O’Reilly: Fermi’s Paradox and the End of Cheap Oil

How could I possibly pass up posting this article on the day that crude oil futures pass $120/bbl?

“I’ve been thinking of  Fermi’s Paradox since I saw the documentary film A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, with its dire predictions of the wars and disruptions that could occur on the downward slope of  the Hubbert curve. While I remain an optimist about the power of human ingenuity to surmount enormous challenges, I have enough sense of history to know that catastrophes do happen, that societies fail to make the right choices, and that civilizations fail.

What if the answer to Fermi’s paradox is not the absence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but merely the absence of high technology? The movie makes the case that the extraordinary flowering of our society has been driven by our profligate use of oil as an incredibly cheap energy resource — and one that won’t last. With haunting images of once vibrant oil fields that are now ghost towns, the movie is a thought-provoking counterpoint to An Inconvenient Truth. If the movie’s contentions are correct, we’re truly caught between  Scylla and Charybdis. Either global warming or peak oil will lead to an urgent transformation of civilization as we know it, or our failure to transform quickly enough might well lead to the end of civilization as we know it. And if indeed cheap oil is a prerequisite to the first flowering of technological civilization, might a Roman-Empire-style collapse due to some future disaster make it difficult to rebuild to spaceflight-capable levels due to lack of said resource the next time around? Many of the large scale energy technologies that we imagine replacing oil are energy intensive to build. They are, in a sense, themselves dependent on oil.”

Read the full article here.

(And you really should. It’s quite the posit…)

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 thought on “O’Reilly: Fermi’s Paradox and the End of Cheap Oil”

  1. Nick, if you haven’t already, you definitely want to read the Nick Bostrom piece linked in the O’Reilly post. Dr. Bostrom explains why in the search for intelligent life, no news may well be good news for the human race.

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