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Heinbergs “Peak Everything” …

General Ideas

In titling this book “Peak Everything,” I was suggesting that humanity has achieved an unsustainable pinnacle of population size and consumption rates, and that the road ahead will be mostly downhill—at least for the next few decades, until our species has learned to live within Earth’s resource limits. I argued that the industrial expansion of the past century or two was mainly due to our accelerating use of the concentrated energies of cheap fossil fuels; and that as oil, coal, and natural gas cease to be cheap and abundant, economic growth will phase into contraction. I further pointed out that world oil production was at, or very nearly at its peak, and that the imminent decline in extraction rates will be decisive, because global transport is nearly all oil-dependent, and there is currently no adequate substitute for petroleum. Finally, I noted that the shift from growth to contraction will impact every aspect of human existence—financial systems, food systems, global trade—at both the macro and micro levels, threatening even our personal psychological coping mechanisms.

Nothing has happened in the past three years to change that outlook—but much has transpired to confirm it.

A good case can now be made that the year 2007, when this book originally appeared, was indeed the year, if not of “peak everything,” then at least of “peak many things.” Since then we have begun a scary descent from the giddy heights of consumption achieved in the early years of this century.

> Worldwide economic activity began to decline in 2008 and does not appear set to return to 2007 levels any time soon.

> Global energy consumption likewise achieved its zenith in the years 2005 through 2007; since then, consumption growth has been confined to the Asian economies and a few oil and gas exporting nations.

> Personal income in the U.S. (excluding government benefits) is still far below total and per capita levels registered in 2007.

> Worldwide shipping, a good index of global trade and manufacturing, peaked in 2007.

Of course it is simplistic to argue that everything has peaked (though Peak Everything makes for a better book title than “Some Things Peaking Now, Most Others Soon”). Perhaps the most glaring exception is human population, which continues to grow and is virtually certain to pass the seven billion mark within the next couple of years.

Here’s another non-peak: China’s economy is still growing rapidly, at the astonishing rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. That means it is more than doubling in size every ten years. Indeed, China consumes more than twice as much coal as it did a decade ago—the same with iron ore and oil. That nation now has four times as many highways as it did, and almost five times as many cars. How long this can go on is anyone’s guess. But surely not many more doublings in consumption rates can occur before China has used up its key resources.

For what it’s worth, my forecast is for China’s continuing boom to be very short-lived. As I argued in my recent book Blackout, there are hard limits to China’s coal supplies (the world as a whole will experience peak coal consumption within the next two decades, but China will get there sooner than most other countries because of its extraordinary consumption rate—currently three times that of the U.S.). Since China has no viable short-term alternatives to coal to fuel its industrial machine, by 2020 or so (and possibly much sooner) that country will have joined the rest of the world in a process of economic contraction that will continue until levels of consumption can be maintained by renewable resources harvested at sustainable rates.

World population growth may likewise continue for a shorter period than is commonly believed, if global food production and economic activity peak soon in response to declining energy availability.

In short, the world has changed in a fundamental way in the past three years, and the reverberations will continue for decades to come. Indeed, we have just seen the beginning of an overwhelming transformation of life as we’ve known it.

Let’s look at a few specific factors driving this transformation, starting with limits to world supplies of petroleum.

Continues at Counter Currents

One Comment on "Heinbergs “Peak Everything” …"

  1. KenZ300 on Sat, 21st Aug 2010 10:46 am 

    Limited world resources have come head to head with ever expanding population growth.

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