“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.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »