Collapse and $20 Per Gallon: 2 Books That Hit Me Hard

Books are portals to other worlds.  Opening the cover is like opening a door for me.  I walk through and leave what I call Reality Number One behind.  (I number my realities because I am usually reading several books at once, and they all take me to different places.

Some of the book realities are as short-lived as morning mist, like the mysteries I read for the same reason I eat chocolate.  Other book realities linger, and scenarios from some books intrude into and even shape Reality Number One.

photo from

photo from

Often two books interacting with each other in my recent memory files merge into something more potent that either would be on its own.

That has happened to me by my back-to-back reading of $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable rise in the Price of  Gasoline will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M. Diamond (who also wrote Guns, Germs and Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies).Collapse-cover

I recommend reading both these books, but if your brain works like mine – don’t read them back to back.

Both Steiner and Diamond stress that it is possible for a society to modify self-destructive patterns and change its trajectory.  Diamond is cautiously optimistic and Steiner sees a warm, fuzzy future for society once we learn to live without sloshing around in oil.$20-per-gal-cover

The New York Times just reviewed Steiner’s book and not very kindly.  I found it seemed like a quickly tossed together book with some pretty random issues (such as the demise of Disney World – I find myself very willing to live in a world without Disney World) but also throwing out ideas that are not so easy to dismiss.

Steiner was trained as a civil engineer and writes for Forbes, and he projects what will happen to society as gas prices inevitably rise.  At $8, he predicts that the sky full of planes will be a thing of the past.  When I lived in Chicagoland, I used to marvel at all those huge metal bumblebees always hovering about their O’Hare field.  “How,” I mused, “do they get those monstrous big things up in the air?”  The answer is a mind-boggling amount of fuel – economically unfeasible by the time gas reaches $8 a gallon.

The good news, according to Steiner is that eventually the same forces that cleared the skies will motivate us to build the high-speed rail system many people  crave in this country.  Anyone who has moved around Europe on their amazing trains would cheer for them here.  We had its equivalent once.  I remember stories my grandparents told me about how they hopped quickly about central Illinois on the inter-urban train system available to them then – they even eloped on the inter-urban.

I hope my children and their children may ride these mythical trains, but as a boomer, I have to look in the mirror at miles and miles of moving about on the roads and in the skies often on a whim.  That guilty memory makes it easy to plan my movement more mindfully now and drive as green as I can.  (See my posts on eco-driving at 10 ways to cut gas cost and save the planet and Turn the damned thing off )

And perhaps consumers will craft a greener automobile through demand.  Steiner thinks so in his chapter on the dead SUV.  It would be nice to think there is change in the air.  See Car Dude’s post on the Chevy Volt Go To HELL Gasoline!

Diamond’s Collapse is also cautiously optimistic that we humans (who have ruinously collapsed so many societies in the past) might start making bottom-up changes to avoid the past patterns of non-sustainability as well as the new bogeymen of climate change and toxic build-up (insert your personal poison here)

DougnDog-MowI believe in bottom up change.

I have to.

It’s the only thing I have any control over. That’s why I put almost all my free time into learning about and working to manage 44 acres as sustainably.

I  read as much as I can about what Reality Number One may come to look like in the near and far future.  That is the  reality I can’t escape by reading a few more books but I keep stocking up on the resources that I trust will not run short – new ideas and the hope to try them.

Comment and share what are you reading that is impacting your (and ultimately everyone’s) Reality Number One?

PS: (my daughter says this post is too dark, so I’m adding a quote from Henry James that has become a guiding principal for me:)

“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have.  Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.”

2 replies

  1. Hi There,

    I’ve enjoyed browsing your blog this evening, your home looks beautiful!

    A book I read recently that I found both worrying and thought provoking was ‘The End of the Line’ about the current state of the world’s fish stocks.

    It has recently been released as a DVD as well.

    I’ve also read and enjoyed Collapse.

    Finally, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman is a fine exercise in thinking about what would happen to the planet in the days and years after humans vanished from the earth.

    • Hi Irish Dad,
      Sorry to take so long to reply. I had it in my mind that I had replied.
      Thanks for writing.
      I haven’t read The End of the Line. sounds like a very appropriate title for a book about what is probably detailing the collapse of the world’s fishing stocks. I have read that the seas are being emptied to provide more protein to the huge feedlots where meat is produced these days.
      I haven’t read The World Without Us, either but I did get to see Alan Weisman speak at the Midwestern Alternative Energy Fair last summer.
      Right now my reading is focused on topics closer to home — how to work with native plants in Wisconsin. That is inspiring me.
      Please keep in touch,

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