Book Review: $20 Per Gallon

Cover of "$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevita...

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I just finished reading $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, by Christopher Steiner. It is about all the changes that will happen in our society as the price of gasoline rises, as it inevitably will, since we’ve hit peak oil.

Many of these changes will benefit the environment, but they will be made for their economic benefits, not the environmental ones.

I like the way the book is organized, with each chapter named after a price, not just a number. So the Prologue is $4, Chapter $6 is Society Change and the Dead SUV, Chapter $8 is The Skies Will Empty, and so on.

The book is packed with useful trivia. Did you know that the furnace at a silicon plant in West Virginia burns so hot that plant visitors on a walking tour are told not to wear polyester because of its low melting point?

More seriously,

The breadth of products that come directly from petroleum is massive. Everything from milk jugs to laundry detergent to masking tape to perfume to mascara to hand lotion to sunscreen to the insulation in a sleeping bag to the cushions in your couch to the case of your computer to the eraser on your pencil to the ink in your pen.

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He lucidly explains the various changes we will see in our lives as the price of oil, and therefore gasoline, climbs. Airplane travel will still exist, but only for the very rich or in emergencies. Suburbs, particularly the farthest flung from the cities, will disappear, replaced with farms for perishable produce as the oil price climbs. Urban cores will be revitalized as everyone moves into the city, although small towns will also undergo a renaissance as the downtown comes back and the commuters come home as telecommuters.

Detroit is already doing something like this, destroying outlying suburbs in favor of agriculture and helping the citizens move into the urban core, although Mr. Steiner ignores this.

SUVs will be the first to go, at a price of $6 per gallon, but as the price continues to rise, personal cars, particularly those with gasoline engines, will be almost unknown. Rail travel will return, and high speed rail will link one coast of the United States with the other.

Mr. Steiner makes many good points, but he is a little over-optimistic. While he acknowledges the difficulty and pain of many of these changes (hundreds of thousands laid off as airlines succumb to high oil prices, for example), he fails to point out that many of these changes depend on the price rising slowly.
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