The End of Oil: on the Edge of a Perilous New World by Paul Roberts


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Some reviewers note that the book quickly became a bit awkwardly out of date.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.



The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken


I’m pretty sure that after you’ve read this book, you’ll feel the way I do: that this in the one book that everyone in the world should read. If there is a more eye-opening book than this one out there, I have yet to read it, but it doesn’t matter. That’s because this book will do a sufficiently good job at shedding our ignorance about the most important, most dangerous issues of our time. It shows the very roots of the problems surrounding our treatment of the environment, not only from a scientific perspective, but from the perspective of what is fundamentally, intrinsically wrong with how our whole society is arranged, on a multitude of levels (not only commerce as the title implies). It shows exactly why inaction has been the status quo until now. It also shows the real nightmare-inducing dangers of continuing business as usual regarding how we treat the environment, on a scientific level. This doesn’t mean that it’s a book purposely architected to incite fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is simply one of the most profound, honest, right-to-the-point accounts of the problem facing us. How do I know this? I don’t. Therefore I’ll now set off on a mission to read all of the other books by Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken, and possibly other books of the same caliber, and then decide if I want to revise this review, but I’m rather confident I won’t have to :-)


I don’t really want to allude to the content of the book in further detail, since anything not akin to stellar praise would not do it justice. What I can merely tell you is that you won’t be disappointed by reading it. In fact, you will be enthralled by coming across a such an excellent verbalization of what has been bothering you all along. I’m not being endorsed to say this, in fact, I won’t try to earn commission for referring people to this book either.


And lastly, I think it would be good to add: If you read this book, you’ll get a feel for how thorough Hawken is in his approach, and you feel that it’s nearly impossible that there could be any holes in his theories. He has all his bases covered, even all the well-veiled skepticisms purported so cunningly by those who stand to gain from shunning environmentalism (even though he doesn’t state this explicitly at all - the reader simply realizes it to a greater and greater extent as each chapter passes).


P.S. Here’s a review from George Gendron that puts it into words better than I can:

This book, like the vision of capitalism it describes, is gentle, healing, restorative, and quietly eloquent. It will not make you richer, smarter, or more charismatic. It will merely challenge you to reexamine everything you believe about business as it is currently practiced, how we create meaning in our lives, and the fabric of the legacy we are weaving for our children. The Ecology of Commerce is nothing less than an economic and cultural masterpiece

Did you know?

In 2010, there will be 4200km of new highways in and around Shanghai, China that didn't exist in 2000. Varese, a town in Northern Italy, runs on 100% renewable power. The town uses a mix of wind, solar and small-scale hydropower. The town has reaped benefits from the energy network through added jobs, and an additional 350,000 euros [US $514,000] in revenues that are handed over to the council each year.


SurfaceTension is all about seperating the signal from the noise when it comes to renewable energy, climate change debate, protecting the environment, and embracing green, environmentally friendly technology and energy alternatives.
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