This paper analyzes the major debates over future petroleum supply in the United States, in particular the long-running feud between the world-famous geologist, M. King Hubbert, and the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Vincent E. McKelvey. The intellectual history of resource evaluation reveals that, by the mid-twentieth century, economists had come to control the discourse of defining a “natural resource.” Their assurances of abundance overturned earlier conceptions of petroleum supplies as fixed and finite in favor of a more flexible understanding of resource potential in a capitalist society and acceptance of the price elasticity of natural resources. In 1956, King Hubbert questioned these assurances by predicting that U.S. domestic oil production would peak around 1970, which drew him into a long-running debate with McKelvey and the so-called “Cornucopians.” When Hubbert’s Peak was validated in the mid-1970s, he became a prophet. The acceptance of Hubbert’s theory ensured the centrality of oil in almost all discourses about the future, and it even created a cultural movement of prophecy believers fixated on preparing for the oil end times. Although notions of resource cornucopia seem to be once again in ascendance in the United States, Hubbert’s Peak still haunts any consideration of humanity’s environmental future.
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