Book Review: Readings
Robert Bryce's dissection of the energy market isn't likely to win him friends.
Reviewed by Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 7, 2008
Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence'by Robert Bryce
PublicAffairs, 320 pp., $26.95
The last time energy expert Robert Bryce appeared in the pages of the Chronicle, he sparked a bloody discussion over his doubts about man-made global warming. His latest book, a dissection of the energy market, is even less likely to win him friends. Bryce makes a solid case that energy independence, a totem to both left and right, is not simply unachievable and undesirable but harmful. He depicts himself as the reasonable man facing down a cadre of xenophobes, Luddites, boondogglers, and politicos. He doesn't differentiate between the guilty parties along political lines, laying into Milton Friedman and Al Gore equally. But there are bogus conflations, like saying energy consumption equals wealth and wealth equals low child-mortality rates, even though the Btu-guzzling U.S. has one of the worst infant-death rates of all industrialized nations. And then there's downright audacity, like calling Dubai economically liberal when its ruling family has been accused of human trafficking (with no sense of irony, he later indicts the Brazilian ethanol industry for using slaves).
Bryce is devastating in his attacks on certain industries, like the water-hungry, subsidy-hog ethanol, but others – most especially oil, coal, and natural gas (i.e., the entrenched energy industries) – get a pat on the head. His sole criterion for judging the merits of any energy source seems to be price per watt. His solution, at its core, is to keep burning oil, get ready to burn even more oil, and don't really worry about it. He touts nuclear, using the experience of Austin Energy and the South Texas Project as his positive model but fails to factor in decommissioning costs that could outweigh any savings. Even though he has a chapter on long-term changes in the energy mix, there's a perturbing short-termism in his writing common to free marketeers. (Many oil advocates argue against his plan to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling now, calling it a strategic reserve.) There's also a disturbing amorality, like telling readers to "adapt" to global warming, which seem dismissive of the resulting body count. But for Bryce, price is what counts.