Terry Tamminen's, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, Earns a Satisfactory Grade

By: Shawn Alli
Posted: July 1, 2013


Terry Tamminen's 2006 book, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, argues that Big Oil and the automaker industry are responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans. While there's no doubt that vehicle exhaust pipes contribute to poor health; but whether such a claim can hold up in court is questionable.


In the prologue Tamminen talks about the limited supply of oil we now have (as opposed to the beginning of the 20th century):

Experts predict that this trend will continue, while overall uncertainty about the price of oil - and the ability of refineries worldwide to supply enough finished products - has already begun to erode international economic stability.


So its oil that's causing the global economic problems? Not the illegal banking schemes? Or the corrupt and incompetent politicians? I'm sure there's plenty of tertiary blame to go around but it's better to start with the initial players.


Right off the bat Tamminen wants the reader to feel guilty for using cars - going to the supermarket to buy food from thousands of miles away, and even to plastic Ziploc storage bags.


Do you have fresh fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator? No you don't. Tamminen says that's really petroleum pollution leading to asthma.


Do you think that tailpipe from the car is puffing out fumes? Nope, that's really cancer and birth defects.


Does your child ride a big yellow bus to school? Apparently they're now 46 times more likely to get cancer. Yes, diesel exhaust is clearly linked to lung cancer, but this affects truck drivers more than it does school children. If environmental lawyers believe this affects school children to a significant degree in their health, I implore them to take on the automaker industry and prove it in court. But in all fairness I support school buses moving to compressed natural gas or hydrogen. Whatever is cheaper, more efficient and has fewer pollutants is good enough for me.


Tamminen argues that taxi cabs cause excessive air pollution, shortening people's lives. The cities with the most numbers of taxi cabs are Lima, Mexico City and New York City. In all three cities there are individuals that live past 100 years of age. To imply that air pollution will shorten your life is false.


In Chapter 2 Tamminen talks about the oil spills, pipeline breaks and ground water seepage. Yet he doesn't suggest any corrective action for these issues. Does he advocate no pipelines at all in the world? Or does he advocate stronger government sanctions for environmental damage?


He goes on to talk about how cars are basically mini-smokestacks, and everyone who sits idly in a car is cutting years off their life? That's a big claim. If there's hard science to back it up it would be more believable. And if that hard science exists, you'll see lawsuits in droves and the entire collapse of the automaker industry. The fact that it's not happening implies there's a lack of hard science to support this claim. Or perhaps lawsuits are in the planning stages and waiting for a bit more evidence to bring it to the courts.


Tamminen claims that 70% of air pollution in LA is from diesel exhaust, which causes cancer. If this is the case, a lawsuit against the automaker industry should be a relatively simple win. I guess only time will tell.


In Chapter 3 Tamminen, like all other peak oil theorists and radical environmentalists, believe that global oil has already peaked:

Even if we add P10 reserves into Hubbert's global projection just to be on the optimistic side, we are still left with a curve that peaks within this decade. Princeton University geologist Kenneth Deffeyes says the peak has already been reached and that we are now living in a 'permanent stage of oil shortage.' Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons puts the peak between 2007 and 2009, and California Institute of Technology physicist David Goodstein concurs that the peak will be reached before 2010.


Energy Information Administration statistics for total world oil production:

1980: 64 million bbl/d
1990: 66.4 million bbl/d
2000: 77.7 million bbl/d
2005: 84.5 million bbl/d
2010: 87 million bbl/d
2012: 89.1 million bbl/d.


In the last 32 years of global oil production there's only been an increase. I'm sure Tamminen will keep pushing the date further and further, and he does - all the way to 2026:

Using all this new information, we can now recalculate the formula for estimating how much longer the petroleum-powered joyride will last. Start with about 800 billion barrels of oil reserves and assume an average consumption over the next twenty years of 40 billion barrels each year. That leaves us with no more than twenty years left at the nipple of Big Oil.


2026 will either be the year of "I told you so," or "we need to stop listening to these peak oil theorists."


In Chapter 4 Tamminen demonizes carbon dioxide as an acid pollutant, and adds to the usual man-made global warming theory:

A safe bet, however, is that effects of global warming are coming to a coastline or river near you within the next generation. The fact that scientists agree that something is coming should concern us; that they can't agree on where, when, or precisely what should horrify us. We should be equally alarmed by the fact that the more we study global warming, the more we discover we didn't know. And this should scare us into action.


Tamminen and other peak oil/radical environmentalists don't know what's coming in the future, but we should prepare for it...how? How can you prepare for something that you don't understand and don't know what will happen?


Tamminen gets into a fascinating history lesson about US oil policies with Columbia and Ecuador, and should devote more than a sub-chapter on it. But his claim in regards to Columbia's oil production falls short like other peak oil theorists:

Sadly for those who have lost their lives protecting 'whatever is important to the United States' most of the oil fields in Colombia have been exhausted and the country will likely become a net importer of oil before the end of this decade.


Energy Information Administration statistics for total Columbian oil production:

1980: 134 thousand bbl/d
1990: 454 thousand bbl/d
2000: 704 thousand bbl/d
2005: 540 thousand bbl/d
2010: 805 thousand bbl/d
2012: 969 thousand bbl/d


Columbia is almost pushing 1 million barrels a day in oil production. That's an eight fold increase from 1980. Tamminen mentions a decline at the end of the decade. Where is it? He must have Superman's x-ray vision to see the decline...clearly something beyond the common man.


But I definitely support Tamminen's position in the two decade year old Ecuador Chevron lawsuit. The results of the environmental damage are beyond unethical. But where is the massive power of united environmental organizations? Why aren't they able to turn the tide of the people and politicians to force Chevron to pay for damages? Perhaps because there is no unity.


While I argue that oil is abiotic and a renewable resource, I'm not saying this is the renewable resource we should be using. In Chapter 7 of my 2012 book, Oil The 4th Renewable Resource I compare six renewable energies against each other using numerous models of criteria.


With the success of Argentina's Supreme Court unfreezing Chevron's assets, perhaps the only move left for Ecuador is to halt all oil imports to the US. This would be a decisive and bold move, but without any traction, Ecuador's lawsuit against Chevron is dead in the water. There are many global oil buyers that will gobble up Ecuador's oil if it's off the US export market. But another consequence to this action is whether the Ecuador government should stay with the US dollar as their currency. Logically, it doesn't make any sense to do so if they're rejecting American trade agreements and ceasing all oil exports. By using the US dollar in 2000 and rejecting their past currency (the Sucre), Ecuador's money supply is in the control of the Federal Reserve, a foreign private bank. Argentina, Brazil and Chile all use their own currency. Why should Ecuador bow to the US when its neighbours don't? Either way it's a tough call, and the options have to be weighed carefully for the sake of the people of Ecuador.


In Chapter 5 Tamminen laments the resistance of the automaker industry in regards to environmental violations and manipulative marketing tactics. I'm always shocked when I hear such statements. Corporations are merely interested in the profits of selling their product or service. Corporate marketing is the manipulation of the masses by various means. I would think both of these facts are common knowledge. It's not as if capitalism just arrived on our doorstep and we're trying to figure it out. It's been in operation for more than a century. If authors, speakers and the public can't recognize the reality we live in - that's a problem.


In Chapter 6 Tamminen gets into the scapegoat tactics automaker corporations use to combat environmental regulations. It's quite an interesting chapter, but no one should be surprised by the compliance of the government with the behemoth automakers. Just because one sector is public and the other is private doesn't mean there are separate rules; it means that government and corporations play different roles. I touch on this briefly in Oil, The 4th Renewable Resource.


Tamminen starts off Chapter 7 with an apocalyptic world in 2025 resembling the 1973 movie Soylent Green. He then talks about energy conservation and how it can make a difference in the long run, using the California drought as an example. I agree that energy conservation does cause fewer blackouts; but the real problem is an inefficient electricity grid network and outdated policies.


Tamminen suggests taking public transportation instead of using cars. Has he seen the public transportation system in major cities in North America? Most are horrible, with an incredible level of inefficiency and incompetence. Most buses still rely on hydrocarbons for fuel, and coal to supply the electricity for streetcars and subways.


The rest of the chapter is devoted to the hydrogen economy of the future. Since the book is published in 2006, it can't explain the failure of the hydrogen highway in California. Yet in British Columbia, Canada, hydrogen fuel cell buses are in a pilot project and currently going strong; and there are a few hydrogen fuel stations in Europe and Asia. Generally speaking...the hydrogen economy has been knocked down, but the fight is far from over.


In Chapter 8 Tamminen mentions 10 states suing the EPA for not regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Seriously? Carbon dioxide is what humans exhale and what plants need to live. Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury are pollutants. There's a difference. The manipulation by radical environmentalists like Tamminen to make carbon dioxide into a pollutant is both disingenuous and illogical.


Tamminen makes a small point about the automaker industry suppressing alternative vehicle technology. This is an interesting notion and deserves more than two paragraphs.


He goes on to argue the same line most environmentalists argue for - more taxes on oil:

States might also consider increasing taxes on petroleum fuels to fund programs like the hydrogen commercialization projects that are being implemented in many parts of the country.


Even if these taxes are directed towards the oil corporations, they'll simply pass it onto the consumer at the pumps. Any attempt to make consumers feel guilty for buying and using their vehicles is emotional manipulation.


Terry Tamminen's, Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, gets 3 stars out of 5. While this book has incorrect information and a few manipulative ploys, the intention of the author is genuine and there are numerous avenues where he can expand upon for possibly a second edition. Hence, it gets a grade of C+.