The End of Oil outlines the history of our relationship with energy and the crisis we have reached as we come to the peak in easily available oil. We are taken through the development of the oil economy and shown how oil engineers international relationships, with some interesting insights into the relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia.
My biggest disappointment was that the book was very conservative when looking at energy futures. There is a chapter on conservation and efficiency, but after that there was barely another mention of these two vital steps towards creating an energy future that can sustain human civilisation without causing grave environmental degradation. Despite acknowledging how dire the situation is, the author seems unable to think about energy futures that are not dominated by current economic orthodoxies. Admittedly, reading this book made me more aware of the economic difficulties around creating an energy future based on alternative power sources (eg solar and wind). Also the author makes a fair point about the need to create a transitional energy economy so that we can move smoothly from depending on fossil fuels to a future based on alternative energy sources. However given that we are running out of easily accessible oil we surely need to think radically if we are to avoid devastating climate change, a potential sudden collapse in living standards and increasing environmental damage from dirty oil (such as the Canadian tar sands) and oil developments in fragile environments (such as the Arctic). We need to rethink our economic structures (including pricing of oil and petroleum products), reduce consumerism (without reducing people's quality of life), invest in energy conservation and efficiency and embrace genuinely appropriate technologies and genuine localism (without losing our sense of global connection).
The book is written very much from a US standpoint. I found it odd that even though the author acknowledges that European companies and politicians are taking the lead in alternative sources of energy that we can only move forward in any meaningful way if the US takes a lead. The book was written in 2004 and as such is out of date already. I can recommend it for the historical background, but I'll need to read further to find any genuinely radical thinking about our energy futures.
The End of Oil by Paul Roberts