Did you hear the one about Hubbert’s curve?

Peak of the DevilBOOK REVIEW

Peak of the Devil: 100 Questions (and answers) About Peak Oil
By Chip Haynes
Satya House Publications 2010, 223 pages, $14.95

Peak oil is no laughing matter, but we may have reached a point where the only way to introduce newbies to the topic is with some humor thrown in. That’s the approach Chip Haynes takes with Peak of the Devil, 100 Questions (and answers) about Peak Oil.

For the most part it works.

Haynes’s primer on peak oil seems designed for those who have either never heard about peak oil, or have just been introduced to the topic.

The easy to read format, coupled with Haynes’ disarming approach, takes the reader through the basics of peak oil in simple, straightforward language that bypasses the typical foray into technical Hubbertisms that most peak oil books cover in minute detail. Its like peak oil for your mom, the public school front desk secretary. She’s intelligent, curious, cares about the world, but likely isn’t already reading any peak oil books, nor clocking time at the Savinar cafe of doom. What Haynes does for her (or the male newbie counterpart) is break the news gently, one wisecrack at a time.

There’s enough accessible technical information to ground the book in the geological and economic realities from which the oil crisis arises, but the rest is more about what it means for the individual, community, and world across a variety of fronts including food, transportation, safety, work, and what to tell the kids.

And what does it mean?

A decided middle-of-the-roader, Haynes eschews both the “Mutant Zombie Biker” narrative and the “flying cars and robot maids” of George Jetson’s world. Instead, Haynes advances a positive outlook that borders a little close to idealism about a sunny new world where we all bike to nearby jobs, enjoy our neighbor’s company, and grow endlessly producing gardens with a new found appreciation for our own labor.

Not that he doesn’t pepper the book with some hard realities about coming down from the exuberant ride across a century of fossil fuel abundance. It’s just that he softens the blow with a vibe reminiscent of Garrison Keillor. Sometimes Haynes is repetitive, and sometimes his jokes are a little too self conscious, but more than a few are genuinely funny and, I think, right for the target audience.

Haynes anticipates the kind of questioning process the average person goes through when confronted with peak oil, deftly handling the response for an “average” audience. It’s no The Long Emergency or Peak Everything, but it just may be the bridge book that gets the reader to dig even deeper and take action in his or her own life. The book includes a nice resource guide to websites and further reading in the back.

I highly recommend the book for anyone you want to reach on the peak oil issue but who you’ll influence better with an animated velvet glove rather than an intellectual iron fist. It’s also the perfect book for your son’s frat house bathroom or the bathroom of any friend who throws a lot of parties. Put that puppy in there and let each powder room denizen discover peak oil while sitting down. At least that way they wont crap their pants when they read the news.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you, Lindsay, for a very nice review! Yes, it is a book for the newbie that is too easily scared off by the more serious works on the subject- and that includes many of my own friends. I keep thinking, “If I can just get them to read this book…”

    Oh, and I do like the bit about “Savinar’s Cafe of Doom”. I have my own table in the corner there.

    Hi-ho!

    Chip

    • says

      I had fun reading it, Chip, and writing the review. We have this new thing where, when Erik and I have to go somewhere, I read aloud in the car to him. We have soooo much reading to do all the time that this makes the strapped-in and staring-forward posture much more practical. So, in a sense, Erik has “read” Peak of the Devil, too, and he enjoyed it as well. Good luck with it!

      • says

        So maybe I should check with the publisher about doing it as a book on tape? For now, I’m trying to come up with a decent punch line for your wonderful setup: “Did you hear the one about Hubbert’s curve?” Whew. Lemme get back to you on that one.

        Hi-ho!

        Chip

        • says

          Sure, why not a book on tape? You’d have the added irony of burning fossil fuel while barreling down the road and listening to it. Plus, ladies like me would get less carsick.

          Did you hear the one about Hubbert’s curve? It was a real bust!

  2. James R. Martin says

    “Haynes advances a positive outlook that borders a little close to idealism about a sunny new world where we all bike to nearby jobs, enjoy our neighbor’s company, and grow endlessly producing gardens with a new found appreciation for our own labor.”

    This image vaguely meshes with my sense of the best possible human response to the situation. Of course, the present dominant way of life in “the developed nations” will have crossed all kinds of breaking points by the time such life-way would be widely adopted. That is, the present system (in, e.g., USA) will no longer be working.

    I’m not convinced we have to have extreme famine, war, social chaos and mass death. But avoiding that will entail a very rapid process of letting go of the old familiar world. Debt won’t be “serviced”. Can we just let it go? The present modes of employment will disappear. Can we just let them go?

    Food, I think, will be the central issue of this transition. And I’m more optimistic about that than many (most?) peak oil folks — because there’s so much land, scattered in dribbles in and around our towns and cities, which could be used to produce food. But I see a time coming when food will no longer be treated as a commodity in a market. It will be mostly self-provisioned within communities and shared / traded in community. It will be organically produced, and mostly in a sustainable manner.

    Look at the end of the lawn, the end of gardens growing merely flowers and ornamentals. (These will be torn up!) Where water is more scarce, roof catchment and grey water systems will abound. That sort of thing — and yes, bicycles.

    And there will be massive re-ruralization, since many of our cities simply won’t be able to be self-sustaining. ‘Course, there’s the matter of how folks will gain access to land! That’s a tough problem.

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