From Publishers Weekly
Everyone agrees we will run out of fossil fuels someday-Goodstein, a Caltech professor, argues it will be sooner rather than later based on the petrochemical data available. In this alarming little book, portions of which were originally published in a bioethics journal, Goodstein explains with limited jargon that we will completely exhaust oil supplies within 10 years. He warns that we have reached, or even surpassed Hubbert's Peak, the moment when we have consumed half of all oil known to exist and will likely use the rest up even faster, due to ever-increasing demand and decreasing discoveries. What will we do when all the oil is gone? Goodstein outlines two scenarios, both chilling. In the worst case, we might run out of oil so fast that the only affordable alternative is coal. In this throwback future, Goodstein writes, "the greenhouse effect that results eventually tips Earth's climate into a new state hostile to life." The best case scenario involves a methane-based fuel economy that would bridge the gap until we could build up nuclear and solar power sources to meet our long-term needs. Goodstein admits that some geologists disagree that we will deplete all oil sources within this decade, but even conservative calculations predict the price of oil will increase beyond the reach of most people within the foreseeable future. "No matter what else happens," Goodstein states, "this is the century in which we must learn to live without fossil fuels." He maintains a cautious optimism about alternative energy sources, but readers may find little comfort imagining nuclear fission energy as the next best thing.
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In this pithy primer on what might replace oil as civilization's fuel, a Caltech professor explains the fundamentals of energy, engines, and entropy for a mass audience. Goodstein opens with a quote from a geologist who predicted in the 1950s, to derision, that U.S. oil reserves would inevitably be depleted. Applying this reasoning to global reserves, Goodstein warns not only that the last drop will be pumped by 2100 at the latest, but also that peak production, estimated to occur in the current decade, marks the beginning of a global shortage. So, start planning postpetroleum technology now, exhorts the author. With exceptional conciseness, he presents the constraints nature will impose on any fuel-technology combination, beginning with explanations of exploitable sources of energy, continuing with how chemical and nuclear bonds hold and release energy, and arriving at how any engine, in principle, converts energy to work. Looking at fuels such as methane or hydrogen, Goodstein sees not panaceas but, rather, life support until a future arrives that lives on sunlight and nuclear fusion. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved