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By Fred Krupp (President of Environmental Defense Fund) and Miriam Horn, W. W. Norton & Company, New York (2009). ISBN-13 978-0393334197, $15.95 (paperback).
Reviewed by Michael DuVernois
This book announces on page 1, "A revolution is on the horizon: a wholesale transformation of the world economy and the way people live. This revolution will depend on industrial technology …and will almost certainly create the great fortunes of the twenty-first century. …This book is about the kinds of inventors who will stabilize our climate, generate enormous economic growth, and save the planet. It is also about the near certainty that unless the United States acts as a nation to give these innovators the chance to compete fairly in the world's biggest business, they will fail to avert the crisis in time."
Of course, a discussion of energy and the environment could instead start with an examination of the size and reliability of estimates of the world oil reserves, the current and predicted energy needs of the world, and efficiencies of energy transport. This approach is likely to be closer to the way we as physicists examine and catalog the world. However, the decision-making powers in the United States, and other developed nations, are tied almost exclusively to economic and business logic, or more cynically to purely political concerns. So a policy book, to have political impact, needs to be directed in this way.
That said, the science implicit in "Earth: The Sequel" is essentially sound, with the possible exception of a few of the "world of possibilities" long-shot options near the end of the book--options judged to have a lower likelihood of success. The economics are more debatable; carbon credits make a brief (positive) appearance and carbon taxes are casually dismissed as "not enlist[ing] the full range of human potential." Contrast that with the comment of James Hansen (NASA's chief climate scientist) on carbon credits: "This is analogous to the indulgences that the Catholic Church sold in the Middle Ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption." But that's a longer discussion for another book.
The technologies addressed in this book include solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, biofuels, ocean energy extraction, geothermal, "clean" coal, so called "solutions for today" (e.g., stopping deforestation, increasing energy efficiency), and the more speculative "world of possibilities" (including fusion, high altitude power kites, undoing the global environmental damage via geoengineering with "proper caution," and nuclear fission). The general approach is to discuss the current state of the art technology in each area and then note a small start-up with a plan to push beyond the current limits and make the technology more efficient or cost-effective. Some of these ventures will surely fail, Krupp notes, but not all of them, and there are a lot of hopeful enterprises on tap here. That tone of optimism pervades the two hundred and seventy pages of text. It is an optimism that science and technology will solve, or rather is right now solving, the horrible mess of global warming.
That sort of scientific optimism is rare in discussions of the current state of the environment, although another book with a similar optimistic and business-oriented analysis of energy technology is Ayres & Ayres, "Crossing the Energy Divide." I'd wholeheartedly recommend "Earth: The Sequel" to the interested physicist who is willing to push through the business and financial envelope surrounding the technical topics presented by Fred Krupp. You may disagree in places, but there's a lot of valuable insight here into the firms pushing for the energy solutions of the twenty-first century.
University of Hawaii
These contributions haven not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.