Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (Book Review)

I recently read a very interesting book Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives as part of background research into a feature article I was writing about Electric Cars for GEARE magazine.

Black and his team of researchers painstakingly and thouroughly researched the history of fossil fuels with the intent of finding out the complex web of historical, political and business reasons to explain that our modern civilisation is addicted to oil, coal, diesel and other polluting fossil fuels not because of a lack of alternatives but because greed, corruption and business monopolies made sure the alternatives failed.

If you’re interested in corrupt energy cartels, the history and origins of the patent wars over internal combustion and electric engines, industrial revolution, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s ill fated plan to mass market electric cars, General Motors illegal systematic destruction of the US public transport system, electricity generation and grid, electric cars, fossil fuel powered trains/buses/cars, batteries, bicycles and US anti-trust laws you should definitely read this book.

The only part of the book I disagree with is the final chapter which puts Hydrogen forward as the fuel for the future. Two main hurdles stand in the way of mass production and widespread consumer adoption of hydrogen “fuel cell” vehicles: the still high cost of producing fuel cells, and the lack of a hydrogen refueling network.

One big advantage for electricity as a fuel source for cars is that there’s already a well established electricity transport grid and generation network around Australia and overseas.

The Scientific American examined the feasibility of Hydrogen as a fuel source for cars and found that the process of creating it was not conducive to reducing greenhouse gas emissions because: “right now 95 percent of the hydrogen available in the U.S. is either extracted from fossil fuels or made using electrolytic processes powered by fossil fuels, thus negating any real emissions savings or reduction in fossil fuel usage”.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction Black wrote for Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives.

Introduction to Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives

When I conceived Internal Combustion, I focused on one concept. It was not our dwindling energy supply and the oil crisis that intensifies each day. Look around. We all know this.

It was not the need to rescue our rivers and bloodstreams, as well as our planet, from the toxic fruits of our industrial addiction to petroleum. Listen to the nightly news or pick up the morning newspaper. We all know this.

It was not to futurize and fascinate with distant alternatives. The Internet and pop media are filled with enticing promises of a future technology that will be clean and renewable.

My purpose was to connect the dots of greed and deception that have governed energy from ancient times to the present. I stated it in words of one syllable: “This book is not about green, it is about greed.” My endeavor was not just another lament on the widening shelf of “oil shortage” books. No one had connected the historical dots to discover the protracted continuity of avarice, fallacy, and manipulation that has now ensnared the world.

This enabled me to expose a century of lies about internal combustion that arose from a millennium of monopolistic misconduct in energy. This legacy has deeply wounded the world’s collective health, fractured a fragile environment, and ignited a deadly petropolitical war that has escalated into nothing less than a cataclysmic clash of cultures.

Oil is the root of all this tribulation. In energy as in politics, power corrupts. Through the ages, power has indeed corrupted those who produce it, those who control it, and those who need it. Today our high-energy world teeters at the brink. The gauge is edging toward empty, and as it does, the political, environmental, medical, and economic cost continue to squeeze humanity. The crisis is not new, but now it has become more urgent. This time it is not money at stake–it is mankind.

It has been impossible for the general public to wipe its collective windshield clear enough to actually see the truth. But once the haze is rubbed away–even a little–the world will peer into the past and discover that to achieve clean energy independence and petropolitical security we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to exhume that wheel from whence it was deliberately buried by those who have diligently worked to keep us focused on petroleum.

The first energy monopolies were controlled by pharaohs and kings–they controlled who could and could not use common trees to burn as fuel to heat their homes and ultimately stoke furnaces to forge wealth and weapons. The presence of timber helped determine who would invade and who would be invaded. Timber was the prerequisite to power.

Eventually, medieval England was able to create a woodless world of peasants so that its kings could build great halls, long swords, and swift warships and could harbor the best venison to make wealthy men fatter–this while the common people starved and shivered, making do with smelly peat and pilfered branches to create flame.

When wood became scarce, the world turned to poisonous coal. It choked all who came close to it, but it burned. Coal required more than gathering. It required industry, capital, and technology.

Coal required businessmen. A corrupt, extortionist fourteenth century cartel soon emerged. Their secretive order, known as the Hostmen of Newcastle, established dominion over the black rock, feigning shortages and forcing compliance with their economic ultimatums. In the process, London’s skies turned black, as did the skies above other cities. Lost to history, but bequeathing their manipulative ways to succeeding generations of energy moguls, the Hostmen ruled in one way or another until about the eighteenth century.

All technology eventually subsumes itself. Eventually, King Coal gave birth to the steam engine, which gave rise to the Industrial Revolution. As part of that technological coup, the steam-powered railroads, born of coal and powered by coal, opened the territories of all modern nations. Railroads became national power no matter whose land they traversed. At their helms were robber barons who would have made the Hostmen envious.

The fast-industrializing outposts of civilization scattered across great distances were made possible by trains. This growth gave rise to the need for commercial electricity. But those who used electricity craved wireless power–ability to store electricity and use it far from the center of generation. Behold: the world needed a storage battery–the most revolutionary power concept since fire. Today, the idea is simple and small enough to balance on a fingertip.

But in the decades after the American Civil War, the “box of electricity” was the sensational stuff of legendary false advertising, great stock manipulation, calculated corporate deceit, commercial looting, technology fraud, and epic, destructive patent litigation that suppressed the real scientific advances in favor of instant profits. In the process, the corruption subdued society’s desire to energize simply, cleanly, and inexpensively.

At the same time, the simple bicycle revolution allowed men to move about without a horse. Here too a rapacious monopoly ruled–the bicycle cartel of Hartford, Connecticut. As bicycles were fading, automobiles were rising.

Most cars were propelled by storage batteries, but a few operated off a controversial controlled explosion called internal combustion. Internal combustion was the nemesis of societal betterment. Petroleum exhaust spewed sickness, fire, and pollution everywhere in its wake. Gasoline cars spread their soot everywhere they found a path or a road. The spread of these noisy machines was called “progress.” It was misportrayed as desirable by those who opposed electric.

At the turn of the twentieth century, automobile makers formed their own emerging cartel and then joined forces with the receding bicycle cartel to form a new supercartel of gasoline-burning cars. The enemy was anyone or any company that did not pay tribute.

A century before I began typing this page, battery-powered electric automobiles were abundant. They were planned to recharge and refill quickly and cleanly at the electrical equivalent of “gas stations” and also at curbside charging poles. Eventually, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford planned to make them universal in a forgotten project that briefly took the country by storm but then faded. That effort, swallowed by history, was undermined in favor of internal combustion machines.

What’s more, modern, gadget-filled, energy-self-sufficient homes were constructed almost a century before I began typing this page. The idea, also crafted by Edison, would have eliminated central utilities operated by Wall Street connivers and manipulators in favor of compact generators in basements or backyards, eventually connected to small windmills. These tiny units were to power the smallest and most remote residence, as well as great urban factories. That effort too was swept away in the forgotten struggle over Edison’s war against internal combustion.

The evolved dependence on oil hinged on a supply always known to be diminishing. In 1919, America and its allies concluded that their countries would soon run out of petroleum–unless they drilled for it in Mesopotamia, the Middle Eastern country reshaped, reformed, and renamed by Western oil imperialism as the oil state Iraq.

The lies about energy have now found their second century, this amid the turmoil of natural catastrophes, Mideast terrorism, petropolitical and nuclear blackmail, and national strife over the next tanks of gas. Now the world is being fed half-truths, quarter-truths, and outright lies about ethanol, about coal, and about the real alternatives and energy salvations that are too simple, too easy to achieve to be harnessed by a giant corporation or a foreign capital. They are as endless and free as the howling wind, the frothing waves, and the magic of molecules.

This is a sorry saga that will surely anger all. You will discover how many good ideas were sabotaged, how many bad ones triumphed–at the expense of all society– for the transient benefit of a few, and how we are operating under those same heartless distortions today.

But this saga can also infuse hope to many who will discover the simple truth: clean, renewable energy independence is not a distant dream. It is available right now. This triumph will never be achieved by public policy, an inert gas that has failed so consistently over so many centuries to ignite the needed change. But it is achievable with the concerted action of individuals, energizing themselves.

As I have implored in all of my earlier books, I fervently ask all readers do not skip around, do not read out of order. If you cannot read this entire book in order, don’t buy it, don’t read it at all. Put it down and ask someone else. That said, this book is being published in partnership with a website. Vast additional layers of information submitted to the publisher simply could not be included. Instead of being lost to a desk drawer, the longer versions of certain chapters and other augmenting material has been placed here.

Please ignite your understanding. Only history can power the piston of the people to change the future. This is Internal Combustion.


2 responses to “Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (Book Review)”

  1. […] thought about where the petrol in your car’s fuel tank comes from? That’s where the story of “Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil” begins around […]

  2. […] (with massive companies like Standard Oil backing it). SIDE NOTE: I read a very interesting book Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alt… as part of background research into writing this article about Electric […]

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