“Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.”
29 Aug 2010
Sometimes I think we could stop all technology development for a couple of decades, and just focus on actually putting the knowledge we already have into action, and we might be better off. Maybe that would be a better way to direct our efforts, instead of always trying to push the envelope and gather new information.
So when I saw a quote from petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert, who correctly predicted 15 years in advance that U.S. oil production would peak in 1970, it really resonated with me. He said: “Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.”
Hubbert put out a lot of effort to stress that fossil fuels will peak in the foreseeable future—meaning, we can predict more or less when it will happen. For U.S. oil, it was during Hubbert’s lifetime. (He died in 1989.) For global oil, the world may have hit a plateau around 2005 to 2008, although it’s too soon to say for sure. And some, such as Caltech’s David Rutledge, have predicted even coal production may soon peak.
But how much have people acted on these predictions? Even if they’re not exactly right, even if there’s only a risk they’re right, they’re extremely serious. It seems to me, from following biophysical economics, that peak fossil fuels will likely mean the permanent end of economic growth.