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ZOOM: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future Hardcover – October 1, 2007
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A stirring call to arms urging Americans to demand that the government act now to meet the challenges of global warming and to tackle the country's addiction to oil. Carson, former industry editor of The Economist, and Vaitheeswaran, who for ten years reported on environmental and energy issues for that magazine, take to task the automakers of Detroit and Big Oil, dubbing them "dinosaurs" facing extinction unless they change their thinking soon. The authors' closeup look at the workings of the auto industry is sharp and pulls no punches. They credit Toyota with taking the lead in the race to develop the successor to the internal-combustion engine, calling the Prius a stepping stone to the car of the future. The chapters on oil trace the story of America's dependence on Mideast oil from FDR's pact with Ibn Saud of Saudia Arabia in World War II to the terror-threatened market of the present day, and they consider the serious problems now facing the Western oil giants, especially the restricted access to reserves as competition from national oil companies increases. But there's also good news, note the authors. Employing religious terminology, they envision a "Great Awakening" under way in the form of a new awareness of the need for energy reform and some specific actions being taken to achieve it. They offer engrossing stories about a variety of technology innovators and entrepreneurs with fresh ideas about clean energy, including the use of hydrogen to power cars that have clean fuel cells instead of dirty gasoline engines. The authors conclude with a manifesto stating five principles for a smart energy policy, including the necessity of individual action and a grassroots rebellion that will prompt action from the country's leaders.A timely, authoritative book written in a punchy, easy-to-read style. -- Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Iain Carson has been the Industry Editor of The Economist since 1994, covering the airline, transportation and manufacturing industries. He has also worked as a reporter and anchor for BBC Television and Channel Four. Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran is an MIT-trained engineer who spent ten years covering global environmental and energy issues for The Economist. He is the author of Power to the People (FSG).
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The book does seem a bit rambling and unfocused, certainly in contrast to the laser-like focus of Cool It. Some have criticized it for including large tracts of text from earlier articles that appeared in The Economist. Well. . . I don't subscribe to The Economist, so this was all new to me.
As we are led down this winding path, we get a schooling in how Big Oil and Big Auto have corrupted the political process. We see how dependent the world has become on the Middle East. We find that both Big Oil and Big Auto -- squabbling partners, like siamese twins who detest one another yet can't be separated -- are facing serious problems in the coming decades. The authors believe that grassroots political pressure, a great awakening, will eventually force a change to overwhelm the armies of lobbyists and fountains of campaign money that they have showered on politicians. Pressure is rising up from consumers, it's rising up from voters, it's rising up from the states and local governments, and Washington DC will be the last place to come around.
One big insight here relates to global warming. The authors don't see global warming as a critical problem -- provided that we move away from gas guzzlers toward more efficient cars and energy sources. However, that is only one path that industry could follow. The other path leads to tar sands, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids. If these become the replacement for conventional oil, then our global CO2 emissions could skyrocket.
Even Bjorn Lomborg would object to that. Even I, a long-time skeptic of global warming, would object to that. Making large changes to the composition of our planet's atmosphere seems. . . imprudent, to say the least.
So, what do the authors recommend? They are economists. . . It's not surprising that they advocate leveling the playing field so that free markets can solve our problems. They're in favor of a carbon dioxide tax, to "internalize" the various social, national security and environmental costs of fossil fuels. This, they believe, would head off the dirty fuels scenario. They want to end subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels, but also end protective tariffs against Brazilian sugar and ethanol. However, their loudest cry is to end subsidies for the oil companies. They paint a truly disgusting picture of these subsidies in the book. According to the authors, most alt-energy advocates haven't lobbied to get rid of these subsidies. Instead they've been happy to support hundreds of billions in giveaways for Big Oil -- as long as they get a few crumbs for their pet wind, or solar, or biofuels projects along with it.
Another point the authors make is that government must not try to "pick a winner" among the various alt-fuel technologies. Governments have always done a lousy job of picking technologies, that's something for the free market to decide.
Unfortunately, they aren't too good at taking their own advice, as throughout the book they repeatedly name the "hydrogen economy" as the ultimate answer. At one point they even make a condescending remark about James Woolsey because he dared to say hydrogen isn't the answer. Yet, at no point in the book do the authors ever explain what advantage hydrogen supposedly offers over battery-electric cars.
Zoom is a good book if you understand what you are getting and what you aren't. If you're looking for something that truly captures the excitement of all the innovations bubbling up in the auto industry now -- from Tesla and Phoenix, Toyota and GM, Nissan and Subaru -- then you better look elsewhere. These developments are mentioned in passing, but not really focused on. You'll get more and better info from reading AutoblogGreen regularly.
However, Zoom does have some good insights about how our industries and political system got to where we are today, and how we can start getting out of this mess. As an economic and political manifesto, I'll give it a qualified recommendation.
Most recent customer reviews
by Iain Carson and Vijay V Vaitheeswaran
It is pretty clear that something has to change.Read more