Before I'd even opened the cover of Prelude, the novel about peak oil by Kurt Cobb, I knew this was going to be a good read—and an unnerving one. After all, I had heard the author speak before; we live in the same Michigan city of Kalamazoo. I knew him to be a mesmerizing speaker about all things energy and global resources, something of our local Al Gore, and I also knew that every time I heard him speak, I went home feeling shaky about our planet's future. Shaky, but also resigned to do my part to make things better.
I've also been a long time reader of Cobb's intelligent and meticulously researched blog, Resource Insights. Every time I log on, I learn something new and find myself yet again rethinking how I use energy. Now, Cobb has put his research and insights into a novel, calling it fiction, yet this story of intrigue and espionage is based on what he has learned about how we use energy.
Prelude is a story about Cassie Young during 2008, employed at an important Washington D.C. energy consulting firm. Her firm is forever making announcements about how deep go our energy reserves, but then Cassie discovers a report hidden from public scrutiny. The report reveals a looming energy crisis based on manipulated figures by major world oil exporters, and the crisis is not at all at a comfortable distance. Peak oil is a reality to which society is turning a willfully blind eye. After all, we live in a world where oil is our lifeblood, and if we should run out of this limited resource, the world as we know it would come to a screeching halt.
The fast-paced story takes Cassie to Canada to take a closer look at tar sands, about which we are hearing today as another resource for oil. She meets Victor Chernov, a former oil trader, who reveals yet more damaging data to her. Forget about Cassie's career … she is soon running for her life. This kind of information is too big for one person to carry.
Who will listen? What does this mean for civilization as we know it? Consider this excerpt:
"Suddenly for Cassie the whole world had now become one big manifestation of energy, much of it in the form of oil. Humans were not builders any more. They were just the guiding hands for the flow of petroleum that came from deep underground and then went deep into the life of society. Petroleum, she knew, was doing the lion's share of work for the world.
"Cassie had understood all this intellectually before. She even knew the energy industry was the key industry in society. Nothing got done without energy. But she had never before understood it so concretely as she did today. She wondered if she could ever go back to looking at the fountain in Dupont Circle and not think of the energy needed to pump the water, or see a farm field and not think of the oil that goes into the tractors and the combines, or even enjoy simply reading a book without thinking about the energy used to cut the logs that were moved to the mill and made into pulp and then into paper that was then shipped to the printer and bound into books that were shipped to the bookstore." (Pgs. 153-154)
I've passed Prelude along to others interested in doing something about ecology and especially those who aren't, and recently sent it to my son as a gift … even as I considered the energy expended to do so. The novel is well written, packed with fascinating information, and concludes with a glossary and questions answered by the author for those who wish to learn more.
Kurt Cobb is an author and columnist who speaks and writes frequently on energy and the environment. His column appears on the Paris-based science news site Scitizen, and his work has been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, 321energy, Le Monde Diplomatique, Common Dreams, EV World, and many other sites. He is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas—USA, and he serves on the board of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights.