'Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells'
In her first book, journalist Amanda Little breaks the mold of clean energy book by talking to big oil, NASCAR fans, doctors and clean energy pioneers.
Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 07:30 AM
Photo: Charles Krupa/AP
It’s rare these days to find a pro-clean energy book that doesn’t just fill every page with oil and gas bashing rhetoric, but that’s just one of the reasons that environmental journalist Amanda Little’s first book, Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells — Our Ride to the Renewable Energy Future (Harper, $25.99), is essential reading for anyone concerned about the coming energy crisis, no matter their environmental beliefs.
Like most people, the author didn’t think much about where her energy came from or how it got here. That is, until the Northeast blackout of 2003, which made Little wonder how America became so thoroughly reliant on energy and what new clean-energy solutions could break that dependency.
To answer those questions, Little sidesteps the well-paved road that so many authors have taken before her. Instead she goes right to the heart of the matter by traveling across the country to talk to those most touched by oil — from NASCAR fans whose American spirit is tied in with fast, fearless racing of gas-guzzling cars to the plastic surgeon who uses synthetic materials to re-create human body parts. (And if you think that plastic surgery is all about boob jobs and fake noses, think again. A majority of today’s medical equipment, such as syringes, blood bags, dressing and IV tubes, is made of plastics).
Little even talks to Chevron personnel while at a deep-sea oil rig, not to deride the company and its employees for what they do, but to understand why they do it in an effort to understand the depth of our obsession with oil.
But it’s hardly those select few who are drenched in oil. As Little expertly shows through eye-opening interviews and exhaustive research, humans across the globe depend on oil for everything from fuel to food to national security.
This sobering fact is especially true for Americans. After all, the American landscape simply would not be what it is today without the interconnected rise of big oil and big automobile companies, which led to suburbs, interstate highways and a life made easier by the simplicity of plastic products, among other things.
Unfortunately, this unprecedented rise in economic prosperity has resulted in a country so dependent on oil that it wages wars with other countries just to keep its precious black gold safe.
Take, for example, the Gulf War. In January 1991 the first Bush administration declared its intention of removing Iraq from Kuwait — in part to protect the Gulf oil fields.
“It was a remarkable comment,” Little writes. “U.S. leaders had justified war with explicit reference to defending foreign oil reserves vital to American interests.”
By the end of the first half of the book, it’s abundantly clear that our addiction to oil won’t be broken by simply throwing up a few wind turbines and solar panels, but that’s certainly no reason to lose hope, Little argues.
To convince her readers, Little devotes the second half of her book to the clean energy movement that’s slowly building, which includes technologies such as second-generation renewable energy sources, more efficient buildings designed to work with the environment rather than against it, and smarter electricity grids that serve as two-way streets for both consumers that need energy and for consumers selling energy.
As in the book’s first half, Little expertly covers the movement by talking to a wide range of people who have their hands in the clean energy cookie jar, from oilman turned renewable energy advocate T. Boone Pickens to the new pioneers of the green movement, the social justice advocates who are demanding environmental justice for everyone, including the poor.
The end product of this journey is a thoughtful, well-researched story dotted with the stories of ordinary Americans as well as the author’s epiphanies about her own oil dependency. It will open readers’ eyes — if they’re longtime environmental advocates or not even close.
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