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What to do as oil peaks out

A geologist as amiable guide

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"Hubbert's Peak," the point on the graph that marks the apex of world oil production, has dropped below its zenith. And, for Americans dependent on their economy's lifeblood, the news goes against the grain of our optimistic belief in the eternal More. Whether you consider the shrinking of that commodity as bringing grim times for our manufacturing, driving, consuming nation, or, perversely, good times for a planet overrun with the greenhouse gases it produces, one thing is sure: There are life-altering changes ahead.

"Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak" is an attempt by Kenneth S. Deffeyes to chart and interpret the alternatives.

A geologist who "grew up in the oil patch" and worked in the "awl bidness," to quote his westernized spelling, Deffeyes is an amiable guide. With a consultant-cum-Rotarian's ease, he explores the angst from the downslide of geologist M. King Hubbert's predicted high point of production. "Oilfield trash, and proud of it," says the bumper sticker on the car of this oil man with the Princeton PhD. And the same flip and practiced approach characterizes his insider-outsider text.

This is hardly the first book on oil issues. From Daniel Yergin's "Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power" early on, to Michael T. Klare's "Blood and Oil" analysis of its geopoli- tics, to the more recent "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies," by Richard Heinberg, the energy lifeblood that powers the world is up for exploration in literary and geological terms.

Its place in both geopolitics (think House of Saud) and global warming (observe CO2 emissions and climate change) has defined the modern world.

The power source of the American dream machine (think automobile) and extravagant life styles (think personal consumption), oil is the kingpin of capitalism and Middle East politics alike. And its replacement will not soon, or perhaps ever, be an easy alternative.

Deffeyes's mission, then, is to cover these substitute fuels.

In brisk chapters titled "Consider Coal," "Tar Sands, Heavy Oil," "Oil Shale," "Uranium," or "Hydrogen," he describes, then downplays, their long-term capability.


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