Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: $20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner

(Hachette Audiobook , Unabridged and read by John Wolfe )

Review written by my husband Greg:

Have you given a moment to consider what would happen if gasoline prices doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled? You might be tempted to think that the effects would be limited to the types of vehicles you drive and consequently what you pay at the pump. Maybe you're thinking that electric cars will eventually become practical and so the problem is solved. If that's your understanding, then you would do well to read this book. What you may not be considering, and what Christopher Steiner points out, is that the entire fabric (literally) of our society depends on petroleum products. Polyester clothing, carpeting, countertops, roofing, asphalt, and everything made of plastic requires petroleum to produce. Consider too that all products, be they petroleum based or not, require gasoline to transport them from their source to our local retail stores. Of course this includes agricultural products as well, which end up on our grocery store shelves. Air travel becomes affordable only for the wealthy and Walmart prices skyrocket due to their reliance on cheap transportation costs.

Disrupt the flow of petroleum and our well oiled, petroleum leveraged, societal machine begins to crack at its seams. There seems little doubt of that, but the real question is can we adapt appropriately if and when that occurs. Christopher Steiner makes a strong case that it's really a case of "when" and not "if". Given that petroleum is a finite, non-renewable resource it's inevitable that production will peak and then steadily dwindle down to oblivion. The author also suggests that we are at or near that peak and that all of the easy to extract oil has already been extracted making it increasingly expensive to sustain our current appetite for oil. It's a sobering thought.

The chapters in this book are given titles such as $4 gas, $10 gas, $20 gas and reflect the consequences associated with the specific price. There's a spectrum here which includes the demise and decline of such things as the SUV, air travel, asphalt highways and roofs, living in the suburbs, imported goods, trash pickup, and all petroleum based products including the case for your iPod. The consequences are anything but mild.

However, the future may not be all doom and gloom, especially if we rise to the occasion with an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. We'll learn how to conserve, make our processes more efficient. These measures will yield environmental benefits as well. We'll become more of an electric society where wind, solar, and nuclear power provide the bulk of our energy needs. Spending less time in our cars will also mean that more lives will be saved and a healthier populace as we spend more time walking and riding bicycles rather than driving to the local fast food chain. Christopher Steiner speculates the melting of the suburbs as it becomes more cost effective to once again live in the cities. We'll see the rebirth of trains as well as new subway projects which were previously unfundable. Our plastic products will be replaced with materials derived from corn and will decompose soon after they're buried in the landfill.

Whether or not all this will unfold just as Christopher Steiner claims is not completely certain as some of his tenets are better supported than others (some downright specious), but one thing is for certain, changes due to petroleum shortages are inevitable and will affect us in our lifetime. $20 Per Gallon offers us a clarion call to action. Now is the time to prepare, and some forward thinking companies such as UPS are already taking the right steps and will allow them to thrive in the future. In addition to the prognostication, what I like about this book is that it motivated me to take a fresh look at my own energy consumption habits and how they might be improved. For some, this could translate into refraining from purchasing a gas guzzling vehicle or it could be as simple as deciding not to purchase that cutesy piece of Chinese junk.

Information to purchase book, audiobook. (I am an Amazon Associate)

Thanks to Hachette for providing this audiobook for review.


  1. We've already done all that we can to lower our consumption too. Interesting book.

  2. I'm really intrigued by this book, I'll have to try to pick it up.

  3. Greg, great review, it really makes one stop and think, esp. if you live way out in the country. I found the one comment in your review interesting-"Our plastic products will be replaced with materials derived from corn and will decompose soon after they're buried in the landfill."

    Some of the problem solved? NOT! We have a car where one part was made with corn product, the mice and rats on our farm got into it, ATE through it, and chewed up the wires that were under it in our car! The car would not start. This happened twice. I can imagine what might happen with more products being made from corn!

    Does the author talk about people living in extremely rural areas? This sounds like a book I'd like to look into more!

    Thanks for the review!

  4. What a great book! Everyone should conserve even if gas was $.10 per gallon. Thanks for sharing Bonnie!

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Greg's response to Bonnie F's comment;

    Bonnie, Although I haven't personally experienced it, I can understand your concern over owning an edible car (reminds me of the man who ate a car and made it into Ripley's - hard to fathom isn't it?). I think there are limits to these technologies so hopefully we'll learn to use them wisely. Corn based plastic might be perfect for an iPod case, but I suspect we will still have some petroleum based plastics where they make sense, just fewer of them. The carpet squares where I work are corn based and so far no rodent damage. And since they're squares, they can easily be replaced if consumed. :) Also mentioned was the the possibility that asphalt roofs would be replaced by metal for both cost and insulation efficiency, so perhaps metal will come back in vogue again competing fiercely with plastic. Hopefully a side effect of higher energy costs will be that we enjoy higher quality products.
    And how about wood? I've always thought I would appreciate my computer more if it was sitting in a wooden enclosure. :)

    As far as rural living is concerned, he doesn't say much other than he sees a flight from surrounding areas back to the cities. It could mean that we end up redefining our living patterns and rural areas become self-sufficient and more clustered in a way that allows us to cooperatively pool our resources together. So in my mind, "city" could imply other things such as a relatively self-sufficient cluster in a rural area.

    It's hard to put this all in perspective. I wouldn't be too alarmist, but on the one hand I think change is on the way, but hopefully it will be more gradual than sudden. Steiner admits he is referring to time frames in the decades for some of the major change to occur. In my mind the key is for us to adapt gradually, unlike Detroit which suddenly found itself fully geared up to produce a dinosaur product.

    Thanks for your comment.


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