free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 212. SCARY PREDICTION FROM DAVID GOODSTEIN

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Dan from the blog has a funny report on a talk by David Goodstein at MIT. In case you don't know, David Goodstein is a physics professor, vice provost of Cal Tech, and author of yet another boring, unoriginal, peak oil rehash called Out of Gas.

Anyway, after thrilling the crowd with the usual PO bromides and buzzwords, he dropped this bombshell:

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out."

Wow. And to think that when I first started reading about peak oil about a year and a half ago, civilization as we know it was supposed to be going over the "Olduvai Cliff" sometime in the next year or two. Your only hope was to buy guns, gold, MREs and a place out in the country to play Hee-Haw. Just goes to show how pathetic the "pessimistic" position has become. In light of this new disclosure, our buddy Matt Savinar over at LATOC might want to add a footnote to his intro:
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists*, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil".
*) Yes that's right. The physicist Matt links to is David Goodstein. It might be more informative, Matt, to let your readers know that "soon" in this context means "sometime before 2100".
-- JD


At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:08:00 PM PST, Blogger John O'Neill said...

I've mentally distanced myself from the peak oil point of view that it's starting to look kind of weird to me. For one thing, there's this crashist (collapsist?) mentality that says, "We must crash." "We must become less than we are." It makes me wonder, why do we have to crash at all?

When doomers talk about civilization crashing, they're not talking about a transition from a high energy society to a lower energy one. They're not talking about ecological footprint. They use the term "societal complexity" and refer to it as something that has to decrease. This way of thinking implies that anything that's technically sophisticated (computers, for example), anything that makes daily life easier by using energy (like an electric toothbrush), or anything that brings far away people closer together (like the Internet) has got to go. It's not a matter of the ecological footprint of these goods. It's their inherent complexity and connection with a complex society.

Well, what if that's completely wrong? As a fan of the techno-fix, I believe that societal complexity and technical sophistication are tools that we can use to adapt to energy constraints.

At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:34:00 PM PST, Blogger John O'Neill said...

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out," sounds pretty doomy to me. It sounds pretty doomy, that is, unless he means that it will be replaced by some unknown civilization that's even more Bitchun.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 3:28:00 AM PST, Blogger John O'Neill said...

Well said, Roland. Doomers and futurists observe the same reality and come to different conclusions.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 10:43:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

I do not think the civilization itself will end, unless the resource depletion leads to a full blown nuclear war that leads to the total destruction of the earth, which is a possibility, but not a certainty.

If we manage to prevent the resource dispute from escalating to wars of massively desctructive scale, then we can still manage it with the remaining renewable energy: Hydro-electric, biomass, wind, solar, ocean wave, etc. But the amount of energy available will be much lower than current level and it will be impossible to maintain a world population at current level. So predictably the bulk of today's 6 billion population will be wiped out. It may not be a very visible massive die off within a short period of time, and may be a gradual process lasting a few decades, but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so. That's a given.

The futurist picture is completely wrong. Whatever form the future civilization takes, if it was to survive, then it must survive on locally available resources in a renewable way. Some future humen may immigrate to the Mars, but those remaining on the earth must do with what's available on the earth and not to expect large amount of resources be shipped to them from Mars. Likewise the Mars population must do with whatever is available on the Mars, and not rely on any resource shipped to them from the earth.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:45:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...


you say: "but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so. That's a given."

it is most certainly not a given. is it a possibility? yes. but a given means everyone agrees. by making such comments you make the rest of your argument irrelevant.

i figured perhaps this is a language issue that you weren't aware of, so i thought i'd point this out.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:48:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

john and roland: i think it's fair to say that real futurists (not regurgitators) are aware of both the benefits and risks. the optimistic ones concentrate on communicating the benefits and on mitigating the risks. the idealistic ones dismiss the risks even though they are aware of them. the selfish ones actively debunk the risks for personal gain.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 1:31:00 PM PST, Blogger John O'Neill said...

Something like that, popmonkey. At any rate, I grow frustrated with the optimist vs. pessimist debate. I'm intrigued by the pictures futurists paint and aware of the risks. I want to say, "Let's create a vision of the future we want to see, make an honest accounting of the possible benefits and risks, and then do what it takes to get there. If the accounting shows that the original vision was unrealistic, revise it accordingly." Can one apply GTD to an entire civilization? :)

Futurists provide a far more compelling vision than doomers do, IMO.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 3:19:00 PM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

i'm with you john. my biggest worry is not with optimists vs. pessimists but rather with opportunists, especially at a state level.

as an example, the whole korean stem cell debacle did, imho, tremendous damage to genetic research.

At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 4:49:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...


No technology progress can break physics laws or exceed physics limit. You can't get more energy out of fossil fuels than the chemical energy that's actually stored there. You can't obtain resources in amount exceeding what's available for us in the nature. Also, any mining and refining activity would not happen in an efficiency that breaks the second law of thermal dynamics. So some resource may well be inheritantly none-feasible due to low EROEI.

You will not see human population increasing to 9 billion. It will be confined by resources. Most animals have much higher reproductive ratio than human, a typical fish lays millions of eggs at a time. But you do not see the population of fishes to grow to astronomical scale, do you?

The total population WILL decrease once the energy crisis fully kicks in, it doesn't matter how many babies you choose to have. Resource depletion results in widespready poverty, which means an average family can hardly survive, let along having the resource to raise many babies.

Tha massive population die off may take many forms, ranging from conscious decisions to have less number of babies, to failed pregnancies due to lack of nutrition, to child mortality due to the same reason. To war and disasters and overall degradation of the health of the populace, etc. etc. But the end result is the same, you will wake up to see a massively reduced human population. Once the population is reduces to sustainable level, the civilization may be able to continue.

At Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 1:25:00 PM PST, Blogger AustinElliott said...

"I accept that your predictions could come true if innovation was static and the "western" way of life was unchanged, but that's just not going to happen."

Roland, if you have not already read it, I highly recommend Diamond's "Collapse," which makes exactly your point. The Greenland Norse died off, not because of climate change, but because they would not adapt to imitate the Inuit lifestyle.

At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:18:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...


"Self-componding technology progress" rely on abundant supply of energy as a pre-condition. As the energy is no longer abundant, we will see the picture changed completely on technology progresses.

Molecular manufacturing or artificial intelligence is totally irrelevant as far as feeding the population is concerned. An average human consumes a certain number of calories per day. Technology has not helped at all in that aspect. You can make a computer run 10 times faster or consume 10 times less electricity. But you have NOT invented a technology that allow one to live healthly on 1/10 of of the amount of regular meals, have you.

Technology does figure out ways, with abundant fossil fuel, to allow more food to be produces to feed more population. More food that is than what otherwise could be produced naturally without the help of fossil fuels. Once that supply of fossil fuel dropped, so does the food supply, too.

And as I said, there has been no technology invented which allows more people to be feed on less amount of food. That never happens. Reduced food quantity means reduced population. Simple as that.

At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:51:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

quantoken, you need to stop making these sorts of statements as if they were fact: "Molecular manufacturing or artificial intelligence is totally irrelevant as far as feeding the population is concerned."

again, this is not a fact. in reality both will have a tremendous impact on feeding the population. molecular manufacturing can revolutionize aggriculture not to mention the actual creation of food. AI will help solve complex aggricultural and feed related problems much faster than humans would.

now, if what you're trying to say is, as i expect, that they are irrelevant if there's no energy to drive them then you're making an arguable point.

p.s. where's the lemming? i miss his insights.

At Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 9:22:00 AM PDT, Blogger Caseygrl said...

I agree with Omnitir and JD's previous post of there being a boom rather then a bust. If one thinks that humans are just going to sit back and watch their world crumble to ashes, they'll have to wait for a veery long time. Logically, there would be a boom in the alternative fuel industry, as people realize that oil's not the fuel de jure anymore. It's already happening, at a small scale. It's going to happen in a larger scale in the near future, either due to PO or global warming. Look at the concept cars for many of the automakers, look at the various companies in the solar, wind, and fuel industry. I can predict that once the US gets a new president, preferably one who's not at the beck and call of the oil industry, we'll see a bigger rise in alternative fuels.
Here's another thing, Google's offering $10 billion worth in grants for alternative fuel companies. Wouldn't that be considered progress? Whether we notice it or not, change IS happening. And PO hasn't even happened yet. So the mitigation's already starting, albeit it's small right now, but give it a few more years, and it'll really take off.

At Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 2:07:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there the largest threats to our food supply is not peakoil, but erosion, soil depletion and changing precipitation patterns due to climate change.

At Friday, March 12, 2010 at 8:58:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodstein is yet another chair bound EGGHEAD who is all theory, and lacks practical knowledge in terms of how the world operates outside of the ivory towers of academia. What does Goodstein know about the real world? NOTHING. Pure fear mongering. When I was a student at Penn State in the early eighties, a member of the faculty predicted that mankind would perish in a nuclear holocaust before the end of the 80s. Dah! Go figure! Goodstein never heard of the Bakken oil formation. Also, we have enough oil offshore to supply our energy needs for 100 years. Goodstein the absent minded professor also left out natural gas and nuclear energy out of his highly inaccurate equation. Goodstein is a superb writer of fiction. I'll bet the global warming kooks love this guy.


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