by Robert L. Hickerson
The late Dr. M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist, is well known as a world authority on the estimation of energy resources and on the prediction of their patterns of discovery and depletion.
1. He was probably the best known geophysicist in the world to the general public because of his startling prediction, first made publicly in 1949, that the fossil fuel era would be of very short duration.
2. His prediction in 1956 that U.S. oil production would peak in about 1970 and decline thereafter was scoffed at then but his analysis has since proved to be remarkably accurate.
Less well known were Hubbert’s studies since 1926 on the rate of industrial growth and of mineral and energy resources and their significance in the evolution of the world’s present technological civilization. Clark in “Geophysics” in February 1983 states “”In recent years, he (Hubbert) has assaulted a target — which he labels the culture of money —that is gigantic even by Hubbert standards. His thesis is that society is seriously handicapped because its two most important intellectual underpinnings, the science of matter-energy and the historic system of finance, are incompatible. A reasonable co-existence is possible when both are growing at approximately the same rate. That, Hubbert says, has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution but it is soon going to end because the amount the matter-energy system can grow is limited while money’s growth is not.
“I was in New York in the 30’s. I had a box seat at the depression,” Hubbert says. “I can assure you it was a very educational experience. We shut the country down because of monetary reasons. We had manpower and abundant raw materials. Yet we shut the country down. We’re doing the same kind of thing now but with a different material outlook. We are not in the position we were in 1929-30 with regard to the future. Then the physical system was ready to roll. This time it’s not. We are in a crisis in the evolution of human society. It’s unique to both human and geologic history. It has never happened before and it can’t possibly happen again. You can only use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered.” That is obviously a scenario of catastrophe, a possibility Hubbert concedes. But it is not one he forecast. The man known to many as a pessimist is, in this case, quite hopeful. In fact, he could be the ultimate utopian. We have, he says, the necessary technology. All we have to do is completely overhaul our culture and find an alternative to money.
“We are not starting from zero,” he emphasizes. “We have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.”