Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot smaller

Jeff Rubin, Why Your World is about to get a Whole Lot smaller: Oil and the End of Globilization. Random House Canada: 2009, 304 pages.

If I had a 'scary' file, then that is where I would put this book. I ended up reading it by accident. A friend, and very good man, at church found out I liked reading and gave me over half a dozen books. He had said that they were all about WWII, which would have been great. Most of them were, in fact, on that topic, but he threw in a couple more recent gems, including this book. That week my Dad, who has worked in the oil business his whole life (including over 12 years over seas in countries like Algeria and Yemen) happened to be around, picked up this book, and started reading it. Before he left, he bought a copy for himself, and finished it less than a week later. What makes this book even scarier for me is that my Father affirmed all of Rubin's basic facts from his own personal experience.

In this book Rubin basically argues that the world as we know is not long for this world. Drastic changes await sometime in the near future. Now, Rubin is no end-times prophet. There are no dates, no end-of-the-world disasters, and no returning messiahs. Instead, he builds up a very thorough and convincing picture of how our world is, in its current condition and systems, built almost entirely on an abundance of cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels. However, this abundance is quickly running out. The oil industry is no longer able to grow fast enough to keep up with the depletion of its own wells, let alone with the growing global demand. And as oil becomes more difficult, and more expensive, to produce the price, naturally, goes up. As the price goes up, a vast majority of the defining features of the globalized modern world cease to be economically feasible. As an example, Rubin points out that farming used to yield 3 calories of energy for every 1 invested. Today, with mass farming (both of crops and animals), we have basically devised a sophisticated system of converting fossil fuels into food, but the rate of conversion is a yield of 1 calorie of energy for every 10 invested. You don't have to have a degree in economics to see that such a system is only feasible as long as fossil fuels are cheap and abundant; it is essentially a system of diminishing returns.

Joining the list of practices on their way out are SUV's, massive amounts of air travel, food which travels an average of over 2000 miles to get to you plate, never-ending highway expansions, sprawling suburbs which move ever further from the city core, and all the extra income people in the first world are used to having (among other things). Rubin argues that our world will get smaller simply because we will no longer be able to afford (in terms of our own personal cash, or in terms of the world's ability to provide energy) to live in such a large world. Its not all bad, of course. Manufacturing jobs will return home, local culture will flourish, and it will certainly be better for the environment. But, one of the quintessential fears Rubin taps into (though not as a goal or manipulative tool) is the fear of the unknown. We simply don't know what the world will look like without cheap oil.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and found it highly convincing. Rubin is, I think, thorough and truthful in his research and presentation. He does not make blanket statements about what the future will be like, but suggestions as to directions we could be heading in. He, of course, leaves open the possibility of new innovations and inventions; after all, the world may change in radically different ways than anyone could foresee with just one new discovery. However, he is also frank about the naiveté of pinning all our hopes and plans on such an end. Instead, he argues, we ought to prepare for this smaller, more local, world. Definitely a good book.

This is a book I think most people should read. It offers a clear picture of current trends and likely outcomes, it is thought provoking without being fear-mongering, and it will, perhaps, better prepare us for what is to come.


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