NBA History of Science Seminar

Ronald E. Doel, "Challenging Cornucopian Dreams: M. King Hubbert’s advocacy of peak oil and natural limits."

When we think about scientists who sounded alarms about the limitations of planet Earth, we often recall the ecologist Eugene Odum or biologists like Paul Erlich.

Ronald Doel, Department of History, Florida State University.

Yet one of the most intriguing and influential advocates of natural limits during the Cold War – the Texan-born M. King Hubbert, research director at Shell Oil Company – was an earth scientist. In the early 1960s – after developing the concept of peak oil – Hubbert joined a National Academy of Sciences task force on U.S. natural resources set up on the request of President Kennedy. His conservative estimates of remaining U.S. oil and natural gas – as well as his arguments against overpopulation – sparked condemnation.

Nevertheless, after the 1970s oil shortage crisis, he was, at least briefly, upheld as a prophet. To this day, Hubbert’s peak oil research stimulates public debates about natural resource limitations and energy policy. This presentation concentrates on how Hubbert came to be a leading global public figure in energy policy as well as on the social, political, and intellectual factors which shaped and inspired Hubbert’s public activism.