Book Review: The End of Oil

27Sep08

You may recognize author Paul Roberts from the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? (I did, at least :) )

I have just finished reading his excellent book, The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, which will now be added to our book list. Here are my thoughts:

The title of the book makes it sound like an alarmist clamour concerned with peak oil. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is instead a comprehensive overview of the whole shebang: the energy crisis and the shape of things to come. Not only oil, but other hydrocarbon fuels, hydrogen, nuclear, wind, solar, energy efficiency and the economic implications of all the above are discussed, in a sober and impartial manner. Roberts does not appear to be lobbying for any particular energy source, in fact, he details the great leaps currently made in wind farms, fuel cells, clean coal and solar power, but is quick to point out the practical shortcomings, economic considerations and incredible technical challenges.

The book is rife with well-backed claims, interesting (if unsettling) facts and cogent arguments. I also found the important history lessons on the emergence of the hydrocarbon economy and the 1973 oil embargo very informative and interesting.

Some reviewers note that the book quickly became a bit awkwardly out of date. This is true to some extent. The “worst case” scenario where oil reaches $50/barrel and sends the world economy plunging now seems like a rosy picture. Another case in point is where Roberts predicts that since US interference in Iraq to “secure” oil supply caused more harm than good through disruption, Iraqi oil exports will essentially never rise above pre-war levels. This turned out to be wrong: it did in fact shatter that barrier in 2007.

A commendable aspect of the book is how Roberts courageously and continuously lambastes the Bush administration, the automotive industry, the coal lobby and other major hydrocarbon stakeholders, but at the same time acknowledges that the massive asset inertia of the current energy industry makes lowering emissions and improving efficiency an immense economic and pragmatic challenge. These kinds of objective analyses almost go as far as watering down the author’s plea: sometimes the reader may get the impression that there’s enough ammunition in the book to argue both for complacency and immediate action.

PS. Academic demands have restrained activity on SurfaceTension over the past few months. Rest assured, though, that I’m confident we’ll soon return to firing on all cylinders.

1 Response to “Book Review: The End of Oil”


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