The Empty Tank, by Jeremy Leggett


I have to start off by admitting that this book knocked me on my ass about a quarter of the way through. I was singularly impressed by Leggett’s analysis of the most salient trouble oil depletion will cause. It won’t be high gas prices, it will be the stock market (over-)reacting. Kudos to the author predicting, in 2005, every feature of the 2008 investor panic over peak oil. Oil reached $145US that year entirely because investors believed we had reached the apex of the usage curve, the point where we’d used half of all the oil on the planet and there was nothing but less oil in our future.

As I started the second half of the book, still impressed as all get out with the author’s insights, I began to get a little suspicious. It was here, halfway into the book that the author disclosed that he was chief scientist at Greenpeace UK. Now, I have nothing against Greenpeace, and I applaud the author for working for them. I just don’t like biases and predilections to be innocently slipped in after my trust has been gained. Though there was nothing up to that point in the book to indicate his involvement with Greenpeace was coloring the facts, I took this little revelation and put it on a mental shelf in case it would be needed down the road.

And sadly it was. Toward the back of the book, at the point at which most climate scientists are offering ointments for the wounds they’ve inflicted on our illusions, Mr. Leggett slips in that he owns a green energy company. OK, I think, nothing too terrible there. But then he proceeds to throw praises at everything solar, even going so far as to neologize with the term, “solarization” as a counterpoint to “carbonization”. And then the other shoe drops. He is adamantly anti-nuclear, just like his cronies at Greenpeace. Well, I thought, whether I agree with you or not, you’ve completely lost my trust.

Two quick notes: If you’re going to try and write an unbiased book and retain your personal biases, full disclosure on page one is the way to go. “Hi, I’m Bob, I own a company that stands to gain from my slant on the facts in this book, but I’m going to try to stick to the facts, even if it means my company loses money as a result.” Easy. But Mr. Leggett didn’t do that. And it begs the question, why?

Secondly, from everything I’ve read about the coming crises (energy, financial, climate), it would be unwise to have these sorts of biases when your options for food, shelter, heat, water and security are going to be so severely limited. To measure success in moving away from fossil fuels, you have to ask, at each point along the way, Who is winning? Oil companies and inertia? Or alternative fuels and innovation? In the battle to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gases, there are allies and there are enemies. The allies are currently losing the struggle and will continue to lose for many decades. By splitting votes for alternatives, Greenpeace is only aiding the fossil fuel industry.