Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Party's Over, by Richard Heinberg

I enjoyed the early parts of this book, which explained for lay readers like me the basic scientific elements of energy, where it comes from and how it is harnessed. I read slowly and felt that I had learnt something new.

Section two, which describes the rise of our energy culture, I also found quite absorbing.

Alas, thereafter the book sort of petered out, in my humble opinion. Anyone who’s had a brief look into the theory of Peak Oil will no doubt know all about Hubbert’s theory of oil depletion. So maybe if this is entirely new to you, you may find this section of interest.

By the end of the book I found my eyes skimming over the pages, straining to concentrate. I hate it when left leaning authors describe cataclysmic forthcoming events, then offer their semi-utopian alternative.

Like suggesting we’ll be leading more co-operative lives with more time for heightened intellectual and cultural activities. My instinct is to cringe when I read things like this.

If history is any thing to go by, when vital resources run out, people turn to fear and greed. Look at the oil wars of the last decade, the first and second Iraq wars. I wish it weren’t so, but all I can think of are wars in the future and irrational panics.

I must admit, I sometimes have this utopian thinking myself. Wouldn’t everything be better if we didn’t drive cars and spent more time on sensible pursuits, rather than shopping etc.

Hence I’m in broad agreement with what Richard Heinberg writes in The Party’s Over (lousy title by the way, with its petty moralising). I too think we are dreaming if we think we can keep on thoughtlessly using the earth’s resources. Nature will surely have a way of presenting us with a bill for goods and services rendered.

I haven’t read much on this subject, so can’t give much good advice, but I sense there are probably better books than this on Peak Oil and its related environmental subjects. You could probably find a lot of the info you’re after on peak oil by googling the subject.

Here are some interesting points from page 175, on food production. As I am studying this subject (after my own fashion), I’m noting them down here:

‘Overall, global food production has approximately tripled during the twentieth century, just keeping pace with population growth.’

‘If food production efficiency is measured by the ratio between the amount of energy input required to produce a given amount of food and the energy contained in that food, then industrial agriculture is by far the least efficient form of food production even practiced.’

‘Modern industrial agriculture has become energy-intensive in every respect. Tractors and other farm machinery burn diesel fuel or gasoline; nitrogen fertilisers are produced from natural gas; pesticides and herbicides are synthesized from oil, seeds, chemicals, and crops are transported long distances by truck; and foods are often cooked with natural gas and packaged in oil-derived plastics before reaching the consumer.’

Richard Heinberg has a blog at http://www.richardheinberg.com/

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