The End of Oil
is a "geologic cautionary tale for a complacent world accustomed to reliable infusions of cheap energy." The book centers around one irrefutable fact: the global supply of oil is being depleted at an alarming rate. Precisely how much accessible (not to mention theoretical) oil remains is debatable, but even conservative estimates mark the peak of production in decades rather than centuries. Which energy sources will replace oil, who will control them, and how disruptive to the current world order the transition from one system to the next will be are just a few of the big questions that Paul Roberts attempts to answer in this timely book.
As Roberts makes abundantly clear, the major oil players in the world wield their enormous economic and political power in order to maintain the status quo. Of course, they get plenty of help from the tens of millions of consumers, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, who guzzle oil as if there is an unlimited supply. And this demand shows no sign of abating--nearly half of the world's population lives without the benefits of fossil fuels and they desperately want to be among the haves. In countries such as China and India, where energy systems are already breaking down, Roberts discusses how they are looking to oil to fuel their race for development, in many cases ignoring environmental considerations altogether.
Though there is much to be pessimistic about, Roberts does uncover some positive developments, such as the race for alternative energy sources, notably hydrogen fuel cells, which could help to ease us off of our oil dependence before a full-blown energy crisis occurs. No one book could cover every aspect of what Roberts calls "arguably the most serious crisis ever to face industrial society," but The End of Oil is a remarkably informative and balanced introduction to this pressing subject. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
All economic activity is rooted in the energy economy, which means a substantial portion of the current world economy is linked to the production and distribution of oil. But what will happen, Roberts asks, when the well starts to run dry? Walking readers through the modern energy economy, he suggests that grim prospect may not be as far off as we'd like to think and points out how political unrest could disrupt the world's oil supply with disastrous results. But that could be the least of our worries; some of Roberts's most persuasive passages describe an almost inevitable future shaped by global warming, especially as rapidly industrializing countries like China begin to replicate the pollution history of the U.S. Some signs of hope are visible, he believes, especially in Europe, but the stumbling progress of potential alternatives such as hydrogen power or fuel cells is additional cause for concern. And though the current administration's energy policy gets plenty of criticism, Roberts (a regular contributor to Harper's
) saves some of his harshest barbs for American consumers, described as "the least energy-conscious people on the planet." If the government won't create stricter fuel efficiency standards, he argues, blame must be placed equally on our eagerness to drive around in gas-guzzling SUVs and on corporate lobbying. Stressing the dire need to act now to create any meaningful long-term effect, this measured snapshot of our oil-dependent economy forces readers to confront unsettling truths without sinking into stridency. This book may very well become for fossil fuels what Fast Food Nation
was to food or High and Mighty
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