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Hubbert Peak f/ Fossil Fuels & Cycle of Civilization (Tamblyn)
by Luke Rondinaro
27 September 2003 15:07 UTC
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To the WSN List,

Bill Tamblyn posted the following to Consilience-P yesterday; it concerns another piece (the one at the bottom) he had posted a little while earlier on that list reg. Toynbee, civilizational cycles, et al.  I thought you might like to read and comment on it.  Looking forward to your replies.  All the best! (Luke R.)



I should probably add one thing here to clarify my position. As important as I take the cycle of civilization to be, there is IMO something even more important to our future -- the Hubbert Peak for the fossil fuels.

As I see it, Luke, this peak will mark the most significant turning point in recorded history. It's possible that there won't _be_ civilizations in the future, or if there are, that their achievements won't hold a candle to our own. That's how important energy is.

Here's a copy of something I posted at lwside1 earlier today that I

think is relevant:


Energy, Technology and Climate: Running Out of Gas

David Goodstein

To be published in New Dimensions in Bioethics, Yale University Press

We are faced with a grave crisis that may change our way of life forever. We live in a civilization that evolved on the promise of an endless supply of cheap oil. The era of cheap oil will end, probably much sooner than most people realize.

<big snip>

Worst case: After Hubbertís peak, all efforts to produce, distribute and consume alternative fuels fast enough to fill the gap between falling supplies and rising demand fail. Runaway inflation and worldwide depression leave many billions of people with no alternative but to burn coal in vast quantities for warmth, cooking and primitive industry. The change in the greenhouse effect that results eventually tips the Earthís climate into a new state hostile to life. End of story. In this instance, worst case really means worst case.

Best case: The worldwide disruptions that follow Hubbertís peak serve as a wake-up call. A methane-based economy is successful in bridging the gap temporarily, while nuclear power plants are built and the infrastructure for other alternative fuels is put in place. The world watches anxiously as each new Hubbertís peak estimate for uranium and oil shale makes front-page news. 


Scientists are supposed to make predictions. Experiment or observation tests the prediction, and the fate of the scientistís theory, acceptance or rejection rides on the outcome. Thatís how science works. I have a prediction to make. Here it is:

Civilization as we know it will come to an end some time in this century, when the fuel runs out.

This is different from normal scientific predictions in a crucial way. Usually, the scientist hopes that the prediction will prove to be correct, and merely making the prediction does not change the phenomenon in question. In this case I do hope the prediction will be wrong, and I hope that merely making the prediction will help make it become wrong.



[Civlizational Cycle]

... the basic idea has been spelled out a bit at a time in various posts at lwside1. For example:


According to Carroll Quigley, "Western Civilization did not exist about A.D. 500; it did exist in full flower about A.D. 1500; and it will surely pass out of existence at some time in the future, perhaps before A.D. 2500." (_The Evolution of Civilizations_, p. 66)

According to Spengler (in _The Decline of the West_, Vol. I, p.39, first published in German in 1918), "we are born as men of the early winter" in the cycle of civilization. Western Civilization in his view would last until about 2200. The period from about 2000 to about 2200 would in his view see the rise of "Caesarism" -- the victory of force-politics over money-politics, increasing primitiveness of political forms, and "an Imperium of gradually-increasing crudity of despotism." (see Table III, just before the Index) Beginning about 2200, he said, it would be "the world as spoil."

Toynbee is neither a cycle theorist nor a determinist by nature, but he does say that once a "universal state" arises, this is always a sign that the end is near. A universal state is, he says, always an Indian Summer, masking the autumn, but presaging the winter.

He says that while universal states are "symptoms of social disintegration, they are at the same time attempts to check this disintegration and defy it." He says the "histories of universal states suggest that they are possessed by an almost demonic craving for life, against all odds, and that their citizens are apt not only to desire but to believe very passionately in the immortality of the institution." (Exactly as so many here at lwside1 do!)

He says "when a touch of winter begins to make itself felt, its victims defy a change of season which they have not foreseen and cannot face, by insisting more and more emphatically that they have been privileged to enjoy an everlasting midsummer's day." And he goes on to say that after Alaric sacked Rome in 410 and the Empire's mortality was clear, a poet was even then "reasserting the immortality of Rome." (all these quotes are from p. 267 of Toynbee's one-volume abridgment of _A Study of History_.)

We are now in this universal state phase. Although Toynbee thought as late as 1961 that [because of nuclear weapons] no nation would ever again achieve [the sort of hegemony required to achieve] universal state status, the U.S. clearly has. We fit his description to a T -- not just in what I have quoted above, but the whole nine yards.


As I read Quigley, Spengler, Toynbee, and others, the end is not all that far away. Those who think it is are IMO very well described by Toynbee -- they assert with all their might that this is not an Indian summer presaging winter but a midsummer's day. 

How well we get through the three great challenges that I have written about so many times -- the bursting of the Credit Bubble, the aging of the Baby Boomers, and the downside of the Hubbert Curves of oil and natural gas -- will IMO determine how long our universal state is likely to last. And at this point, there is IMO little reason for optimism about how well we will do with any one of these challenges; we are denying all of them rather than confronting and dealing with them.



Hope that's helpful, Luke.

Warm regards,


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