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Post-Petroleum Design: creating a future beyond oil

My new book, Post-Petroleum Design, is nearing completion and will be published next year. I'm excited to share it here for the first time and get your feedback. Here's an excerpt:

Of all the materials found on Earth, none has had the impact of oil. With it we have transformed life on the planet, and the atmosphere it depends on. Every barrel of oil we burn releases nearly a thousand pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, and as carbon dioxide increases, so does global warming. Oil, which gave us the power to change the Earth, now threatens the existence of every living thing on it. But in a world that runs on oil, cutting back is not easy.

A single barrel of oil contains more energy than a human being produces laboring for ten years, and some fear living without it would mean a return to our pre-petroleum days of toil. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. We can create a post-petroleum world rich in the good things that oil has brought us but without its devastating side effects. But before we can create it, we have to design it. And we can’t wait for the wells to run dry or the atmosphere to overheat to begin. By then, we could find ourselves passengers on a dying planet, doing too little too late to reverse the effects of a climate out of control.

Designing a post-petroleum world is no easy task. It requires us to rethink how we make things, how we transport ourselves and our goods—how we power our entire economy. Yet ridding ourselves of oil and its impacts is not just a technical problem. Clean energy alternatives like solar and wind will help, as will alternative fuels like ethanol, but they are not enough. The production of plastics alone accounts for nearly four billion barrels of oil per year, creating four trillion pounds of CO2, enough to perpetuate global climate change even if we were to switch to clean energy and biofuels today. We need to change the way we make everything—our cars, our houses, the products we use every day—all the petroleum-based conveniences we enjoy today—and we need a coherent plan to do it.

That plan is post-petroleum design, a new way of designing and making things that uses drastically less oil. It is already taking shape in design studios, factories and laboratories around the world, where post-petroleum designers are forging an alternative to a future fouled by oil. Working with new materials and old, the most advanced technologies and the most ancient wisdoms, these pioneers are working today to shape our post-petroleum future.

Post-Petroleum Design celebrates their successes and, for the first time, weaves them together in a compelling story. In its pages, you will meet people like William Kamkwamba, a young Malawian building wind turbines from wood across Africa. You’ll see Ford Motor Company’s petroleum-free, compostable cars and hear from project leader Debbie Mielewski. You will travel the globe, visiting cutting-edge labs and remote villages where post-petroleum designers are using everything from bamboo to bioplastics to shape a better future.

Most importantly, you will experience the ideas that unite these diverse people and projects into a movement that is changing the way we make our world. Designers will see how their fellow creatives are using petroleum-free materials to shape bold new designs in everything from electronics to architecture. Businesspeople will learn how to manufacture products with radically less plastic, energy and waste. Even those outside of design and business will enjoy its eye-opening revelation of innovative designs spanning apparel, packaging, automobiles and more.

Post-Petroleum Design offers the promise of a world free from the threat of climate change and pollution caused by oil, as well as an exciting new era in design and living. It is a grand task, but as we will see, it is one that is already being taken up by leading designers the world over. With the power to change the world and how we live in it, post-petroleum design is the new oil.

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Reader Comments (2)

Sold me, though admittedly a tad biased. And bias doesn't negate the fact of the matter. It reads like the intro to a documentary film, so I look forward to the book and the subsequent film.
December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterW.J. Elvin
Funny you should mention the film. I wrote it imagining it as a film narration. Trying to pare it down to the essentials, but perhaps someone can enlighten me as to whether the narration approach is really right for a book.
December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Elvin

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