Recent headlines have warned that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, that the Sahara is expanding and that the US government refuses to talk about fixed curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases. The writing on the wall of the world's future seems appallingly clear. This book by Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist for Shell, chronicles how and why we have become so desperately dependent on "dirty" energy sources. It could not be more timely, and Half Gone makes for startling reading.
Leggett argues convincingly that the world's supply of oil may have already reached its peak. With few new sources coming on stream, and consumption continually increasing, it is inevitable that we will begin to run out. He lays out the facts in a surprisingly readable manner, insisting that there is nowhere near enough oil now to meet the combined forces of depletion and demand between 2008 and 2012.
The beginning of the end could come as soon as 2010, triggering economic collapse and ushering in a host of environmental and political catastrophes. "Society is going to be forced to deal with the problem," he writes, "and soon."
This seems to be one of those facts that everyone in the oil business knows but isn't too keen to share with the public. Leggett provides a fascinating insight into how business is struggling to envision a future without oil, coal or gas. He quotes Julian Salt, head of an insurance think-tank: "The message for future investors should be, 'Buy silicon, sell carbon'."
Leggett switched sides in 1989 to become Greenpeace chief scientist, and is now CEO of Solarcentury, the UK's largest solar energy company. The only way to turn around the doomsday scenario, he argues, is to start investing now in alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and hydrogen power.
His chilling message is that if we leave it too late, our children will be left to cope with a cold, blighted world that will only slowly rebuild itself without a dependence on fossil fuels.
His arguments are so powerfully and passionately drawn that his statements begin to seem obvious. Leggett is not a Cassandra, but a scientist with decades of experience and an agenda for a future that, one hopes, will begin a debate about how to end the global energy crisis which is almost upon us. This book is a compelling must-read for politicians, pundits and punters alike.