The Prize and The Quest

One of my best reads ever: Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. I read it in 1993, two years after it was published. I happened to be in San Antonio for a two-week conference (Stephen Ministry training) – two weeks! – which left ambitious bibliophiles like me plenty of time to venture into unassigned reading. Having recently moved to Texas, I figured I needed to do some reading up on the oil and gas industry. The Prize covered it all: gasoline as a throwaway product in the days of kerosene; Rockefeller and Standard Oil; Ibn Saud and the rise of Saudi Arabia; Splindletop, Texas and wildcatting for oil; characters like Calouste Gulbenkian, the Armenian “Mr. Five Percent”; the Nobel brothers; and much, much more. At close to 800 pages and more than 400,000 words, The Prize is generally accepted as the oil and gas history bible. It was awarded the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

Twenty years after having written The Prize, Yergin continues the saga with The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (Penguin, 2011). Ambitious in its own right at more than 300,000 words, The Quest promises to be a vital read. I’m starting to plow through it now. (A welcome change from the last six months strictly reading books and blogs on the art of publishing your own book!) I’ll keep you updated on the read; I expect a few good blog posts to result from the read as it relates to the topics of egalitarianism, economic democracy, and common good.

Daniel Yergin is widely recognized as a definitive voice on the economy, security, and politics of energy. Without question, he is an apologist for the oil and gas industry – that is not necessarily an indictment. As Yergin details, the oil and gas industry has decisively made the modern world as it is. The dilemma that confronts all those employed by the industry and all of us moderns dependent upon it: Is uninhibited economic growth – always dependent upon relatively cheap energy – only and ever the definitive way forward? The current boom of natural gas from the drilling of shale formations in the US (optimistically forecasted to last some twenty-five years) does create jobs and fuel economic growth. But unlike eras of previous booms, we now must soberly consider fossil fuel pollution and climate change, especially with the increasing demand for energy from India and China. Can we go forward as we’ve done before, or is it time for a shift in understanding, practice, and outlook? The oil and gas industry, of course, is mostly resistant to such a shift.

Yergin, bullish on the future of oil and gas (and renewable sources), is in an interesting spot. His words, recorded for future generations in his bestsellers, will be re-examined in twenty-five years and fifty years and beyond . . . How will the future look back on the conceptions, formulations, and actions of our generation? If the pursuit of uninhibited economic growth continues to be first and foremost, our legacy and its potential for good is wasted – like the gasoline carelessly tossed into rivers during the days of kerosene.

 

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