There are currently no viable substitutes for oil at current rates of consumption. Although alternatives to oil do exist for many of its uses, they are generally vastly inferior to oil in their energy content and in the ease of which they can be extracted, transported, and turned into a commercially-useable fuel.
For over 65 years we have designed our communities for oil. We’ve built nearly 47,000 miles of high-speed Interstate highways, a vast continental network for fuelling and servicing gasoline-powered vehicles, and millions upon millions acres of car-dependent suburbs. This gargantuan legacy of long-term investments has all been made with the assumption that the petroleum fuels which make the whole system work will be available and affordable for the foreseeable future.
But global trends of oil supply and demand are changing to such a degree that this assumption is no longer realistic. Far more than a problem of higher prices at the pump, the quickly emerging new energy reality has enormous implications for just about every aspect of our lives. Forward-thinking households, businesses, and governments are now rushing to plan for an unprecedented energy crisis, the first phases of which we are already experiencing.
What lies behind this 21st century energy crisis? Why can’t we rely on the market to fix a problem that is ultimately about supply and demand? To make sense of what’s going on, we first need to understand some of the basics of how we harness and use energy, and the limitations of the various energy resources available to us.
About The Post Carbon Reader
How do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses.
Contributors to The Post Carbon Reader are some of the world’s leading sustainability thinkers, including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, Wes Jackson, Erika Allen, Gloria Flora, and dozens more.