For more than a century, oil has been the engine of growth for a society that delivers an unprecedented standard of living to many. We now take for granted that economic growth is good, necessary, and even inevitable, but also feel a sense of unease about the simultaneous growth of complexity in the processes and institutions that generate and manage that growth. As societies grow more complex through the bounty of cheap energy, they also confront problems that seem to increase in number and severity. In this era of fossil fuels, cheap energy and increasing complexity have been in a mutually-reinforcing spiral. The more energy we have and the more problems our societies confront, the more we grow complex and require still more energy. How did our demand for energy, our technological prowess, the resulting need for complex problem solving, and the end of easy oil conspire to make the Deepwater Horizon oil spill increasingly likely, if not inevitable? This book explains the real causal factors leading up to the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, a disaster from which it will take decades to recover.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a very important book that ought to be read by everyone who is concerned with the future of industrial civilization. The links between energy and consumption, and energy and environment, are widely appreciated, but are only part of the story. A more general picture emerges when environment is broadened to ecology, as done by William Catton, Jr. in his under-appreciated book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (University of Illinois Press, 1982). An even more general picture emerges when one incoporates the link between energy and complexity, as done Joseph Tainter in his classic book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Drilling Down, by Joseph Tainter and Tadeusz Patzek, is in part a reiteration of ideas contained in Tainters earlier book. However, the ideas are expressed more compactly and benefit from more than two decades of additional refinement. This aspect of the book can be thought of as 'Tainter Lite'...
Simply put, this is a book a deep significance. I came across it shortly after it came out, as I was doing research for my own book, "Just a Little Bit More" (Blue Ocotillo/ACTA, 2014), that deals with excess and over-consumption. Scholars Joseph Tainter (anthropologist, Utah State University) and Tad Patzek (engineer, University of Texas-Austin) detail the Deepwater Horizon tragedy by way of backdrop for the rest of their story: whether or not "we can plan on a future that requires still more oil" (p. 5). Before shucking this book aside as the fracking boom would seem to nullify concerns about the future of oil in America, know that the authors approach this important subject with scholarship, experience, and a (politically) non-partisan demeanor. I was introduced to two crucial concepts by reading this book: EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) and the energy-complexity spiral. The first concept is self-explanatory; the authors tell how back in the early...
With hesitation, I deliver this review of trivialities in the periphery of the important message of the book.
I'm only part way into the book, so I cannot comment fully on the content. So far it's a fascinating read, and it promises more of the same. My admittedly premature review is mostly about the editing in a book at this price bracket. All chapters have a duplicate abstract, not a summary, text portion at the start plus work addresses of the authors before the abstracts. The footnote links work, but the destination text needs to be panned to be fully readable on a small screen Kindle. I do not know if these are required in a scientific work, but they are distracting.
In chapter 3, at around the 12% mark, a full list of derived energy units is missing, only the bullit points are there.
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