Vaitheeswaran writes for the Economist. The good news is that his journalistic account of the energy problem is breezy and easy to read. The bad news is that it is not so much an objective overview of the topic as it is a religious tract from the Church of the Free Market. Vaitheeswaran really pulls you into his optimistic account at times, but regularly slips in sarcastic digs at environmentalists and ecologists that remind you of his ideological bias. What really caused me to question his analysis, though, was his total dismissal of the oil geologists. I personally put much more stock in the projections of the geologists, following Hubbert, than I do in the economists, who always bring to mind Richard Feynman's skeptical view that economics & other social sciences are all voodoo.
I give this book a favorable review regardless, because it is a good introduction to a particular point of view. Without being a market dogmatist, I think Vaitheeswaran has sound points to make about the failure of energy deregulation in California, for instance. He reveals that Britain and Scandinavia (of all places!) have pursued energy deregulation with great success, and argues that it was not deregulation per se that failed, but rather a botched attempt. The first four chapters address "market forces." Vaitheeswaran makes the case that global warming is real and calls for a shift away from carbon-based fossil fuels in the second three chapters. Here, he takes a strong position in favor of carbon taxes, which will not endear him to the anti-tax Republicans, and reveals that his view, while pro-market, is more sensible than most acceptable debate in the U.S. (I do wonder, though, whether he and his editors have read much by Herman Daly and the other ecological economists, who include basic physics in their equations?)
When it comes to the last four chapters on energy technology, Vaitheeswaran has some very interesting things to say, based on his access to the corporate boardrooms. I am encouraged by the shift of Shell and BP (British Petroleum) toward renewable energy research, and no doubt the U.S. oil companies will reluctantly follow suit. The possibility of a decentralized power system, with inputs from local fuel cells, is quite astounding, and it carries some weight coming from the Economist.
I am by no means convinced that the "magic of the market" will bring the world a happy ending to the problem of the finite reserves of oil and natural gas, which are approaching their global Hubbert's Peak. But if markets and far-sighted corporations can be part of the solution, that's great. If we could bring the European view of markets, incorporating carbon taxes, or green taxes, to the U.S. that would be a big step in the right direction!