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Comments for $20 Per Gallon

$20 Per Gallon: 06/25/14

cover art

$20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner looks at what the rising price of oil will do the average American lifestyle. The chapters are divided up by price ranges, starting with relatively small price increases and then much larger ones.

The idea of the book is to show just how dependent the modern American lifestyle is on petroleum, from transportation, to plastics, to lighting and heating, and so forth.

Transportation will need to be reinvented, or retooled. Air travel will be de-emphasized for other forms: like trains and perhaps ships. Of course the American rail system both long distance and intercity was largely gutted starting the 1940s and ending in the 1970s with the creation of Amtrak. Much of this change was forced by the automobile industry, pushing busses and personal automobiles.

But the book assumes a very homogenous American lifestyle. Gasoline even at its cheapest in the 1990s was never as slow in California as it was the midwest. Yes, there were still a bunch of SUVs (parents, duped into believing they needed them to safely cart their kids around.

Looking locally, since gasoline prices have wobbled between $3 and $5.50 a gallon for about the last ten years, there have been a number of changes. Plastic consumption is down where I live (though mostly to avoid litter, rather than to save on petrol). Cars have gotten smaller and hatchbacks are in vogue again (having last been popular in the early 1990s). Parking lots are starting to install solar panels on their roof tops. The local gas and electric utility offers us online monitoring of our usage and incentives to conserve. BART is getting extensions to its service (though still not anywhere close to it was original envisioned in the 1970s) and there's a bullet train in the works.

But my experience in the Bay Area is no more representative to the entire country than the author's is. The energy problem is huge and diverse.

Three stars

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