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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Global Energy Crisis
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on 17 November 2017
Author knows his stuff!
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VINE VOICEon 30 December 2007
Jeremy Leggett delivers an argument in two parts. Firstly, he informs us that we have used half of the petroleum that ever existed, that oil production has peaked (or very soon will - he was writing in 2005), and that no amount of exploration will find new reserves sufficient to change that. As the oil industry in particular and business in general have avoided confronting this inevitability, the belated realisation will trigger, he suggests, an economic depression disproportionately greater than the subsequent long slow fall in oil supply will merit. In making his first assertion Dr Leggett is dealing in his area of expertise, as a former oil-industry geologist and consultant. As for his second argument it should be pointed out that he is not an economist, and that we are currently dealing with "triple digit" oil prices without economic meltdown, but nonetheless he makes the argument effectively.

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!
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on 23 February 2006
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Do not read this book if you want cheering up. Do not read it if you are easily disturbed. But if you want the unvarnished truth about the reality of the energy and climate crisis, this one of the best sources around. Packed with facts and figures, it is an authoritative account of how on the one hand we at the “topping point”, the point of “peak oil”, when the market are about to go into panic stations over a shrinking supply of the resource that keeps the wheels of the global economy turning, while demand for that resource is rising. And on the other hand, Leggett explains how the burning of that resource is about to bring us catastrophic climate change.

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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on 4 June 2007
This is a fantastic look at oil peaks and future energy supplies. As typical for Leggett, it is written very clearly and is completely engaging. It has the potential to change the way you view your dependence on oil and on how you live in the world. Most books of this nature tend to leave you feeling a little hopeless and depressed, but I'm delighted to say this isn't one of them. Jeremy Leggett manages to give you all the information you could need in an entertaining and informative way and leaves you feeling invigorated to go out there and make a difference. If you like this I highly recommend his other book, Carbon War, about the Kyoto agreement.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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VINE VOICEon 12 December 2008
Half Gone is a book of two halves: one part Peak Oil debate to one part global warming issues. It attempts to connect the concept of a "topping point" in our oil production with what this means for our planetary environment (similarly, Michael Ruppert's Crossing the Rubicon attempted to connect Peak Oil to the 9/11 attacks and the "war on terrorism.") In taking this twin track approach, Half Gone is mostly successful.

The author, Jeremy Leggett, was a lecturer in earth sciences at Imperial College, where he researched oil source rocks and consulted for various oil corporations. Disturbed at the implications of climate change and the role the fossil fuel industries play, he switched sides and became the UK Chief Scientist for Greenpeace for seven years. Therefore, he has worked both sides of the fence and has good connections with industry figures and those on the activist side.

The first (and probably strongest) part of the book discusses Peak Oil: how oil is made, found, produced, how the topping point in production can be calculated with any reasonable degree of specificity and when this will most likely occur (the years 2008-2010, give or take a couple).

The second half analyses the evidence and implications of global warming, how we got into this mess in the first place and what can we do about it (renewables or 'solarisation' not a regress back to 'coalification' or nuclear).

Where this book differs from most of the other literature on the subject is that it is immensely well written. Jeremy Leggett is an engaging writer, cramming his book with facts, figures and references but never threatening to overload the reader with data, or overwhelm the reader with a sense of fatalism and helplessness. Despite the precarious situation that we find ourselves in, Leggett shows us the precipice of insufficient fossil fuel supplies and then pulls us back, showing us how can have a soft landing from the impact of Peak Oil, rather than a hard crash; it'll be difficult but not impossible.

If you've never read a book on Peak Oil, I'd recommend Half Gone as your starting point. If you have, you'll still find plenty of stimulating ideas and fresh research. Passionate but not pompous, informed but not condescending, Jeremy Leggett has written a fine book that adds real expertise to what should become agenda item number one in a global debate.
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on 30 January 2006
These words concluded an article on global warming by Melanie Phillips, columnist on the London Daily Mail, published on 13 January 2006.
Ms Phillips is not alone in suffering from a delusional state on this issue, as you learn from this book.
Geologist Jeremy Leggett recounts that Colin Campbell and Chris Skrebowski - both with oil industry backgrounds - organised a seminar in July 2004 to warn members of the UK Parliament about the coming depletion of oil. In 2004 there were 659 MPs in the House of Commons, of whom a mere three attended.
In Part One he details the run-up to what he calls "the topping point". Like other writers on this issue, he argues that it lies somewhere between 2005 and 2015.
He is pessimistic about the discovery of new oil fields - the peak year for oil discovery was, he claims, 1965 - and he is also pessimistic about what he calls "unconventional" oil, such as shale and tar sands.
Like other writers he believes they will demand at least as much energy in recovery as they will offer.
The second part of the book is a detailed examination of global warming. He cites the view of Sir David King, the UK government's Chief Scientific Adviser, that global warming is a greater threat than any weapons of mass destruction.
He poses the question: how much warming, how much danger? and forecasts that, at current rates, CO2 concentrations will reach 700 parts per million, as opposed to the 300 ppm in the 400,000 years up to the beginning of the last century.
By this scenario global temperatures are set to rise by the so-called "hockey stick" curve.
He again quotes Sir David King as believing that 550 ppm is way above the danger threshold.
The author then goes on to list the "sleeping giants" which will be triggered by these rising temperatures: methane-hydrate destabilization - launching billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere - the shut-down of the Gulf Stream; the melting of the Greenland ice cap, and other dire news.
The catalogue is exhaustive (and depressing!) before then going on to examine "How we got into this mess", and he concludes that, after 1990, there was no excuse for inaction.
Finally, in "What can we do about it?" we get the do's and don’ts.
First he argues we CAN get plentiful renewable energy - that’s the good news, but the bad news is one of time: we've left it too late!
Among the guilty, who seemed as if they knew what was happening, our friend in Downing Street. The man who outlined what needed to be done in 2003; the man who seemed to realise that nuclear power wasn't an option.
Jeremy Leggett was at the 2003 meeting when Blair launched the results of the last UK energy review.
He is not impressed with the follow-up, or lack of it!
Second, he warns against the trap of going for the nuclear option, which he dismisses comprehensively.
Like other, he wishes to see “selfless collective thinking” from the international community. You will be unsurprised by his pessimism on this score.
“The most probably outcome,” he writes, “is that the world will drift on in overall collective denial.”
But he ends by reminding us of the case of Woking, in Surrey. It cut its carbon emissions by 77 per cent!
There will need to be a lot of Wokings before too long, if we are to pull through.
Johan Hari, columnist for the London paper The Independent, concluded a typically trenchant piece on climate change by asking the $64,000 question:
“What we choose to do about these scientific warnings will answer a fundamental question about human beings.
“Are we a rational species, capable of understanding the damage we are doing and acting in our own self-defence - or are we addled hedonists, too high on our fumes to see the truth?”
If you read one book this year on what James Lovelock has called the world’s “morbid fever”, try this one. It is truly comprehensive.
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on 17 February 2007
This is a thorough, well-written introduction to Peak Oil. Leggett is a great writer and inspirational thinker. If you need convincing that we can't go on like this, read this book. If you need to convince others, read it and make some notes. I can't recommend this too strongly.

If I have a criticism it's that the book is perhaps more cheerful than it ought to be. Other 'coming catastrophe' books have left me full of dread, this one points in the direction of a technical fix. I don't think this is intended, but the contrast with say George Monbiot's 'Heat' is very strong.

Don't let that dissuade you though - this deserves to be read by everyone.
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on 22 January 2006
This is a very unsettling book. Oil and gas are going to run out, but the reaction of many readers may be 'what can I do', or 'they'll find a replacement'. But if we take that line then we accept that someone else is in control of our future, and our children's future. We can all make a difference by getting our politicians to engage with the issue and we can all make individual choices about our lifestyle. This book should worry the reader, but the reader must use that concern to make a difference. The message is serious but it should prompt us to action. Read this book and get others to read it.
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on 4 June 2007
This is a fantastic look at oil peaks and future energy supplies. As typical for Leggett, it is written very clearly and is completely engaging. It has the potential to change the way you view your dependence on oil and on how you live in the world. Most books of this nature tend to leave you feeling a little hopeless and depressed, but I'm delighted to say this isn't one of them. Jeremy Leggett manages to give you all the information you could need in an entertaining and informative way and leaves you feeling invigorated to go out there and make a difference. If you like this I highly recommend his other book, Carbon War, about the Kyoto agreement.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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VINE VOICEon 7 August 2014
A friend of mine who works in energy management passed me this book.

I think there are two views of the world. The pessimistic one sees the world as finite, and rather small. It will run out of space, resources, energy, and food. The result will be a Malthusian struggle for survival with population displacement, wars and destruction. There is some evidence for such views, and in this book Leggett strongly presents the evidence for such a view of world oil supplies. He frankly describes that there may not be that much more oil to discover, and that we may have reached the earth's peak oil production capacity. It hasn't run out yet, but it will start to become scarcer soon. There are some good summary quotes which are worth sharing, both in consideration of this book- and for more general application.

"They (humans) had never been very good at spotting slow-burning high-consequence threats at the best of times"

and, about declared oil reserves,

"I do not truly believe the claims of the Middle East (ref 5) In fact I don't believe Saudi and Iranian claims in particular, I think their politicians do believe them. I don't think there's a conspiracy, more a division of labour such that no one knows the whole story, each part of which has wide error bars. The summed result is inevitably the most positive conclusion which goes to the politicians. I've seen this in all the oil companies I have worked for."

How many other reporting schemes running up a hierarchy have similar outcomes?

The other view of the world is the optimistic attitude. I don't think this book shows much of this. Writers such as Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist exemplify this tradition. This view tends to say problems are mere challenges, we are a clever and inventive species and we usually come up with what's needed in the end. All the apocalypses so far described have not come to pass. In the context of this book, and reading it 9 years post publication the changes in American energy use patterns, and their discovery of shale gas seems some grounds for the optimistic view.

Leggett is a very good critic of science education and its tendency to produce narrow subject specialists- who then struggle to see how their great knowledge of a small piece fits into the wider scheme of things. (P241)

"I know a little about the scientific community. I would offer two observations.....First the culture of science is rarely holistic. Practitioners are encouraged to achieve excellence in one discipline, and often one small sub-sector of one discipline. Being an all rounder is not seen as a route to greatness. Being an all rounder is actively frowned upon.....
Second, institutional science tends to encourage individualism. The reward system is all about lionising the stars. This encourages tendency to personal arrogance in the leaders of the profession that, in my experience, tends not to be found so often in their equivalents in the business world."

Leggett's book is a good one, and well written and interesting. I suspect he is right about peak oil- but there may well be alternative sources of energy out there. I support what he says about efficient use and distribution of energy- whatever we think of the problem wasting resources is not good in any context, even if they are readily available, or even in excess. Enough to do the job well is enough.

I like his idea of distributed energy networks, maybe based on a town scale. The problem is that very intelligent central planners tend to think along hub and spoke models- with national grids and similar on their plans. The problem of balancing the local with the national need has been a problem in many contexts- in the UK so much intellectual and monetary energy is concentrated in London that the regions are easily seen as distant and parochial. It is improving a bit now, but so much activity in UK still flows to London. The internet is the best example of the effects of a distributed network- would such a scheme map across to energy grids? Can lots of micro generation sites combined (e.g. my 16 solar panels) be as reliable as one large power station?

His ideas about how and which alternative energy sources will come to be in wide use and make a major contribution to reducing hydrocarbon use are very much those of 2005, and not fully achieved yet. I suspect he'd a different account of them if writing this year- but his basic idea that we should generate from renewable sources seems sound. Consumption without regeneration is fundamentally only a temporary solution to any problem.

I'm still not fully convinced that Global Warming is the threat it's made out to be. I suspect it's not been measured or described fully accurately yet.

We do as individuals and families, and as countries need better energy use, distribution and generation strategies. We cannot live comfortably in a world without electricity- and I'd like all the world connected to reliable, and hopefully renewable, energy supplies sooner rather than later.

There's a big debate to have about our energy supplies- and this book helps in consideration of the issues involved.

In the meanwhile the principle of reduce, reuse, recycle still seems sound.
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