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Out of Gas: All You Need to Know about the End of the Age of Oil

3.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393058574
ISBN-10: 0393058573
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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 140 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058574
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,624,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Goodstein's book stands out from others about Peak Oil I've read because he emphasizes the thermodynamic aspects of the oil problem. Economic reasoning about energy resources can be misleading because economics arose in the 18th Century and implicitly assumed the Newtonian scientific worldview before it incorporated the concepts of heat and entropy developed in the 19th Century. In other words, economics presupposes the existence of perpetual-motion machines. In the physical reality we have to live in, however, the "energy returned on energy invested" (EROEI) determines the true value of an energy resource. The good old-fashioned gushing oil wells we had 50-60 years ago had EROEI's of 100:1 or better, whereas current oil extraction has an EROEI around 10:1 on average and falling. When the EROEI of an energy resource falls down to 2:1 or less, the game is over because you aren't yielding enough energy to maintain an industrial civilization, much less to grow it. However we keep seeing physically ignorant economic analyses of alternative energy "sources" like ethanol-from-corn, Canadian oil sands, hydrogen fuel cells etc. that are really pseudoscientific because they have unity or worse EROEI's, even if the author can assign some arbitrary "price" to the final product that makes them seem "competitive" with real energy supplies.

Once you understand and integrate the thermodynamic aspect of the energy problem, you realize that the seemingly colossal reserve of oil sands in Alberta is useless and irrelevant if you can't extract it with a high enough EROEI.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been researching the topic of oil depletion by reading (& buying!) many books. I was hoping that this small volume would provide a nice, condensed, well-argued version to hand to friends and family. I was wrong.
While Goodstein lays out the usual scenario regarding oil depletion and correctly explains differences between "remaining years" via the Hubbert's Peak method and the R/P method, much of the information is seemingly unconnected.
Yes, I know that the Laws of Thermodynamics apply. But I have read much clearer explanations of those laws in Freshman Physics in college. While "pithy", his explanations are not exactly clear or self-evident to the casual reader. And, once Thermodynamics are explored, the reader is left wondering WHY was all that explained? How does that connect to oil depletion? I know, because I have been studying this in other books, but this book does not link the theoretical explanations clearly with the problem of a shortage in oil production, available energy, etc.
I have read books that were longer and more clear on the subject; books that are a faster, easier and more understandable read than this brief volume. The first I would recommend is "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies" by Richard Heinberg. This is an excellent well-rounded review of all issues regarding oil depletion.
For the reader who would like to explore the geological aspects in more depth (why can't we explore for more? what about making existing fields more productive? how is oil formed and where is it found?), I would recommend "Hubbert's Peak" by Kenneth Deffeyes, an associate of King Hubbert.
I'm sorry I paid so much for this slim little volume.
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Format: Hardcover
I have trouble understanding why so many people favor intellectual debate over meaningful action. We don't need longer books or more detailed technical explanations. Denser treatises won't heat our homes or transport us around the globe.

To me, the author's goal seems both simple and exceedingly well done: to paint an unvarnished picture of a world headed towards a disaster no one is taking seriously.

Like some other reviewers, I have been researching alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. At present, they are pitiful. This book explains why the alternatives are so bleak, and why finding better alternatives requires a huge undertaking for which we require a much stronger resolve than currently exists.

In my community, residents periodically "all" try to read the same book, and then discuss it. I wish everyone would read this book, not just in my town, but in towns and cities everywhere. It's understandable, direct, and extremely sobering. We don't need a better book on the subject; simply acting on this one would be a superb start.
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Format: Hardcover
Goodstein's small volume discusses the consequences of having passed the peak of oil discovery and soon reaching the peak of oil production. He makes the extreme but correct claim that civilization as we know it will not survive, but will revert to no better than an eighteenth century world, unless we can find a way to live without the oil, coal, methane, and other fossil fuels which are running our electrical generation plants and our transportation systems.
In the course of his discussion of the scientific basis for our fuel based society, he makes the useful distinction between energy conservation (That's the first law of thermodynamics, energy/mass is always conserved) and fossil fuel conservation (That would help postpone the crisis), briefly discusses heat engines and entropy (that's the second law - we need useful work not just energy).
Goodstein makes the telling observation that oil is valuable and essential as a raw material (feedstock) for the synthetic materials, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Once we don't have enough of it, it will be more valuable for these purposes than it ever was as a fuel source. A chapter, possibly a book, could be written on this neglected aspect of the oil as a fuel issue alone. Drilling for the Alaska oil should be postponed, if not forever, until at least it is the last resource for the petrochemical industries.
The alternatives to oil as the fuel source are examined. Goodstein identifies two as possible solutions to the problem.
One is direct conversion of sunlight to electricity. This is something that can be done now but at nowhere near the efficiency and cost needed to be practical. It will need to be done much better to be a solution.
The other is the feared and scorned nuclear power alternative.
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