Olduvai 2008 movie

As an addendum to the Olduvai 2008 post there's a movie available that digests the main ideas presented there.

This was an original idea of Nate Hagens and Chris Vernon to somehow broaden the TOD readership spectrum to people with busy schedules and/or short attention spans. This new Olduvai assessment seemed a good place to start, although in the future the objective is to have more concise and direct movies, targeted for people who are not so savvy on fossil fuel depletion.

The budget was €0, so this piece of media is far from perfect, to which we ask for your understanding.

You can watch the movie using these links:

Google Video

YouTube (part 1)

YouTube (part 2)

Fantastic idea, the video gives the larger audience a chance to learn about our situation. Thank you for producing this video.

An additional way to visualize the peak issue is available as a modeling tool which can be downloaded from this site. This tool graphically displays the supply graph into the future following the changes you make to the input parameters sliders (total reserves, production rate, depletion rate, etc). You can also create linearization charts from the current production graph and interactively slide the linearization data selection set along the data points to view how moving the data set effects the total calculated reserves quantity.

I posted this on TOD about a year ago, but since the readership has increased, I would like to suggest others to have a look. Sorry Apple users, this is only written for Windows OS. Anyone who would like the source code to port to Apple is welcome to, just email me.

Great start,

recognizing zero budget constraints but!

Moves a little slow for AV presentation, people can absorb more information with a faster delivery for AV presentations.

vocal audio gets a bit lost under music at times and the music sucks, vocal also has some distortion in places that causes words to be lost.

A Superlearning style format may be appropriate.

I would be glad to contribute to any AV project, I have a small music recording studio and half a dozen multimedia computers with various softwares for music, movie and animation production, no skill with visual side of production but my niece makes movies (she's 17 and wants to become a film director). Leave an email at this thread if interested and I will reply. (I'm zealous about my cyber-privacy)

Great idea and I think I would be able to help you out as well. I do CG and animation (for almost 10 years), so I could help you with the "V" part of the AV projects Lucifer mentioned. ;)

I think the speed is OK, all he has to do is limit the music to the beginning and end (not have music playing during voice-overs), and use a decent microphone for the voice-overs. Other than the sound quality, the video is great.

Great idea - should bring the ideas here to a wider audience!

Excellent work!

Great work Luis, lol you would put ridiculous jazz for the music.


Somehow I expected the theme from 2001 :)

Me too ;) and yes, good demo, and thanks XL. BUT this is way to important a presentation to let it in "demo" stage! There must be plenty of lurkers out there to produce a professional finish at "pro bono" effort !?! With all the information you guys produce, you definitively merit support in the multimedia department !!!!!

...and just daydreaming: maybe Super G can set up one of those new "Google sites" for a collaborative WWW effort? On my wish list: voiceovers in other than English language. German, Spanish, Italian, French... need to feed a few non English speaking VIP's with that...
Anyone out there to help ?

....well, I guess, so much for the power of the Internet.
Luis, would it be possible to get your movie presentation:

a) as a HQ DivX / Xvid download from somewhere in the following format:

b) 1 version without the soundtrack

c) 1 version without voiceover and without soundtrack

Thank you. If I can do something on my side, of course everyone else will be able to see it, with your approval.


Luis and TOD;
I think it's a great medium to use as so many people are keyed to Sound or Picture to take in information, as opposed to reading. That said, I will mention a bit of my perspective as a Cameraman and Editor, in the hope that it gives you thoughts on how you might approach this medium.

Use visuals, if you can, that tell a basic concept very quickly. Think like cartoonists (or just use cartoons, as appropriate) The Charts are supportive, but beyond the x and y of a graph, visuals are very powerful ways to reveal relationships and solidify abstract concepts quickly. The adage of a 'picture = 1000 words' is as much about how long it takes to tell as it is about pagespace consumed ..

A small note about this edit (part one, anyway).. is that the Music needs to be lower in the Background, as Luis' (?) voice is soft and accented, so I had a tough time sticking with him. I clicked back to the blog thinking I'd just read the same info 'under the fold' a little easier.

Do feel free to contact me directly if you are working on one of these, and would allow me to preview the script and suggest imagery, simple (flash) animation or stock footage perhaps that let me back up these generalizations with suggestions.

I know there are other filmmakers, Camerapeople and Graphic Artists (Leanan?) on the site who are also able to help in this regard. Video and Film works very impressionistically, IMO, and can be very effective at communicating at levels and in languages that 'hard, cold facts' may not penetrate very well.

"Art is the lie that tells the truth" (if you want it to, and are good - and lucky)

Bob Fiske

Nice. Fantastic music. I was disappointed you didn't provide music credits at the end.

Fabulous. Please don't take my comments as other than constructive.

As an educator teaching English as a Foreign Language, let me echo the issues with regard to the voice over. I am accustomed to "interpreting" non-native English and struggled at times. If production values remain an issue, then it might be worthwhile to get a more standard accent for the voice over. Apologies to, I assume, Luis for this point, but if newbs get lost they will tune out. They are your target audience, so...

Second, it was mentioned above as the video being "slow." You don't want to lose the attention of your audience, particularly if a new one. You can cut nearly two minutes off the front of the first one just with the intro. I'd cut it all or make the transitions much, much faster. You can do this whole thing under YouTube's 10 minute limit and avoid having to split the video. I understand the point being made with the graphics of the intro, but think a faster and more effective approach might be the Saudi camel>car>airplane>camel saying quote. Or, perhaps shorten down the graphics display time to a 3 - 5 seconds total and add in the saying to add a more modern twist to the same cycle.

Third, you may want to remove the Google version. I tried that first, but the graphics were too blurry in the larger format. That's a format issue, I assume, so can probably be fixed?

Fourth, there is a point in the first where you give an equation. I suggest you add that slide in. Most won't know the math and and how to write it out, nor do they, even if they do know it, want to be bothered with stopping to grab pen and paper. If it's in the video you can just pause to copy it down. I realize it's in the original, but the KISS principle always applies.


Have to agree with ccpo, but just one other thing and that is the music is superfluous and for me was very distracting, none the less a very valuable contribution and I thank you for that.

If you like I can put a broadcast quality voice over together.

I generally agree. This is a very interesting idea.

I'm not sure what resources you have and thus what is (or is not) possible here, but I'll mention one problem in understanding that most people will encounter, and that is that they don't have a clue what "Olduvai" refers to (including me when I first heard this theory). Where is Olduvai Gorge, and why is this theory of Duncan's called "Olduvai" theory? People tend to drop out quickly if there's something seemingly critical to the discussion (like, in the title!) that they don't understand. The name "Olduvai" is prominent, but it is mysterious, unexplained, just appears out of nowhere.

An explanation wouldn't have to be long. Something like this:

(Graphic of a primitive human being) The Olduvai Gorge is commonly referred to as "The Cradle of Mankind." (Picture of Olduvai Gorge, maybe with archeologists poring over bones or something like that) It's an archaeological site located in the eastern Serengeti Plains, which is in northern Tanzania. (Music, Thus Spake Zarathustra intro as in 2001) In the late 20th century Richard Duncan (photo of Duncan?) came up with this theory emphasizing the brevity of industrial civilization and that human history might return to Olduvai Gorge sooner than we think. (Graph of fossil fuel "blip.") The era of fossil fuels and thus all of industrial civilization (picture of buildings, man on moon?) would be all too brief, just about 100 years. He called his theory "Olduvai theory." But is Duncan's "Olduvai theory" correct? (Etc. etc. I'm not sure of the accuracy of the comments about Duncan, this just gives you the kind of thing that a listener would accept as an explanation.)

It doesn't have to be lengthy, but I think you'll increase your audience about 20-30% by explaining this briefly up front, perhaps in lieu of the long introduction where nothing much happens.


ccpo, I generally agree with your comments. I think you and jokuhl focused most of the problems.

Apart form my eerie accent I had some difficulties capturing the sound of my voice properly. My laptop continuously inserts background noise (besides the dirac) no matter what microphone I use. I was forced to use a noise filter that unfortunately degraded some of my words. With someone speaking conventional English, this might not have happened.

The program I used to normalize the music wasn't that good, in some places the music sounds loud and in others sounds too low.

Hopefully we'll be able to solve all these issues in future.

Apart form my eerie accent I had some difficulties capturing the sound of my voice properly. My laptop continuously inserts background noise (besides the dirac) no matter what microphone I use. I was forced to use a noise filter that unfortunately degraded some of my words. With someone speaking conventional English, this might not have happened.

Hi Luis,

Actually, given your explanation I'd say your accent is not an issue. With all the people willing to chip in on production, I expect the next version or next video to truly exceptional.


It's just the equivalent of talking over charts and graphs, and with a bad accent at that "equating = ekyoo-waiting??". Subjectmatter aside, it's boring. Check out "What a Way to Go" if you want to see how to make something low budget that grabs your attention.

I think its a GREAT start. Luis has worked very hard on this. He couldnt afford to get someone without an accent, or with better musical taste, but took the time to put a technical piece to voice/music. We get a good deal of readers here, but I think we could reach more with cartoons/movies/ etc. Is that an objective? I'm not sure. But I know a good deal of friends of mine that 'promise' to read posts on theoildrum but never actually do.

Steep discount rates are in our genes. Some more than others. The decisionmakers caught up in the rat race are people least able to absorb reading a 40 minute treatise on energy. A 5-10 minute video might be more palatable.

(I just read the paper "CARPE DIEM: ADAPTATION AND DEVALUING THE FUTURE " by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson discussing our evolved reasons for being 'impulsive'. It struck me, that across species, that females (via the mechanism of larger sexual investment), have more moderate discount rates. In a wider and very real way, I think the problems of climate change and peak oil should have more women calling the shots. I half-jokingly made this suggestion in a post last year but now I actually believe it has merit. I'll try and write something on it - but the point here is that Luis is on to something. We live in a culture that values time above all else. If the objective of theoildrum is to corner the truth, and expand the community of awareness of energy problems moving toward energy solutions, perhaps we need faster media than reading words and graphs....Its an open question

But good job Luis. I for one, could never have done it. (And i WOULD have chosen Thus Spak Zarathustra as the theme...;-)

are you saying we should have women run around naked with peak oil written across their breast? Now that's peak oil awareness. I'm trying to create an interesting, simple but thorough presentation to present to some city councils. I'm creating a grass-roots peak oil campaign at my college flyer's chalk but I'm hoping the documentary "crude awakening" will do for peak oil what "an inconvenient truth" did for global warming. I think we could learn from the mainstream integration of global warming and make a peak oil message with a less statistical junkie more layman friendly swing. Well, we do have to still have the statistical analysis though to back up everything so it won't fall under scrutiny. I suspect HXC cornucopian's will hold out till everything hits the fan though. Just as AGW deniers will hold out till people start going all raiders of the lost arc eyeball melting, lol.

No, Im not saying that at all. I guess what Im saying is almost heretical, but I think the world would be a better place if the majority of policymakers (politicians) were women. I will research this concept further and write something up - I can't be the first with this idea...

Lol, I kinda figured, just joking. Interesting thought, go for it, I really like your psychology minded articles. I think it was you that did the article with the large picture of the man on the woman with the car superimposed over her face. On, a random note, I think it is interesting to note that Cornicopians are always from cornicopias, ever heard of a somolian talking about the wonders of growth and happiness?

Majority woman decision making is a very good thought that I have been pushing in my small circle for decades (I am male). Go on Nate, quantify it.

I just have to mention the obligatory counter-example:

Margaret Thatcher.


Yep, you got my vote, Nate !

History would seem to support you, as does psychology. Matriarchal societies tend to be more peaceful than patriarchal. Psychologically this is attributed to the female tendency to communicate and to problem solve via relationships rather than power structures. Is that due to the mothering instinct? Maybe.

No links. University was a hell of a long time ago. An example: The Iriquois. They of the large, relatively peaceful federation. I've also read about a South American tribe that was matriarchal wherein there was a lot of mixing of sexual partners and no family units with regard to men. Nobody knew whose child was whose, so the men treat all the children of the village the same.


As always, balance is good. We don't need to flip the thing over, we just need to equalize it.


In my experience if the World was run by women we would have a war every few months.

In my experience if the World was run by women we would have a war every few months.

Make that about every 27 days... :{

Well, I must say that every few months or 27 days is quite an improvemnet over warfare ALL THE TIME!

He couldnt afford to get someone without an accent, or with better musical taste, but took the time to put a technical piece to voice/music.

His pronunciation is very good, actually. Intonation, too, but a little off here and there (as expected). Ditto rhythm and stress. The last, however, is actually the most important. So, he didn't need an unaccented voice, he needed it to be heard clearly. Through most of the video it can be, but not all. It's a matter of balance. The music isn't important to the piece, though video without it seems strange to us sometimes because we're all so accustomed to soundtracks from movies and TV.

There are three choices: a clearer speaker, better mixing or different music in places. I found the faster music distracting.


or with better musical taste

I don't how you can say those things, I'm the person with the best musical taste I know of .

For the folks who asked for the credits, the movie features music by:

Gateway 2

Soft Machine


The music choice I thought was pretty good, levels were unfortunately high, and I agree that a native English speaker would help this. Its an excellent prototype, you've got some volunteers above including someone who can do broadcast quality voice - please go through, tighten it up with the offers of help & taking critiques into account, and then re-release. I'll do a diary on this for DailyKos and make sure it gets attention, there'll be a front page appearance on http://strandedwind.org, etc, etc.

I think this makes the concept accessible to those who won't wade through ponderous posts on the topic ... its a very nice effort.

I agree that a native English speaker would help this.

That's a false conclusion. It only applies to English accents with which *you* would be familiar. Clear the sound, drop the music level. Done.


I was kidding!!
Cuz I know how sensitive you are about your music. I really thought that intro song was an obscure version of Rush' La Villa Strangiatio. never heard of Gateway 2.

Hawkwind rocks man!!

(i'm kidding there too.)

Nice video.

(On a sidenote: why were my posts deleted the other day in the original Olduvai thread? We had a nice conversation going on about the energy intensity of the GDP vs. energy efficiency, there was not a single offensive word... I don't get it.)

Eastender, the editors decided last month that anyone demonstrably from the 'east' or with the word 'east' in their moniker, would have their comments deleted.

(I'm just being silly..;-)

If a post has over 300 comments, it has to spill onto a second page, which you can find a link to on the bottom of the first page.

Your comments are alive and well:

Thx for answering. Silly me. :-)

OK, it's high time I gave some additional information. As you pointed out I'm from the east. In particular: Hungary, Eastern-Europe.

I was about writing you an e-mail, but I'll give some more details before doing so. I've been following TOD for over a year now. I got introduced to the subject via Duncan's Olduvai Theory at dieoff dot org which I visited searching for something else on google. (Unsustainable was the keyword.) From dieoff I got redirected to Matt Savinar's site, latoc. It was a relatively easy ride from there to TOD.

I have an education in both science (university of medicine with heavy interest in chemistry, molecular biology and biophysics) and economics (a second degree) and I'm involved in several so-called 'technology breakthrough' projects that all have their drawbacks as readers of this sire wll know. I'm a key member of a Hungarian algae oil project and at the same time I give perspective to some other fields that intend to rely on improvement in nanotechnology.

I'll give you further details via e-mail in case you're interested.

However, I had some other thoughts in mind when I was entertaining the thought of writing to you. As far as I know there is no ASPO Hungary and I'm not sure there is ASPO Eastern Europe. We have several people interested in establishing such a branch in my country. Furthermore, I'm almost 100% positive that energy intensity of the GDP cannot and should not be translated as energy efficiency. I wanted to work out a model for you that you may post or guest-post.

So there are several issues at hand, and I've been reading and thinking enough in the last few years to finally come out of the woods and give a clear sign regarding my whereabouts.

What do you think?

I'm sorry. Much as I like TOD, I could not bear that film beyond the halfway point.

There is an art to informative presentations. While I like the videos, a lot of people that are not into it want a short and sweet version. Look at all the sound bites and short attention spans people have these days. A mass consumption version might condense things to the highlights only. Most excellent first effort though, it shows what can be done when someone just does it.

Not a very useful critique, bro.


I really could not care less what you think...bro.

Peace. Don't get confused by the placement. My post was replying to the root of the thread.

I wouldn't say 'bro' if I don't know you a little.

For what it's worth, b3NDzela might not care what I think, either, but saying that he likes the Oil Drum in general, and not offering any help as to why he found this 'unwatchable' is particularly unhelpful.

Your comments made perfect sense..


I apologize if my comment seemed flip.

I simply can't understand what's being said in the film clip.

Right on.

Yes, it has to be clearer (soundwise), and tighter (lengthwise).
Sorry if I was being snarky.


I think that this is a definite step in the right direction and I agree that you can get more attention with "I have a dream" than with "I have a nightmare".

However, I also believe that optimism breeds complacency, whereas pessimism breeds the kind of extreme action that the situation calls for.

IMHO your message, aside from the Olduvi reference, is heavy on the optimistic.

As in;

We just need to pick a scenario over the next few decades and we're good.

I for one would like to see a bit more urgency injected and the time frame tightened up.

P.S. The Fast Draw guys of Common Craft http://www.commoncraft.com/ put together an interesting, short, Whiteboard prez. On money, with a few words from Robert Costanza (heh, some how I thought he looked different);


• Brief CBS News "Fast Draw" segment  including an interview with ecological economist Robert Costanza.

Pasted from http://www.steadystate.org/CASSEVideo.html

P.S. This style is a little too cute and quick but there is something to be learned from the growing use of this concept.

There is an error at the end of movie two - it references http://theoildrum.com/[number], when the correct URL would be http://theoildrum.com/node/[number].

This should be fixed *quickly* as the movie is getting some views and people will want to know more. Perhaps just a comment with the correct URL should be made?

Good idea, horrible execution.

To slow in presentation. Very much a "death by PowerPoint" moment.
Should have stated your premise on the outset. If the audience is the general public, they don't know what you're talking about, and you will loose them in the first minute. Also needs to be dumbed down for the public.

I know this must have been a ton of work, and I'm sorry for being harsh, but this just doesn't cut it.

Great idea! Only, remove the background audio & enunciate more clearly. Provide a transcript too. Otherwise, this was a very good idea.

Just some random thoughts from watching the video. Great effort, next time you can make a better one.

A similar model like Olduvai was presented to me a few years ago by a professor of environmental engineering at Tampere university of tech in Finland. Such and such a number of new nuke plants each year and so on to keep us all a float etc. From a positivist point of view it might look feasible but anyone who has done a bit of research into peak civilization will object to its simplicity. Reality doesn't work like a computer game where you just click on 'Build more nuke plants'. There is no such thing as a coherent organized civilization making rational decisions. What there is, is a groups of individual nations or power groups, all with urgent local and personal political problems of their own. Even if they weren't blinded by their own narrow points of views and short attention spans they would be incapable to act rationally because the system doesn't allow them to.

I know people here including me are fascinated by graphs and calculations. However we all too often forget the human factor. What I would like to see is an attempt to apply the analysis made by Tainter on the collapse of Roman society and others to our present situation. In his terms, it appears to me that our society is socially (life style), politically (including financial system), and structurally (diminishing returns of technology) incapable to respond to this crisis. The crisis itself, namely depletion of limited resources and peak oil, are well documented and researched here at TOD with predictions of timelines drawn from often simplistic considerations (like the Olduvai). That is, we too often assess our ability to respond to crisis as a coherent organized completely rational society, whereas in the real world we are none of the above. It is the combination of all the factors: social, political, financial and structural (SPFS) with the physical situation of peak oil/energy/everything, which will give you a realistic picture of what is about to happen. And need I add that this picture is often a lot more pessimistic then the one derived from purely quantitative analysis of:'how much energy got we left'. A good example of this kind of wider analysis is the Export Land Model which points out the fact that no matter the what energy produced is, if it doesnt reach the market its not there to be sold.

I understand that there is a bias by many people who are so mathematical as to consider anything 'social' not a science at all. And indeed the beauty of the inevitability of purely technical calculations of the depletion of physical resources is satisfying. There is less ambiguity, allowing one to make more convincing arguments. Trying to include SPFS blurs the discussion and distracts many who otherwise might get the point. But within the cognizant, we should not ignore Tainter and others who have shows that all past collapses have involved everything and the kitchen sink as factors for the collapse - and mostly as contributing factors. There is very little the Romans can teach us, except what not to do. It is important to note that societies, who have been able to stave off collapses, have done so by expansion of their resource base, their energy consumption per capita. This includes very much our current society. The problem is, we have now used up this tactic but believe we can continue to rely on it.

I hold myself to be an optimist. However I tend to call many supposed optimists 'Positivists' instead. Let me explain. Cornered into a cave by a lion, you are either paralyzed by fear or see hope in dashing past the lion, even though you will probably get scratched. This is healthy life affirming optimism, based on rational assessment of ones experience of reality. Adapt to the situation, cut your losses etc. The positivists on the other hand put on their illusion and denial glasses that make the lion go away. Because they don't want to give up anything. They talk about alternative technologies and energy sources with a broken voice of one who knows he's deluding himself. Normally there would be no positivists around, just a bunch of well fed lions. But our civilization has allowed, through the use of virtually unlimited resources, a large section of the people to successfully resort to irrationality, illusions and denial as a successful survival tactic. Brilliant scientists and financial geniuses are the hero's of our time, delivering us from the bad dream that is unfolding around us.

We have already committed ourselves to at least a partial collapse in the complexity of our society to a lower level. This has to mean either a lower level of lifestyle or lower population. It is our option to choose which. If we don't the situation will choose for us. (see Bartlett). What is needed now is an analysis of how can we change our society's SPFS factors to adapt to this rather than where can we find more cornucopian sources or how long we have before we face the doom.

It is the combination of all the factors: social, political, financial and structural (SPFS) with the physical situation of peak oil/energy/everything, which will give you a realistic picture of what is about to happen.


You left out evolutionary/neurological from the SPFS framework.

Until we understand --and we don't-- how the individual human brain operates, we can't properly model how everything else in the social-political-financial triad works.

Scientists are only now beginning to scratch the surface of how the brain operates. It turns out we are not who we think we are.

I'm a civil engineer working for an engineering firm in Montreal. I've noticed in the past few years half our projects concern wind farms, geothermal heat pumps, hydro-electric plants or commuter rail,and most new large buildings now have to meet LEED standards. The world IS changing.


I just found a link from several months ago, a great use of comedy and style to make this topic (His take on the topic, anyway) very accessible and watchable.

'Robert Newman's History of Oil' http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5267640865741878159

Don't have time to review it all to make sure it's all that accurate or applicable, but it's a very good demonstration (as I recall) of using the medium well. A talented performer and a budget don't hurt, clearly, but take it for what ideas it can offer anyway!

Bob Fiske

EDIT (and it also proves that you DON'T have to speak in an 'American Newscaster's ACCENT' !!) I liked your voice.. the music was just upstaging you, and a viewing with others to catch sticky sections would be helpful, of course!

I highly recommend any and all watching this video. Very well done.. You get to the PO part of this History by around 35: of its 45 minutes.

Robert Newman's History of Oil


Great presentation/idea ... but that bad n'loud music pissed me off(!)

I gave in after a few minutes....
Tips : get rid of that music, and speed up the start.
best regards

As much as I am a Peak Oiler, the Olduvai Theory is flawed right out of the gate by one simple premise. Energy production must decline due to reductions in finite resources.

However, what if fusion energy actually works and we have unlimited energy production? Even though net energy return fusion energy production may not be viable for 30 or more years, and in the interim the world economy may have a sharp downturn due to a lack of liquid fuel, there could be a golden age of energy production in the future. A 2nd rise of civilization that would nullify the Olduvai theory.

As far as I understand it, the 'Olduvai Theory' is a simple model. And like most models, it works on some levels and less on others. It illustrates the fact that as we deplete our current resource base, we need to bring more alternative sources online to make up for the shortage. It merely states the quantities required under certain assumptions. It doesn't try to assess on the feasibility of the projected construction requirements, their requirements of energy, resources and investment, land, additional supporting infrastructure, political and lifestyle changes, power politics and nimby factors etc.

As for the second coming of civilization after the collapse! Comon! We have to get through this collapse first. A model isn't 'flawed' if its scenario doesn’t come to pass. Science is still looking for a general unified model of everything, and meanwhile we must be satisfied that the word 'model' means something short of a description of actual reality.

My university is involved with the ITER project and so I know a bit about its potential. 30 years isn’t a joke - the tokamak design has serious challenges still unresolved even with the construction going on. This is an experimental reactor to get more research done for example on the behaviour of materials subject to intense neutron flux etc. We don’t know if the containment will function for more than a few hours, let alone decades. And we need at least 1000 such plants producing net power into a vastly different electricity grid then our civilization has now, at the end of which is a hydrogen based economy. So who is going to build all this and when - in a world with 8 or more billion people, living off depleted soils, fisheries and forests, in an economic depression with damaged and crippled industries? J.A.Tainter tells us that ones a complex society collapses, it leaves behind such devastation that no other complex society can rise from its ashes in centuries (without external resources, which is not an option for us since we are talking about the whole world here).

Runsu, It wasn't my intention to infer an assumption of fusion viability, but rather my point is the Olduvai Theory draws a line in the sand that civilization will descend as energy depletes. In that myopic vision yes, I would agree, but that rejects the possibility that out of this civilization spawned by cheap oil, that no replacement (fusion, algae ethanol, ecoli synthesized fuel or any other replacement forms of energy sources) continues either the current expansion, or a future global economic expansion. In that manner it is too cut and dry. Just an observation regarding what I perceive as a defect in it's assumptions. Maybe if a caveat had been added, that opinion would have differed.

I actually don't buy the Olduvai premise, but not because I think the everpresent promises of Fusion or Fuel Cells or whatever will keep us in gravy, but that I think you don't go forward, and then back. We have this picture of the 'Primitive world' that Man used to live in, and somehow conclude that taking away our energy trust-fund will put us there again, when the people involved will be our descendents, having learned a whole variety of skills, tools and cultural assumptions that will make their futures wind up going in directions we can't come close to predicting.

Ahh.. time to watch 'funny cat videos' with a 4 yr old..

Welcome to the future, you're soaking in it. Obey your thirst!

I think you don't go forward, and then back.

Interesting. All of history disagrees with you. How do you come to this conclusion? Europe never went through the Dark Ages? You are right that we always go forward eventually.


History neither agrees nor disagrees. We can hardly agree on what history teaches us. the "Dark Ages" have had many interpretations, not all of them 'a descent into endless barbarism'.

My point is that even 'going back' to an earlier income level, going back to a once abandoned agricultural model, going back (and forth) between various secular and religous cultural surroundings, is that, as you said yourself, we go forward. Doesn't mean better, doesn't mean safe and comfortable, doesn't mean 'in Suburbs-in perpetuity'..

But- We can look back to Hitler, DeToqueville, Madame Lafarge, Sylvia, Marco Polo, Shaka Zulu and Caesar Augustus.. take your pick. Jesus' contemporaries couldn't do that, they had a couple fewer civilizations, empires and metal's 'ages' and alloys to reference for the choices they could make. We are different animals than we were 5000 years ago. Our 20 year 'acculturation process' as young people plants a history of relationships and assumptions about the world that did not exist then. We may lose a lot of that, but we're now coming from this much different starting point, so I have to expect it to take much different turns and end up in different forms.

We might be racing towards our deaths, but we're doing it going forward, not back.

I'm not sure what the usefulness of focusing on linear time is. That is obviously not what people mean when they talk about "going back" or "returning" or de-evolution, etc. The conditions people live in are far more important, and are the point being made. If poorly handled, we will find ourselves comin apart and devolving. Perhaps just about any story from William Gibson would make my point.

We are off onto semantics that aren't very meaningful, I think.

I think these semantics are very meaningful, when we get such predictions of 'collapse' and 'going back' with the clear admonishment that it's likely to be globally homogeneous and irreversible. We have humans in every corner of the world, with cross-referenced histories, languages and understandings of science, mathmatics, engineering, etc..

It will not ALL collapse. There are too many diverse geographies and conditions. Too many copies of our textbooks and blueprints.. There will be thousands of Galapagos' of modern communities out there, so even if a vast majority of Humans get hit with disaster, there will be a rebuilding that will include information and tools from the last several centuries.. it won't be restarting at Olduvai. It physically can't, unless, perhaps we have made the planet so uninhabitable that the species gets down to handfuls..

I think you don't go forward, and then back

Bob, you may be correct, but you may also be simply repeating a long-lived conversation that is common in our era.

Foucault distinguished various epistemes, which could loosely be thought of as "proscribed ways of thinking." Sort of like a paradigm. We are living in the "things always go forward and never back" episteme so its entirely logical that that meme or idea would somehow surface in this type of conversation. If you had lived several centuries ago, you might have argued your point by making a correlation to the divinity of God, which was how new thinking was introduced in one of the earlier epistemes. ("This painting by Leonardo demonstrates the glory of God in the following ways...")

The Order of Things distinguishes the major epistemes and it's a very useful model to understand why we think the way we do.

Just to press the point a little, I'm not saying that you aren't correct. I am saying that the likelihood of someone raising the point you did is higher in this era than in previous eras.


It's also a fun game to ask oneself the following question: did I just think what I just thought out of whole cloth or am I simply repeating the words of my ancestors via a long-lived conversation? Am I thinking the words of dead people?


I agree with your flaw, and add one or two others.

There's a question of correlation vs causation. Is industrial society a feature of fossil fuel use, or is FF use a feature of industrial society?

Duncan doesn't explain why there is a causative relation, he just observes the historic correlation and assumes a relation. This is the weakest form of evidence possible. A significant correlation should give rise to a deeper examination of the underlying cause. Duncan doesn't do that, instead he extrapolates his assumption into the future and ends up with wild predictions.

Mostly peakers don't know that the industrial revolution didn't start with FF, it began with hydro. Those early factories then created a need to find more distributed energy sources. As it happened, it was coal that provided it. It could be provided by any substitute. Coal had been known about for millenia, but hadn't magically created an industrial society before. Even the Greeks had steam engines, and railways. So what was new?

In fact, what really determined the growth of industrial society was knowledge. Specifically, knowledge like : F=ma; if you put workers in a central place instead of in numerous cottages you can achieve more efficient production; iron smelting is a reduction reaction. When Cyprus ran out of trees, the iron production industry crashed. They didn't know that any source of carbon would substitute for charcoal, nor that any reducing agent would work instead of carbon.

The science that forms the backbone of industrial society is what is important, not the particular source of energy. So unless we somehow lose the knowledge that F=ma, we still have that. We also have the knowledge to understand what resources we require, and plan ahead, which previous civilizations also lacked.

I'm not saying that an industrial society has guaranteed future. But what is definitely true is that we won't go back to a time of ignorance and no FF. We go forward to a time of knowledge and no FF, which is unprecedented. Therefore it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen.

While the Olduvai theory gives a pretence of being an academic theory with deep insight, it has gaping holes in the underlying theory, but makes unsupported predictions. This makes it no better than junk science.

[vigorous applause]

Nice one, Bob. About time somebody pointed such things out. The Olduvai 'Theory' has as many logical holes in it as the proverbial Swiss cheese. Even I thought there was something wrong with it when I first discovered it at my most doomerish, just having taken an invigorating stroll through the dieoff site. (I am a doomer, in the psychological sense: doom doom doom, even when there isn't any.)

The whole thing is so simple and illogical it's childish. There's a worldwide per capita energy peak in 1979 or thereabouts (dramatic music). Ergo ... the electrical grids will all fall down across the world in 2012! No, wait ... 2008! (Hey, that's now, people. You can check the 'theory' by seeing how grids look worldwide at the end of the year.)

And in Duncan's original theory it is right to stress 'grids'. Olduvai isn't about 'Peak Oil', it's about peak energy, specifically electricity. And there's no mechanism, no nothing. It's just 'oh, Peak, ergo ...' The grids all fall down in 2008, perhaps under the influence of the synchronized swimming during the Beijing Olympics.

Aaargh! the frustration of it. Joseph A. Tainter wrote The Collapse of Complex Societies in 1988, bloody 20 years ago. Stop reinventing the wheel. Answers to your questions - its all there. Stupid things like the Olduvai are irrelevant distractions - we should move on to more interesting subjects...

Energy is never the cause of civilization, but it is always a catalyst.

I think we are splitting hairs. Without oil, our development would have been far, far slower. In that we found oil and figured out how to use it, and so were *able* to develop to the extent we have, one might call it a cause and effect relationship. Cause: discovering a new energy source. Effect? Run away development and overshoot. But I think my first sentence is the more accurate.

You think we are splitting hairs, I think you are missing the point! The catalyst for modern industrial society was/is knowledge, not merely an energy source. I concede that the rapid growth was aided by oil, but even then oil is not the majority energy source.

Obviously if we were a bacterium feeding on oil we would be facing extinction, but we are not, we leveraging knowledge, a level above direct use. Since there is easily enough solar power to meet our energy needs, it is not clear to me that we have overshot.

I agree though Olduvai is a distraction, people like Tainter have much more intelligent analyses. Entertaining Duncan's preposterous "dieoff" does not give TOD any credibility.

Since there is easily enough solar power to meet our energy needs, it is not clear to me that we have overshot.

Hi, Bob.

Is energy the only criteria you would use to determine overshoot? The folks over at



have done quite good work assessing the condition of fresh water, fisheries, forests, soil, etc. and have concluded that humanity crossed into overshoot sometime in the 80's.

Knowledge is valuable but my impression is that you may be undervaluing all the other material things upon we depend, including oil (and thereby energy we derive from it).

Isn't is possible that there are many ways to examine how dieoff may occur? Erlich and Meadows and the other various world modelers reach dieoff, too. Duncan's approach, looking exclusively through the lens of energy, seems to me to be just as valid as the other approaches.


have done quite good work assessing the condition of fresh water, fisheries, forests, soil, etc. and have concluded that humanity crossed into overshoot sometime in the 80's.

They're just pumping a meme, especially since all these things are either unnecissary for human civilization or pure derivatives of energy.

If I work real hard I can show how the decline in mediterranian pirate ships is causal for climate change too. It doesnt mean it has any credibility.

Hi Luis,

Very nice addition to the original post, which has had a wonderful reception.


Here's some useful mathematical explanations on Wikipedia:

The logistic or Verhulst function:

The generalised logistic curve:

The Hubbert curve, which is the derivative of the logistic function:

The first 2 can be used to simulate the growth of renewable + nuclear energy, the 3rd the growth and decline of fossil fuels.

The vid needs to emphasize that living standards/quality of life remains static. Moreover there must be some reference to above ground political issues.

forgive me if my assumptions are wrong or i have misunderstood the presentation.

given that per capita or effective per capita consumption remains flat it follows that the current uneven distribution of consumption means any "flat" scenario impies no growth in living standards in the developing world OR a reduction in consumption in the developed world and a redistribution of energy consumption.

this issue is a comples socio-political one and is perhaps not the purpose of the presentation but i feel it should be touched on.

frankly its a bigger hurdle than building the 92 nuke reactors per year or whatever at peak.

perhaps your mathematical way of analysis can address this by producing scenarios that assume a growth in per capita consumption?

despite the production shortcomings already touched on by other posters the basic information on what needs to be done is there. well done