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Beyond Oil, Kenneth S. Deffeyes

Written by an oilman, this View from Hubbert’s Peak is reluctant to bite the hand that fed him and certainly posits the continued existence of industrial civilisation. That apart, the message is as stark as Climate Wars and The Long Emergency but not Deep Green Resistance.

It’s a hard read but not for that reason: the thoughts are haphazard and some are pure non sequiturs. A good editor would have reigned Mr Deffeyes in. A pity because I think I’ve teased out the essence of Hubbert’s Peak, with a struggle. It has its roots in population dynamics, which roughly say: you can tell how much is left to come by how much has been used and is being used. In other words: bar a miracle the future is knowable.

And the future is the downswing of the oil production pendulum. Now. So what will replace it as fuel?

The chapters on tar sands and shale oil confirm that, despite the modern hysteria, both are as old as industry itself. Travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow to see the remains of historic workings, for instance. Cheap oil gushing out of the ground put paid to these, the key word being cheap. Now that liquid oil is dearer, it pays to exploit these harder-to-work sources. But they will still produce expensive oil, maybe too expensive.

An earlier chapter on coal presents a similar story: it’ll return to fashion, along with most of its old pollution and health problems.

So to uranium, i.e. nuclear. If Deffeyes is slightly optimistic about it, he was writing before Fukushima. Nuclear is now pretty much a dead duck and we skip quickly on to hydrogen, our saviour.

Not. It too is mature technology that still only delivers 40% of the energy put into it. Oh, we may struggle up to 50% but that’s a loss nonetheless.

Since this is a book about fuel, wind and solar occupy one sentence, which is about appropriate for the contribution they’ll make to our gargantuan energy needs anyhow. Both also are offspring of the business-as-usual model and Deffeyes’ conclusion that BAU is not on the cards also puts them in their place.

That’s it for the inside scoop. Just a shame about the scattergun organisation of the book. For another perspective, quite by chance I today attended a Platform London talk at the Arnolfini: What if we left the oil in the ground?

Yeah, what? Any ideas?

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