[Marxism] Mike Davis on Hubbert's Peak ( Warning: crosspost)

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Jun 2 06:02:23 MDT 2004

Re: Mike Davis on Hubbert's Peak
by Tom Walker

02 June 2004 02:46 UTC 	< < <
Thread Index <http://csf.colorado.edu/pen-l/2004II/threads.html#01690> 
> > > <http://csf.colorado.edu/pen-l/2004II/msg01697.html>  	
 sartesian wrote:

> Anybody interested in knowing just how "flexible" and "elastic" the
> speculations about "peaks" really are would do well to read the original
> peakist himself, the petroleum Malthus, M. King Hubbert.  Take a look at
> http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/nehring.pdf  and you will read the King
> predicting a peak in the non-communist world's oil production in the early
> to mid 1980s, etc. etc. etc.
> Didn't exactly happen that way, now did it?

What I read on page iv of the report is a disclaimer that says Hubbert was
one of several people who reviewed the technical memorandum but did not
"necessarily approve, disapprove or endorse this report." How is that "the
King" predicting a peak? Anywhoo... the report gives a high end estimate for
2000 of 60 mbd for non-Communist world oil production. So, according to the
U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production averaged 79 million barrels
a day in 2003. Subtract about 18 million barrels a day for Eastern Europe,
China and North Korea and that leaves 61 mbds for the "non-Communist" (as of
1980) world. So where's the great come uppance here, or am I missing

All sniping at unwarranted snickering aside, my opinion is that Hubbert
perhaps either misunderstood his own curve or deliberately obfuscated what
it is really about. It's not primarily about just the physical quantity of
crude in the ground -- although he seems to leave that impression. It's
about the _relationship_ between the financially-dictated growth of the
economy and the physical constraints imposed by the finite quantity of
resources and also by the finite limits of technological improvement. Where
Hubbert started out from is, I think, better revealed in his graph labeled
Figure 1 in his 1936 article for Technocracy on "Man-Hours and
Distribution." That graph is titled "Theoretical curves showing relation
between production, man-hours per unit, and total man-hours, for U.S." (see:

Undeniably, there is something fetishistic and reifying about Hubbert's and
his acolytes' attachment to his curve -- sort of like a one-shot Kondratieff
wave. But I think that can be attributed to the difficulty in distinguishing
between the image and an explanation. It's a bit like explaining sheet
music. To someone accustomed to graphing statistics, the relationships shown
in the graph are almost self-explanatory. Any attempt at verbal elaboration,
though, teeters between truism and hubris. The rub is that what Hubbert and
his curve were up against was and still is folklore -- the hoary folklore of
the work ethic and compound interest. Hubbert's curve simply says "if you
believe in one then you can't believe in the other" or "you can't have your
cake and eat it too." American free enterprise folklore *insists* that you
*must* believe in both simultaneously. Most people do and they are utterly
baffled the moment you try to show in any way that the two are
irreconcilable. I guess you just keep dumbing down your explanations with
ever more 'concrete' examples until suddenly one day your dogma is written
in stone.

Snicker all you want at King Hubbert's small incoherencies. After all, the
folks in the Hummers couldn't care less even if Hubbert successfully
predicted fifty years in advance the exact date, hour and minute that world
oil production will (or already did?) peak. As far as I'm concerned, world
oil production has peaked when the U.S. has to have 130,000 troops occupying
Iraq and Saudi Arabia has 30,000 guards protecting its oilfields and still
its not enough to secure the supply.

Doug Henwood wrote,

> Wow, those are some spectacularly wrong projections.

Which ones specifically? And WHO made them?

> Someday we may run out of oil, but I suspect we'll choke ourselves or
> ruin the climate completely before we do.

That's a reassuring thought. But actually, Doug, ruining the climate and
choking ourselves are, effectively, ways to "run out of oil." One also "runs
out of oil" when one expends the better part of the productivity gains won
from the use of energy in military action to secure the supply. You could
call it robbing Peter to pay Paul. Conceivably, it might also be feasible to
boost oil production by blasting it out of the ground with low-yield nuclear
devices. The contaminated crude might make us glow in the dark but at least
we wouldn't run out.

Tom Walker

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