Spreading the news: the end is nigh!

Peak Oil as end of civilization is a hot meme.  Its spread illustrates how ideas propagate though our society.

Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing“, Tim Bostrom, Technology Review (May/June 2008) — This is a long and subtle analysis of the Fermi Paradox.  One section of the essay discusses end-time scenarios:

The other possibility is that the Great Filter is still ahead of us. This would mean that some great improbability prevents almost all civilizations at our current stage of technological development from progressing to the point where they engage in large-scale space colonization. For example, it might be that any sufficiently advanced civilization discovers some tech­nology–perhaps some very powerful weapons tech­nology–that causes its extinction.

In “Fermi’s Paradox and the End of Cheap Oil“, Tim O’Reilly focuses on this section, connecting it to a trendy doomster movie:

I’ve been thinking of  Fermi’s Paradox since I saw the documentary film A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, with its dire predictions of the wars and disruptions that could occur on the downward slope of  the Hubbert curve. While I remain an optimist about the power of human ingenuity to surmount enormous challenges, I have enough sense of history to know that catastrophes do happen, that societies fail to make the right choices, and that civilizations fail.

… Bostrom speculates about everything from nuclear war to gray goo to germ warfare to asteroid strikes as the locus of possible Great Filters. While diminished access to readily available natural resources after a crash of civilization is, like all of these other scenarios, merely food for thought, it seems to be a thought worth sharing.

Now we have a simple story, which hits the mainstream mainstream media via Andrew Leonard’s short and snappy How the World Works column:  “Peak Oil explains the lack of UFOs“, Salon (6 May 2008) — Closing:

In other words, we haven’t encountered alien space-faring civilizations because all such alien races that developed the technological capacity for space-flight smacked head on into peak oil and then reverted back to barbarism, or some other form of pre-Industrial Revolution social arrangement.

I like it — a nice tidy unified theory that connects the price of gasoline to the absence of evidence for alien life.

It is a fun idea, in synch with today’s fashionable doomster chic.  And worth careful consideration, just as much as any of the thousands or millions of possible explanations for the Fermi paradox.

Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please. Too long comments will be edited down (very long ones might be deleted). Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about Peak Oil

  1. When will global oil production peak? Here is the answer! (1 November 2008)
  2. The most dangerous form of Peak Oil  (8 April 2008)
  3. The world changed last week, with no headlines to mark the news   (25 April 2008)
  4. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off  (8 May 2008)

Here is an archive of my articles about Peak Oil.

Here are other resources about Peak Oil.

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4 thoughts on “Spreading the news: the end is nigh!

  1. Ah, the limits of spellcheck… the end is ‘nigh,’ as in near, unless you’re channeling Mr. Ed…

    I see a failure of imagination and fact here… projecting human frailties onto other species, for one thing, and failing to realize the hard limits imposed on distance travel by Einstein’s core equation. There could be a mature, thriving, ancient civilization in our galactic center, and they would never find a way to get here physically, because of the mass and energy and speed limits implied by Einstein’s discovery.

    In order to write some very good, and very bad, science fiction, authors have posited technologies that overcome this limitation by the use of additional dimensions such as hyperspace or the folding thereof. Given the state of physics and string theory, there may be such dimensions, and such folds may be possible in a physical sense. It may even be possible, let us say, to put some matter into a black hole here, and have it emerge from a quasar there, thousands of light years away, instantaneously.

    What is almost certain NOT to be possible is to take living tissue from this biosphere, with its chemical, electrical, and other dependencies and subtleties, and put it literally outside these four dimensions and then retrieve it alive. Those transporters on Star Trek are one of the most laughable devices ever. There’s a word for people whose atoms have been completely dissociated. It’s called DEAD.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…
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    Fabius Maxiumus replies: WordPress spell-checker does not check the title — or comments, unfortunately.

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  2. The first term I ever read the term “energy crisis” it was 1957 and it was in a science fiction story by Hal Clement. A space explorer was discussing other sentient races and spoke of one as “not being past its energy crisis yet.” My oldest book about fusion power, a history of Project Sherwood, dates from around that time.

    Yes, we run our society on oil. But there are other energy sources out there– we just need to work on them, make them practical, and build them. It won’t be easy, but I must be an optimist. Maybe some of my grandchildren will be part of the team that makes it happen.

    There was a time when the forests of Europe all were cut down for firewood and early mining. Then we learned to use coal. More recently, we switched from coal to oil. (Check out Massie’s “Dreadnought” for the advantages of switching) Now, oil is becoming in shorter suppply. Do you think there’s no answers? Or only one good answer?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, there is one answer: time. Time until peak, time until we start aggresive adaptation programs, time over which production plateaus after peaking, time rate of production decline following the plateau. It is all about time, and how we use it.
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    As I mention in “Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off“, peak oil is a discussion about a transitional period, and where it will come out on the spectur from trivial to very painful. History will eventually forget about this period, as we have forgotten about all those depressions in the late 19th century.

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  3. Hello everyone. Just discovered this blog. Wonderful site and discussions.

    “There’s a word for people whose atoms have been completely dissociated. It’s called DEAD.”

    Exactly the often expressed view of Star Trek’s curmudgeonly Doctor ‘Bones’ ;-)

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  4. Vaguely interesting post. I especially liked the phrase ‘doomsday chic.’ Kudos. Being a victim of said outlook, I am at a loss for words. However, to our optimist above, I would say this – oil was found thousands of years before it was drilled for, then it took another 50 or so before we saw the first real vehicle from it. Alternative techs don’t have anything remotely like the properties of oil – high energy content plus easy transportability. Nothing replaces oil and any find will be too late to effectively implement without draconian restrictions on oil, ie, taking the remaining oil for research. It’s time for a localized powerdown.

    I’m an optimist, but also a realist. Billions will die, but humanity will rediscover true spiritual values in the aftermath.

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