Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Last Oil Shock

The Last Oil ShockAfter thoroughly depressing myself with Collapse and Heat, I went for a triple whammy with The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man by David Strahan (London: John Murray, 2007).

After the award-winning writing of Jared Diamond and George Monbiot, it is perhaps unsurprising that I was slightly disappointed. While Strahan covers an important topic and has clearly spent a great deal of time on research, much of the book felt forced. It could be the US-style emphasis on personal stories and anecdotes that illustrate every point. It could be the paranoid tone of much of the book, and the anti-Bush and Blair rants that may be partially justified but that will cause many readers who need convincing to put down the book after the first chapter. It could be a general anti-capitalist tone that is merely preaching to many of those already converted.

The only chapters I thought should be compulsory reading were on the public policy options available and the geopolitics of OPEC. Strahan has a cynical and hence realistic view of how difficult it will be to persuade the public and their elected representatives of the dramatic steps necessary to smooth the world's path beyond Peak Oil:

[E]ven achieving complete independence from hydrocarbons by 2030 should be possible, provided policymakers accept that energy consumption must fall massively, and that to achieve this markets must be taken by the scruff of the neck. Extraordinary things can be achieved when society is put on a wartime footing, which would be entirely appropriate to our situation. All it needs is some brave political leadership. What a terrifying thought. (p.237)

Unfortunately even the public policy chapter fixates on carbon rations as a solution. I think rationing is a massively invasive response appropriate only to genuine wartime shortages. Carbon taxes would be a much simpler, more efficient and hands-off market-based solution. And isn't Bush the leading proponent of wars on abstract nouns?

Unless you are a real enviro-junkie I'd suggest you stick to Monbiot and Diamond's books as more interesting considerations of the potential for global eco-disaster.

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