A Free-Market Energy Blog

Apocalypse Now? (review of Greer’s ‘Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush’)

By -- June 18, 2019

A review of John Michael Greer’s essay-collection book, Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush, provides a good summary of what is wrong about the post-apocalyptic industrial complex. The basic theme is that industrial civilization, based on short-term consumerism, is doomed and the turning point has already passed. There is little that can be done, and people are unwilling or incapable of taking action that would avoid or minimize the problem.

That Greer self-identifies as a driud is telling, given that little is known about the real druids. They left no writings and the Romans and Greeks, who wrote about them, were hardly unbiased observers. Presumably, the Ancient Order of Druids in America, of which he was Grand Archdruid, relies on mythology and his work betrays that approach. It certainly suggests a bias on his part towards an anti-modern lifestyle, which he appears to not only embrace but allow to influence his thinking. 

Admittedly, Greer is probably right in thinking that “humans are not as smart as we think we are,” but this should suggest he be a little more self-critical, especially about our “nonsensical rationalizations.” 

Peak Oil Again

As someone who had been heavily engaged in the Peak Oil debate, I would say his embrace of some of the invalid theories posited by advocates of that argument demonstrates this shortcoming clearly. He insists that peak oil is a simple idea: the Earth’s volume is finite, therefore the oil resource is finite.

Except that it’s not: oil is an organic material that is renewed, albeit very slowly. A minor but telling mistake suggesting superficial knowledge of the subject.

He also notes that peak oil advocates say that we’re pumping more oil out than we’re discovering, which is wrong. The low level of discoveries actually reflects the fact that reports of estimated discoveries conform to a definition that typically understates them by a factor of two, four, and even ten. 

Every year, billions of barrels of oil is “discovered,” but three or four times that much is added to the reserve base by revisions and extensions as additional work results in field size upgrades, also known as reserve growth. This explains why the data suggests that the world has found perhaps one-fourth as much oil as has been produced for over four decades, and yet world oil reserves have grown consistently.

Lomborg, Anyone?

The argument that civilization has entered collapse is the kind of myopic thinking that led to Bjorn Lomborg’s writing The Skeptical Environmentalist. Essentially, it represents a confusion of transient events with long-term trends and ignorance of context, whether global or historical.

In particular, Greer seems to think the turning point was 1974, “when America abruptly began shedding its heavy industry, family farms and working class, as well as liquidating one of its most vital remaining domestic natural resources: the Alaskan North Slope oil reserves.”

This is roughly equivalent to thinking that America entered decline in 1929, when the stock market (one of our great resources) collapsed and falling agricultural prices doomed many farmers. And given his dislike of “short-term craving for material goods” it might seem odd he would embrace a move from heavy industry to a service economy.

Static Analysis

Those who blindly argue for a steady-state economy, population control, and/or peak everything typically base their arguments on a presentation of anecdotes and facts, but rarely dynamic analysis. And the recitation of problems often does not include any context to demonstrate their relevance, something Lomborg tried to address with reams of data, and I did with my book, The “Peak Oil” Scare and the Coming Oil Flood (2016).

In Greer’s vision, industrial civilization “wanes like all civilizations that outstrip their resource bases.” Yet, there’s no reason to think civilization is outstripping its resource base, unless you don’t understand resources. It’s worthy of note that he thinks the U.S. entered decline only two years after publication of The Limits to Growth, which argued that given an estimate of resources and an assumed consumption trend, the exhaustion of those resources could be projected.

However, as I show in my just released research paper, their “optimistic” petroleum resource of 2.25 trillion barrels has been exceeded by production of 1.1 trillion barrels since then, with 1.7 trillion barrels of currently remaining reserves, not including expected future discoveries or unconventional oil. 


Ultimately, authors like John Michael Greer, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg and the real archdruid, Paul (and Anne) Ehrlich, appear to have allowed their psychological biases to drive their conclusions, and their research, such as it is, to be restricted to confirming anecdotes or data, rather than the broader universe of knowledge.

Sadly, although much of their writing has a limited audience, their beliefs do seem to affect more serious thinkers to a degree.

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