On to the book: curiously, although Roberts effects a stance of impartiality in analyzing the then-current (2005) state of oil reserves and omnipresence for a burgeoning global energy demand, the status of alternative fuel development and the practicality/potentiality for their implementation, his very remove from stridency and/or advocacy in either direction tends to cast a chillingly somber shadow upon his investigation and prognosis.
Roberts is a bit conservative on climate change and easy on the energy industries -- but the book is fair, his arguments well-structured (it's a perfect text for teaching argument and research), and well-supported.
While apparently promising, this book turned out to be a total disappointment.
Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about the future of oil, Roberts argues compellingly that our short-term energy security relies upon countries that are increasingly hostile to the U.S. and the West, that is the dreaded cartel known as OPEC! Roberts has no easy answers, but increased reliance on coal, natural gas, solar, wind, biofuels and perhaps even nuclear energy will be part of the picture. It was encouraging to read the chapter Roberts devotes to renewables like solar, hydropower, wind, biofuels.
- Natural gas is a good transitional energy candidate, but also a fuel source that will die out. Roberts predicts that wind can potentially produce up to 12% of the world's energy by 2020. In fact, a recent NYT article describes how China has taken the lead in renewable energy technology to become the world's largest maker of wind turbines and solar panels (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/bus...).
There are three main reasons: there is a lack of convincing facts and a surplus of anecdotes, much of what is said I knew and considered common knowledge, and the book is old enough for the situation to have changed considerably. Here is an example of two statements I found written in there : 1) Chinese spit because their country lacks oil, 2) The number of SUV produced in the West can be read in the fluctuating quotas on oil exports that are set by Saudi Arabia. In a book about correlations and predictions, I was lacking numbers. I estimate that 20% of the book is on geopolitics, 30% is travel writing and personal perspectives, and the remaining 50% is wikipedia knowledge: what is a fuel cell, what is global warming, what is the greenhouse effect, what is a hydrocarbon.
He also suggests that reserves of natural gas are much higher than estimates I have heard from other people arguing about peak oil, but he reiterates the political and logistical difficulty of getting it to market from where it lies hidden in Russia or South America. He is skeptical about the resource wars even though some of those were being fought while he was writing, and while he recognizes the errors in the fictional weapons of mass destruction, his arguments point to military action as inevitable, necessary and, oddly, natural.
His perspective is also overwhelmingly American, and while I think that it is critical to consider America as they will have a huge role in determining the future of our energy economy I think that Roberts overstates their importance and underestimates the leadership role that other countries are taking in the face of American intransigence.