Peak Everything

A special guest book review by Camille Armantrout.

Peak Everything by Richard HeinbergRichard Heinberg has written a lot about peak oil in his books, “The Party’s Over,” “PowerDown” and “The Oil Depletion Protocol.” His newest book “Peak Everything – Waking Up to the Century of Declines” published in 2007 by New Society is a little different. This time, he has compiled a collection of his essays, covering a myriad of issues all loosely tied to peak oil. He explores the issue from all sides, including how humans might choose to react to a vastly different future.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it is indexed. That always starts me off on the right foot. The next thing I liked about this book was the introduction; Heinberg’s a concise explanation of his rationale for the book’s content. Third, he did not shrink from the uncomfortable topic of over population.

He points out that “a simple one percent rate of growth in the present human population (less than the actual current rate) would result in a doubling of population each 70 years.” However, being a realist, Heinberg realizes that, “Clearly, policies that would require an end to population growth – and perhaps even a population decline – as well as a reduction in the consumption of resources would not be welcomed.”

My favorite chapter was “Fifty Million Farmers,” in which Heinberg lined out exactly how we would go about retooling our current agricultural industry in order to continue feeding ourselves as oil supplies dwindle. This is the kind of stuff that I can get excited about.

I was fascinated with his discussion on how to de-industrialize American agriculture. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We just need to seek out farmers who already know how to make things grow the old fashioned way. I enjoyed reading about Cuba’s Special Period and imagining a world where oxen and victory gardens are commonplace.

As stated in his introduction, “The subtitle of this book, ‘Waking Up to the Century of Declines,’ reflects my impression that even those of us who have been thinking about resource depletion for many years are still just beginning to awaken to its full implications.”

I have found this to be true when talking with people about sustainability. A lot of people don’t know why I would even consider learning how to harness up a team of oxen. They can’t understand why I bother gardening and processing my own food. To many, my compost pile seems like a frivolous waste of time.

When I explain that a change of life is on the horizon and that I feel it is in our best interest to throw energy in that direction before we are forced to, many people laugh and write me off as a kook. What Richard Heinberg did for me with “Peak Everything,” was made me feel like less of a kook.

Reading “Peak Everything” was a lot like putting together a puzzle. The challenge lay in discovering how each aspect of our lives is affected by oil. This book is a wild ride through an eclectic array of topics ranging from the Arts and Crafts movement to the connection between grammar and logic.

Heinberg gets it – and not just in a “oh boy, are we ever in deep trouble” way but in the, “well, here’s what we can do to prepare ourselves.” By the time I finished reading this book, the picture was quite clear. I realized that everything in our lives will be affected as we begin our slide down the other side of the great oil peak – from education, to topsoil, to art.

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One Response to Peak Everything

  1. Great review, I would have to agree, we are just now waking up but unwilling to admit that our current situation is not very good. Resource depletion is a very real factor, and not just in oil but in fisheries, logging, water, and much more. I guess I need to learn how to rope some oxen.

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