"Fascinating . . . Roberts offers a stinging rebuke of America's myopic, do-nothing energy policy." Joseph J. Romm, former acting assistant secretary of energy, author of The Hype About Hydrogen
Even by conservative estimates, our oil reserves will begin to run out in the next thirty years, and recent disclosures by Shell and other oil companies, as well as rising gas prices, suggest that oil production has already peaked. What happens when the oil runs out? In The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, which Houghton Mifflin will publish in May, acclaimed journalist Paul Roberts travels to the front lines of the coming energy revolution from Russia to Saudi Arabia, from Beijing to Washington for the first complete exploration of the current world situation. He discusses
the extent to which the war in Iraq is a war over oil and what global conflicts await us in the near future
the economic vulnerability that comes with dependence on an increasingly scarce natural resource, one that is ever more susceptible to acts of terror
how much time we have before it becomes impossible to reverse the damage done to the earth's atmosphere by oil-related gases
the future of alternative fuels such as hydrogen and natural gas, and the promises and pitfalls of solar and wind power
why the United States, the world's most powerful nation and the leading consumer of energy, has fallen behind in the transition to other forms of energy
For the past century, oil has dominated our economy, politics, and culture. Energy issues from the war in Iraq and the rise of China as the world's largest energy consumer to the increasingly visible effects of global warming and advances in alternative fuel sources lead the headlines daily. The effects of our oil-based society on the environment, geopolitics, and the world economy make it clear that the transition from oil must begin now. But what will that transition entail, and how do we begin to move on from an oil-dependent energy economy?
Roberts answers those questions and many more. He points out that although we are on dangerous ground, we can take steps to avoid disaster, and he presents a solid, realistic plan for breaking our oil addiction. The End of Oil is a groundbreaking work that will prove essential to our understanding of, and survival in, this uncertain new world.
Paul Roberts is a regular contributor to Harper's Magazine, for which he has written about the timber industry, the auto industry, and the destruction of the Florida Everglades. A longtime observer of both business and environmental issues, Roberts is an expert on the complex interplay of economics, technology, and the environment, and has written for such publications as the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone. He was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 1999. A graduate of the University of Washington, he lives in Leavenworth, Washington.
The world oil well is running dry. World oil supplies will peak in the next thirty years, largely because of growing global demand, led by China. Today, global demand is around 78 million barrels a day. By 2020, this will grow to as much as 140 million barrels a day.
The world's oil supplies are in the hands of unstable and anti-Western OPEC nations. Today, three of every ten barrels of oil produced in the world come from OPEC. By 2020, more than half of all our oil will be OPEC-produced. In the future, China, not America, will be the world's most important consumer of oil and other energy, and China is already forming alliances with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations.
To stave off the most disastrous effects of global warming, we must stop burning fossil fuels in the next twenty to forty years. By some estimates, doing that will reduce America's carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent over the next century. Unless China, which by 2050 will get more than one-third of its energy from coal, can develop ways to burn that coal cleanly, the increased CO2 emissions will make catastrophic global warming all but inevitable.
Small improvements can make a big difference. Even a modest improvement in fuel-economy standards 32 mpg for cars and 24 mpg for light trucks would save more than two million barrels per day by 2010, or about two-thirds of what American officials hope to produce in Iraq and more than twice as much as could be produced from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The energy revolution begins with natural gas. Gas will serve as the "bridge" fuel between the current coal- and oil-based energy system and the new energy systems of the future. Gas is more abundant and burns far cleaner than oil, but most of the world reserves will be very costly to access.
Alternative fuels and energy sources could form the core of a post-oil energy economy. Hydrogen fuel cells could revolutionize transportation, producing a car that will get the equivalent of 81 mpg more than three times as efficient as a car with a standard internal combustion engine. The market for alternative energy sources such as wind power and solar energy is growing as rapidly as the cell phone industry did in the 1990s, but without a fundamental change in the way governments invest in energy, these oil alternatives will remain marginalized.
We can change our habits and become more efficient we've done it before. After the oil crises of the 1970s, Americans became more energy efficient, which led to lower demand for oil and consequently lower prices. Ironically, as oil became cheaper we began to use more, and despite dramatic improvements in efficiency, modern societies use more energy per capita than has been used at any other time in human history. Increased efficiency will be imperative in the post-oil future: if you thought the gas station lines were long thirty years ago, imagine what they will be like when there is no oil left.
What is the solution? There is no one perfect fix to the coming energy crisis. Rather, America will have to lead the charge on increased conservation and efficiency, decreased reliance on oil and coal, and increased development and use of clean energy sources such as natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, and solar and wind power, which will define our global energy economy in the future. We need to start making these changes now, because the future of life as we know it depends on our actions.