Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Review of Freedom From Oil

David Sandalow, Freedom From Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction

This is no story and there are no characters. Rather, the book is a series of hypothetical memos, a conversation in paper, of the process involved in a policy exploration decision, and the responses it could receive. If a president of the United States were to decide to make a policy goal of changing the U.S. and world relationship to oil as a motor fuel, this is likely to be what at least a part of the conversation stream in government would look like.

The book starts with the a memo from the president tasking various offices and divisions of the executive branch to provide information necessary and input into the crafting of a policy. Generally, while each department head's memos are in favor of the, they each have a different view of the solutions that could be used.

Only a small number of the memos contain a cautionary note about the political cost of implementing certain likely unpopular decisions. In that regard, I would have preferred to see a more dissent and discussion with varying opinions in the policy proposals and interpretation of facts.

The book is divided in to three sections. In the first section, the various offices are providing input of facts, statistics and possible technologies that could lead to a reduction not only in oil usage, but also to minimize impacts of world oil price fluctuations. The second section is composed of policy recommendations from each department and council head for how to shape policy in each of their bailiwicks to foster the goal. The end product in section three is the press release and policy package speech given by the president.

The central tenet is that there is no freedom from oil while oil is the primary fuel of our auto fleet. To that end, the policy crafted is designed to wean the US from oil as a fuel. Prepare to be inundated with facts and figures in the first section of the book as the various advisors reinforce the position that oil is a poor choice of fuel for the US auto fleet. Also prepared for a significant amount of repetition of these data points by the various advisors.

Many reading this will have an issue that the policy chosen picks specific technologies as the answer and provides incentives for those rather than implementing broad targets that the market can then determine how best to meet in a cost effective way. It is also unclear and admitted at the end of the book that many of the specific proposals are not politically palatable.

At 217 pages, the book is a good and quick read which I recommend to anyone who wants to see at least one possible solution to worldwide oil addiction.

For other reviews, see GristMill and sustainablog reviews.