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Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Global Energy Crisis Paperback – 1 Jun 2006
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'Hopefully will inspire people to rely less on oil and to start thinking green before it really is too late.' -- The Geographical Magazine, September 2006
From the Publisher
'I hope this book will not be an obituary for the human species. But the denial and double-think it exposes suggest that, unless we change pretty smartly, we can expect to be overtaken by the catastrophes Leggett documents. His book demands to be read.' - George Monbiot --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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The second part of Leggett's argument is a rehearsal of the standard man-made global warming one. He uses what appears to be the Michael Mann "hockey stick" graph from the third IPCC Report some years after it was pretty thoroughly discredited, although (cleverly?) he uses a version from the Meteorological Office. In talking about a 50 metre rise in sea levels caused by the melting of ice he might be said to out-Gore Al Gore, but the arguments are essentially those of the IPCC's report, put succinctly and effectively. It will come as no surprise to learn that Leggett was also Greenpeace's chief scientist for some seven years. The point of this second point of the argument is to remind us that, even if oil was not running out, we should be doing all we can to avoid burning more of it anyway.
Leggett then goes on to explain what we should do about it. He advocates a massive investment in energy efficiency and alternative energies of all types (he is currently CEO of a company promoting solar electricity!) except nuclear - which he deems "inadequate" for a number of reasons. I might be more inclined to go with Lovelock on nuclear energy, but Leggett's arguments about the potential for accident and the difficulty of waste disposal are substantial ones. One might, however, struggle with his argument that nuclear is not viable because of the time it will take to deliver nuclear power stations: nuclear fission is at least a proven technology, unlike many of the alternatives he proposes, and particularly the power storage devices that he acknowledges we need and proposes we develop alongside them. He also wants to have his cake and eat it by first arguing that energy will become vastly more expensive once we have realised we have passed "peak oil", while then saying nuclear energy is still too expensive.
I found what Leggett had to say about peak oil illuminating. There is no doubt that we will reach this stage at some time in the near future, and we have to hope that its economic consequences are not as devastating as he thinks they will be. I am prepared to take his arguments about global warming as read for the sake of the final part of the book, what we should do about it. Here I fear that while he makes many sensible recommendations he closes his mind to several important options - nuclear, carbon sequestration - while he is too ready to ignore potential limitations of his preferred ones, especially wind and solar. It is hard not to suspect that it is the green activist rather than the scientist who is speaking to us here. Notwithstanding these cavils, I do heartily recommend reading Dr Leggett's book. It is clearly and humorously written, and, while they may irritate some, I did like his asides about "Number One Consumer", "Oil Producer Number Fifteen" and the "Not-so-thoughtful Thinkers".
Incidentally, after reading Dr Leggett's book I got a quotation, from one of the installers supplied by his company SolarCentury, for the installation of solar PV panels on the roof of my house. My family uses about £5-600 of electricity each year, and solar panels that would supply substantially all of that power (and which would just about fit on the roof) would cost about £24k, discounted to £12k if I managed to get one of the government's grants. A return of just under 5% is not entirely uneconomic, but of course the panels would not supply that electricity when I need to use it. We need to cut the cost, and deal with the storage issues, before we adopt this technology, and I suspect that that will take rather more than the fifteen years to build new nuclear reactors!
Jeremy Leggett is ideally placed to tell this story, having worked at the heart of the oil industry, and then jumped tanker, to work as chief scientific advisor to Greenpeace. Once you have read this book it is unlikely you will ever view our profligate energy consumption the same again. It will probably scare you into urgent action. It did me!
“Half Gone” is a story of two halves, firstly about global oil reserves, and secondly about the climate disaster that is looming from our addiction to oil. Reserves have been exaggerated by the oil producing nations and the oil companies, because for a variety of reasons it has been in their short term financial interest to do so. The same nations and industry have been among the fiercest opponents of action to limit damage to the world’s climate, which Leggett also documents in convincing detail.
“Half Gone” contains some remarkable facts. Did you know for example that in the 1930s, the American oil company Chevron joined forces with General Motors to buy up the suburban electric railway around Los Angeles, and then closed it down to create dependency upon their products? Plenty of fuel there for the conspiracy theorists!
Leggett highlights the fact that one of the biggest players in deciding when we wake up to climate catastrophe is going to be the trillion dollar insurance industry, which uses risk analysis as a basis for its calculations. A threat to the insurance industry would undermine the whole global economy, which is a bit sad for those of us hoping to find a pension left for us at the end of our working lives. When the oil runs out and climate catastrophe strikes, all the assumptions on which we have based our daily lives for decades, will come tumbling down.
Having scared the life out of the reader, the book tries to end on an optimistic note, suggesting what needs to be done. However by this stage, the reader is likely to conclude that it will be too little, too late. Visitors to the online green newspaper "Eco" [...] will find ideas about some of the action that can be taken to avoid the worst case scenarios. “Half Gone” is a major contribution to the debate about Peak Oil and Global Warming, with over 300 references and notes, and is recommended reading.
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