'Out of Gas': They're Not Making More

New York Times book review of "OUT OF GAS: The End of the Age of Oil."

Published: 08-Feb-2004

If all you knew about David Goodstein was the title of his book, you might imagine him to be one of those insufferably enthusiastic prophets of doom, the flannel-shirted, off-the-grid types who take too much pleasure in letting us know that the environment is crumbling all around us. But Goodstein, a physicist, vice provost of the California Institute of Technology and an advocate of nuclear power, is no muddled idealist. And his argument is based on the immutable laws of physics.

The age of oil is ending, he says. The supply will soon begin to decline, precipitating a global crisis. Even if we substitute coal and natural gas for some of the oil, we will start to run out of fossil fuels by the end of the century. ''And by the time we have burned up all that fuel,'' he writes, ''we may well have rendered the planet unfit for human life. Even if human life does go on, civilization as we know it will not survive.''

He's talking about 100 years from now, far enough in the future, you might say, that we needn't worry for generations. Surely some technological fix will be in place by then, some new source of energy, some breakthrough. But with a little luck, many readers of these pages will live until 2030 or 2040, or longer. Their children may live until 2070 or 2080, and their grandchildren will easily survive into the 22nd century. We're talking about a time in the lives of our grandchildren, not some warp drive, Star Trek future.

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