Peak Oil Books for Everyone

Sharon December 17th, 2010

In a perfect world, all our friends and family would have a complete understanding of peak oil and we could all talk spend the winter holidays talking about those things that most concern us.   And in a perfect world, none of us would still be shopping for holiday presents in late December.

 The reality, however, is imperfect.  Most of us have friends and families who don’t “get it” yet, and some who are actively hostile.  They may look askance at our concern with the price of oil or wonder why we’re running on about this.  The holidays are a good time to (gently) offer up a little new information that helps people make sense of what you are thinking about.  And you may have to buy a few gifts anyway! 

Again, in a perfect world, there’d be one perfect book out there that you could give to anyone that would be enlightening, revealing, engaging to everyone, and after reading it, everyone would totally get it.  In reality, if you give your Mom or your neighbor or your boss the wrong book for the holidays, they are likely to end up at someone’s library sale unread.  But just because Mom didn’t read the last book you gave her about peak oil doesn’t mean she won’t read any book – the trick is matching the book to the person.  Just as not everyone is reached with the peak oil message in the same way, you’ve got to match the media with the message.  So here are some thoughts about books to give that special person who doesn’t (yet) quite get it.

Not every one of these books is a “peak oil book” in the sense of being a simple explanation of the subject, although some are – many of them include only a brief explanation of what peak oil is.  What makes these “peak oil books” and valuable for spreading the word is that all of them take peak oil as a given, a basic, normative assumption that has to come into any assessment of the future.  In some ways, this can be even more powerfully effective than giving someone a book that attempts to persuade them that there’s an issue.  Recognizing that the ideas you have been talking about are so normal that they are integrated into the background assumptions of an author’s work can be extraordinarily persuasive.

For your co-worker who thinks you are way too worked up about all this: Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over.  The first of the popular books about peak oil is still one of the best, particularly for someone who needs a fairly straightforward, dispassionate book that lays out the case clearly. 

For your skeptical Sister: She’s the kind of person who wants to see the numbers *herself* and make sure they add up, and she’s sure not going to believe anything said by someone who used to steal her Halloween candy: Kenneth Deffeyes  Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak is a well written, thoughtful introduction to Hubbert’s Peak, including an excellent introduction to the math behind it.

For your Sister In Law who can’t stop talking about The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved is about Hardwick, Vermont and its local food endeavors.  More deeply, however, it is an attempt to ask what a viable local, low fossil-input food system might actually look like, and uses Hardwick as a case study.

Your friend “the Money Guy” who sees everything in economic terms: Jeff Rubin’s Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller which prophesies the end of globalization, the re-onshoring of manufacturing and a radical economic shift as a result of peak oil.

Your Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart loving younger brother: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects by Dmitry Orlov.  Inscribe in it something along the lines of “I know this book doesn’t look like it will crack you up, but you have to read this!” and you are all set!

Your history-addict Father – instead of yet another David MacCullough book, get him John Michael  Greer’s The Long Descent.  He’s bound to be fascinated, and just as the “but…” comes out of his mouth on each page, he’ll find his own arguments already answered by Greer.

The friend who is always pushing your comfort zone and making you think harder: Keith Farnish’s Times Up: An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis starts at the microscopic level and moves outwards, inexorably showing how peak oil and climate change are a disaster for our society.

Your cousin who always has the latest best seller on her bedside table: Prelude  by Kurt Cobb is a thriller that takes you through the story of peak oil as a story of intrigue and thrills.  You don’t even have to preface it with “I thought you might want to learn more about this…” In fact, better not, just give it to them, and be prepared for the awakening!

And, well, this is my blog, so I feel like I can gently suggest that for your garden crazy friend, you could offer A Nation of Farmers or for your friend who is increasingly uneasy about the world but can’t put their finger on the problem, Depletion and Abundance.

Happy reading!

11 Responses to “Peak Oil Books for Everyone”

  1. jill says:

    can you suggest one for your head-in-the-sand baby boomer mother who thinks the greenhouse effect is bunk, who refuses to put on a sweater and sets the thermostat at 74F in Phoenix in the winter?

    wish I was kidding ;)

  2. Andrea G. says:

    How about one for a relative who’s stuck in the Progress-or-Apocalypse dichotomy?

  3. 4D says:

    And for the DIY, cookbook collectors, “foodies” and lovers of liberty and TT “re-skillers”–Independence Days!
    In all seriousness, we gave a copy to neighbor folks who wouldn’t know the term PO, but sure are
    getting worked up about food prices and quality and have joined with us to form a local food circle

  4. Michelle says:

    My local librarians just LOVE it when I request a whole stack of titles! Keeps the circulation numbers looking good….

    Thanks, Sharon!

  5. Art Myatt says:

    Andrea G. asked, “How about one for a relative who’s stuck in the Progress-or-Apocalypse dichotomy?”

    John Michael Greer’s “The Long Descent,” which Sharon thinks would be good for those who like to study history, would be equally good for breaking out of progress or apocalypse mode.

    One central idea of “The Long Descent” is that civilizations which have overshot their resources and collapsed have done so in stages, with the time span between the peak of the civilization and the final stage of collapse taking a century or more. In between, some of the stages have been stable for a generation or so, perhaps in regions if not across the whole extent of the civilization. Rome and the Mayan Empire are discussed as examples of complete collapse. China before industry is an example of another case, periodic limited collapse and recovery, which does not apply to us.

    In short, it has taken the world 150 years to get to peak oil. It may well take another 150 years to reach the point where oil is no longer an important commodity in the world economy. Along the way, some local or regional catastrophes may or may not be inevitable, but total apocalypse is not required. Greer makes a reasonable argument for this conclusion.

    Art Myatt

  6. [...] Peak Oil Books for Everyone In a perfect world, all our friends and family would have a complete understanding of peak oil and we could all talk spend the winter holidays talking about those things that most concern us. And in a perfect world, none of us would still be shopping for holiday presents in late December. [...]

  7. Sharon says:

    Jill, for a good climate book which is respectful of climate dissenters, I like Greg Craven’s _What’s the Worst that Could Happen_ – it is also funny. If you think they’d be more likely to respond to a quiet, serious book, Elizabeth Kolbert’s _Field Notes from a Catastrophe_ is good.

    Sharon

  8. theresa says:

    great ideas, thank you

  9. jill says:

    thank you, will check the library for those! The local library has _A Nation of Farmers_ and I’ve requested that they get copies of your other books too.

  10. [...] Peak Oil Books for Everyone In a perfect world, all our friends and family would have a complete understanding of peak oil and we could all talk spend the winter holidays talking about those things that most concern us. And in a perfect world, none of us would still be shopping for holiday presents in late December. The reality, however, is imperfect. Most of us have friends and families who don’t “get it” yet, and some who are actively hostile. They may look askance at our concern with the price of oil or wonder why we’re running on about this. The holidays are a good time to (gently) offer up a little new information that helps people make sense of what you are thinking about. And you may have to buy a few gifts anyway! [...]

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