“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Richard Feynman


Life-Expectancy of Industrial Civilization

Robert L. Hickerson, August 2, 1997

We are in an emergency situation with regard to energy and fossil fuels.  “Since March the 9th, 1933, the United States has been in a state of declared national emergency.”  I believe that the President will be forced to implement these emergency orders when the crunch comes.

Biologist Wilton Ivie, in THE ECOLOGY OF MAN, writing for “The Technocrat” magazine Vol. 16, No. 12. in December 1948 and re-issued as a pamphlet in July 1969 wrote, “it is possible for man to remain the dominant species on earth and at the same time enjoy a high standard of living for MANY CENTURIES TO COME.”  On the front cover of the pamphlet was the qualifier “North America can no longer be occupied by a high energy civilization operated on a haphazard, planless basis.  We must plan for survival! ” Regarding energy he wrote “We cannot plan to operate for long on fossil fuel as our major energy source.   Instead, we must adopt a system of energy use which will obtain a maximum amount of energy from renewable sources and a minimum amount from nonrenewable sources. — The Price System (the World’s money systems) on the other hand refuses to face the problem, but seeks to deplete our limited fossil fuels at the maximum rate that will yield a ‘fair return’ in the way of profits.”

Richard C. Duncan, Ph.D. Of the Institute on Energy and Man in his October 1993 paper SUSTAINABILITY-IS THERE A MIDDLE ROAD? The Transient-Pulse Theory of Industrial Civilization wrote, “In 1962 the eminent geologist M. King Hubbert sketched out what seemed at the time an unthinkably pessimistic prospect; by one path or another, humankind faced an indefinite future of near-zero rates of growth in energy use.  Hubbert proposed three steady-state scenarios; I, II and III. — Scenario I the high steady-state, Scenario II the middle steady-state, and Scenario III the low steady-state or transient pulse.”, Scenario III is known as Hubbert’s pimple.

Duncan says that, “the year of the peak for Scenarios II and III is shown by Hubbert to occur about 2140.  However. Historical data shows that we heretofore passed the peak ten to fifteen years ago, i.e., about 1980.  Second, Hubbert shows the magnitude of the peak equal to approximately 270 gigajoules per person per year.  However, I (Duncan) demonstrate from historical data that the magnitude of the peak is only about 70 gigajoules per person per year.   Thus, Hubbert’s Scenarios II and III are, perhaps, in error by 160 years in time and by 200 gigajoules (i.e., 285 percent!) in magnitude.”  Duncan attributes Hubbert”s error to his having used the Energy Industry estimates of the ultimate magnitude of cumulative production of world’s nonrenewable energy that are grossly exaggerated by a factor of ten or more.

In his 1996 paper, THE OLDUVAI THEORY: SLIDING TOWARD THE POST-INDUSTRIAL STONE AGE, Duncan quotes cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle, “It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running.  In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct.  We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned.  With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology.  THIS IS A ONE SHOT AFFAIR.   IF WE FAIL, THIS PLANETARY SYSTEM FAILS SO FAR AS INTELLIGENCE IS CONCERNED.   The same will be true of other planetary systems.  On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.” (Hoyle, 1964)

In The Olduvai Theory Duncan tabulates various estimates of the Life-Expectancy of Industrial Civilization.  He quotes 12 experts including such notables as Bertrand Russell, J. W. Forrester, Donella Meadows, Richard Leakey and others.  The predominant number is about 100 years.

In many of his writings, Howard Scott, founder of Technocracy stressed the importance of energy use per person.  In his 1933 paper, SCIENCE VS CHAOS Scott wrote.  “The history of the human race may well be stated in terms of the ability of man to consume ever-increasing amounts of extraneous (non-human) energy.  The limitation and stabilization of that rate of increase is the scientific problem of the not far distant future.”

In personal communications with Prof. Ken Watt of UCDavis, Watt stressed the importance of energy use per person.  He also said that he and about 100 other scholars “believe that energy and numbers of births will be the two key variables in determining the character of the future.   We now feel the planet and humanity can only coexist as a living system for a long time if the human population gets down to 1/70 to 4/70 of the present level.  It is difficult to see how to do that without violence…”  1/70 of the present global population is approximately 100 to 300 million people.  That’s for the whole planet!

L. F. Evanhoe, geologist, geophysicist, engineer, and oceanographer, and a friend of the late M. King Hubbert, in his paper GET READY FOR ANOTHER OIL SHOCK, published in THE FUTURIST magazine for January-February 1997 predicts the date of the Shock:

The critical date is when global public demand will substantially exceed the available supply from the few Persian Gulf Moslem oil exporters.  The permanent global oil shortage will begin when the world”s oil demand exceeds global production — i.e., about 2010 if normal oil-fields decline occurs, or as early as 2000 if the world’s key oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has serious political problems that curtail its exports.  World oil production will thereafter continue to decline at a dwindling rate.

This foreseeable energy/oil crisis will affect everyone.   Governments will have the highest priorities for transportation fuels during an emergency.  A sudden global crude oil shortage of 5% could bring back the gasoline lines of the 1970s — to the American public”s surprise and dismay.  But this time the oil shortage will be permanent.

Thus the question is not whether but when the foreseeable permanent oil crunch will occur.  This next paralyzing and permanent oil shock will not be solved by any redistribution patterns or by economic cleverness, because it will be a consequence of pending and inexorable depletion of the world’s conventional crude oil supply.  Few economists can bring themselves to accept that the global oil supply is geologically finite.

The global price of oil after the supply crunch should follow the simplest economic law of supply and demand: There will be a major increase in crude oil and all other fuels’ prices, accompanied by global hyperinflation, rationing, etc.   After the associated economic implosion, many of the world’s developed societies may look like today’s Russia. —A major change in lifestyles should be expected by the lower and middle classes in all societies.  Besides the government (police, armed services, etc.) only the wealthy upper classes will have the money for auto and airplane fuel.—

Those democratic governments in power when the global oil production peaks will all be cast out by their voters unless they have made major efforts to stave off the inevitable fuel crisis.

They have been warned!

Professor Watt advises everybody to plan their lives as if the price of gasoline will be 100 dollars per gallon in ten years.

And Professor Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado defines modern agriculture.  “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food.” Without Petroleum we will not be able to feed the global population.  That is why Professor Watt says, “We now feel the planet and humanity can only coexist as a living system for a long time if the human population gets down to 1/70 to 4/70 of the present level.”