The Party’s Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies
New Society Publishers, 2003.
foundation for a human society is its physical environment.
Although the environment does not determine the exact form of a
society, it does constrain the possible choices.
In the last two centuries global society has been shaped by
industrialization powered by cheap fossil fuels.
Those resources are inherently finite.
Many experts believe that we are close to the peak of world oil
production. What happens
when the oil that can be pumped from the ground is less than our current
levels of consumption? That
is the topic of the book The Party’s Over.
book starts with an introduction describing how energy use is essential
to life on Earth, and how societies have advanced by increasing their
energy resources. For
example the change from hunting and gathering to farming increased the
amount of food energy that could be produced and thus led to larger and
denser populations and more complex societies.
The three-fold population growth of the last century has been
possible only because of increased food production associated with
mechanization and chemical fertilizers.
This was based on relatively cheap petroleum and natural gas.
Likewise, industrialization and the production of the current
vast array of manufactured goods is only possible because of energy from
all understand that fossil fuels are limited.
But what does that really mean?
Oil for example is only formed and trapped under certain
conditions. One has to
start with the right kind of organic sediments.
It has to be buried to a certain depth - but not too deep.
And there have to be no fractures in the overlying rocks that
allow it to escape over geological time.
Geologists have gotten pretty good at knowing where to drill for
oil, but are finding less and less of it.
is the oil geologists, and particularly M. King Hubbert, who have
pointed out the obvious that it becomes harder and more expensive to
find new sources of oil. About midway through the process, production will reach a
peak and start to decline. Hubbert
predicted in 1956 that peak oil production in the U.S. would occur
between 1966 and 1972. The
actual peak year for the U.S. was 1970.
It has declined 40% since then.
Applying the same methods, many petroleum geologists are now
predicting that the world oil production will peak around 2010.
Conventional economic forecasts predict oil use increasing at a
steady rate for the next fifty years.
What happens when the irresistible force of oil demand meets the
immovable object of oil supply?
technology will save us? Heinberg
devotes a chapter to other energy resources including other fossil fuels
such as coal, and alternatives such as wind and solar.
Together these can provide a partial solution.
But there is no alternative that has the convenience and low cost
of oil. Energy will become
harder to obtain and more expensive.
This will be a gradual process, but the timescale will be decades
a chapter entitled “A Banquet of Consequences” the author discusses
the possible impacts on economies and societies around the world.
He thinks it likely that industrialized countries which are the
most dependent on oil will
be hit the hardest.
suggests some basic political and social questions:
What happens to a society when the pie stops getting bigger?
Will the rich and powerful try to keep their pieces the same size
by taking bigger slices out of the shrinking pie?
Or will a social democracy assert itself and ensure that everyone
final chapter discusses what we can do individually, in our communities,
nationally and globally to manage this coming collapse.
He concludes by saying:
vainly continue reveling until the bitter end, and take most of the rest
of the world down with us? Or
shall we acknowledge that the party is over, and make way for those who
will come after us?
recommend this book both as an excellent introduction to the topic and
also as a good reference guide. For
example, the final chapter contains a list of resources for
additional information and action.
The book also contains an exhaustive set of notes, a very
extensive bibliography and a comprehensive index.