2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)
Paper No. 66-6
Presentation Time: 9:35 AM-9:55 AM

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HUBBERT CURVE: ITS ORIGINS AND CURRENT PERCEPTIONS

MCCABE, Peter J., U.S. Geol Survey, Federal Center MS 939, Box 25046, Denver, CO 80225-0046, pmccabe@usgs.gov.

In 1930 M. King Hubbert joined Columbia University as a young faculty member. New York City gave him a “grandstand view” of the Great Depression, an event that profoundly influenced him. In response, he and a group of fellow freethinking individuals organized the Technocracy movement. Blaming economists and politicians for the Depression, the movement advocated that engineers and scientists should govern North America. They believed that societal trends could be predicted through rigorous scientific and statistical analyses. Hubbert was the Assistant Director and Director of Education of Technocracy. He wrote a textbook that was used for teaching the principles of the movement: the Technocracy Study Course. The movement grew rapidly and once had 250,000 members and employed up to one hundred people at Columbia assembling statistical data.

The Technocrats used growth and decline curves to predict a wide range of societal trends. As one who always advocated rigorous analysis in geologic studies, Hubbert had been greatly impressed by USGS statistical studies of mineral resources published while he was a student at Chicago. He believed that by drawing a smoothed mean curve through plots of mineral-production time series, one could predict future production. He also argued that production of finite resources, such as petroleum, would inevitably peak and decline. The Technocracy movement withered within a few years but Hubbert resuscitated his ideas about applying a bell-shaped curve to oil production data after he joined Shell in 1947. Though largely dismissed at that time, his predictions and methodology gained credibility with the oil crisis of the early 1970s.

Many resource geologists and economists now believe that the shapes of fossil fuel production curves are determined by supply and demand, with resource abundance and availability being just one of several controlling factors. Other factors include advances in production and consumption technologies over time and competition from alternate energy sources. The Technocracy movement was not successful but the notion of technocracy was ahead of its time. Technocrats have been a powerful influence on political decision-making during the last 50 years. Perhaps never more so than when Hubbert presented his testimony on energy resources to Congress in 1974.

2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)
Session No. 66
M. King Hubbert at 100: The Enduring Contributions of Twentieth-Century Geology’s Renaissance Man
Washington State Convention and Trade Center: 602/603/604
8:00 AM-12:00 PM, Monday, November 3, 2003

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 35, No. 6, September 2003, p. 195

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