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Sunday, July 19, 2009

REVIEW: $20 per Gallon

$20 per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rising Cost of Gas Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner.

This book is well-organized, provides some interesting hypotheses, but the thesis is tilted towards an optimistic utopia, ignoring or not considering other outcomes or possibilities.

The author gives no mention of E85 gasoline (gasoline which contains 85% ethanol), flex fuel motors, and the genetic modification of plants to produce more ethanol. What of agricultural plants which recycle animal waste and methane to fuel factories?

The author suggests that Walt Disney World will cease to be as airlines fuel costs make air travel expensive, although he does foresee high-speed trains and electric cars. (How many people live within a four-hour drive of Disneyland and DisneyWorld?) Wal*Mart will disappear in a puff of smoke as shipping costs will reduce cheap imports, although domestic production will replace foreign goods, people will still drive locally with electric cars, freight trains will continue to move goods, and trucks will either use clean diesel fuel or compressed air.

As energy costs rise, the author suggests that outlying suburbs will wither and vanish, replaced by local produce farms. Won't the affluent voters in these suburbs convince government to extend public transit to their neighborhoods, just as trains and trolleys connected Westchester County to Manhattan in the early 1900s? (Curiously, the author does not refer to the abandoned houses of Detroit as an example or urban retro-fication.)

The biggest hypothetical which the author fails to analyze is inflation and the economy. As fuel costs rise, how will it affect the economy? Where will funding for high-speed rail, public transit, and energy infrastructure come from if the economy is stagnant due to increased costs of living and production?

This book does offer some interesting insights, and would probably make a good Reading Club selection. However, there is much more which should have been in this book (for example, a comparison to society before the Ford Model T changed us into a gasoline-combustion economy).

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