The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World

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"Petroleum is now so deeply entrenched in our economy, our politics, and our personal expectations that even modest efforts to phase it out are fought tooth and nail by the most powerful forces in the world: companies and governments that depend on oil revenues; the developing nations that see oil as the only means to industrial success; and a Western middle class that refuses to modify its energy-dependent lifestyle. But within thirty years, by even conservative estimates, we will have burned our way through most of the oil that is easily
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Overview

"Petroleum is now so deeply entrenched in our economy, our politics, and our personal expectations that even modest efforts to phase it out are fought tooth and nail by the most powerful forces in the world: companies and governments that depend on oil revenues; the developing nations that see oil as the only means to industrial success; and a Western middle class that refuses to modify its energy-dependent lifestyle. But within thirty years, by even conservative estimates, we will have burned our way through most of the oil that is easily accessible. And well before then, the side effects of an oil-based society - economic volatility, geopolitical conflict, and the climate-changing impact of hydrocarbon pollution - will render fossil fuels an all but unacceptable solution. how will we break our addiction to oil? And what will we use in its place to maintain a global economy and political system that are entirely reliant on cheap, readily available energy?" Reported from around the globe, The End of Oil brings the world situation into fresh and dramatic focus for business and general readers alike. Roberts talks to both oil optimists and oil pessimists, delves deep into the economics and politics of oil, considers the promises and pitfalls of alternatives, and shows that, although the world energy system has begun its epoch-defining transition, disruption and violent dislocation are almost assured if we do not take a more proactive stance. With the topicality and readability of Fast Food Nation and the scope and trenchant analysis of Guns, Germs, and Steel, this is a book for the new century.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
This dense compendium explores a troubling paradox: the more energy we use, the richer we become, but spiraling consumption also speeds us closer to the economic havoc that will result from the depletion of oil and gas reserves. For political, cultural, and economic reasons (our current energy infrastructure is worth ten trillion dollars), alternatives such as hydrogen, solar, and wind power resist widespread development. Roberts’s outspoken but even-handed account closes with four crystal-ball scenarios. In the rosiest, breakthroughs in renewable energy spur a decline in fossil-fuel use; in the direst, Arab resentment at the overthrow of Saddam Hussein leads to the downfall of the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes, the price of oil rises to fifty dollars a barrel, and the unprepared American economy is left in tatters.
Publishers Weekly
All economic activity is rooted in the energy economy, which means a substantial portion of the current world economy is linked to the production and distribution of oil. But what will happen, Roberts asks, when the well starts to run dry? Walking readers through the modern energy economy, he suggests that grim prospect may not be as far off as we'd like to think and points out how political unrest could disrupt the world's oil supply with disastrous results. But that could be the least of our worries; some of Roberts's most persuasive passages describe an almost inevitable future shaped by global warming, especially as rapidly industrializing countries like China begin to replicate the pollution history of the U.S. Some signs of hope are visible, he believes, especially in Europe, but the stumbling progress of potential alternatives such as hydrogen power or fuel cells is additional cause for concern. And though the current administration's energy policy gets plenty of criticism, Roberts (a regular contributor to Harper's) saves some of his harshest barbs for American consumers, described as "the least energy-conscious people on the planet." If the government won't create stricter fuel efficiency standards, he argues, blame must be placed equally on our eagerness to drive around in gas-guzzling SUVs and on corporate lobbying. Stressing the dire need to act now to create any meaningful long-term effect, this measured snapshot of our oil-dependent economy forces readers to confront unsettling truths without sinking into stridency. This book may very well become for fossil fuels what Fast Food Nation was to food or High and Mighty to SUVs. (May 15) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
How black gold has shaped us socially and politically and how we can end our dependence on it. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Enjoy your SUVs while you can, gas-guzzlers: the glory days of hydrocarbons are over-and hard times are on the way. So warns freelance journalist Roberts, who's made the energy industry his beat for Harper's. "On the face of it," he writes, "our energy economy is humming along like a perpetual-motion machine." But, he adds, that's illusory: although the growing energy economy requires the constant discovery and exploitation of new stores of fossil fuels, with demand expected to grow by 50 percent in the US alone by 2020, the reality is that actual production is falling, so that the oil-dependent nations of the First World are ever more dependent on countries that feel little goodwill toward them. "By nearly any sane measure," Roberts remarks, "the quest for less problematic forms of energy and energy-efficient technologies should be a top priority for all players in the energy world." Yet that has not been the case: although, Roberts notes, the energy industry has historically shown itself to be capable of turning on a dime, the powers that be-not least of them the current US administration ("If American energy politics has always been dysfunctional, a new standard may have been set with the election of George W. Bush")-have resisted regulations requiring greater efficiencies. The road to a new energy regime is likely to be perilous, politically and economically; as Roberts notes, previous transformations have been profoundly dislocating. Yet more dislocating will be the worldwide economic shock when the news sinks in that depletion and scarcity are the order of the day: "World markets-and the political systems that depend on those markets-could deteriorate with surprising speed once itbecomes widely known that a peak has occurred," Roberts warns. So what is to be done? Well, plenty, all of it involving a great change of "energy lifestyles"-and all of it certain to cause pain. A disturbing geopolitical survey of the world energy landscape. Agent: Heather Schroder/ICM
From the Publisher
"May very well become for fossil fuels what Fast Food Nation was to food or High and Mighty to SUVs." Publishers Weekly

"Brilliant" The Baltimore Sun

"A stunning piece of work—perhaps the best single book ever produced about our energy economy and its environmental implications." New York Review of Books

"An extraordinarily clear and powerful analysis of what is arguably the most serious crisis our industrial society has ever faced." Boston Herald

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618562114
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/5/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,360,889
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Oil, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award in 2005. He has written about resource economics and politics for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, and lectures frequently on business and environmental issues. He lives in Washington State.

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Read an Excerpt

The End of Oil

On the Edge of a Perilous New World
By Paul Roberts

Houghton Mifflin Company

Copyright © 2004 Paul Roberts
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0618239774

Prologue
I was standing on a sand dune in Saudi Arabia's 'Empty Quarter,' the
vast, rust-red desert where one-quarter of the world's oil is found, when I
lost my faith in the modern energy economy. It was after sundown and the
sky was dark blue and the sand still warm to the touch. My Saudi hosts had
just finished showing me around the colossal oil city they'd built atop an oil
field called Shayba. Engineers and technicians, they were rattling off
production statistics with all the bravado of proud parents, telling me how
many hundreds of thousands of barrels Shayba produced every day, and
how light and sweet and sought-after the oil was. Saudi oilmen are usually a
taciturn bunch, guarding their data like state secrets. But this was post 9/11
and Riyadh, in full glasnost mode, was wooing Western journalists and trying
to restore the Saudis' image as dependable long-term suppliers of energy
--not suicidal fanatics or terrorist financiers. And it was working. I'd
arrived in the kingdom filled with doubts about a global energy order
based on a finite and problematic substance--oil. As we'd toured Shayba
in a spotless white GMC Yukon, though, my hosts plying me with facts and
figures on the world's most powerful oil enterprise, my worries faded. I'd
begun to feel giddy and smug, as if I had been allowed to peek into the garden
of the energy gods and found it overflowing with bounty.

Then the illusion slipped. On a whim, I asked my hosts about another,
older oil field, some three hundred miles to the northwest, called Ghawar.
Ghawar is the largest field ever discovered. Tapped by American engineers
in 1953, its deep sandstone reservoirs at one time had held perhaps a seventh
of the world's known oil reserves, and its wells produced six million
barrels of oil a day--or roughly one of every twelve barrels of crude consumed
on earth. In the iconography of oil, Ghawar is the eternal mother,
the mythical giant that makes most other fields look puny and mortal. My
hosts smiled politely, yet looked faintly annoyed--not, it seemed, because
I was asking inappropriate questions, but because, probably for the
thousandth time, Ghawar had stolen the limelight. Like engineers anywhere,
these men took an intense pride in their own work and could not resist a
few jabs at a rival operation. Pointing to the sand at our feet, one engineer
boasted that Shayba was 'self-pressurized'--its subterranean reservoirs
were under such great natural pressure that, once they were pierced by the
drill, the oil simply flowed out like a black fountain. 'At Ghawar,' he said,
'they have to inject water into the field to force the oil out.' By contrast, he
continued, Shayba's oil contained only trace amounts of water. At Ghawar,
the engineer said, the 'water cut' was 30 percent.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Ghawar's water injections
were hardly news, but a 30 percent water cut, if true, was startling. Most
new oil fields produce almost pure oil, or oil mixed with natural gas--
with little water. Over time, however, as the oil is drawn out, operators must
replace it with water, to keep the oil flowing--until eventually what flows
from the well is almost pure water and the field is no longer worth operating.
Ghawar wouldn't run dry overnight: depletion takes years and even
decades; however, daily production would continue to fall steadily, and the
Saudis would be forced to tap new fields, like Shayba, to maintain their status
as the world's preeminent oil power. While such expansions were never
a problem during the heyday of Arab oil wealth in the 1970s and early '80s,
times are much tighter today for Saudi Arabia and for most other petrostates.
As we drove back toward the airstrip for my flight home, my hosts
bombarding me with more facts and figures, I couldn't shake the feeling
that the gods of energy might not be as powerful and eternal and confident
as I had imagined.

To me, Ghawar is the perfect metaphor for what is happening to the larger
energy economy, a geologic cautionary tale for a complacent world
accustomed to reliable infusions of cheap energy. On the face of it, our
energy economy is humming along like a perpetual-motion machine. Today,
billions of people enjoy an unprecedented standard of living and nations float
in rivers of wealth, in large part because, around the world, the energy industry
has built an enormous network of oil wells, supertankers, pipelines,
coal mines, power plants, transmission lines, cars, trucks, trains, and ships
--a gigantic, marvelously intricate system that almost magically converts
oil and its hydrocarbon cousins, natural gas and coal, into the heat, power,
and mobility that animate modern civilization. For three hundred years,
this man-made wonder has performed nearly flawlessly, transforming coal,
oil, and natural gas (and in much of the world, a vast volume of wood, peat,
and even animal dung) into economic and political power--and nurturing
the belief that the surest way to still greater prosperity and stability was
simple: find more oil, coal, and natural gas.

Yet, like Ghawar, our energy economy has hit a kind of peak of its
own. Each year, the world demands more and more energy, with no end
point in sight. And each year, it is more and more evident that the
extraordinary machine we have built to supply that demand cannot sustain
itself in its present form. Not a day goes by without some new disclosure,
some new bit of headline evidence that our brilliant energy success comes at
great cost--air pollution and toxic waste sites, blackouts and price spikes,
fraud and corruption, and even war. The industrial-strength confidence
that was a by-product of our global energy economy for most of the twentieth
century has slowly been replaced by anxiety.

Although, like most consumers, I've been a casual student of this energy
anxiety since it began--circa 1974, with the Arab oil embargo--I
began exploring the question in earnest during the boom years of the late
1990s. I was writing about America's bizarre and growing infatuation with
that modern warhorse, the 'sport-utility vehicle,' or SUV, and its close
cousin, the pickup truck. At first, the story seemed to be mainly about
conspicuous consumption and automotive vanity and sheer stupidity, since
very few of their owners actually took their hugely expensive SUVs off-road
or loaded their pickup trucks with anything heavier than groceries or soccer
balls. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that the real
story lay less in the vehicles themselves than in the oceans of oil they were
burning.

As is well known by now, SUVs and pickup trucks (known collectively,
and somewhat deceptively, as 'light trucks') consume a great deal of
gasoline: the house-sized Ford Excursion I test-drove gets something like 4.6
miles per gallon in the city, and even the more sensible models rarely do
better than 18. The cumulative effect of so much unnecessary internal
combustion is staggering: since the SUV craze began in 1990, the twenty-
year-old trend in the United States toward improving automotive fuel efficiency
not only has halted but is now sliding backward, dramatically increasing
U.S. demand for oil. And here is the rub: the United States doesn't have
enough of its own oil to meet that surging SUV-driven demand. After a
century of full-bore drilling, oil companies are finding precious little new
oil in the Lower Forty-eight, and production--the number of barrels
pumped per day--is falling steadily each year. What this means is that the
United States, despite being the third-largest oil-producing nation in the
world, now must import even more oil from the much-maligned 'foreign'
producers--including many, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose populations
regard the United States as an enemy. In one of many energy ironies,
during the months leading up to the second war with Iraq (charter member
of the Axis of Evil, greatest threat to the American way of life since the
fall of the Soviet Union, etc.), the United States was getting more than 10
percent of its imported oil from Iraqi fields.

The United States isn't the only nation with oil issues. Europe has long
been import-dependent, as has Japan. China, a rapidly industrializing giant
with more than a billion people and plans to build an economy as powerful
and energy-intensive as anything in the West, now uses more oil than its
own fields can produce and has begun courting the same foreign producers
Uncle Sam now spends so much money and time and political capital trying
to control. As I charted all this rising demand for oil, I wondered where
it was going to come from, and what new contradictions and hypocrisies
would result.

I was certainly not the only one asking. In interviews with oil industry
officials--men and a few women who are, generally, quite optimistic
about their business--I heard repeatedly how oil companies were having
a harder and harder time finding new oil. I learned that most of the world's
oil reserves are controlled by a small number of countries whose governments
are unstable and corrupt and whose dependability as suppliers is increasingly
in doubt. I began to wonder whether the glorious golden age of
oil might be over. How long would the supplies of oil last? What would
happen to our phenomenal wealth and splendid lifestyle if oil production
peaked, supplies grew scarce, and prices rose? Did world governments and
energy companies have a plan to ensure a smooth, gradual shift to a new
fuel or a new energy technology? Or would the end of oil catch us unprepared
and send shockwaves through the global economy, touching off a
dangerous race for whatever oil supplies remained?

As my research took me to places like Houston, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan,
and other outposts of the oil empire, the more I realized the story
that needed telling wasn't simply about oil, but about all energy. Oil may be
the brightest star in the energy firmament, the glamorous, storied shaper of
twentieth-century politics and economics, and the owner of 40 percent of
the world energy market. Yet oil is only one of a triad of geological siblings
known as hydrocarbons that have dominated the global energy economy for
centuries and whose histories and destinies are hopelessly intertwined with
our own. Twenty-six percent of our energy still comes from coal, a cheap,
abundant mineral used to power industrial processes and generate most of
the world's electricity. Twenty-four percent comes from natural gas, a versatile
energy source that will soon surpass coal as the preferred fuel for
heating and power generation--and quite possibly become the 'bridge
fuel' to some future energy system. And yet, although coal and gas are, in a
sense, alternatives to oil, both impose many of the same environmental,
political, and financial costs. Coal is fatally dirty. Gas is extremely hard to
transport and comes with its own thicket of geopolitical snarls; a global
energy economy based on either would be just as problematic as the one we
have, if not more so. In other words, when I began to ask about the end of
oil, I was really asking about a transformation of the entire hydrocarbon
economy and the end, perhaps, of a story that is almost as old as civilization.
For most of the past six thousand years, human history has been
characterized by a constant struggle to harness ever-larger quantities of
energy in ever more useful ways. From the earliest experiments with animal-
drawn plows in what is now Iraq, the march of material progress has been
accompanied by--and, one could argue, driven by--increasingly
sophisticated mastery of fuels and energy systems. Animal power made
agriculture possible. Firewood let us cook our food, heat our homes, brew
barley into
beer, and smelt metal ores into plowshares and spearheads. The wide-scale
use of coal in England set the conditions for the Industrial Revolution. A
century later, oil and natural gas, followed by a plethora of 'advanced'
technologies ranging from nuclear to solar, completed the transformation,
dragging the industrializing world into modernity and in the process
fundamentally and irrevocably reordering life at every level.

We live today in a world completely dominated by energy. It is the
bedrock of our wealth, our comfort, and our largely unquestioned faith in
the inexorability of progress, implicit in every act and artifact of modern
existence. We produce and consume energy not simply to heat and feed
ourselves, to move ourselves, or to defend ourselves, but to educate and
entertain ourselves, to expand our knowledge, change our destiny, construct
and reconstruct our world, and fill it with stuff. Everything we buy, from a
hamburger at McDonalds to a duck at a Beijing market, from plastic lawn
chairs and opera tickets to computers and garbage service, from medical
services and cancer drugs to farm fertilizers and Humvees, represents a
measure of energy produced and then consumed.

Energy has become the currency of political and economic power, the
determinant of the hierarchy of nations, a new marker, even, for success
and material advancement. Access to energy has thus emerged as the
overriding imperative of the twenty-first century. It is a guiding geopolitical
principle for all governments, and a largely unchallenged heuristic for a
global energy industry whose success is based entirely on its ability to find,
produce, and distribute ever-larger volumes of coal, oil, and natural gas,
and their most common by-product, electricity.

Yet even a cursory look reveals that, for all its great successes, our energy
economy is fatally flawed, in nearly every respect. The oil industry
is among the least stable of all business sectors, tremendously vulnerable
to destructive price swings and utterly dependent on corrupt, despotic
'petrostates' with uncertain futures. Natural gas, though cleaner than oil, is
hugely expensive to transport, while coal, though abundant and easy to get
at, produces so much pollution that it is killing millions of people every
year.

Worse, it is now clear to all but a handful of ideologues and ignoramuses
that our steadily increasing reliance on fossil fuels is connected in
some way to subtle but significant changes in our climate. Burning
hydrocarbons releases not only energy, but carbon dioxide, a compound that,
when it reaches the atmosphere, acts like a planet-sized greenhouse window,
trapping the sun's heat and pushing up global temperatures. If left unchecked,
this so-called greenhouse effect will keep warming the earth until
polar icecaps melt, oceans rise, and life as we know it becomes impossible.
The only way to slow global warming (for at this late date, the process cannot
be stopped) is to cease emitting carbon dioxide--a monumental and
expensive task that will require us to reengineer completely the way we
produce and consume energy.

Climate change is in fact widely regarded as one of the main factors
driving change in the energy economy--but it is not the only one. While
climatologists and environmentalists fret about the quality of the energy we
produce, most other experts worry far more about the quantity of energy
we can make and, more specifically, whether we can produce enough energy
of any kind or quality to satisfy the world's present and future needs.

By 2035, the world will use more than twice as much energy as it does today.
Demand for oil will jump from the current 80 million barrels a day to as
much as 140 million barrels. Use of natural gas will climb by over 120 percent,
coal use by nearly 60 percent. Demand will be especially acute in
'emerging' economies, like those of China and India, whose leaders see
voracious energy consumption as the key to industrial success.

Yet while the future energy demand seems certain, no one is clear
where all this energy will come from. Consider oil. Quite aside from questions
of how much is left (we'll get to that matter very shortly), there is simply
the matter of finding and producing enough oil, and moving it via
pipeline and supertanker to the places it needs to go. The sheer scale of the
task is mind-boggling: when we say that by 2035 oil demand will be 140
million barrels a day, what we mean is that by then oil companies and oil
states will need to discover, produce, refine, and bring to market 140 million
new barrels of oil every twenty-four hours, day after day, year after year,
without fail. Simply building that much new production capacity (to say
nothing of maintaining it or defending it) will mean spending perhaps a trillion
dollars in additional capital and will require oil companies to venture into
places, like the Arctic, that are extremely expensive to exploit. Repeat the
exercise for gas and coal, and you begin to understand why even optimistic
energy experts go gray in the face when you ask them what we will use to
fill up our tanks thirty years from now.

To make matters more complicated, it is not merely a question of procuring
enough, as our growing appetite for electricity shows. Today's boom
in technology and information has made electricity the fastest-growing
segment of the energy market, and a crucial resource for emerging
economies.

By 2020, demand for electricity could be 70 percent higher than today.
Yet because most electric power is generated in gas- and coal-fired
power plants, making all that new power would mean putting an even
greater strain on the hydrocarbon energy economy. At the same time, moving
all this new electric load will completely overwhelm the existing electrical
system--from power plants and transmission lines to the emerging
and problematic network of energy traders. The great blackout of 2003 and
the California power crisis of 2000 (due as much to dishonest energy
speculators like Enron as to any shortage of power plants) are only the most
colorful examples of what we may expect to see as the need for electricity
continues to outpace supply.

It is in the third world, however, where we see the energy economy
breaking down entirely. In Asia today, electrical demand is growing so fast
that governments in China and India have essentially declared a state of
emergency, sidelining environmental concerns to build hundreds of cheap
coal-fired power plants, whose emissions may make it impossible even to
slow climate change. And China and India are by no means the worst cases.
Around the world, more than one and a half billion people--roughly
one-quarter of the world--lack access to electricity or fossil fuels and thus
have virtually no chance to move from a brutally poor, preindustrial existence
to the kind of modern, energy-intensive life many of us in the West
take for granted. Energy poverty is in fact emerging as the new killer in
developing nations, the root cause of a vast number of other problems, and
perhaps the deepest divide between the haves and have-nots.

My point here is not simply that the modern energy economy should be
changed but that we no longer have a choice in the matter: the system is
already changing, and not always for the better. Everywhere we look, we can
see signs of an exhausted system giving way messily to something new: oil
companies quietly reengineering themselves to sell natural gas; governments
scrambling to develop, or least understand, the 'hydrogen economy';
a desperate search for new oil fields; rising tensions between energy
producers and importers; diplomatic skirmishes over climate policy; and
the frightening energy race between countries such as Japan and China to
secure access to the last 'big oil' and gas in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the
Middle East.

Yet if it is obvious that the current energy economy is on its way out,
no clear consensus has taken shape on what happens next, what the 'next'
energy economy will look like. Can existing hydrocarbon technologies be
adapted to new realities, or does the world require a radical new energy
technology? If so, which technology? Newspapers and magazines and
political speeches are filled with descriptions of brave new energy
technologies--hydrogen fuel cells and wind farms and solar buildings and
tidal generation and fantastic processes that turn grass into diesel and
manure into gasoline. But are any of these truly viable? How much will they
cost? Can they be brought to bear in time?

More to the point, even if some miracle technology is developed, this
in itself is no assurance of an orderly or peaceful transition. Historically,
shifts from one energy technology to another have proved wrenching. The
leaps from wood to coal and from coal to oil caused economic disruption
and political uncertainty (sixteenth-century Englishmen nearly revolted at
having to burn sooty coal instead of wood). And these were fairly slow motion
transitions, occurring over several decades. Given that today's energy
infrastructure is even more intertwined with global economies and
politics and culture, would a fundamental change in our energy technology
be even more disruptive? How long would a transition take--a decade,
fifty years? And what would a new energy order look like? Will it be better
than the one we have, or a hastily arranged, stopgap arrangement? Will we
be richer or poorer, more powerful or more hampered, happier with our
advanced energy technologies, or bitter over our memories of a bygone
golden age? And who will be in control? Are the current world powers--
most of whom are the biggest consumers of oil--still likely to be the leaders
in this brave new world? Or might a new energy order breed a new
political order as well? This book is an effort to answer these questions.

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate moment to be talking about a new
energy economy. Electrical blackouts and gasoline price spikes have
reminded us of the vulnerability of our energy system and our precarious
dependence on foreign producers. Europe and the United States have parted
ways over climate change and energy policy generally, with Europeans
making modest efforts to develop a post-oil economy, while American
leaders, beginning with the president, have adopted an aggressive policy of
domestic oil drilling that wishes away environmental, geopolitical, and
even geological realities. Meanwhile, OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, the bogeyman of yesteryear, is regaining much of its
old power and is vying with an oil-rich Russia and, increasingly, the United
States for control over the world oil markets. Perhaps most tellingly, the
United States and Britain are struggling to extricate themselves from a sec-
ond oil war in Iraq that, whether openly acknowledged or not, was clearly
meant to restore Middle Eastern stability and maintain Western access to a
steady supply of oil.

Moreover, if recent events are any indication, we may be entering a period
of payback for a century of petro-diplomacy. Unstinting efforts by the
United States, Europe, and other industrialized powers to ensure access to
Middle Eastern oil--by any means necessary, and often with the help of
Israel--have helped foster a perpetual state of political instability, ethnic
conflict, and virulent nationalism in that oil-rich region. Even before
American tanks rolled into Baghdad to secure the Iraqi Ministry of Petroleum,
leaving the rest of the ancient city to burn, anti-Western resentment
in the Middle East had become so intense that it was hard not to see a
connection between the incessant drive for oil and the violence that has
shattered Jerusalem, the West Bank, Riyadh, Jakarta, and even New York
and Washington. Only days after September 11, in fact, commentators were
suggesting that the attacks were not only motivated by decades of oil politics
but had been financed by oil revenues from the United States.

By nearly any sane measure, then, the quest for less problematic forms
of energy and more energy-efficient technologies should be a top priority
for all players in the energy world. Even now, a veritable army of energy
optimists--scientists, engineers, policymakers, economists, activists, and
even energy company executives--is working on the next energy economy,
piece by piece, each participant confident that it can be built. I have
seen energy technologies that are frankly miraculous: wind farms that
generate enough electricity to power a city; ultraefficient office buildings
requiring no outside power; cars that get a hundred miles per gallon of
gasoline or run on clean hydrogen fuel cells; refineries that turn coal into a
clean-burning gasoline.

I've seen how much energy can be saved through absurdly simple ef-
ficiency measures--and how much cheaper it is to save oil or electricity
than it is to go out and produce more. I have watched the world's biggest
energy companies slowly emerge from a policy of flat denial and begin a
cautious, calculated, yet measurable shift toward a new energy economy. I
have had politicians, economists, and energy executives lay out the
Realpolitik of the energy economy by showing me the money we'll need to
spend, the sacrifices we'll need to make, and the political deals we will need
to cut in order to launch a new, sustainable energy economy.

Yet I have also encountered phenomenal resistance. The path toward a
new energy economy is fraught with political and economic risk. No one
knows when or if the new technologies will be ready, or how much they will
cost, or what kinds of hardships they will impose--and few countries and
companies are eager to be the first to take the leap. The current energy
economy, with its oil wells and pipelines, its tankers and refiners, its power
plants and transmission lines, is an enormous asset, worth an estimated ten
trillion dollars. No company, nor any nation, not even America, can afford
to write that off--even if many of the gloomier commentators believe
that doing so is the only way to slow climate change. Instead, energy
companies are looking to minimize their losses, waiting till the last minute to
adopt some technology so that they can squeeze the last drop of revenue
from their existing hydrocarbon assets. Governments, too, fearing economic
dislocation and political disadvantage, are steadily delaying any signi-
ficant move away from the existing energy economy--thereby ensuring
that change, when it occurs, will be all the more sudden and disruptive.

Consumers, meanwhile, seem almost oblivious. In industrialized nations,
energy is so cheap and incomes are so great that consumers think
nothing of buying ever larger houses, more powerful cars, more toys and
appliances--increasing their energy use without even knowing it. And if
people in developing nations use far less energy today, this is not by choice:
they, too, want the cars, the large homes, the entertainment systems, the
conditioned air, and other features of the energy-rich lifestyle enjoyed in
the West. The trend seems clear: barring some economic collapse, world
energy demand can do nothing but rise--and the energy industry not
only intends to meet that demand but, for all its talk of novel technologies
and approaches, will do so almost entirely with existing methods, fuels, and
technologies--at least, for the time being.

Thus, even as it becomes more and more possible to imagine a new
energy economy, the old one is switching into high gear. In places like
Borneo, Kamchatka, and Nigeria, off the coast of Florida and in the South
China Sea, in Alaska and Chad, multinational energy companies comb the
earth and ocean beds in search for the next big oil and gas plays. And
around the world, the diplomatic, economic, and military strategies of
nearly every nation continue to be shaped by one overriding objective--
to maintain uninterrupted access to a steady supply of energy. The goal is
sacrosanct, to be pursued at all costs, regardless of the way it perverts the
culture and politics of entire regions or props up corrupt governments and
dictators or, ultimately, fosters the instability and resentments that have
already spawned such malignant figures as Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam
Hussein, and Osama bin Laden.

Yet despite the staying power of the status quo, each year that energy
consumption continues unabated, the end of the current energy system not
only becomes more inevitable but appears more likely to occur as a traumatic
event. As energy supplies become harder to transport, as environmental
effects worsen, and as energy diplomacy sows even greater geopolitical
discord, the weight of the existing energy order becomes less and
less bearable--and the possibility of a disruption more undeniable.
In the end, this question of disruption may be the most critical one of
all--not simply for policymakers and oil sheiks, but for anyone accustomed
to filling up at the gas station or switching on an air conditioner; for
it is not simply change that affects us, but the rate of change--how quickly
and cleanly one way of life is exchanged for another. A swift, chaotic shift in
our energy economy almost guarantees disruption, uncertainty, economic
loss, even violence. By contrast, were we somehow to manage a gradual,
smooth change, phased in over time, we might be able to adapt, minimizing
our losses and even allowing the more clever of our species to profit
from new opportunities.

In fact, while the precise shape of our energy future remains veiled, we
can already discern two distinct paths for getting there. On the one hand,
we can imagine the transition as a kind of a proactive endeavor, driven by
global consensus over some perceived threat, based on scientific analysis,
and managed to minimize disruption and maximize economic gain. On
the other, we can picture a change that is less a transition than a reaction, a
patchwork of defensive programs triggered by some political or natural
disaster. Suppose, for example, that worldwide oil production hits a kind of
peak and that, as at Ghawar, the amount of oil that oil companies and oil
states can pull out of the ground plateaus or even begins to decline--a not
altogether inconceivable scenario. Oil is finite, and although vast oceans of
it remain underground, waiting to be pumped out and refined into gasoline
for your Winnebago, this is old oil, in fields that have been known
about for years or even decades. By contrast, the amount of new oil that is
being discovered each year is declining; the peak year was 1960, and it has
been downhill ever since. Given that oil cannot be produced without first
being discovered, it is inevitable that, at some point, worldwide oil production
must peak and begin declining as well--less than ideal circumstances
for a global economy that depends on cheap oil for about 40 percent of its
energy needs (not to mention 90 percent of its transportation fuel) and is
nowhere even close to having alternative energy sources.

The last three times oil production dropped off a cliff--the Arab oil
embargo of 1974, the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the 1991 Persian Gulf
War--the resulting price spikes pushed the world into recession. And
these disruptions were temporary. Presumably, the effects of a long-term
permanent disruption would be far more gruesome. As prices rose,
consumers would quickly shift to other fuels, such as natural gas or coal,
but soon enough, those supplies would also tighten and their prices would
rise. An inflationary ripple effect would set in. As energy became more
expensive, so would such energy-dependent activities as manufacturing
and transportation. Commercial activity would slow, and segments of the
global economy especially dependent on rapid growth--which is to say,
pretty much everything these days--would tip into recession. The cost of
goods and services would rise, ultimately depressing economic demand
and throwing the entire economy into an enduring depression that would
make 1929 look like a dress rehearsal and could touch off a desperate and
probably violent contest for whatever oil supplies remained.

When such a production peak will occur is, as we shall see, a Very Big
Question. Optimists like the U.S. government believe that a peak in oil
production cannot occur before 2035 or so and that would give the world
plenty of time to find something else to burn. Pessimists, by contrast, a
group whose members include geologists, industry analysts, and a surprising
number of oil industry and government officials, believe that a peak
may come much sooner--perhaps as soon as 2005. (Indeed, a small but
vocal minority believes that the peak has already occurred and that this
is why oil companies like Shell and BP are struggling to find untapped
sources of oil to replace all the barrels they produce.)

Granted, such a wide range of dates is not particularly helpful for anyone
wanting to know when to start hoarding diesel, light out for the hills,
or invest in oil company stocks. But lest you think it's about time to buy a
larger SUV, it is worth noting that even the oil optimists concede, usually
privately, that the important oil--that is, the oil that exists outside the
control of the eleven-country OPEC oil cartel--will in all likelihood peak
between 2015 and 2020. We call this 'important oil' because, once it peaks,
the free world will have to rely more each year on oil controlled by the
likes of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran--governments that cannot be
counted on to bear the best interests of the West in mind in setting pricing
policy.

That brings us back to the question of smooth or sudden change. Admittedly,
even if the world knew exactly when non-OPEC oil was going to
peak, only so much could be done to prepare, given the size of the existing
oil infrastructure and the complacency of the average consumer. Yet it's
also true that were Western governments to begin taking steps to reduce oil
demand, or at least to slow the rate at which it is growing (by, say, raising
fuel efficiency standards for cars), the impact of such a peak would be
lessened dramatically--and the world would gain all the benefits of using
something other than oil.

At the same time, if the consuming world instead continues in its current
mode--known by energy economists and other worriers as 'business
as usual'--oil demand will be so high by 2015 that a peak (or any big
disruption, such as a civil war in Saudi Arabia or a massive climate-related
disaster that kills thousands and forces politicians to cut the use of oil and
other hydrocarbons in a hurry) could be an unmitigated disaster. Thus, the
real question, for anyone truly concerned about our future, is not whether
change is going to come, but whether the shift will be peaceful and orderly
or chaotic and violent because we waited too long to begin planning for it.
In writing this book, I have focused on all aspects of the energy economy
--the past and present of energy, the technology and business of energy,
and the major players. I've studied the big energy producers, like Saudi
Arabia and Russia, who control most of the world's oil reserves and who
will play a critical role in the transition to a post-oil economy. I've looked
in depth at China and India, two energy paupers whose enormous populations
and growing economies will nonetheless make them the biggest energy
players of the twenty-first century. I have examined Japan and Germany,
countries that, lacking their own domestic oil supplies, have adopted
energy-efficient policies and have fostered a culture that accepts if not
embraces a low-energy way of life.

But by necessity, much of this book will focus on the United States.
For all that the new energy economy is an international issue, no nation
will play a greater role in the evolution of that economy than ours. Americans
are the most profligate users of energy in the history of the world: a
country with less than 5 percent of the world's population burns through
25 percent of the world's total energy. Some of this discrepancy is owing to
the American economy, which is bigger than anyone else's and therefore
uses more energy. But it is also true that the American lifestyle is twice as
energy-intensive as that in Europe and Japan, and about ten times the
global average. The United States is thus the most important of all energy
players: its enormous demand makes it an essential customer for the big
energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia. Its large imports hold the global
energy market in thrall. (Indeed, the tiniest change in the U.S. energy
economy--a colder winter, an increase in driving, a change in tax law--
can send world markets into a tailspin.) And because American power
flows from its dominance over a global economy that in turn depends
mainly on oil and other fossil fuels, the United States sees itself as having no
choice but to defend the global energy infrastructure from any threat and
by nearly any means available--economic, diplomatic, even military.

The result of this simultaneous might and dependency is that the
United States is, and will be, the preeminent force in the shaping of the
new energy economy. The United States is the only country with the
economic muscle, the technological expertise, and the international standing
truly to mold the next energy system. If the U.S. government and its citizens
decided to launch a new energy system and have it in place within
twenty years, not only would the energy system be built, but the rest of the
world would be forced to follow along. Instead, American policymakers are
too paralyzed to act, terrified that to change U.S. energy patterns would
threaten the nation's economy and geopolitical status--not to mention
outrage tens of millions of American voters. Where Europe has taken small
but important steps toward regulating carbon dioxide (steps modeled,
paradoxically, on an American pollution law), the United States has made
only theatrical gestures over alternative fuels, improved efficiency, or policies
that would harness the markets to reduce carbon. As a result, the energy
superpower has not only surrendered its once-awesome edge in such energy
technologies as solar and wind to competitors in Europe and Japan but
made it less and less likely that an effective solution for climate change will
be deployed in time to make a difference.

Critics place much of the blame on a political system corrupted by big
energy interests--companies desperate to protect billions of dollars in
existing energy technologies and infrastructure. An equal measure of blame,
however, must fall on the 'average' American consumer, who each year
seems to know less, and care less, about how much energy he or she uses,
where it comes from, or what its true costs are. Americans, it seems, suffer
profoundly from what may soon be known as energy illiteracy: most of us
understand so little about our energy economy that we have no idea that it
has begun falling apart.

The End of Oil is a dramatic narrative in three parts. In the first five chapters,
I set the stage for the current crisis, by explaining how and why energy
has become so vital a part of our existence. Chapter 1 offers a short history
of energy, describing the long, slow rise from muscle power and sweat to a
sprawling, hydrocarbon-powered economy. In Chapter 2, we tackle the
question of how much oil is left and see firsthand how difficult the search
for oil has become. Chapter 3 takes a sharp look at one of oil's most talked
about challengers--the hydrogen fuel cell--highlighting that technology's
awesome potential, yet showing just how far it has to go. Chapter 4
discusses the connections between energy and power and outlines the role
energy plays in domestic and international politics, trade, and even war.
This first part closes with a chapter on global climate change--a complex
phenomenon that is both the consequence of our current energy economy
and, perhaps, the most important impetus for building a new one.

In Part Two, we look at the mechanics of the energy order. In Chapter
6, we examine energy consumption and see how our evolving use of oil,
electricity, and other forms of energy has become one of the most powerful
economic and political forces on the planet. In Chapter 7, we meet the
producers of oil and gas, and learn how the energy business is undergoing a
radical and potentially disastrous transformation. Chapter 8 takes us on a
tour of the options for that new system--the alternative fuels and systems,
their potential for changing the world, and the many obstacles they face.
Chapter 9 introduces the important yet often-neglected concept of energy
conservation and shows how a radical improvement in energy efficiency
will be essential to any new and sustainable energy economy.

In Part Three, we chart the promise and the peril of our energy future.
Chapter 10 describes how the existing energy system is already failing to
meet even current needs--and shows how the race to develop 'clean' energy
must compete with the more basic need to produce enough energy of
any kind. Chapter 11 describes the colossal inertia of the current energy
order, and the way it has influenced, shaped, and, too often, corrupted
economies and entire nations. Chapter 12 lays out the terms of the coming
struggle, as defenders of the energy status quo go up against a new
generation of players. Chapter 13 offers a speculative account of the
transition to a new energy economy, in extrapolating current trends to show
how a new system might actually emerge.

I am under no illusions that this book addresses all the important aspects
of the evolving energy economy, or even most of them. Energy is a
vast topic, with millions of components interwoven in a complex and
everchanging pattern that defies quick answers or simple truths. Instead, my
hope is to provide an introduction, a way for nonexperts to begin to think
about what experts have long known: that energy is the single most important
resource, that our current energy system is failing, and that the shape
of the next energy economy is being decided right now--with or without
our input. Ideally, readers of this book will acquire a better understanding
of what is coming, and perhaps a better chance of making a difference in
that future.

Continues...

Excerpted from The End of Oil by Paul Roberts Copyright © 2004 by Paul Roberts. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Pt. I The free ride
1 Lighting the fire 21
2 The last of the easy oil 44
3 The future's so bright 66
4 Energy is power 91
5 Too hot 116
Pt. II On the road to nowhere
6 Give the people what they want 143
7 Big oil gets anxious 165
8 And now for something completely different 188
9 Less is more 213
Pt. III Into the blue
10 Energy security 237
11 The invisible hand 259
12 Digging in our heels 281
13 How do we get there? 307
Notes 335
Bibliography 350
Acknowledgments 359
Index 361
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2011

    A must read - it puts our entire energy scene in perspective!!

    A very comprehensive book, that lays our our energy history, challenges and options. It definately made me think about my energy use and who is getting rich off it it!! This book connects the dots.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2010

    great read

    highly recommended!

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