Here is an incomplete list of the sustainable energy and climate change books I read in 2009 (actually, a few also scraped in from late 2008). I’ve provided a 2 — 3 sentence summary of each book (from my perspective) and a Rating out of 5. Some books have been reviewed in more detail on BNC already — enter from the title of the book in this website’s search box to find the review.
James Lovelock. The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. Basic Books, 2009, 288 p. — Lovelock is a wise old man who’s seen it all, and he pulls no punches here. His ruthless pragmatism on nuclear energy and climate adaptation was what I most enjoyed about this book. Chapter 4, “Energy and Food Sources” is a wonderful summary of the energy problem and the rest of the book explores the many uncertainties in climate science, and why they’re generally pretty bad news. We’re not in for a smooth ride this century. Rating: 4
James Hansen. Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance To Save Humanity. Bloomsbury, 2009, 320 p. — For a scientist, Hansen has an exceptional knack at writing for a general audience. In exploring the climate’s sensitivity to human forces, he draws on three principle lines of evidence — Earth history, modern observational data, and models/physics (the latter as integrators and predictors, the first line of evidence he considers to be the most compelling). In Hansen’s exploration of solutions, he (rightly) derides cap-and-trade shell games and points towards a technological solution with a clear timetable for closing out coal by 2030. Rating: 4.5
David Archer. The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate. Princeton UP, 2009, 180 p. — Excellent summary of the study of palaeoclimates and why this field of science points to long residence times of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with the implication that we are truly committing to change that will last ‘forever’ (hundreds of millennia). The right way to write popular science. Rating: 4
A. Barrie Pittock. Climate Change: The Science, Impacts and Solutions. CSIRO Publishing, 2009, 350 p. — Thorough, up-to-date review of climate science from a well-know Australian scientist. It examines whether things are worse now than we anticipated 5 to 10 years ago (answer = yes), and considers adaptation and mitigation solutions, with a focus on Australia. Barrie doesn’t think much about nuclear power; his dream is solar. Hmmm. Rating: 3.5
Tom Blees. Prescription for the Planet: The Painless Remedy for Our Energy and Environmental Crises. Booksurge, 2008, 411 p. (Chapters 1, 4 and 5 are free online) — Superb articulation of the environmental problems we face and an obvious solution that’s staring us in the face: the Integral Fast Reactor. A lot of space is also spent considering what could stymie the goal of a clean energy future and what international steps must be put in place to ensure that sustainable progress proceeds rationally and fairly, for all nations. Tom is now President of SCGI. Rating: 5
David Mackay. Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air. UIT Cambridge, 2009, 384 p. (free online) — Numbers, not adjectives. A brilliant breakdown of the facts and stats on renewable and nuclear energy, in the context of examining how the UK could wean itself off fossil fuels. It’s only real weakness is a lack of analysis of system cost, which matters greatly when trying to understand storage and overbuilding. Rating: 4.5
Bernard Cohen. The Nuclear Energy Option. Plenum, 1991, 338 p. (free online) — Without doubt the best book ever written on the science, engineering and economics of nuclear power and radiation. An absolute MUST read for anyone who wants to engage in this debate. It’s hard to describe how much I liked this book. Simply outstanding. Rating: 5
James Mahaffey. Atomic Awakening: A New Look At the History and Future of Nuclear Power. Pegasus Books, 2009, 344 p. — Actually, it’s almost all about the history of nuclear power rather than its future. The author (a nuclear engineer) goes right back to the 19th century scientific breakthrough, describes the wartime engineering steamroller, and relates some personal experiences of the heady, high-risk days of wild experimentation and ‘try anything’ of the 50s and 60s. Beautifully written, very hard to put down. Rating: 4.5
Zachary Moitoza. The Nuclear Economy: Why Only Nuclear Power Can Revitalize the Economy and Environment. Xlibris, 2009, 173 p. — Useful, short introduction to energy and 4th generation nuclear power and an exploration of its links to economic and environmental well-being. A good introduction to the topic, for people wanting to dip their toe into this big pond. Rating: 3
Howard Hayden. The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won’t Run the World. Vales Lake Publishing, 2004, 281 p. — Sharp critique of ‘technosolar’ energy sources, considering scaling problems and historical under performance (this is the focus). If you want to know the difference between the technosolar ‘hype’ (30+ years of it, embodied in 100s of quotes) and the pedestrian reality, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Rating: 3.5
Gwyneth Cravens. Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy.Knopf, 2007, 464 p. — A long and detailed description of the author’s journey from anti-nuclear protester to strong nuclear power advocate, with commentary from her many technical advisors. A wide range of topics — radiation, nuclear waste, safety, plant design — are explored in a personal style that ‘artsy’ people will enjoy and ‘technos’ will sometimes find too meandering. Rating: 3.5
Joe Shuster. Beyond Fossil Fools: The Roadmap to Energy Independence by 2040. Beaver’s Pond Press, 2008, 402 p. — Clear-headed examination of the limitations on supply of fossil fuels, the environmental damage they cause (the author is ambivalent on anthropogenic climate change and focuses on the other problems), a rational exploration of the likely mix of renewables and nuclear power in forging America’s energy independence. Needless to say, in the author’s mind, 4th generation nuclear power plays a major part. Rating: 3
Ted Trainer. Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society. Springer 2007, 197 p. (free 40 page summary available online) — A critique of renewable energy from the perspective of how it fails to scale — mostly in terms of system backup and storage, but also in materials usage and cost. Has some excellent (albeit simple) analysis and lots of good data sources. Chapter on nuclear energy is pretty awful, and the conclusion that we must all return to a ‘simpler way’ is unrealistic (I think Ted reluctantly realises this). Rating: 3
Other books I read this year (and mostly enjoyed — or at least got something worthwhile from them) included “Total Energy Independence for the United States: A Twelve-Year Plan“, “Greenhouse Solutions With Sustainable Energy“, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” and “Plan B 3.0“. I’m currently reading a couple of books off-and-on: “Megawatts + Megatonnes: The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons” and “Energy in a Changing Climate“. Perhaps I’ll review these, and some new additions, on New Year’s Eve 2010!
Of course I also ploughed through a slew of scientific papers (both peer-reviewed and grey literature) as any active research scientist must do to keep up with his field. Forgive me if I don’t list all of these…
Happy New Year for 2009 and the Noughties, from Barry W. Brook at BraveNewClimate. Thanks a million to all the guest writers this year — Tom Blees, Peter Lang, Geoff Russell, Tim Kelly, Steve Kirsch, Tony Kevin, Blair Trewin, Stewart Taggart, Ian Dunlop, Michael Lardelli, Andrew Glikson. Thanks to the many active and regular commenters that make the blog what it is. May 2010 be a productive and intellectually pragmatic year for you all!