Olduvai theory

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The Olduvai theory states that industrial civilization (as defined by per capita energy consumption) will have a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years (1930-2030). The theory provides a quantitative basis of the transient-pulse theory of modern civilization. The name is a reference to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.


[edit] History

The Olduvai theory was first introduced by Richard C. Duncan, Ph.D. in 1989 as the "transient-pulse theory of Industrial Civilization".[1] The theory was backed up with data in the 1993 paper "The life-expectancy of industrial civilization: The decline to global equilibrium".[2]

In June, 1996, Duncan introduced a paper titled "The Olduvai Theory:Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age" where the term "Olduvai Theory" replaced "transient-pulse theory" used in previous papers.[3] Duncan further updated his theory in "The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge", at the Summit 2000 Pardee Keynote Symposia of the Geological Society of America, on November 13, 2000.[4] In 2005, Duncan extended his data set to include up to 2003 in "The Olduvai Theory Energy, Population, and Industrial Civilization".[5]

[edit] Details of theory

Industrial Civilization is defined in Duncan's paper as the time approximately from when energy production per capita rises from 37% of the peak value to when it falls to below 37% of its peak value (1930-2030)[3] i.e. the peak in energy production per capita is in between these two endpoints and these two endpoints have values of 37% of the peak value.

The Olduvai theory claims that exponential growth of energy production ended in 1979, that energy use per capita will show no growth through 2008, and that after 2008 energy growth will become sharply negative, culminating, after a Malthusian catastrophe, in a world population of 2 billion circa 2050. [5]

The Olduvai Theory divides human history into three phases. The first "pre-industrial" phase stretches over most of human history when simple tools and weak machines limited economic growth. The second "industrial" phase encompasses modern industrial civilization where machines temporarily lift all limits to growth. The final "de-industrial" phase follows where industrial economies decline to a period of equilibrium with renewable resources and the natural environment.[4]

The decline of the industrial phase is broken into three sections:

  • The Olduvai slope (1979–1999) - energy per capita 'declined at 0.33%/year'
  • The Olduvai slide (2000–2011) - 'begins ... with the escalating warfare in the Middle East... marks the all-time peak of world oil production'.
  • The Olduvai cliff (2012–2030) - 'begins ... in 2012 when an epidemic of permanent blackouts spreads worldwide, i.e. first there are waves of brownouts and temporary blackouts, then finally the electric power networks themselves expire'

[edit] Timeline

Peak oil
Mitigation of peak oil
Predicting the timing of peak oil
Hubbert peak theory
Related articles
A bell-shaped production curve, as originally suggested by M. King Hubbert in 1956.

Perry Arnett postulates the following timeline:[6]

  • 1979: US per capita energy use peaked; still floundering on a plateau in 2006, but ready to fall precipitously (‘cliff’) at any time
  • 2005: World crude oil probably peaked; still on an undulating plateau in 2007; starts off the ‘cliff’ ~2010-2012 or before
  • 2005: World food production (grains) peaked
  • 2008 (or sooner): World Natural Gas peaks
  • 2010 (or sooner): Natural Gas ‘cliff’ arrives
  • 2012 (or sooner): US electricity blackouts and brownouts become the norm
  • 2012: US potable, available water peak and ‘cliff’; shortages and waterborne diseases increase
  • 2015: US Health Care System in complete chaos, breakdown and failure; sanitation, drugs, return of communicable diseases, poorer nutrition etc.
  • 2015: World “Dieoff” begins in earnest; largely starvation, disease and poor healthcare caused
  • 2030: US per-capita energy consumption hits the “30% mark-AFTER peak”, equaling year 1930 lifestyles again (probably much sooner than 2030)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global food production will exceed population growth between today and 2030.[7]

[edit] Criticism

[edit] Data

At the time of Duncan's paper, the peak in per capita energy consumption was 11.15 boe/c/yr (barrels of oil equivalent per capita per year) and occurred in 1979; however, since then energy use per capita has increased beyond that level, with the most recent year providing the current peak value of 12.12 boe/c/yr.[8][9] This increase directly contradicts Postulate 2 of the most recent version of the theory, namely that "[average per capita energy] will show no growth from 1979 to circa 2008".[5]

Proponents note that the current trend of increasing per capita energy consumption may be difficult to sustain in the face of limits on finite resources such as oil, coal, and natural gas.[10] Critics argue that this demonstrated lack of predictive power renders the theory's other predictions unreliable, while others cite this as only compounding the warnings the theory gives.

Another criticism is that Olduvai, similar to Malthusian Population/Food Growth Theories (that population, if unchecked, increases at a geometric rate, whereas the food-supply grows at an arithmetic rate) and related theories of pandemic food shortages, does not take into account technological and social changes. For example, advances in alternative energies (solar) may allow for the possibility that energy consumption can be sustainable at current levels. Consumption habits are also a function of social change and evolution - e.g. conservation. Thus, the implementation of new technologies along with a change in consumption habits could significantly affect the likelihood of the consequences of Olduvai Theory.

See Cornucopian.

[edit] Quote

In justification of his reference to Olduvai Gorge, Duncan writes:

...(1) it is justly famous, (2) I've been there, (3) its long hollow sound is eerie and ominous, and (4) it is a good metaphor for the 'Stone Age way of life'.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Duncan, R. C. (1989). Evolution, technology, and the natural environment: A unified theory of human history. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting, American Society of Engineering Educators: Science, Technology, & Society, 14B1-11 to 14B1-20.
  2. ^ Duncan, R. C. (1993). The life-expectancy of industrial civilization: The decline to global equilibrium. Population and Environment, 14(4), 325-357.
  3. ^ a b "The Olduvai Theory:Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age - Richard C. Duncan (1996), www.dieoff.org
  4. ^ a b "The Peak Of World Oil Production And The Road To The Olduvai Gorge" - Richard C. Duncan (2000), www.dieoff.org
  5. ^ a b c "The Olduvai Theory Energy, Population, and Industrial Civilization" - Richard C. Duncan (2005/2006), www.TheSocialContract.com
  6. ^ Peak Oil, Total Collapse, and the Road to the Olduvai - Perry Arnett, April 18 2007, www.oilcrash.com
  7. ^ World agriculture 2030: Global food production will exceed population growth
  8. ^ World Per Capita Total Primary Energy Consumption, 1980-2006 - Energy Information Administration, 2006 (Excel Sheet)
  9. ^ Energy Units and Conversions - Dennis Silverman, UC Irvine
  10. ^ Revisiting the Olduvai Theory - The Oil Drum, March 6, 2006

[edit] External links

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