Fantasy Writers Weigh In

Not having read much fantasy fiction since I was a teenager, I wouldn't have looked to that quarter for inspiration, but I found this this essay at Energy Bulletin fascinating
For those of you who have been living under a rock these last few years, Lord of the Rings is an epic story by English don J.R.R. Tolkien; it is set in an imaginary world peopled by fairy-tale beings and beset by demonic evil. At least once a year I re-read it, enchanted by the tautly-told tale of small, stout-hearted people who, though perpetually on the brink of disaster, manage to snatch an improbable victory in the face of overwhelming odds though courage, loyalty, stealth and guile. By no means the least of their strengths is that they inhabit a higher moral plane than their terrible enemy. Thus when I learned of Peak Oil a few months ago, it was all very familiar.

I have no doubt that we humans are on the brink of a great change, or perhaps even a great disaster. As in Tolkien's book, the world as we know is coming to an end, for better or worse. Within my lifetime, what is left of it, most of what I have grown to know, if not love, will pass away, forever. I may not survive this change. You may not. Nothing is certain. On one side lies disaster, on the other only hope: Gandalf's `fool's hope' perhaps, but hope nonetheless and while there is hope we must struggle and perhaps, just perhaps, we will come at last, if not to the Quays of Avallone in the Undying Lands then to our warm and comfortable Hobbit-hole in the Shire.

The whole thing at this link.
I feel, and likely many of the readership as well, that he is horribly accurate in many aspects.

For those without a penchant for fantasy, might I suggest this:

It all boils down to a few simple things, and MKH fairly nails it down over a quarter century ago.

The problem is that our forebears were Orcs, not Hobbits.  In the US, Great Britain and much of Europe, they ripped up the trees, mined the coal, sucked out the oil and spawned generations of Uruk-Hai that consume vast amounts of energy like it is our birthright.  

Now, we Uruk-Hai have killed the Ents, driven the Elves away, enslaved the Hobbits and taken all the Rings.  But we're still running out of cheap fuels.

Which is exactly why finding the Ring to Rule Them All (Zero-point energy, or its cousin cold fusion) would be the worst thing for us. IMHO it is far better to confront our terribly destructive ways (and find a path that leads us back to ethics of Samwise) now than postpone the day of reckoning, because if we are able to do that it will only be that much worse. And who is MKH?
Ignore me: M. K. Hubbert.
what an interesting essay! I reread the LOTR from time to time like this author does.

Thanks for posting this,


I wrote something similar to this on last year. Tolkien was a very wise man, an Oxford professor and an early-European history scholar. He understood us very well.

His "ring of power" he said, represents the machine. His story is about the rise of industrialism and its threat to nature and to human communities.

Great, great story...

Sorry.  Could make it through the reference.  I've reached saturation on peak oil stuff like this.

Someone could get a PhD studying the combinatorial ways in which Tolkien has been interpreted.  He was a bright guy all right.  Bright enough to wrote a symbolic story that made it possible for people to interpret ad nauseum.  Now we've got a peak oil interpretion.  Yippee.

Tolkien set out to create a mythology, and one hallmark of mythological stories is that people far removed from the author's time, place, and culture can continue to find meaning  in them that relates to their own lives.
Slightly off-topic but I'm sure people are aware there has been a peak oil novel published in the US by a writer called Caryl Johnston. I was first pointed to her website by someone who had read her critique of Jay Hanson. I kept going back to her site every now and then as she had an interest in religion/spirituality and an idiosyncratic turn of thought. After the death of John Paul II her interest turned to Catholicism and this has increasingly been her preoccupation. Losing interest in this aspect of her blog I didn't read it for a while until news came out about her novel. Soon after however some really vile stuff concerning jews began to appear in her thought diary and this seems to be an ingrained aspect of her thought. Her brother should also be exposed as a perverting intellectual as his essay "Urbino" (found on the same website) talks about "The Jew" as if being jewish is a fundamental anthropological category.
Why bring this to anyone's attention? Well because if we are going to be faced with a society under extreme stress then the message coming out of the Peak Oil community has to be one of mutual aid and enlightened humanism. I find it personally offensive that a whole people can be dismissed, criticised and scapegoated. Thankfully another anti-semite was chased out of this forum not so long ago. I would ask every one to marginalise any Peak Oilnik even showing the smallest signs of bigotry (and there will be lots of anti-China stuff very shortly no doubt).
As for Caryl Jonston...I challenge her to repost her final September diary entry that includes the stuff about jewish lies, deception and thirst for vengeance. So very quick to descend into anti-semitism and so very quick to try to profit from a pointless novel about Peak Oil.
I think there is no need to read fantasy for an insight of post Peak Oil world. We all had our Peak Oil Experience just five years ago, in 2000. According to BP statistics (which are as unreliable as the others - but this also a point here) the world oil production was higher in that year than in 2001 and 2002. So we had a top and two years of decline.

Some people really called a peak then. Most peakoilers didn't, they were not sure. The statistics were not unambigous and many expected that some growth would still come, as it did. But nobody could at the time be really sure that this was not the Peak, either.

So we know what happens at the peak. It will not be noticed at first. And it will take a couple of years, may be more, to be sure that this was it. Even after that there was a lot of talk that the Peak will be a dramatic event and we don't know what happens after that.

There is more: the oil prices doubled from 1999 to 2000, as the production neared the top, but declined in 2001 and 2002, at the same time as the production declined. The prices started to rise again in 2003, as the production turned back to growth and the rise steepened in 2004 as the production growth achieved an exceptionally high level. So the pricing rises were associated to immediate the pre-top growth phase, not to the decline phase.

The intermediary production top in 2000 went unnoticed - no "post-petroleum collapse". But did not go without consequences. There was a recession (this caused the price fall), 9/11 and two wars started. The recession changed to recovery 2003-2003 as oil production started to grow. The wars go on.

The top in 2000 and decline in 2001-2002 were not clearly predicted. In 1999 the oil prices were down and were predicted to stay so. Instead there were increased volatility and rising prices. It was not possible to forecast the production and price changes even nearly accurately.

So now we know what to expect.

Anti-racism should be a fundamental tenet of the Peak Oil community. There will be many who will rush to scapegoat ethnic or national groups as the cheap-oil economy unravels: Arabs, Chinese, Jews, whites, Venezuelans, etc. Politicians, especially, may drum up hatreds or manufacture threats to distract us from the real root of our problem: the unsustainability of our resource-intensive lifestyle. We should be a unifying, truth-telling & solution-oriented force. In 'the long emergency' ahead, it often won't seem like we're all in this together, but we are...

Thanks for the fantasy post! ;-)

The link to the Hubbert article from Spooky is interesting. It was new to me that Hubbert found "a major event in American history, and we didn't even know it happened." That event was the energy growth trend break in 1910. The average yearly energy growth rate changed from 7% to 2%. Here we have another example of a truly significant energy event that goes rather unnoticed after a hundred years! And did it have immense consequenses - only nobody did not connect them to the energy production.

In fact we had similar break in the world scale about 1972, after the first oil crisis. Everybody noticed the crisis but few still recognize the continuing trend change as a consequence of that.

The "Hubbert break" is interesting also from the viewpoint that we may see China being now near a similar point. The Chinese have been repeating the American growth history. Also their energy growth rate has been at the same level, recently nearly 10%. But the absolute volume is much higher. There are signs that this growth is not any more possible, so a trend break to lower growth may be coming. And it should also be noted that both the American "rapid growth period" in the end of the 19th century and the  present Chinese growth are both based mainly on coal - not on oil.

My apologies if this has been posted before, but another interesting online novel, "The Peak Oil Wars - A Peace Story" can be found at
It's a 48 page PDF, makes interesting reading but the jump ahead to a happy ending stretches credibility quite a bit.
I'm risking a Baco-Bits-level flaming for saying what follows, but what the heck.  It won't be the first time I've been roasted online...

I think articles like this one not only don't help the PO education effort, but actually hurt it slightly.

First of all, Tolkein has an interesting place as an author, in that a large percentage of mainstreamers know of him and/or his work, but have had their fill of both.  This is no doubt due in large part to way people still fawn over the movies, and is not a comment on the man or his work; it's just an observation about people reaching their saturation level.

Second, this kind of extended riff on "look at what a Great Person said about stuff that has haunting similarities to our situation" convinces almost no one.  It might play well with the already converted, but to many mainstreamers it sounds like a love child formed by the unholy union of a bad conspiracy theory and too many nights reading fantasy literature while stoned.  

It could have been worse; imagine a Star Wars, Star Trek, tarot card, Nostradamus, or Babylon 5 version.  If you just flinched, then you had exactly the same reaction I bet a lot of other people will have when reading the Ring article.

(Before you load up the catapult with a dead cow and aim it in my direction, let me say that I have a great love of fiction, particularly SF, albeit less so for fantasy.  I'm a published SF writer, in fact, with three dreadful stories in Analog.  So I'm not one of those two-dimension morons who "doesn't get" speculative fiction (SF&F); rather, I'm one one of those two-dimensional morons who likes it enough that I wanted to write it for a living, and actually convinced myselg it was a possible career path.  What, you thought economists sat around all day arguing about demand curves and Fed. policy?)


On a totally different topic, did anyone else notice that from the Sept. to Oct. newsletters ASPO pushed their PO estimate from 2007 to 2010?  Must have been that case of 10W30 Colin Campbell found in his closet.

I had a similar reaction when I saw the article. It's a fun comparison to a point, but it doesn't shed any light on either Tolkein or peak oil, in my opinion.

In point of fact, it reminded me of the correlation in ID-FSMism that graphs the number of pirates against global average temperature. It's fun to look at and it's a good tool for starting conversations, but I don't see any other real value beyond that.

Many economists write fiction for a living. Some even draw fiction-the Laffer curve was reportedly sketched on a dinner napkin. I'm just pleased to see an economist who is writing fiction by choice, and aware that he is doing so.

As for Tolkien, I don't think this piece will aid in education, but these sorts of analogies could help us cope. People think in narrative form, and fables and parables have been used as teaching tools for millennia.

We're going to need good examples and sources of hope. If we end up telling stories in a Jung-Campbell sacred mythology space to help us through, I'm ok with that.

"I'm just pleased to see an economist who is writing fiction by choice, and aware that he is doing so."

I'm going to mention your comment at the next Super Secret Economists Meeting (held in a Motel 6 outside Jersey City), right after we sacrifice a goat and then roll naked in the still-warm ashes of a burned copy of the Communist Manifesto.

You should expect a visit from our enforcer, Adam "Fat Tony Canoli" Smith.  

Naked book-burning economists in the Garden State! Who knew? Sorry, I was just being capricious. Besides, I like many other economists--Smith, Keynes, Simon, Pigou--in addition to you.

You can burn the Manifesto if you wish, but perhaps we shouldn't write off Marx entirely.  

If I recall Das Kapital properly, Marx thought that capitalists got their capital by misappropriation. Then they substituted capital for labor, including their own work. Not only were they lazy, but they got returns they really didn't deserve. A generation of swine.

Consider our own use of fossil fuels, the greatest source of concentrated labor-substitute the world has ever seen. Certainly future generations will believe that we misappropriated oil and gas, a one-off capital acount given to humanity by nature. We got enormous returns (both wise and foolish) from the happy accident of fossil fuels, and flared off the fruits of millions of years in a couple of centuries.

And when the oil and gas is all gone, we'll have to substitute labor for the capital we squandered. One could write a sci-fi economic morality play as opium for the masses ...

This is for "PhilM" who wrote...

"Thankfully another anti-semite was chased out of this forum not so long ago."

Could you provide the name of the "anti-semite", and why he was "chased out" of the forum.  Just curious to know what it takes to be called an "anti-semite", and to be "chased out".

Well no need for the inverted anti-semite is someone who (amongst ther things) generalises from an instance of a jew doing wrong in order to scapegoat the whole people...not race...people...and although I can't remember the person's name I can remember that they were quickly exposed when they tried to whip up a little ill-feeling against "Israelis" (didn't they say Israeli-Americans or something similar?).
I suspect you may think I'm trying to shut off legitimate criticism (of Israel for instance) but that is not the case. If jews as a people are guilty of anything then everyone is guilty too. You can't generalize like Caryl Johnston does but then I think I know where she is headed and it isn't pretty.
Thanks for the laugh Lou - and thanks too for this post.

I am a female with zero education and even less understanding of how the world works, but I am addicted to Oil Drum and in awe of many of the contributors.

I particularly loved the bit in this piece where he said

"It is these scientists and ecologists in whom we must place our trust and our hope: the good wizards or our age. We would like it if more of them were as inspiring as Gandalf, and less of them were given to droning about numbers and waving graphs in the air, but we must be guided by them and hope that the inspiration will come later."

In a similar vein, don't forget about 'The Fifth Sacred Thing' by Starhawk and 'Ecotopia' and 'Ecotopia Emerging' by Ernest Callenbach.

I always wondered why the worlds portrayed in futuristic fantasies were always so energy intensive rather than the other way around.

Oh, but of course... "Technology will save us!"

It is the Change. It is the vision of a really big change, a historical turning point, a dramatic event that attracts all kind of people to the idea of Peak Oil. They mostly have already their pet projects or ideas that require the Big Change to be realized. The Peak Oil is an excellent candidate for that. It is not necessary or even possible to "make" that. It is coming by itself, and soon. It's concrete and real. It is non-diffuse - it can be pinpointed to one day (the single day when the world oil production is highest - if there is reliable data available)! This is much better than for instance Ecocollapse or Revolution.

And here is the problem. There have been very important energy-related large scale events but they have gone unnoticed. Even the tentative peak in 2000 did go unnoticed. These "great collapse - save-the-world solution" scenarios expect dramatic changes after the Peak Oil. They expect that people see the impacts immediately and subscribe to their pet solutions. Better still if they see the impacts in advance and start implementing the solutions now. The Peak Oil is just fine!

Still we know that this will not happen. It has not happened before. I bet that exactly these people don't see anything when the day finally comes. The world energy peak will be an all-important event. And its consequences will be immense. And just because they are so immense they will take time to show. In fact the consequences will be more deep and different than the simple "collapse scenarios" tell.

So we'll see. And think this: all these pre-made solutions are developed in a pre-Peak world.

I am still of the opinion that there are so many domestic issues that are nearing absolute limits (Federal debt, personal debt, fiscal irresponsibility, a dearth of visionaries and true leaders, a glut of unethical politicians, an Everest of apathy, decent but very angry populace, etc.) that it may not take much to push things down a very bad path.

Globalism has removed national checks and balances from many social and economic arenas, making us susceptible as a species to any upset. Peak Oil is a long term phenomenon, yet only the most severe symptoms elicit any type of response. I fear that response is going to be crippled due to these other pending issues. Peak Oil will unfold in slow motion, but it will inexorably unfold. The people are not yet united behind any specific cause to force our leaders to do the correct things, and so things grind forward and time to fix the problem slips through our fingers.

I hope more of you will read the Hubbert piece I linked to at the top of this thread....he is addressing a particular item, but he touches on several outlying issues that appear to coincide with each other today.

Yep. I've had a depressing week considering these issues as well. A couple of specific comments:

"Peak Oil is a long term phenomenon, yet only the most severe symptoms elicit any type of response." True, but it's worse than that. The symptoms are often misinterpreted ("Crude is expensive because of the refinery bottleneck."), and the response (if any) is often wrong ("Why conserve when we can drill ANWAR?")

..."response is going to be crippled..." Vision without money gets you nothing. Lots of money spent without vision will get you a Dept of Homeland Security, Katrina response, or Iraq. With neither vision nor money--well, yeah, our response will be suboptimal. TOD needs to work on the vision.

"Peak Oil will unfold in slow motion ..." I think this remains to be seen. It will certainly be inexorable, and long, but I'm not sure about slow. I think we can expect long, grinding decline punctuated by incidents of distressing speed. Could be supply shocks, whipsawing prices, national political events, geopolitical events, economic events. For example, if high gasoline prices kill General Motors, the ripples will be instant and huge.

Keep smiling!

Wow, Rick, you're just as pessimistic as I am. That's a surprise. You've always been so reasonable before... :)

Things are going badly, aren't they? Winter's not here yet but it's getting colder in Colorado....

So, my attenpt to project a cool, rational persona has worked. I have always shared very similar opinions to yours. You've consciously chosen to be a passionate voice, which is more fun to read. I try to be a bit more dispasssionate in my language because it think it works better for newbies and skeptics.

Part of my mood evolved after I was teaching a 2 day "Essentials of Marketing Management" course this week to 30-ish managers. In the section on analysis, I included slides on climate change and peak oil. In the pricing section, I talked about inflation which most of these guys have never seen. They took it all on board rather well, but were clearly unsettled by it all. Somebody has to do be the messenger with bad news, but it is a bit of a bummer.

I've actually been surprised at how resilient things look at the moment, but all of the underlying fundamentals look spectacularly bad to me. As many in PO circles say, I hope I'm wrong. Thanks for listening here at The Therapy Drum.

The Therapy Drum; I like that. Cool rational personae much appreciated.
Let's all paint our faces, read Iron John and beat the Oil Drum.  Then we'll know how to handle PO.