Book Review: Blackout

51mxonw97cl_sl500_aa240_Coal. Under the surface we seem to have a lot of it. It’s fairly inexpensive but this is changing as demand rises to meet increased energy needs especially in countries like China. So we have a lot, its cheap, let’s use it, what’s the problem? Right? Wrong!

Author Richard Heinberg writes in Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis, “In short: two of the defining trends of the emerging century–the development of the Asian economies and climate change–both center on coal. But coal is finite non-renewable resource. Thus, a discussion of the future of coal must also intersect with a third great trend of the new century: resource depletion.”

In the first part of the book, Heinberg takes the reader through a deep analysis of just how much coal is available throughout the world. Keep in mind, forecasts assume that current energy use stays the same, but it is increasing each year, making coal available for a shorter amount of time. Best estimates are that the world will see Peak Coal by 2025 and many believe that the world has already witnessed Peak Oil.

Now, you’re just waiting for me to say there is no such thing as clean coal. So there, it’s out in the open. In the second section of the book, Heinberg talks about the link between coal and greenhouse gas emissions and discusses the technologies to create “clean coal”. They are all challenged to say the least.

At the end of Blackout, Heinberg details three scenarios that involve coal, climate and energy. They are all very disturbing, but Heinberg has a way of tackling issues head on.

“For strategic purposes, it is important to understand our human tendency to discount future problems. We must assess which threats will come soonest, and make sure that out sometimes frantic efforts to respond to these immediate necessities do not exacerbate problems that will show up later. Peak Oil is clearly the most immediate energy and resource supply threat the policy makers must deal with….”

He continues, “If energy scarcity forces policy changes before climate fears can do so, then perhaps world leaders will find that it makes more sense to ration fuel themselves, rather than the emissions they produce.”

rhshovelHeinberg continues by warning if we don’t get a grip on the real amount of fossil fuels supplies we have left as well as a deeper understanding of the environmental and economic consequences of burning fossil fuels..hello Blackout.

Wow, conservation…what a novel concept…good thing the fuel economy standards (aka CAFE standards) were finally improved.

“…Otherwise, the policies pursued are likely to be ineffective, counterproductive, and inconsistent.” Can you say proposed Climate Bill?

I’m a huge fan of Heinberg and he doesn’t disappoint with Blackout. You can buy this book or any book I review by clicking here.

BTW – Richard Heinberg is going to be a guest on the premier of national radio program Pure Energy, hosted by Sean O’Hanlon. The show debuts on July 13, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. EST on 880 The Biz and can also be heard live on

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Blackout


    I will fill my Flexfuel Chevy with E85, Today.

    Made in America.

    No Troops Died for MY Fuel.

  2. Ironic that two days after you publish this review, the Oxfam report on the effects of climate change on food production has appeared with (thank God) great fanfare. So between Heinberg’s conclusions about peak energy (and everything) and Oxfam’s considered predictions of food shortages, the only barrier to taking rapid action is the political decisions needed to turn things around worldwide.

    But that’s the biggest barrier of all. Politics is confusing, it’s crazy, it depends on local issues and local money (as well as corporate funding), and it often requires office-holders to vote against their principles for compelling and conflicting reasons. Jared Diamond’s description of Montana in Collapse renders a good idea of how messy things are in the political arena. And we have to play it on both the world stage (G8 summit) and the local (e.g., state and city governments).

    So now the hard work begins… all of us who know these things converting our knowledge to effective action – education of our neighbors, organizing local communities for resilience thru’ Transition Towns or an alternative movement, and participating in political campaigns to get our representatives to focus on preserving life more than on cutting taxes.

    Are we up to it? Do we believe that humans have the capacity to face enormous changes in our lives in anticipation of threats that a few of us are predicting but most people don’t understand? That’s the adventure before us.

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  4. @’kum Dollison’

    The corn fueling your truck may have been produced in the US, but how was it cultivated, refined and shipped to your community? Oil-powered tractors, oil-powered combines, (probably natural gas-powered refinery equipment,) oil-powered tanker trucks. It all comes back to oil.

    David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs has done a lot of work on this issue; here’s one video:

    So, unfortunately, many people have indeed died for your (and my) fuel.

    Also, your Chevy likely is not truly “Made in America”:

    Not trying to be snarky or anything, just pointing out that things aren’t quite as simple as the big ag companies and car companies might want us to believe.

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  7. Peak oil, peak gas, peak coal… what about uranium? In “The Party’s Over” Heinberg says that the fuel supply for nuclear power is “virtually limitless” using fast breeder reactors. A new book by Tom Blees, “Prescription for the Planet,” talks about a proliferations and meltdown proof breeder called the Integral Fast Reactor. It was cancelled by Clinton in 1994, 2 years before completion. Thanks, Clinton. We could have solved our energy problems if not for you!

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