Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Richard Heinberg

American Journalist and Educator writing on Energy, Economic, and Ecological Issues including Oil Depletion

"Many of our culture's most important achievements in the arts, science, and technology were made by people who had breakthrough insights in dreams, visions, intuitive flashbacks, and altered states of consciousness. And yet our society generally discounts such experiences, sometimes even treating them as grounds for a diagnosis of mental illness."

"Surveying the available alternative energy sources for criteria such as energy density, environmental impacts, reliance on depleting raw materials, intermittency versus constancy of supply, and the percentage of energy returned on the energy invested in energy production, none currently appears capable of perpetuating this kind of society"

"The idea that we industrialized humans are immune to the natural laws that have restrained growth in other species—and humans in past social regimes—is to me so self-servingly blind as to be morally reprehensible."

"The world, and everyone in it is subject to environmental limits. Conventional economics believes that these limits are not there and anything can be substituted if the price is right. Acclaimed environmentalist Richard Heinberg disagrees. He thinks we have reached the end of two centuries of frenetic growth powered by fossil fuels. The current financial crisis is one of the symptoms of a system that is being wrecked, not just by debt but resource depletion and environmental devastation. [Central assertion of his book, "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality""

"When a caterpillar eats a leaf, then a thrush eats the caterpillar, or when a hawk eats the thrush only 5 to 20% of usable energy is transferred from one level to the next. … Thus herbivores will account for a much smaller fraction of the biomass [than plants], and the carnivores for a still smaller fraction. "

"The industrial civilisation is based on the consumption of energy resources that are inherently limited in quantity, and that are about to become scarce. When they do, competition for what remains will trigger dramatic economic and geopolitical events; in the end, it may be impossible for even a single nation to sustain industrialism as we have know it in the twentieth century. "

""The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies", by Richard Heinberg is an introduction to the concept of peak oil and petroleum depletion. The book's main points are that modern industrial societies are completely dependent on fossil fuels, they are vulnerable to reductions in energy availability, fossil fuel depletion is inevitable, peak oil is imminent, and that oil plays a major role in US foreign policy, terrorism, war and geopolitics. [Wikipedia] The book rapidly surveys some basic ecological and thermodynamical concepts, which are then briefly applied to Western history. Means by which humans capture more energy and thereby raise their carrying capacity such as takeover, tool use, scope enlargement and drawdown are also introduced. The preceding strategies are adapted from William Catton's Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Colonialism and slavery are then viewed using the lens of energy capture and usage. Heinberg also relies upon work done by Joseph Tainter and his 1988 book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Tainter's main thesis being that complex societies collapse because "their strategies for energy capture are subject to the law of diminishing returns.""

"We are about to enter a new era in which, each year, less net energy will be available to humankind, regardless of our efforts or choices. The only significant choice we will have will be how we adjust to this new regime. That choice — not whether, but how to reduce energy usage and make a transition to renewable alternatives — will have profound ethical and political ramifications. "

"We have unintentionally, begun to disturb massive planetary systems that have kept much of the world climate relatively hospitable to civilisation for the last 10,000 years. We are heating the deep oceans, which leads to more frequent and intense El Niño weather patterns. The time of the seasons is noticeably altered and most of the Earth’s glaciers are retreating at accelerating rates. The potential effects are catastrophic. They include the drowning of coastal cities and whole island nations, as a result of rising sea levels and intensified storms; the proliferation of disease-spreading insects into new regions, resulting in cases of malaria perhaps doubling in tropical regions and increasing 100-fold elsewhere; and the loss of forests and wildlife that depend upon a stable climate, leading to vastly increased extinction rates and the collapse of entire ecosystems. "

"A dollar"

"According to the International Energy Agency, by 2020 almost 40 percent of world oil production will come from offshore. So even though it"

"Altogether, as we will see in the following chapters, there are three primary factors that stand firmly in the way of further economic growth: The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and minerals; The proliferation of negative environmental impacts arising from both the extraction and use of resources (including the burning of fossil fuels) "

"American economy grew without using as much energy "

"As a rule of thumb, when the quality of the ore drops, the amount of energy required to extract the resource rises (often the amount of water, too)."

"A 2010 study by Pavan Sukhdev, a former banker, to determine a price for the world"

"As societies have grown more complex, larger, more far-flung, and diverse, the tribe-based gift economy has shrunk in importance, while the trade economy has grown to dominate most aspects of people"

"As hunter-gatherers intuitively understood, debts within the community can never fully be repaid "

"As several studies during this period have confirmed, once the relationship between GDP growth and energy consumption is corrected for energy quality, much of the historic evidence for energy-economy decoupling disappears."

"Both sides "

"Bill Powers at Powers Energy (Investor) newsletter basically said that we have probably six or seven years of shale gas resources and that all of the magical thinking of having 100 years of natural gas, including the conventional gas, is probably going to end up disappointing us."

"But as the era of cheap, abundant fossil fuels comes to an end, our assumptions about continued expansion are being shaken to their core. The end of growth is a very big deal indeed. It means the end of an era, and of our current ways of organizing economies, politics, and daily life."

"But if more energy must be used to obtain water as water becomes scarce, more water must be used to obtain energy as energy resources become scarce."

"Calculating a nation"

"But many economists don"

"Conventional economics starts with certain basic premises that are clearly, unequivocally incorrect: that the environment is a subset of the economy; that resources are infinitely substitutable; and that growth in population and consumption can continue forever. In conventional economics, natural resources like fossil fuels are treated as expendable income, when in fact they should be treated as capital, since they are subject to depletion. As many alternative economists have pointed out, if economics is to stop steering society into the ditch it has to start by reexamining these assumptions."

"Despite their economic advantages, specialization and globalization in some ways reduce resilience "

"Even the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar panels requires water "

"Every nation"

"Expanding the scope of trade so as to exploit cheaper resources or labor. Both of these strategies have deep and ancient roots in human history."

"Even the largest and most prestigious banks engaged in what can only be termed criminal behavior on a massive scale. As revealed in sworn Congressional testimony, firms including Goldman Sachs deliberately created flawed securities and sold tens of billions of dollars"

"Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of the field"

"For hunter-gatherers, cooperation "

"From an ecosystem point of view, an economy that does not heavily tax the extraction of non-renewable resources is like a jobless person rapidly spending an inheritance."

"From 1986 to today, in just 25 years, the typical consumer-grade personal computer has increased in performance thousands of times over while dropping in price "

"I think we should keep a generally pessimistic attitude. Anybody who isn"

"Governments have worked hard to get growth started again. But, to the very limited degree that this effort temporarily succeeded in late 2009 and 2010, it did so by ignoring the underlying contradiction at the heart of our entire economic system "

"Given the evident fact that bubbles tend to burst, resulting in a destruction of wealth sometimes on an enormous and catastrophic scale, one might expect that governments would seek to restrain the riskier versions of speculative investing through regulation. This has indeed been the case in historic periods immediately following spectacular crashes. For example, after the 1929 stock market crash regular commercial banks (which accept deposits and make loans) were prohibited from acting as investment banks (which deal in stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments). But as the memory of a crash..."

"if we do not find new goals for ourselves and plan our transition from a growth-based economy to a healthy equilibrium economy, we will end up with a much less desirable "

"Importantly, these early philosophers had some inkling of natural limits and anticipated an eventual end to economic growth. The essential ingredients of the economy were understood to consist of land, labor, and capital. There was on Earth only so much land (which in these theorists"

"I am certainly not saying that we humans won"

"Humankind has been seduced by a temporary abundance of cheap fossil energy into ignoring limits to Earth"

"If economists often underestimate the contribution of energy to economic growth, it would be just as wrong to disregard the role of specialization. Adam Smith, who was writing when Britain was still burning relatively trivial amounts of coal, believed that economic expansion would come about"

"In economies, growth seems tied to the availability of resources, chiefly energy ("

"In 1970 the top 100 CEOs earned about $45 for every dollar earned by the average worker; by 2008 the ratio was over 1,000 to one."

"Increasing self-reliance means decreasing GDP. If you eat at home more, you are failing to do your part to grow the GDP; if you grow your own food, you"

"Meanwhile, the unwinding of decades of buildup in debt has created the conditions for a once-in-a-century financial crash "

"It was only with the application of fossil fuels (and other strategies of intensification) to agriculture that we achieved a situation where, as in the US today, a mere two percent of the population grows nearly all the domestically produced food, freeing the other 98 percent to work at a dizzying variety of other jobs."

"It is also possible for wastes to accumulate to the point that the biological systems that underpin economic activity (such as forests, crops, and human bodies) are smothered and poisoned."

"Mesopotamia, the green and lush center of the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations, was largely turned to desert as a result of soil erosion."

"Leading active members of today"