Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Pop Science/Politics/Current Events
Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words
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“Shawn is a philosophical researcher educated at York University in Toronto. He's also worked with Aboriginal youth in two communities in the Northwest Territories of Canada.” For more, visit his website.
“The first and last book you'll ever need to understand oil and the myth of fossil fuels.
The myth of fossil fuels and peak oil has been a part of the North American lifestyle for almost 100 years. Beginning first in the schools, children are anxious for an education but get caught in the middle of this deception. As a student grows up they hear the same message propagated through governments, media and various interest groups. But the truth is now within your grasp in finding this book. In Oil, The 4th Renewable Resource, you’ll learn:
o How the myth of fossil fuels begin. [sic]
o How oil corporations have taken advantage of this myth.
o The beginning of the abiotic oil theory in 1877.
o How the myth of global warming and oil corporations go hand in hand.
o Which renewable resource is the best.
o And what actions you can take to affect change in the schools and government policy.”
Scientific knowledge is a funny thing. Sometimes what most scientists believe to be true, turns out to be false. The scientific community recognizes this by using the term theory to describe a concept that could be shaky, with a minimal amount of research indicating it is true, to something that is accepted as absolute truth based on a preponderance of evidence, the “theory of gravity” being one that is unlikely to be disproven.
Sometimes the preponderance of evidence isn’t that strong, but the scientific community still believes a theory to be as close to absolute as possible. More than four hundred years ago Copernicus and Galileo argued that the scientific theory of the time saying that the planets revolved around the earth was wrong, that the planets, including the earth really revolved around the sun. They weren’t the first to propose this theory which went against the “evidence” (largely scriptural rather than true science), but they were the first to finally make inroads within the scientific community and generally receive credit for bringing the scientific community around. But they were also laughed at, scorned, and got in a lot of trouble with the establishment first.
The “abiotic oil theory” is one that, if it eventually proves to be true, is bound to follow this same path. Alli is not a scientist, instead calling himself a “philosophical researcher,” but he uses the works of scientists who have previously proposed this theory in making his case with plenty of footnotes to his sources for those who want to dig deeper. This theory, boiled down to its essence, is that hydrocarbons, such as oil, coal, and natural gas, weren’t formed by animal and vegetable matter decomposing under the earth’s surface over a long period of time, as current scientific thought would say. Instead they’re formed by processes that are constantly happening much deeper within the earth, with oil and natural gas continually bubbling towards the surface, replenishing what was previously harvested through drilling. Under this theory we’re in no danger of running out of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons in the foreseeable future.
I was (and still am) willing to consider that this theory could be correct, although I’m far from convinced. This was despite the apparent need to believe a conspiracy theory or two in order to understand why only a handful of scientists are proponents of the theory and the reasons why no oil company chooses to break ranks to grab a larger market share instead of pretending there is a scarcity to maintain and increase prices.
After finishing the first part of the book explaining this theory of oil creation, my reaction was, even if it is true, we’ve still got issues. Does it really matter if the continuing use of fossil fuels (or hydrocarbons, since under this theory fossil fuels is an incorrect term) are causing problems such as global warming and pollution? Enter more conspiracy theories, related to global warming or climate change. The deeper into the book, the more unbelievable the explanations and the less logical the arguments became. He uses a lot of numbers, guesses, or unrelated facts to draw conclusions that have no logical basis I could see from the facts given. Sometimes he even admits it, as when he prefaces his explanation for the reason most scientists agree that our use of hydrocarbons is causing global warming with the statement that, “it should be noted this is my own theory and while I don’t have facts to back it up, it’s the best possible explanation.”
After attempting to make the case that oil is renewable and climate change is a non-issue, I was thrown when the author compares the major sources of renewable energy. He ranks six energy sources he considers renewable (solar, wind, water, hydrocarbons, geothermal, and biomass), and oil (or hydrocarbons) ended up ranked five of the six. Environmental issues (such as the pollution problems I mentioned above) are part of the reason for this low ranking.
So let’s review. We have the claim or theory that hydrocarbons are “renewable” and aren’t going to run out any time soon. Climate change or global warming is a hoax. Even if we believe these claims, hydrocarbons are still among the worse sources of renewable energy by the author’s reckoning, although, to be fair, a portion of the reason for the low ranking is due to the current structure of the oil and coal industry. Which makes me wonder what the point of the book even is.
At the end of a book like this I’d expect a clear identification of the problem, the solution (if any), and an unambiguous call to action. I don’t think the book delivers on any of these. First, what is the problem? It isn’t a problem with current energy policy in North America; although he seems to have made a case for less dependence on oil in the comparison section, he doesn’t make that argument. Instead, he seems to make the contention that if the science he claims is right then what is being taught in schools is wrong. Fair enough, I suppose, but I would argue that his only call to action, to put pressure on schools to teach this alternative theory of the origins of oil, is putting the cart before the horse. Until a critical mass of reputable scientists are backing this theory, teaching it in schools seems negligent to me, much like teaching creationism as though it is science seems unjustified. If this theory can’t gain traction in the scientific community, it isn’t ready for prime time.
He also makes a short argument for nationalization of the oil industry in the US, which would upset the current incentives of the oil company to keep this theory of oil being renewable out of the public eye. However, the author cuts this argument short with the acknowledgment that it isn’t practical, leaving me wondering why the subject was even raised.
In the end, I found the introduction to the “abiotic oil theory” of interest. However, the rest of the book lacked a cohesive theme or the minimal credibility for me to do anything beyond filing this theory in the back of my mind in case the subject comes up in the future. The book also suffered from an abundance of grammar issues, which made it harder to read and understand.
This book has extensive copyediting issues. Although there are many different issues, the most common is verb tense errors, especially for the verb “to be,” using the present tense of ‘is’ when the past tense of ‘was’ should have been used. For example “Natural science in the 18th century is very different from the modern scientific method” and “The average nominal retail price of gasoline at the pumps in 2004 in the US is $1.85/gallon.” These issues were constant and pervasive, making reading the book very difficult for me. You may also spot other issues with these example sentences. (Even the book’s description on Amazon has a problem with verb tense in the first bullet point as quoted above.)
Note: After this review was prepared the author contacted us and indicated that he discovered many grammar errors and had them corrected. I reviewed the updated book and found that while many of the errors I had spotted had been corrected, the issue with verb tense had not been addressed.
There are a limited number of tables in the book. These are formatted in such a way that they are displayed perfectly if using the default Kindle font size, but become hard to read if the font size is set larger.
Rating: * One star