This book is a wake up call for “petroleum man” and a great read for anyone interested in energy issues and in why so many people are promoting woodfuel use. David Strahan explains about “peak oil”, being the idea that once world oil production starts to decline - as it inevitably must - then there will be an oil shock of unprecedented dimensions (“the last oil shock”). We have either just passed this point of “peak oil” output or we are about to do so, in which case we are rapidly moving towards a world of severe oil shortages where alternative energy sources will be desperately needed and in which we will simply have to consume less. He predicts that if we carry on as we are doing then the shock waves resulting from oil shortages will overturn the way we live and indeed create new and severe conflicts.
Strahan explores the extent of oil reserves and finds that for various political and technical reasons world oil reserves are probably very significantly overstated. He goes on to explore alternatives and shows how slow we have been to develop these. Even where the technology has been worked out, they are expensive: in exploiting oil shales, for every three units of energy extracted from shale one unit is used up in its production.
“The Last Oil Shock” is a very readable book and starts dramatically by outlining why America and the UK invaded Iraq (oil, of course) and goes on to put this into the context of western fears over security of oil supply. Strahan works through why we are short of oil – not just the stuff running out, but us consuming so much. For example the average American travels 40 miles by car each day and even the British each do about 18 miles per day.
Yet this book is not all gloom and doom – David Strahan tries hard to be positive and looks at the ways we can start to prepare for the shock both as a civilisation and personally. He examines not just ways to use less energy but ways to develop lifestyles that are less energy-dependent. Using electricity for heating has always been extremely inefficient and this book gives encouragement to all those who are looking at ways to heat their homes from renewable resources such as firewood and heat pumps.
In some ways you feel as if you’ve been taken on a tour of the Grand Canyon constantly looking into the abyss and seeing what a deep hole we have dug for ourselves, but ultimately there is optimism – says Strahan “I have to believe that the outcome is still within our control - if only just”.
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