this happens will only be determined in hindsight. There will likely be
a plateau where the price of petroleum products moves up and down as the
demand ebbs and flows with the price fluctuations before a continual 2%
(or so) a year decline starts. Some people think we are at this plateau
stage now.

There are no data on petroleum reserves without radical flaws that I
know of besides that of the retired petroleum geologists. This data can
be found at the APSO web site. Based on this data it seems that
sometime in the next decade the world will want more oil than can be
delivered and this situation will become obvious to all. It would be
nice for someone else to do an independent, nonpolitical study on
petroleum reserves, but I know of no such information. Governments by
their nature tend to give optimistic pictures even if they think

There you can find spreadsheets and large amounts of data.

As far as I can find, people who challenge these retired geologists
views have not provided anything but rosy opinions without rebuttals
with evidence to the contrary.

There are three questions addressed in the Heinberg book:

1. When will this decline happen?
2. How will all the countries of the world react then?
3. What can replace petroleum products?

Heinberg does a decent job on question 1. To answer the question
requires a good estimate of the petroleum reserves still left. Nobody
really knows since certain governments are not forthcoming with good
data, plus it is impossible to completely determine the amounts in oil
and gas fields before it all is pumped out. But by all accounts except
the most extremely optimistic, this will happen before 2030. Almost
all, even the optimists, agree that we should be more concerned about
this than we are. We are subsidizing the petroleum industry with large
amounts of money when we should be taxing them and using the proceeds in
an effort to find workable alternative sources. This is probably
political suicide, and therefore will never happen.

Obviously no one knows what will happen when the peak oil decline
starts. Some think there will be obvious wars for oil (are we in one
now?), others think that alternative energy sources will materialize and
bail us out. People certainly will have to do with less and will not be
happy about it. We will require brilliant statesmen and stateswomen
across the globe if we are going to get out of this with little

The big question is what sorts of alternative energy sources are or will
be available. I think Heinberg is definitely on the pessimistic side
here. He does not see much hope in replacing petroleum with anything
comparable. Many think that petroleum is close to the perfect energy
source and we will never be able to replace it with anything near its
equivalent. Right now only coal and nuclear fission are realistic
energy replacements (as I see it), and these are not going to easily
replace oil in transportation. Another major question is where we are
going to get fertilizers and pesticides for agriculture. All the hype
about hydrogen, solar, biofuels, wind are either not available in
sufficient amounts or not very economically feasible in the minds of
many. One cannot determine where technolgy will take us, but it does
take time and we ar off to a slow start.

The central point is that petroleum products are so integrated into the
culture of developed nations-food, transportation, manufacturing,
heating, etc that any significant increase in price will be felt across
the entire society and send the globe into a deep recession, depression,
or whatever. Will we even have the funds and energy to get new
technologies going if everyone is just trying to survive?

The question is:
In the history of the world have we ever exhausted a resource like oil
that was so integral to civilization and then found something to replace
it with another technology. In most or all cases technology has replaced
things that we could have continued to use as before; we just preferred
the new technology and used it instead. Replacing the energy we get
from fossil fuels is likely to be the biggest technological challenge
ever faced in the history of the world. I would say that most
knowledgeable people that I read do not think we will be sucessful.

Al Koop
Received on Mon Apr 12 13:46:05 2004

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