Charlie George's Reviews > Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines

Peak Everything by Richard Heinberg
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's review
Sep 22, 09

bookshelves: current-events, history, peak-oil
Recommended for: environmentalists and economists, both sides of the aisle
Read in September, 2009

Richard Heinberg ushered me into my awareness of Peak Oil several years ago with Party's Over (see my favorites shelf), which is a traumatic experience for many thoughtful people. Since my interest has been waning for some months, I thought it was do-or-die time for another Heinberg book, Peak Everything. Either it was all a buncha BS and I should I see through it and cast it aside, or it's true and there's nothing more important for the survival of our species than popularizing this cause.

Of course, real life is never so simple a dichotomy. The truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes, and the future is famously hard to predict. He makes critical points about population pressures and trends, and he bridges the tragic chasm between Peak Oil depletionists and the global warming environmental "movement" (such as it is). Heinberg also makes needed recommendations how the two camps can work together and get along better.

His central thesis is that both groups ultimately want to phase out fossil fuel use. This can only be accomplished through efficiency, transition to other energy sources, and dreaded, politically toxic curtailment, a.k.a. reduction of the economy, population, or both... The curtailment will happen one way or another, it is only a question of whether we curb our unchecked growth in a controlled, sane way, or wait for catastrophe to sort us out with extreme prejudice. This is not a possibility, but rather a certainty; the geology will see to that.

There are limits to growth and resources are not infinite. That's the part economists don't get, and they've led us astray with the suburban project that James Kunstler calls "the greatest mis-allocation of resources in history", which is saying a lot when you consider the opulence of emperors past. However when you look at the raw power we squander in our happy motoring, we put those emperors to shame. Their waste is merely small-time, as illustrated in Heinberg's example: consider the effort involved in pushing a car that has run out of gas a few feet. Now consider pushing it 25 miles. That's the power supplied by 1 gallon of gas. In our average energy consumption we each have the energy equivalent of something like 1000 slaves toiling away to meet our every need. That's the amount of work it takes to keep our supermarket stocked, our buildings climate controlled, fresh water in the taps and the lights on, etc. If it doesn't feel like you have 1000 slaves working to make your life paradise, that's because we're squandering all that energy on inefficient, far-flung living arrangements and consumerist waste, and we're used to it. Picture life in a blackout with no generators and you start to get an idea what those 1000 slaves worth of energy do for us.

Such is the system we live in and it is simple enough to prove once you start looking into Peak Oil literature. The hard part is what to do about it. I sold my car last year but I'm not fooling myself into believing even that makes much of a difference in my heavy, big-city-dwelling "footprint".
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