July 21, 2015

Getting to a post-oil world? This book has challenges, but few answers

TEnding the Fossil Fuel EraEnding the Fossil Fuel Era by Thomas Princen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parts of this book were good indeed. I certainly believe we should leave coal in the ground as much as possible. More carbon-intense oil, the same.

And, the US probably could lower its per capital energy consumption, at least on electricity, to Europe or Japan. However, given the much larger size of the US, and Canada, lowering fuel consumption that much is not realistic.

Nor is the idea, hinted at by the authors, of taking overall per-capita energy consumption to even lower than that. Oh, physically, it might be realistic. Just ask Americans to not only drive no more than Europeans, to live in European-sized houses ... AND, along with Europeans, to pretty much stop using the Internet, big-screen TVs, "devices, etc.

It's a challenge, indeed, and seemingly a pretty idealistic one.

Per my header, the biggest inaccuracy was claiming the majority of US electric generation comes from coal. Not true, and not true for a decade. A narrow plurality still comes from coal, but well short of a majority. And, no, I'm not cutting the authors semantic slack. Three university professors should know the difference between "majority" and "plurality." (As of 2014, 39 percent of US electric generation came from coal and 27 percent from natural gas. My guess is that gas passes coal within a decade.)

The biggest omission? In looking at either incorporated Western oil companies or nationalized ones getting out of the fossil fuel business, the chapter on that has an incomplete list of suggestions. It notes that some "majors" have gotten out of retail sales, and suggests that distribution will be next (with it already starting), then refining. The implication is that oil majors will eventually complete the divestiture process.

But, the authors nowhere mention the alternative idea of diversification. Why wouldn't either Exxon, or Saudi Aramco, buy a solar panel or wind turbine manufacturer? Indeed, it's puzzling that oil companies haven't already started this, despite BP's PR stunt a few years ago of claiming to be "Beyond Petroleum."

The authors, speaking of divesting, nowhere mention the divestiture drive campaign of pushing colleges, state pension funds, etc., to get rid of oil stocks.

Finally, the issue of "Peak Oil" is nowhere mentioned; it's vaguely hinted at, but nowhere directly mentioned.

So, if you are concerned about our energy and environmental future and want some challenges, read this book. But, you might want to bring your own answers.


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