In her ambitious and highly readable first book, environmental journalist Little explains how the United States became addicted to fossil fuel–based energy and how we can break this addiction.
Despite the finite nature of fossil fuels, Americans are utterly dependent on them—to power cars, light cities, heat and cool homes, grow food and keep the military running (while it fights wars to protect the oil it needs). Plastic, an oil-based product, is everywhere, and even the pharmaceuticals we consume are derived from oil. Little asks how we ended up where we are, and her answer is that fossil fuels were cheap and convenient. She expertly ties together disparate strains of history to make her case. For instance, John D. Rockefeller ruthlessly rationalized the refining, marketing and distribution of oil. Henry Ford made the automobile affordable to most families. Dwight Eisenhower led the creation of the 40,000-mile-long interstate highway system. William Levitt invented the suburb. All of these developments contributed to the American addiction oil, but the era of cheap and convenient fossil-fuel energy is drawing to a close. Can the United States survive this change? Little believes yes, and takes the reader on a tour of the big corporations and small startups that are developing alternative sources of energy—wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, garbage—and new ways to distribute and use them. The author sees a new energy consciousness emerging, most importantly at the grassroots level, including communities that are reconnecting to cooperatively fund energy-saving projects, or to protect poor neighborhoods from the inequitable distribution of pollution. Energy-efficient homes—some of which actually give back more energy than they consume—have emerged from the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans. Evangelicals and atheists, billionaires and community activists, young and old, the author suggests, are reaching a consensus that America can and must become free of fossil fuel.
Jargon-free and written with a fine eye for detail—one of the best books on America’s energy crisis to emerge in recent years.