Lovins “Oil Endgame”

ISBN 1-84407-194-4. “Winning the Oil Endgame – Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security” written by Amory B Lovins, E Kyle Datta, Odd-Even Bustnes, Jonathan G Koomey and Nathan J Glasgow with forewords by George P Shultz and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart. If this books teaches us anything it is that it is possible to plan economic measures in advance of Peak Oil such that it a potential disaster can be turned into an economic advantage. Indeed it is only by ignoring the problem that it turns into a crisis. So why not get on with it? Well, this books seems to think Peak Oil will hit in 2040 which seems outlandish…. Therefore if they think we have all this time of course they can be relaxed about a slow 20 year cutover. They also underestimate the effects of Climate Change and ignore tipping points. Hence everything is a little unreal and over-relaxed. Maybe that is a good thing? Somehow…..We get so used to thinking of the Peak Oil and Climate Change challenges as being Global issues that it really stops us in our tracks when a group of individuals produce a book describing solutions for JUST ONE COUNTRY – the USA. This is clearly a policy document for the Whitehouse and was funded by the Pentagon. As such it has peculiarly US-centric view of the World and America’s Foreign Policy. The authors would like to have told Americans that their Government has been utterly corrupted by Oil. However it all comes out in a shrouded language that will grate with most readers beyond the borders of the continental USA. An example of which is the description of multiple American ‘Military interventions’ in the Gulf Region as being for “stability” purposes. In the same paragraph the author notes (hopefully with irony) that, despite these efforts the Americans are resented as much as ever. This is a book about myopia inside the American Bubble and boundless techno-optimism. Technology will solve all problems if only Government would get out of the way of the Corporations. You couldn’t get closer to the heart of Republican conservatives if you tried. The authors seriously believe there is no need for further energy taxation or further incentives (they then completely contradict this point!). The market will take care of everything – for Americans anyway. The basis for this assumption is fundamentally flawed for two reasons: firstly Lovin’s statistical analysis suggests that the US Economy grows at a pace far greater than Oil Imports because of greater efficiency, but this ignores the impact of Globalisation which exported heavy industry to the Developing World whilst the US focussed on services and the money markets for wealth creation. Secondly, despite rising efficiency the US Economy keeps growing to suck in more Oil not less. Endless expansion of consumer products to every mortal being on the planet is impossible in a finite world – it doesn’t matter how smart the technology. For every statistic in this book I have heard others that suggest the opposite. The problem is GROWTH. Business-as-usual assumes growth and with compound growth we will consume everything on the planet within the lifetime of our children. The US’s ‘lead’ in wealth generation is because it excludes most of the rest of the world from the party. To read this book you would think that it was because they were terribly clever in using so much finite resource. Being able to print debt in your own currency base is no proof of a divine right to asset strip the planet. Occasionally Lovins will present an anecdote to prove a point whilst ignoring the evidence that proves the opposite. An example of which is the claim that a Chemical Plant in Europe uses as much energy as the same US Company’s Plants in America despite higher Fossil Fuel prices in Europe. That is a generalisation based upon just TWO Plants! The alternative conclusion is that the Americans just made their European plants as inefficient as their US ones. All the other evidence shows just how efficient Europe & Japan are in comparison to the US because of high Fossil Fuel Taxes. Price does work – a point Lovins concedes later on. This aside there are a lot of great facts and figures here to browse through and there is surprisingly much you can agree with. There is even brief mention of “Community” and “all levels of society” – however you quickly get the suspicion that their ‘community’ is Wall Street and ‘society’ is just the Board Room. When Lovins talks about ‘local resilience’ he doesn’t mean a walking community – he means one where there is some local access to local fuel production so that everyone can keep driving their SUV’s. Although he doesn’t mention organic farming he does believe that biofuels will be produced in the US in a fashion that restores carbon back into the soil. Then it is admitted that this “environmental” aspect is largely promoted to get around WTO rules about subsidising farms. Around page 180 onwards Lovins moves on to solutions. Some of the jingoistic language is tempered in favour of genuine Government intervention in the market through a variety of measures such as feebates and military procurement. You do get a one-half page about how suburbia could be redesigned so that people could walk and cycle to where they need to be but, apart from this brief nod, the rest of the solutions actually read as if they intend to drive up car ownership, not deter it. Lovins wants to get the US public out of their inefficient SUV’s and into slightly more efficient SUV’s. This is on the basis that the American consumer will NEVER sacrifice any of the American Dream for the future of their children. Through the book the evidence is largely based upon programs running in Europe and Japan. This goes to show just how far behind the rest of the world the US is. This books shows no signs of the US catching up. It desires greater efficiency at a time where the Europeans and Japanese are already looking towards reengineering Communities so they don’t need, or want, cars. As such they are slowly moving to where we were 20 years ago. Considering the rhetoric of recent US Administrations (Reagan onwards) this is some form of progress but it isn’t enough. Maybe social change is the final and bitterest pill for the US citizens to swallow. Fantasies like this only stall for time. Full of great ideas that I would wish would come true – as long as I don’t look out of a window. Whereas the American military lusts after its “full spectrum dominance” of the battlefield maybe they should be considering full spectrum dominance on the solutions for Peak Oil and Climate Change, ie, all possible solutions – including those largely ignored in this book. The end of oil is not a game. You are not going to win it. Deal with it and move on. A politically inspired wet dream…. But, oddly enough, still worth a read!

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

Comments are closed.