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Tough talk about America's oil addiction

A new book questions dreams of energy independence.

By Todd Wilkinson / May 14, 2008



Thomas Edison altered the course of civilization by helping to pioneer a reliable, affordable, and mass-produced incandescent bulb. But, as author Robert Bryce points out, there was a breakthrough that escaped Edison’s grasp: How to build a hyperefficient, long-lived, electric battery capable of powering homes, industry, and transportation – smoke free.

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In his new book, Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of ‘Energy Independence,’ Bryce, a freelance journalist who specializes in the fossil-fuel industry, tosses out a bold idea: Launch a global competition, called “the Superbattery Prize,” that would award $1 billion to the inventor who successfully produces such a battery.

Better yet, he says, give $10 billion to the modern Edison who develops a revolutionary energy grid based on batteries that can store multiple-kilowatt hours of electricity and eliminate the need to burn vast quantities of oil and coal.

The paradox of the high premium is that it would actually be a bargain, given the world’s current energy-related challenges.

Bryce considers himself an optimist but his book throws cold water on the current rush to embrace alternative energy sources.

As his title suggests, he believes that arguments for swift curtailment of oil consumption on the premise that it will enable America to achieve “energy independence” are grossly misinformed or deliberately deceptive.

Readers who think they know a cure for oil addiction, be they neoconservatives or liberals, will find this book maddening. Bryce’s line of argument, however, is not one that can be easily dismissed. Indeed, his treatise ought to be required for not only members of Congress, but environmentalists, military commanders, CEOs, and investors betting the farm on ethanol.

His analysis, that the world is nowhere near phasing out oil, is provocative. He calls ethanol subsidies a costly “scam” that enables automakers to distort purported gains in fuel efficiency. He notes that ethanol production drives up food costs for a hungry world while it barely delivers a viable, lower-carbon fuel than oil.

He dismisses wind power as unreliable. He disparages environmentalists – Al Gore and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman included – and the war in Iraq.

But to withdraw from Middle Eastern oil producers, which anchor the largest and most vital industry in the world, is pure folly, Bryce suggests. The author insists it would jeopardize, not bolster, national security; do nothing to diminish the threat of Islamic terrorism; and weaken US economic might in the face of a rising China and India. Bryce uses Iran as an example of the harm that can be done when the US demonizes a country sitting on an ocean of black liquid gold.

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