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Pumping Out Info 

The supply of oil has book publishers running their presses at maximum capacity to keep up with booming demand for information on where that next tank of gas will come from. Here's a sample of four recent books on the subject.

Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Deffeyes
The "Hubbert's Peak" in the subtitle of Kenneth Deffeyes' Beyond Oil isn't a mountain. It's the peak of oil production in 2000, as calculated mathematically by M. King Hubbert. Deffeyes thinks the peak will hit at the end of the 2005 -- that's this year -- but he devotes much of the book to rehashing Hubbert's numbers (as David Goodstein did in Out of Gas) and investigating how scientists can delay the inevitable, perhaps by finding more oil, mining it more efficiently and/or upping coal and natural gas production. As a geologist, he's in a unique position to discuss the effects of rock on that extraction, which is interesting. And he does give considerable space to a conversation on the merits of alternative fuels. But his message is the same as many of the others: It's running out.

The Bottomless Well by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills
Described in Publishers Weekly as a "free-market-oriented, techno-optimist manifesto," The Bottomless Well (subtitle: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy) has as its central tenet that "humanity is destined to find and consume more energy, and still more, forever." Pretty sunny. Indeed, Peter Huber (a former Manhattan Institute fellow) and Mark Mills (a venture capitalist and former Reagan staffer), like distressed babies waiting for RoboCop to save them, believe that technology will find a way to avert disaster. They also argue that demand for energy will never wane -- not even with more efficient cars -- and that what's generally thought of as "energy" waste is actually good for us. What's more, they say, America's constant pursuit of high-grade energy not only doesn't sow global chaos -- it restores order. That might be a little tough to swallow, but it should make for good cocktail conversation. And a refreshing counterpoint to the histrionics of the doomsayers.

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
Suburbia critic James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere) gets apocalyptic in The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. Predicting that the dwindling production of oil will leave an energy gap that alternative energy sources won't be able to fill -- especially in the transportation field -- he foretells a dark period in which "all bets are off about civilization's future." Spitting nails at modernity, he sees auto-dependent cities wilting, economies collapsing, Asian pirates taking over California, hunger shrinking the global population, "designer viruses" wiping out the rest. It might sound like someone's been playing too much Sim City (though Kunstler would never admit to that). But it might also do for driving what Psycho did for showering. As an added bonus, Kunstler will be in Spokane Oct. 12-13; for details, pick up next week's Inlander.

Twilight in the Desert by Matthew R. Simmons
Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy was written by an investment banker, so be prepared for a lot of bawdy limericks. (Kidding.) Simmons does know his stuff, though. As an oil industry insider for three decades, he brings the hard data to the table, including 200 independently produced reports on Saudi oil production and resources. Looking behind the curtain of Saudi Arabia's favorite maxim -- that it's got all the oil the world needs, no reason to worry -- he finds something slightly less reassuring. Broken into four parts -- the first two set up the background story for a thorough understanding of global energy resources; the latter look specifically at what the Saudis have and don't have -- the book suggests world leaders take a good look at what's really going on and give some thought to the very real consequences of inflated oil prices.
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