Monday, May 26, 2014

The Human Web

Cultural cheerleaders constantly shout about how lucky we are to live in an age of miracles, a utopia of technology and progress.  Everything is just great (if you cram most of reality under the bed).

But the folks who rip off their blinders know better.  They can perceive huge and growing crises that cannot be well addressed via the pursuit of shopping and entertainment.  They can see that it’s time to learn, to think, and to change.  Understanding how we got into this bog of predicaments requires learning, lots of learning.  For this, we need our superheroes, the historians.

William McNeill, and his son John, heard the calls for help, and came to the rescue.  William once tried to boil the human journey down to one book, but it was 829 pages, too big for general readers.  John’s vision was human history in 200 pages, and he teamed up with his father to write it.  The finished product was 350 pages, and titled The Human Web.

The book slices human history into time blocks, and provides snapshots of the world during each period.  It’s not a sleep-inducing recital of kings, empires, wars, and dates.  It’s about trends — in technology, weaponry, religion, worldviews, and environmental impacts.  The McNeills framed their discussion based on a model of webs, which are networks of communication and trade.  Throughout the book, they take readers on an interesting promenade through the ages.  Let’s take a peek at a few of their topics.

For most of the human journey, our hunter-gatherer phase, webs were small nomadic clans.  They weren’t completely isolated.  For example, the freakishly powerful new technology of bows and arrows made it much easier to deplete game and enemies.  It managed to gradually spread from web to web until it was used everywhere except Australia.  This was version 1.0 of the worldwide web.  Technology that expands food production or kill-power has always been popular and highly contagious.  Webs that don’t adopt the latest technology have an increased risk of extinction.

As humans migrated out of Mother Africa, into non-tropical ecosystems, new challenges and opportunities forced many changes.  Survival depended on flexibility and innovation, and we got quite slick at this.  By 40,000 years ago, we had become a potent “weed species” of invasive exotics, like dandelions, rats, and houseflies.  Nothing could stop our spread.

With the emergence of agriculture 12,000 years ago, webs got bigger, and interacted more with neighboring webs.  Around 6,000 years ago, the emergence of cities led to metropolitan webs.  Things and ideas spread faster and farther.  Strong webs frequently expanded by absorbing weaker webs.  By 2,000 years ago, the highly successful Old World web included most of Eurasia and North Africa.  Finally, by 500 years ago, most of the world’s webs merged into the cosmopolitan web, which spanned the entire globe.

We began domesticating animals about 6,000 years ago.  Along the way, we learned a new trick, milking them.  “Herdsmen, in effect, substituted themselves for kids and lambs as consumers of milk — an extraordinary perversion of natural biological relationships.”  By going into the dairy business, a herder could extract four times more calories from their enslaved animals, compared to simply eating them.

Salvation religions, like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam grew in popularity because they made life tolerable for the oppressed majority.  Everyone, including women and slaves, had souls, so nobody was worthless.  Those who obeyed the divine rules while alive were promised eternal life in paradise.

Trading by barter was often clumsy.  I might not want to trade my wheat for your rutabagas.  The invention of money made trading much easier.  This greatly increased the exchange of goods, and the injuries caused to ecosystems.  Emperors also loved money, because taxes paid in rutabagas were a hassle.  When peasants were required to pay taxes with money, they had to acquire money by selling stuff, forcing them to produce commodities.

In A.D. 1000, most of Western Europe was largely forest, and lightly populated.  Then the moldboard plow came into use.  It enabled farmers to till heavy soils.  Cropland rapidly expanded as forests shrank.  A similar explosion occurred in India and China, as rice farming spread between A.D. 200 and 1000, spurred by irrigation, iron tools, and the use of oxen.  Population growth accelerated.

In the good old days, communities were not diverse.  Members of small webs shared the same worldview, so there was far less friction.  With the invention of the printing press, cities were flooded with information from many cultures, and many of the new ideas conflicted with traditional beliefs.  Both the Pope and Luther howled, and tried to block the rising tide of science and other heresies.  Today, science is working to standardize the global mind, at the expense of multinational religions and animist traditions.

Civilization is addicted to agriculture.  Soil mining and water mining are unsustainable.  We know this, but it’s impossible for us to go cold turkey and quit the habit.  Similarly, we have become extremely addicted to the unsustainable use of fossil fuels, and our modern way of life would be impossible without them.  Non-renewable resources do not last forever.  Our super-sized global society is lurching toward its expiration date.

The most disturbing trend in this book is a non-stop, ever-growing arms race, driven by an obsession with perpetual growth.  It seems to be impossible for unsustainable societies to stop pursuing more and better ways of smashing each other.  During the industrial era there has been explosive growth in death technology.  In the twenty-first century, we are now capable of wiping out most of humankind in a single day, with the push of a button.

The last chapter provides two summaries.  John, the son, writes first.  He sees history as an ongoing race for complexity, requiring ever-increasing flows of energy and information.  In remote areas, simple cultures still work, but when complex cultures thrust into their sacred home, the days of wildness and freedom are soon over.  Complexity provides immense competitive advantages, as long as the inflow of extracted resources continues.  But the inflow is beginning to sputter.  Consequently, “the chances of cataclysmic violence seem depressingly good.”

Then William, the father, writes.  The path that led us to having one worldwide web was driven by a collective pursuit of wealth and power.  He wondered how long this web could survive on our current energy flows.  William thought that for long-term survival, we needed to return to small face-to-face communities, “within which shared meanings, shared values, and shared goals made life worth living for everyone, even the humblest and least fortunate.”  He concluded, “My personal hunch is that catastrophes — great and small — are sure to come and human resilience will prove more than we can imagine.”

This book is part of a significant watershed in the modern perception of reality.  It is pushing aside the magical thinking that assured us that technology and wise leaders could be trusted to smooth the path before us.  Very late in the game, it’s finally acceptable for respected scholars like the McNeills to state the obvious.  They point to big storms ahead, ready or not. 

Constantly wishing away the swarms of contradictions makes us crazy.  When we stop wishing, and open our eyes, the world suddenly snaps into sharp focus, and makes perfect sense — we are not in utopia; we are lost.  Finally, we have a call to action.  How can we get home?  It’s time to pursue understanding, and stir in generous amounts of imagination.  Our experiment in controlling and exploiting ecosystems has been a disaster.  On the path forward, adapting to ecosystems is likely to work far better.  It’s worth a try.

McNeill, J. R. and McNeill, William H., The Human Web — A Bird’s-eye View of World History, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Changes in the Land

Historian William Cronon was one of a group of scholars that pioneered a new and improved way of understanding the past.  Environmental history put the spotlight on many essential issues that were ignored by traditional history, and this made the sagas far more potent and illuminating.

His book, Changes in the Land, is an environmental history of colonial New England.  It documents the clash of two cultures that could not have been more different, the Indians and the settlers.  It describes the horrific mortality of imported diseases, and two centuries of senseless warfare on the fish, forests, soils, and wildlife.

The prize at the bottom of the box is a mirror.  The patterns of thinking that the colonists brought to America are essentially our modern insanity in its adolescent form.  We are the unfortunate inheritors of a dysfunctional culture.  It helps to know this.  It helps to be able to perceive the glaring defects, things we have been taught to believe are perfectly normal.

Cronon was the son of a history professor, and his father gave him the key for understanding the world.  He told his son to carry one question on his journey through life: “How did things get to be this way?”  Schoolbook history does a poor job of answering this question, because it often puts haloes on people who caused much harm, folks who faithfully obeyed the expectations of their culture and peers.

In Cronon’s book, alert readers will discover uncomfortable answers to how things got to be this way.  We have inherited a dead end way of life.  In the coming decades, big challenges like climate change, peak oil, and population growth seem certain to disrupt industrial civilization, as we know it.

We can’t return to hunting and gathering anytime soon, nor can we remain on our sinking ship.  To continue our existence on Earth, big changes are needed, new ideas.  This presents a fabulous opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to live slower, lighter, and better.  Cronon’s book reveals important lessons — what worked well, and what failed.

In the 5,000 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Europe had been transformed from a thriving wilderness to a scarred and battered land, thanks to soil mining, forest mining, fish mining, mineral mining, and a lot of crazy thinking.  During the same 5,000 years, the Indians of northern New England kept their numbers low, and didn’t beat the stuffing out of their ecosystem, because it was a sacred place, and they were well adapted to living in it.

In southern New England, the Indians regularly cleared the land by setting fires.  This created open, park-like forests, which provided habitat attractive to game.  Burning altered the ecosystem.  One early settler noted a hill near Boston, from which you could observe thousands of treeless acres below.  This was not a pristine ecosystem in its climax state.

In the north, the Indians did not clear the land with fire.  The trees in that region were too flammable, so the forests were allowed to live wild and free.  Indians travelled more by canoe.

In the south, where the climate was warmer, Indians practiced slash and burn agriculture.  Forests were killed and fields were planted with corn, beans, and squash.  Corn is a highly productive crop that is also a heavy feeder on soil nutrients.  After five to ten seasons, the soil was depleted, and the field was abandoned.  The Indians had no livestock to provide manure for fertilizer.  Few used fish for fertilizer, because they had no carts for hauling them.

This digging stick agriculture was soil mining, unsustainable.  Corn had arrived in New England just a few hundred years earlier, too recently to produce civilization and meltdown, as it did in Cahokia on the Mississippi.  Corn spurred population growth, which increased the toll on forests and soils.  (Other writers have noted that corn country was not a land of love, peace, and happiness.  Most Iroquois villages were surrounded by defensive palisades, because more people led to more stress and more conflict.)

The colonists imported an agricultural system that rocked the ecological boat much harder.  Their plows loosened the soil more deeply, encouraging erosion.  Their pastures were often overgrazed, which encouraged erosion.  They aggressively cut forests to expand pastures, cropland, and settlements, and this encouraged erosion.  Harbors were clogged with eroded soil.  Their cattle roamed the countryside, so little manure was collected for fertilizer.  They planted corn alone, so the soil did not benefit from the nitrogen that beans could add.  They burned trees to make ash for fertilizer.

Cronon devotes much attention to the eco-blunders of the settlers.  A key factor here is that their objective was not simple subsistence.  They had great interest in accumulating wealth and status, and this was achieved by taking commodities to market, like lumber and livestock.  The more land they cleared, the more cattle they could raise.  It was impossible to be too rich.

This silly hunger for status has a long history of inspiring idiotically reckless behavior.  When a colonist gazed on the land, his mind focused on the commodities, the stuff he could loot and sell.  He noticed the enormous numbers of fish, the millions of waterfowl, the unbelievable old growth forests, the furbearing animals — all the things that his kinfolk in Europe had nearly wiped out.

Indians hunted for dinner, not for the market.  They did not own the deer, elk, and moose that they hunted, so nobody freaked out if a wolf ate one.  These wild animals had coevolved with wolves, so a balance was maintained.  Colonists introduced domesticated animals that had not coevolved with wolves.  The slow, dimwitted livestock were sitting ducks for predators, which boosted wolf populations, which led infuriated settlers to launch wolf extermination programs.

Indians were not chained to private property.  When their fields wore out, they cleared new fields.  Colonists owned a fixed piece of land, which narrowed their options.  In the winter months, Indians moved to hunting camps, selecting sites with adequate firewood available.  They had nice fires and stayed warm, while the colonists shivered in their fixed villages, where firewood was scarce.

Colonists suffered from an insatiable hunger for wealth and status, which drove them to spend their lives working like madmen.  Instead of belongings, the Indians had a leisurely way of life, and this was their source of wealth.  They thought that the workaholic settlers were out of their minds.  Indians were mobile, so hoarding stuff made no sense.  By having few wants, the path to abundance was a short one.  Even the least industrious wanted nothing.

Liebig’s Law says “populations are not limited by the total annual resources available, but by the minimum amount available at the scarcest time of the year.”  So, despite the seasonal fish runs and bird migrations, life was not easy in February and March, when the game was lean and hard to hunt.  Indians stored little fish and meat.  In rough winters, they could go ten days without food.  They didn’t breed like colonists.

In the south, the Indians were engaged in a high-risk experiment by growing corn, because agriculture is almost never harmless, and it often opens the floodgates to numerous troublesome consequences.

In the north, the Indians were lucky that their home was unsuitable for farming.  They adapted to their ecosystem and lived like genuine conservatives, not looters.  This was a path with a future, until the looters arrived.

Cronon, William, Changes in the Land, Hill and Wang, New York, 1983.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Coming Famine

Consumers live like toddlers, in a comfortable crib surrounded by colorful toys, with others providing our needs.  We can turn on our computer without blowing apart mountains to fetch coal.  We don’t have to murder indigenous people to put gas in our Prius.  We don’t have to destroy rainforests to plant soy for our veggie burgers.  Someone else does it for us.  The grocery store always has food, so we can spend seven hours a day staring at screens.

Electricity and petroleum were experiments that have far higher costs than benefits.  Luckily, they are finite, and humankind’s devastating addiction can only be temporary.  Food, on the other hand, is an actual need.  Those who attempt to quit their food habit soon experience painful withdrawal symptoms and die.  Experts tell us that our population will hit nine billion by 2050, but reality isn’t required to obey trend lines.  Experts predict that by 2030 there will be five cities having populations in excess of 30 million.  Imagine what a hellish life that would be.

Experts also tell us that we’re already beating the stuffing out of the planet with a wee herd of just seven billion.  We’re engaged in a mad effort to prove that perpetual growth is possible, an endeavor slithering with slimy brain worms.  It’s an embarrassing and disgraceful enterprise for a species so proud of its legendary intelligence and evolutionary superiority.

And yet, there is tireless jabber, by serious straight-faced experts with nice neckties, about what needs to be done to feed nine billion, a heroic humanist project as sensible as space colonies.  Only humans matter, they believe.  Humanists are not biologists.  Biologists comprehend ecological reality.  They have a clear-headed understanding of overshoot, and the dependable all-natural remedy for overshoot.  What goes up must come down.

Obviously, we could reduce almost all of our serious problems by shifting our population into reverse, and flooring the gas pedal — a rational strategy that’s theoretically possible, but the experts are not interested, nor is anyone else.  It’s traitorous heresy.  God commanded us to breed like there’s no tomorrow, so we must.  Big Mama Nature laughs out loud at our folly, and with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, fetches her medicine bag.

Julian Cribb is an Australian science writer of good repute, who suffers from having both humanist and biologist tendencies.  He began to suffer from nightmares, in which humankind’s amazing techno-magic failed to provide regular happy meals for nine billion, resulting in human suffering.  During the daylight hours, he rolled up his sleeves and did a lot of high quality research, to envision a way to regularly provide nine billion happy meals.  Then he wrote The Coming Famine.

The path we’re on today is in the fast lane to serious famine, which is expected to peak by 2050.  It will not be a single global catastrophe, but a series of regional famines scattered over time and place.  Rapid economic growth in nations like India and China is accelerating the fast lane, because one of the first desires of the newly prosperous is to have a luxurious high protein diet.  This diet requires raising far more animals, which requires raising far more grain, which requires far more cropland, water, oil, fertilizer, machinery, and so on.

This high protein trend implies that increasing the table settings from seven billion to nine billion will actually require doubling global food production.  Is that possible?  Maybe, says Cribb, but it won’t be easy.  His book provides a valuable catalog of the serious obstacles to success, and it optimistically points to a chance of temporarily feeding the projected mega-crowd.  Success requires massive, radical, intelligent change, on a global scale, really soon.

Climate change alone could block success.  It may make it impossible to feed anything close to the current population, let alone nine billion, and it’s out of control.  Runoff from the Himalayan snowpack enables the survival of 1.3 billion people, and warming temperatures will change the flow patterns of major rivers.  Many other regions, like the U.S. southwest, are also at high risk.  Agricultural systems cannot tolerate unusual patterns of precipitation and temperature, and huge populations cannot tolerate food scarcity.

Water shortages alone could make dinner for nine billion impossible.  We’re already having serious water issues, and growing urban populations will divert more and more water from the fields, while contributing more and more pollutants.  Aquifers are being drained right now.  Rivers are being pumped dry.  Hot weather is speeding the evaporation of reservoirs. 

Cropland destruction alone could spoil the big dinner party.  Soils are being depleted of nutrients.  They are being carried away by water and wind.  They are being rendered infertile by salt buildup.  They are being buried by urban sprawl — most cities have been built on the finest farmland in the world.  Deserts are expanding.

Peak cheap energy alone seems certain to cancel the party.  Even if population growth stopped forever today, the end of cheap and abundant energy will radically change the crazy way we’ve been living for the last 200 years.  Imagine feeding seven billion without farm machinery, irrigation pumps, refrigerators, and transportation systems.  By 2050, when nine billion are expected for dinner, the global fuel gauge will be quite close to empty. 

All life requires nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — remove any one and life ends.  It takes cheap and abundant energy to manufacture, distribute, and apply fertilizers.  Phosphorus is likely to become the first essential nutrient to reach crisis stage, since phosphate production peaked in 1989, and what remains is of declining quality.  As rising demand exceeds supply, prices will get uppity, tempers will rise, fists will fly, and crop yields will wheeze.  Phosphorus is transferred from the soil to the corn, from the corn to the hog, from the hog to the human, flushed down the toilet and sent to the sea, lost forever.  Nutrients flow into cities and are not returned to the fields.  Poop is precious.  Remember that.

Our disastrous experiment with fossil energy enabled the mass production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, an enormous expansion of cropland and irrigation, and the tragic success of the Green Revolution.  There were 2.5 billion people in 1950, and more than 7 billion today.  The techno-miracle that can double food production by 2050 has yet to be imagined.  Half of the fertilizer we apply never reaches the target plants, and neither does half of the irrigation water.  Half of the food we grow is never eaten.  It’s really hard to reduce this costly waste.  We’ve tried.

Cribb doesn’t reveal the brilliant silver bullet solution for avoiding the coming famine, but he’s bursting with smart suggestions.  It’s so hard being a smart person living in a society that has lost its mind.  It drives him bonkers.  He is focused on better management, tighter controls, and smarter processes.  Other species have managed to do quite well without controlling their ecosystem, by simply adapting to it, and enjoying their lives.  Could there be a lesson here?

Cribb has created an excellent book.  It clobbers a generous number of dangerous illusions and lunatic fantasies, and shines a floodlight on the monsters beneath the bed.  It’s well researched, easy to read, and an essential contribution to the human knowledgebase.  Read it to the kids at bedtime, and make it the standard gift for weddings, birthdays, graduations, vision quests, and consumer holidays.

Cribb, Julian, The Coming Famine, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2010.

Here is a 22-minute video of Cribb discussing his book.  YouTube has longer videos.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Big Flatline

Jeff Rubin is the former chief economist at a major Canadian investment bank.  His book, The Big Flatline, gives readers an opportunity to see Peak Cheap Energy through the eyes of someone from the executive suites.  He spent 20 years flying around the world, hanging out with the rich and powerful, and this was a mind-altering experience.  In the process, he lost the rose-colored glasses that are mandatory in his field, and this cost him his job.
Rubin’s overview of the current geopolitical state of affairs is fascinating.  Energy costs far more than it did a decade ago.  Oil was $30 a barrel in 2004, and $147 in 2008 (crash!).  Since energy is the driving force behind the global economy, this sharp increase is a game changer.  When energy is cheap, we can grow like crazy, but triple-digit oil prices slam down on the brake pedal.
High energy prices are not a passing storm, they’re here to stay.  Perpetual growth is never a free lunch.  The inevitable approach of genuine scarcity guarantees rising prices.  In the world of geology, resources are the amount of oil in the ground, and reserves are the amount of oil that can economically be extracted.  For example, the Canadian tar sands contain 1.6 trillion barrels of oil resources, but only 170 billion barrels of reserves (11 percent of total).
As an economist, Rubin focuses on the price trends in energy, but the energy industry is paying close attention to EROEI (energy returned on energy invested).*  In the good old days of high-profit gushers, it was common to invest one calorie of energy to produce 100 calories of oil (100:1).  By 2010, typical EROEI was about 17:1, and some are predicting 5:1 by 2020. 
Rising prices enable the extraction of difficult and expensive non-conventional energy.  At some point, declining EROEI makes extraction pointless, regardless of market prices.  Consequently, most of the oil in Canadian tar sands will be left where it is.  (The EROEI of tar sands now in production is about 3:1, and 5:1 for shale deposits)
The world of coal is a similar story.  Coal resources are enormous, but coal reserves are far less than proclaimed by industry cheerleaders.  Anthracite is premium coal, and its production peaked in 1950.  Grade B bituminous coal peaked in 1990.  There is abundant grade C coal, lignite, which contains only a fifth of the energy in anthracite, and is especially filthy to burn.  Since grade C coal is so low in energy, it cannot be shipped long distances profitably.  The coal industry is also constrained by EROEI, and much of this resource will be left in the ground forever.
As we zoom toward a static no-growth economy, it would be intelligent to prepare for it, to make the transition less turbulent.  We aren’t.  The end of growth is intolerable, inconceivable, and unacceptable.  There is only one path forward, by any means necessary — a beautiful recovery followed by an eternity of perpetual growth and heavenly prosperity.  Rubin gives us a dope slap.  Recovery is impossible.  The era of wasteful excess is behind us.  Turn your brain to the ON position, pay attention, and prepare for a new reality.
Following the 2008 crash, governments borrowed vast sums of money bailing out pathologically reckless banks.  The trendy deregulation movement of the ’80s and ’90s dismantled prudent time-proven rules that prohibited bankers from behaving like spoiled two-year olds with other people’s money.  Bailouts created enormous strains for many nations.  As a consequence, “central banks are running printing presses almost nonstop to kickstart economic growth.”  As the value of the dollar declines, we’ll pay even more for energy, and dig a grave for growth.
Flooding the economy with new money will do nothing to encourage recovery, because it does not address the core problem, energy scarcity.  But it is creating catastrophic levels of debt that are guaranteed to inflate the misery down the road (beyond the next election cycle, hopefully).  Greece has a dim future, and Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy are not far behind.  Debt-crippled economies will be helpless sitting ducks when the next recession strikes.
In the first half of the book, Rubin describes the global mess, as he understands it, and he does a great job.  It’s important information, and it’s coming from a lad close to the inner circle of the banking industry, not wild-eyed radical extremists from the Sierra Club, or crazy doomsters like Richard Heinberg.  It’s a triple-shot of full-strength reality, and it brings many issues into sharp focus.
In the second half, he makes a heroic effort to recommend strategies for responding to the mess.  His goal is a fairly smooth transition to a static economy, which he presents as a realistic possibility.  For readers who have not been making a serious effort to understand the complex challenges of the Earth Crisis, Rubin’s analysis will be soothing.  The future isn’t roaring with danger.  Everything will be mostly OK, sort of.
The magic of the marketplace will rescue us by continually raising the prices on our bad habits, forcing us to live slower and lighter.  If governments raise taxes on energy, we’ll use less.  We don’t need more regulations on corporations.  If governments do nothing, we’ll still use less, because of ever-growing energy costs.
Mature people should be mindful of climate change, because it is not a trivial problem, but our fear of climate disaster exceeds the actual threat.  The gloomy IPCC warnings are based on silly energy resource projections — in a hundred years, we will not be consuming more energy than today.  We’ll be forced to quit our addiction to hydrocarbon fuels before emissions have time to cause catastrophic problems.
Manufacturing jobs will come back home, as rising energy prices drive up the cost of moving products across long distances.  The benefits of cheap Asian labor will be lost to rising shipping costs.  Transportation costs will also encourage the recovery of localized economies.  The food we eat will travel far fewer miles.  Local farm labor needs will provide exciting new careers for folks abandoned by obsolete industries (i.e., investing, insurance, real estate, etc.).
Trained as an economist, Rubin has an outlook focused on cost trends in the here and now.  He doesn’t slam nuclear energy, because it produces respectable output numbers every day.  It doesn’t matter that we have yet to figure out a safe and permanent way of disposing the waste, which can remain extremely toxic for many thousands of years.  It doesn’t matter that deactivating reactors can cost as much as building them, because the bill is sent to taxpayers and unborn generations, not today’s stockholders.
Critical thinkers who are well informed about the complex challenges of the Earth Crisis are not likely to be soothed by Rubin’s vision of the future, but his discussion of the present is excellent.  This should not be the only book you ever read. 
Rubin concludes with wise advice: “As the boundaries of a finite world continue to close in on us, our challenge is to learn that making do with less is better than always wanting more.”
*For a great illustration of EROEI trends, see figure 5.12 on page 75 of Perfect Storm by Tim Morgan.
Rubin, Jeff, The Big Flatline: Oil and the No-growth Economy, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012.  This book was first published in Canada as The End of Growth.  Here is a 27-minute video of Rubin talking about his book.