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The extinction of petroleum man

By Graham Strouts - posted Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Strahan has produced a thoroughly researched and compelling book to add to the growing pile of publications on the coming energy crises, one of the best I think since Heinberg’s The Party’s Over.

The most important and original part of the book comes in the first chapter entitled “Sources in Washington”. Strahan presents evidence based on documents he has recently gained access to through the Freedom of Information Act proving clearly what many have suspected for a long time: Bush and Blair invaded Iraq not just simply “to get the oil”, but as a direct response to knowledge of impending oil peak.

The idea seems to have been to prise Iraq and the wider Middle East for western investment - not only for the sake of profit, but in order to raise oil production.


The invasion was not just “all about oil”; it was about peak oil.

Once again, to hear this described on national radio seems very significant - it has always been puzzling to me how even in those sections of the media that have been very critical of the invasion, refuting in great detail the WMD fiasco, there has hardly ever been any questioning of “Why DID they invade, then?” and even if there is some mention of oil, no apparent awareness of Peak.

(A year after the invasion, The London Independent carried 10 full pages discrediting the official WMD story, with no mention anywhere of what the real reason might have been.)

In common with what you would expect from the genre, Strahan gives a thorough account of the history of the oil industry, and a fascinating section on the life of M.K.Hubbert, clearly a remarkable man, and the official unacceptability of his message during the Kennedy era when Americans were being promised a man on the moon.

The murky world of official reserve estimates is delved into and the more pessimistic projections from Campbell et al compared, claiming that apart from the clearly inaccurate forecastings of the US Geological Survey, based on faulty data, other assessments are so close as to provide a near-consensus of Peak before 2020.

Strahan describes in detail just how dependent on fossil fuels modern economies have become for everything from heating and transport to, most significantly, food, and the critical impact this has had on human population growth:


So it is very well for economists to sneer that Malthus has been continually proved wrong by human ingenuity. Ingenious we may be, but for the last century our single big idea has been petroleum, on which we now depend utterly for industrial materials, almost all our transport, and critically for food; every calorie you consume takes ten calories of fossil fuel to produce.

And now our big idea is no longer big enough, we are forced to adopt the next best alternatives, which all come with stringent conditions attached. The sources that are abundant and energy dense such as coal have the potential to devastate the climate and life on earth. The sources that are renewable and clean are so diffuse as to make the job of replacing oil truly monumental. It is going to get a whole lot harder to keep proving Malthus wrong.

Strahan pulls no punches in alerting us to just how precarious and vulnerable our situation is, pointing out at the beginning of the ironically titled chapter “Interesting Times” that the global crises could have been precipitated by a single suicide bombing attempt on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia in 2006, and describes how the shock waves from peak oil will travel throughout the whole economy, and also its likely effects on global politics:

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First published in the Energy Bulletin on June 11, 2007. Archived on 11 Jun 2007.

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About the Author

Graham Strouts is a Lecturer in Sustainable Living in Kinsale and the author, with Dr Colin Campbell, of the forthcoming book Living through the Energy Crises. His weblog, Zone5 is here.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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