Moe Beitiks

BOOK REVIEW: $20 per Gallon

by , 10/01/13

sustainable design, green design, book review, $20 per gallon, christopher steiner, oil, alternative energy

We have to admit that when we saw the title of Christopher Steiner’s book, we scoffed a bit. Twenty dollars per a gallon of gas seems like an outrageous, unfathomable price, even when you’re a believer in peak oil. But part of the beauty of Steiner’s book is its ability to track the effects of ever-more-scarce oil in believable detail. Whether the author’s predictions of local food, high-speed trains and alternative plastics are correct, they are excellent illustrations of the pervasiveness of petroleum.

sustainable design, green design, book review, $20 per gallon, christopher steiner, oil, alternative energy

Steiner doesn’t drop you straight into a oil-expensive world: he eases you into it by dollar amounts, painting a picture of the world at $6, $8, $10 a gallon. It probably won’t be a straight line of ever-increasing prices, but, Steiner argues, rise they will, and the systems we’ve built on the assumption of cheap fuel will adapt or die as a result.

He brings to light certain examples: tuna caught in Canada which is largely purchased in Japan, for instance. He also claims school buses, SUVs, and many police patrol cars will go the way of dinosaurs. Steiner gets so specific as to predict which airline companies will fail and which alternative energy projects will succeed, based on market research and interviews with industry professionals.

sustainable design, green design, book review, $20 per gallon, christopher steiner, oil, alternative energyA utopian vision for Songdo City

The author is not painting a utopian vision by any means, but logistically weighing all the options for a less petroleum-dependent future. One of his solutions might make readers squirm: nuclear energy. It’s a power source, he argues, that is one of the most cost-and carbon-effective. Like many proponents of nuclear power, he claims that the “one drawback” to this power source is the production of nuclear waste. He approves the stagnant plan to use Yucca Mountain as a storage site, but lists no others, nor does he address the possibility of treating nuclear waste. Granted, this glowing proposal is one of several solutions explored in the book, including massive improvements in energy efficiency, wind and solar, but opponents to the production of nuclear waste will see this as trading one environmentally destructive source of energy for another.

sustainable design, green design, book review, $20 per gallon, christopher steiner, oil, alternative energy

Some of the behavioral modifications demanded by an expensive future are ones already employed by those of us who are broke or without vehicles: walk, ride your bike, take public transportation. But these options will be easier to take in the future, says Steiner, when the price of gas forces many off the road, demanding improvements in train routes and bike paths.

The book concludes with an illustrative chapter in the life of a New England professional. When Steiner’s world hits $20 a gallon, it doesn’t look drastically different from our own. But the changes that do take place are significant and appealing – they almost make you root for the price to go up.

+ Twenty Dollars per Gallon

+ Chris Steiner

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  1. sammael August 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Lazyreader is right about one thing. Nuclear technology is mitigation technology. Our society, our culture is dependant on available, cheap, easily transportable energy. Which is why so much of our energy still comes from fossil fuels. That does need to change, we need to find alternatives, from ITER and NIF long term projects about fusion, to more efficient and cheap green energy. From better electric cars, to fully functional hydrogen cell transport.
    Unless we are willing to let our civilization fall, completely, we need stop-gap solutions. And nuclear power IS just that. Building high-efficiency high-reusability latest generation nuclear reactors, on geographicly safe areas will give us TIME we need to find other, better solutions. But if we don’t give ourselves time, OR we try to go on as nothing is changing, then we will fall.
    So unless someone makes a 30 cent cheap solar cell that works during night and has 80% efficiency, we need nuclear power. For better of for worse.

  2. lazyreader August 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Energy usage among the rest of the world is steadily growing. The United States will require 45 percent more energy by 2030. The rest of the world is going to require 60-70 percent more. The sheer volume of BS and talk about energy, energy prices, and energy policy on both sides of the political aisle. Most of what we think we know about energy are mostly myths passed around by the green movement. Energy demand will never decline in any respectable level, certainly not by physical limitations. More efficient cars, engines, thermostats and light bulbs will never lower demand. Energy supply on this little planet of ours is practically infinite. Expanding energy supplies mean higher productivity, more jobs, and a growing GDP. Across the board access to energy will improve our environment so energy isn’t the problem. Most of what we think of as energy waste is irrelevant and trying to improve energy efficiency is almost as pointless. Discarding energy is not the sin the environmentalists would have you believe. We continue to invent new ways to waste energy. Only by throwing most of the energy away that we can put what’s left to productive use. We waste energy to produce a mere 100 watts of light in a filament and why? The sun offers us 100 watts of light for free, through a simple skylight or window yet we pay good money for the bulb and the electrons that power it. A mere laser is even more inefficient than the bulb. That laser doesn’t deliver more power than the bulb or the skylight, quite the contrary, it delivers less, and we waste huge amounts of ordinary light producing it. It takes big arrays of flash lamps, mounted around a large gas cavity, to stimulate the emission of the focused laser. The laser burns through energy to generate light and tosses away most of its fuel in doing so. But we run it anyway, because lasers can cut metal, measure landscapes, operate on tumors, restore our eyesight so we can actually use that natural or artificial light to read, all because we wasted so much energy on that laser. The 2nd law of thermodynamics accounts for entropy, vast sums of energy will always be wasted. Most electricity we put into our machines winds up useless heat energy which must be exhausted or our devices would fail due to strain and heat build up. We dump one unit of heat into some distant power plant’s cooling tower so that we can dump four more units of (unwanted) energy out of the window of our living room, that’s called air conditioning, not to mention Refrigerators. It takes perhaps ten units of raw thermal energy to pump one unit of ultrareliable electricity into a microprocessor then pump the waste heat back out all in the name of Facebook, YouTube & Twitter. Even mother nature; enormous quantities of energy are wasted to produce sugars, plants are green because they only permit and use certain frequencies of light to commit to photosynthesis; The rest of the spectrum, the omitted colors, the UV light, the gamma rays, the X-rays, the microwaves…..totally wasted. The leaves of the tropical rainforests are smooth and waxy, designed to reflect the vast majority of that intense equatorial sun.

    Energy supply has few thresholds, There is enough nuclear fuel to facilitate all current or growing human energy needs for the forseable future. We may have to bite the bullet and unleash the nuclear genie or at least enhance research to make reactor tech an affordable asset in the near future. Nuclear waste is a manageable affair. It’s not waste it’s spent fuel (of which only less than 4 percent is waste), most of which is still useful uranium that is just too hot to use now. The risk of plutonium proliferation is mute when you consider the nations that do it already have it. Canada uses heavy water reactors to use natural uranium unrefined and produces no plutonium. Deep bore holes thousands of meters underground hold key to storing actual waste indefinitely. Once you drill the hole and deposit the waste, you fill it back up with the material you drilled. The thickness of the natural barrier of kilometers of rock will safely isolate the waste from the biosphere for a very long period of time posing no threat to the environment. For countries that do not rely on nuclear power plants, their entire inventory of high-level nuclear waste could perhaps be disposed of in a single borehole. Even the spent fuel generated from a single large nuclear power plant operating for multiple decades could be disposed of in fewer than ten boreholes. Another attraction of the deep borehole option is that holes might be drilled and waste emplaced using modifications of existing oil and gas drilling technologies. The environmental impact is small. The waste handling facility at the wellhead, plus a temporary security buffer zone, would require about one square kilometer of land. When the borehole is filled and finally sealed, the land can be returned to a natural condition. Even if your opposed to nuclear power, it offers a mitigation strategy to existing waste; something the green police refuse to acknowledge or even talk about as they have no solutions.

  3. msyin August 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    This is not something that happens over night and while it is true that other countries are still driving as much as we are, they are also very much aware and planning, spending and building better more fuel efficient as well as fuel alternative options into their plans on every level. Here in the USA, big corporations like UPS, FEDEX have been converting their fleets, people who are broke are taking mass transit and frankly this country’s lack of proper mass transportation across the country is going to bite the majority. We still have other options we can do right now like working from home and getting off the treadmill of having to drive into work. Many more can than do and it will become more of the norm here when cost for workers to go into work outweigh the costs involved with getting there. There is no one solution and we are all doing more. Lets try and keep a positive focus while understanding that all too often, in the course of human history, we don’t tend to make change, especially great change, unless we are facing a disaster. Nothing gets those creative juices flowing like a bit of mayhem for most of us, but we don’t all have to be reactionary, we can continue to envision what we want and choose and create new options before the &*T%% hits the fan and we are.

  4. lazyreader July 22, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Gas is already nine dollars in Europe due to heavy taxation and fees on driving, yet people in Europe drive just as much as their American counterparts. Driving accounts for roughly 85 percent of our travel in America, those “green” Europeans, 79 percent! Gas is 3 times as much in Europe, despite spending hundreds of billions of Euros on rail (money diverted from driving fees) and transit most of what they’ve done is keep on driving.

  5. kiwichick September 30, 2009 at 12:50 am

    expect oil to start surging up again within 12 months

    we are heading for the cliff

    Great Depression 2 on the way to a town near you

  6. Bensch September 28, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I wonder about the environmental cost of mining and transporting uranium – I really just hate giving money to folks who still believe in the great nuclear savior…

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