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on 22 August 2005
I like the idea of this book, I like the title, and I like the first 25% or so. The rest is not good, since this book simply dies after page 54, and so overall it is a bust. Starting with lofty and worthwhile goals, it degenerates into a diatribe against Bush, then goes on to dance around the issues. The author has inserted all this Bush stuff, but then avoids answering his own questions about "powerdown". Somehow, the author got off track while writing the book. The book has gained some fame, and in retrospect I suspect largely for the author's earlier works. I am disappointed to have to give this book just 3 stars, about what it really merits.
The opening sections are strong. He presents clear, logical, and entertaining arguments about our use of oil, the decline in discoveries, increasing demand in the US and China, etc. He presents graphs of new oil discoveries versus time, etc. All clear, but not new. Almost every thinking person knows that hydrocarbon reserves are finite and demand is increasing exponentially. Demand is on a collision course with supply. Our oil-coal-gas economy cannot be sustained, and even if we had infinite supplies, it would pollute the planet, and most know that CO2 leveles are rising every year. We knew this before we picked up the book. In any case, that is okay, it sets a foundation for a possible discussion that might follow. If they author had stayed the course and written the whole book as he did in this part, we would have a beautiful 5 star effort. Someone else picking up the book, and just reading this part, might conclude that it is a great 5 star book; it is not great; it is not even good; keep reading, he loses focus.
He has six sections: one on energy sources, one called "Last One Standing" on conflicts, "Powerdown", "Magic Elixir", "Lifeboats", and "Choices".
After the first section, the author poses questions, makes many references to history, makes some dire warnings about our loss of freedoms, etc., but he never answers his own questions. They are left dangling. Instead, he goes off on tangents quoting some other author or studies, inserting those into his book sometimes in table form or in point form, some information is simply exctracted from decades old books from the early 1970s or similar such as the basic terms of the Kyoto protocol,etc., and often it is just to back up his questions, not to give an answer to the central question: what do we do to "powerdown"? Where are we going? It is all very, very, frustrating to read, and in my humble opinon mostly a waste of time after page 54.
The second section is dedicated to attacking Bush and Iraq. Like many he blames Bush and Cheney, that is okay, and they certainly are worthy of that blame, mismanagement of trade, the budget, an illegal invasion of Iraq. But what has that got to do with finite oil reserves and changing our future economy, i.e.: "powerdown" and "options"? In the final analysis not much, and Iraq is largely a distraction. With or without Iraq, we will face oil shortages, and probably sooner, not later. The war might cause small changes in timing, but in the end we need new technology and conservation.
In any case, there are few hints of what we should do or how we might solve the problems: just questions and circular and frustrating philosophical arguments. When the author talks about "powerdown", where do we power down to, i.e.: what level? Is it 1000 watts, or 500 watts, or just 100 watts per capita? Presently we use 11,000 watts on average 24-7 in the US and 5,000 Watts in Europe. How do we get "there" - the "powerdown" level, whatever that is? What do we eliminate? Agriculture? Heating? Education?Transportation? Cancer therapy? All social and government services? All electronics? Aviation? How do we look after 5 to 10 billion people, without having every continent looking like Africa?
He briefly mentions carbon tax credits, durable consumer goods, and solar villages, but these are no solutions. His other solution of fewer people and less energy consumption per capita is self evident, and we do not need the five chapters of discussion to make that point.
Compare the present book with another book The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future by Hermann Scheer, a German politician and a winner of many international honours. Sheer's arguments are also a bit flawed. He is a socialist at heart, wants to cut energy consumption for philosophical reasons and also to make it easier to rely on solar energy, and he likes to quote Karl Marx. Scheer jumps the gun in terms of anticipating technical innovation in solar, but at least he presents some clear and specific arguments, clear goals, clear energy production numbers, clear energy generating processes, with answers to questions.
Sure, the first few chapters are 5 star, but then for some unknown reason, the author lost his way. Unfortunately, the book is a bust and mostly a waste of money. I do not recommend buying.
Better books for green reading: Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows - and perhaps that book or the original is a basis for the present book, The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future by Hermann Scheer, a good book by Howard C. Hayden on Solar Energy (ignore his title!), Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, Fueling the Future: How the Battle Over Energy Is Changing Everything by Andrew Heintzman (Editor), Evan Solomon (Editor), The Solar Electric House: Energy for the Environmentally-Responsive, Energy-Independent Home by Steven J. Strong, Renewable Energy Handbook for Homeowners: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Making (and Selling) Your Own Power from the Sun, Wind and Water by William H. Kemp,Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy by Matthew R. Simmons, and finally The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer R. Weart. The last author is associated with the American Institute of Physics.
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on 2 June 2005
The main problem with this sort of book is that you won't buy it unless you're already concerned (and presumably at least somewhat familiar) with the issues. Having spent quite a bit of time on the various "peak oil" websites, I found my view confirmed rather than challenged. There's lots of interesting ideas and informative stuff here (I loved the little story about the disintegrating raft!) but the people who need to read it probably aren't going to. Maybe the best approach is to buy it, read it, and then pass it on.
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on 28 March 2005
Without a doubt 'Peak Oil' is coming and it is going to hit everyone in a way we can't quite comprehend yet. Even if it is not yet spoken about as widely as global warming, it will have a much more tangible effect, sooner, and will make sustainable living all but compulsory.
Richard Heinberg, in this excellent follow up, lays out different ways we can approach 'Powerdown'. As someone who has been trying to tackle the question of how we conduct the energy/culture transition, this is invaluable reading and is highly recommended to everyone, especially those who are aware of the problem.
I run a campaign called PowerSwitch.org.uk, raising awareness and discussion of oil depletion and I would say this book is perfect reading to get you into thinking about solutions for yourself and society. It may be a little simplistic for some but for me it was the right material and at the right level. A must read! I only wish every poltician read this too.
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on 19 January 2005
I read Heinberg's other book on oil depletion, The Party's Over, which was great. But this is even better, as it goes further and offers clear and sensible ideas and solutions to the forthcoming crisis.
Why do the media and most of the population have their head in the sand over this issue? Please read this book, and pass it on to your friends, family... and enemies. As a society we need to know about oil depletion, its implications, and what we can do to prepare for the future. This is the best exposition I have found on the subject - urgent, but also calm and controlled. Thanks Richard!
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on 17 May 2006
Richard Heinberg's perspective, that all living organisms including humans are simply "energy processing systems" is compelling. For most of our existance, we humans have been living on the incidental energy of the sun, received on an annual basis: animal and human muscle power derived from vegetation; heat from wood; wind for windmills and sailing boats. The 200 year fossil fuel age has been a very unusual interlude when we have had available to us the stored energy from ancient sunlight collected over millions of years, which is what fossil fuels are.

His book examines the consequences of us reaching the high-water mark in the fossil-fuel age and our choices for the future. Do we intelligently manage energy descent or fight a hopeless fight to maintain the status quo. The latter choice means we will still descend in energy terms but it will be truly terrible for all of us.

We have a choice to thrive non-materially whilst living more simply, with a significantly reduced human population, travelling and trading less. Or we destroy so much of what we have achieved and risk losing everything, like the Easter Islanders and the Greenland Norse.
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on 12 May 2014
Peak oil, the slow protracted decline of humanity, resource wars and population collapse do not make good bed time reading. The book is however extremely interesting and does make some valid points about our unsustainable behaviour. Even though it was written around 2003 and is a bit dated in places the authors 'predictions' about the future are not far off. The question is, what group of people do you fit into?
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on 28 October 2009
Well, all books contain a bit of padding and this one does.

Worth a read to stimulate the imagination.
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