The Gas Planet
America has painted itself into a tight corner by basing its entire infrastructure on a finite energy source: oil.
Two new books consider the myopic governmental planning that has brought us to the lip of the proverbial gas hose. Paul Roberts' The End of Oil is an exhaustive study of modern energy production and politics, taking the reader from the dwindling wells of Saudi Arabia to the successful solar-powered German city of Freiberg, stopping en route to gasp at the idiocy that has dragged us into Iraq. David Goodstein's Out of Gas also shudders at the spectacle that is--in the writer's phrase--Oil War II, and warns that this is only the start of chaos unless we wean ourselves off petrochemicals.
Roberts plays journalist to Goodstein's academic. Roberts wanders through the blasted landscape outside of Baku, Azerbaijan, where a hoped-for oil bonanza never materialized, then heads to the world's largest wind-power farm, located outside of Walla Walla, Wash. Roberts reminds us that war in Iraq and coup attempts in Venezuela are related, as the Axis of Ethyl--Cheney, Rummy and Wolfie--have long made it a Neocon priority to topple OPEC and reinvent the oil colonialism of the early 20th century.
Goodstein dives into the history of energy production, detailing where we took wrong turns. A number of individuals stand out in the narrative, including Marion King Hubbert, a geophysicist working for Shell, who correctly predicted in 1956 that America's oil production would peak and then fall in the 1970s. Reaching further back into history, there's the story of Svante August Arrhenius, a Nobel Prize-winning Swedish scientist who in 1896 hypothesized that the burning of fossil fuels would lead to global warming.
Despite these differing approaches, both writers reach the same conclusion: Oil will disappear in this century, so we must take immediate action. Each makes grim prophesies for the future, yet both authors hold out hope that citizens can unite to try and effect change before it's too late.
Still, both warn that alternatives are still a ways away from readiness. Roberts reports encouraging results from bioreactors, including tubes of pond scum that can generate vast amounts of hydrogen, while Goodstein advocates a return to nuclear energy as a stop-gap before other sources are perfected.
Though their floorplans for the future vary slightly, writers Roberts and Goodstein agree that it's already rather late in the day. But if we don't take action, then we will get what we deserve: a boiling planet at war for resources.