Eric W. Sanderson has written an intriguing book about transitioning away from fossil fuels and embracing renewable energy as an alternative source. His book is visionary and it explores the development of energy and transportation in the United States from the late 19th century to the present day. During the 19th century, trains dominated the transportation landscape and carried people across the country. By the late 19th century, electric street cars and electric interurban lines transported people within and between cities. Along with the development of the internal combustion engine (used in automobiles starting at the end of the 19th century), there was the creation of electric cars. Eventually the gas powered car eliminated the electric car as the latter was more expensive then the former to produce. The electric car had some great potential as it was more quiet then the gas car and easier to start. The electric street car continued to be used extensively through many cities but political policies from the 1930s to 1973 tended to favour the development of cars, roads and other infrastructure. Eventually trains were largely replaced as a passenger mode of travel with greater numbers of subsidized freeways that increased car use. Due to public policy shifts, street cars were largely replaced by diesel buses for city transportation. As car infrastructure increased from the 1930s to the 1960s, the nature of cities changed as well. People tended to move outward from city centres to newly formed suburbs. These suburbs put pressure on farmland to be sold and developed into further suburbs which increasingly lengthened commuting times to work. In the end, we saw increased congestion, longer commutes, more pollution, costly automobile maintenance, and less community time.
As the 1970s progressed there were shocks to the United States' economy due to its heavy reliance on oil. The price of gas soared leading people to consider alternative options. As the United States consumed more oil then it could produce it became increasingly dependent on foreign oil that came mainly from the Middle East. Increasingly, foreign wars arose partially due to limited access to this commodity. As the demand for oil increased, unconventional sources became economically viable including the development of the tar sands in Alberta. The world had become a series of countries that had oil and those that did not. Finally, citizens of many countries increasingly became concerned about the environmental impacts of oil extraction and combustion and their effects on the climate.
Eric makes public policy recommendations to restore communities to a functioning model that is less dependent on fossil fuels. His text is accompanied by copious numbers of charts that highlight his argument. He recommends an increase in density to decrease commuting times as well as policy that promotes transit including electric street cars to move people around. The decrease in commuting times brings about a better quality of life as people can spend more time with their families and in their communities. He promotes residents being engaged with their communities rather then a suburban vision of people concentrating on their backyards. He also suggests changes in regulation to restore land around the periphery of urban centres. Eric sees urban environments as a catalyst for economic prosperity as the diversity of people brings about innovation and new ideas. He is also a big advocate of renewable energy trying to encourage Americans to develop the country's vast potential for natural resources. He highlights hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal and other sources and examines the areas of the country that have the largest potential to maximizes these resources and therefore become less dependent on foreign fossil fuel sources. He highlights the potential for wind power expansion along the coast of the Pacific Northwest as well as the potential of geothermal in areas around the Rocky Mountains.
The vision that Eric is advocating would be a huge change in direction for the United States which would make it less dependent on foreign fossil fuels and maximize its potential for renewable energy. His recommendations would need large public support to be implemented but would be amazing in the ways that they promote economic prosperity and build communities.