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Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.

In this book, Jörg Friedrichs argues that industrial society itself is transitory, and he examines the prospects for our civilization’s coming to terms with its two most imminent choke points: climate change and energy scarcity. He offers a thorough and accessible account of these two challenges as well as the linkages between them.

Friedrichs contends that industrial civilization cannot outlast our ability to burn fossil fuels and that the demise of industrial society would entail cataclysmic change, including population decreases. To understand the social and political implications, he examines historical cases of climate stress and energy scarcity: devastating droughts in the ancient Near East; the Little Ice Age in the medieval Far North; the Japanese struggle to prevent “fuel starvation” from 1918 to 1945; the “totalitarian retrenchment” of the North Korean governing class after the end of Soviet oil deliveries; and Cuba’s socioeconomic adaptation to fuel scarcity in the 1990s. He draws important lessons about the likely effects of climate and energy disruptions on different kinds of societies.

The warnings of climate scientists are met by denial and inaction, while energy experts offer little guidance on the effects of future scarcity. Friedrichs suggests that to confront our predicament we must affirm our core values and take action to transform our way of life. Whether we are private citizens or public officials, complacency is not an option: climate change and energy scarcity are emerging facts of life.

The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence

Americans take for granted that when we flip a switch the light will go on, when we turn up the thermostat the room will get warm, and when we pull up to the pump gas will be plentiful and relatively cheap. In The End of Energy, Michael Graetz shows us that we have been living an energy delusion for forty years. Until the 1970s, we produced domestically all the oil we needed to run our power plants, heat our homes, and fuel our cars. Since then, we have had to import most of the oil we use, much of it from the Middle East. And we rely on an even dirtier fuel—coal—to produce half of our electricity.

Graetz describes more than forty years of energy policy incompetence and argues that we must make better decisions for our energy future. Despite thousands of pages of energy legislation since the 1970s (passed by a Congress that tended to elevate narrow parochial interests over our national goals), Americans have never been asked to pay a price that reflects the real cost of the energy they consume. Until Americans face the facts about price, our energy incompetence will continue—and along with it the unraveling of our environment, security, and independence.

The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines

The many books on globalization published over the past few years range from claims that the world is flat to an unlikely rehabilitation of Genghis Khan as a pioneer of global commerce. Missing from these accounts is a consideration of the technologies behind the creation of the globalized economy. What makes it possible for us to move billions of tons of raw materials and manufactured goods from continent to continent? Why are we able to fly almost anywhere on the planet within twenty-four hours? In Prime Movers of Globalization, Vaclav Smil offers a history of two key technical developments that have driven globalization: the high-compression non-sparking internal combustion engines invented by Rudolf Diesel in the 1890s and the gas turbines designed by Frank Whittle and Hans-Joachim Pabst von Ohain in the 1930s. The massive diesel engines that power cargo ships and the gas turbines that propel jet engines, Smil argues, are more important to the global economy than any corporate structure or international trade agreement. Smil compares the efficiency and scale of these two technologies to prime movers of the past, including the sail and the steam engine. The lengthy processes of development, commercialization, and diffusion that the diesel engine and the gas turbine went through, he argues, provide perfect examples of gradual technical advances that receive little attention but have resulted in epochal shifts in global affairs and the global economy.

What We Have Taken from Nature

The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines all harvests—from prehistoric man’s hunting of megafauna to modern crop production—and all uses of harvested biomass, including energy, food, and raw materials. Without harvesting of the biomass, Smil points out, there would be no story of human evolution and advancing civilization; but at the same time, the increasing extent and intensity of present-day biomass harvests are changing the very foundations of civilization’s well-being.

In his detailed and comprehensive account, Smil presents the best possible quantifications of past and current global losses in order to assess the evolution and extent of biomass harvests. Drawing on the latest work in disciplines ranging from anthropology to environmental science, Smil offers a valuable long-term, planet-wide perspective on human-caused environmental change.

The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America

On April 20, 2010, the gigantic drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven crew members and causing a massive eruption of oil from BP’s Macondo well. For months, oil gushed into the Gulf, spreading death and destruction. Americans watched real-time video of the huge column of oil and gas spewing from the obviously failed “blowout preventer.” What was missing, though, was the larger story of this disaster. In Blowout in the Gulf, energy experts William Freudenburg and Robert Gramling explain both the disaster and the decisions that led up to it.

Blowout in the Gulf weaves a fascinating narrative of failures, missteps, and bad decisions, explaining why this oil spill was a disaster waiting to happen--and how making better energy choices will help prevent others like it.

Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. An invisible, tasteless, colorless gas, it can be converted to nonpolluting, zero-emission, renewable energy. When burned in an internal combustion engine, hydrogen produces mostly harmless water vapor. It performs even better in fuel cells, which can be 2.5 times as efficient as internal-combustion engines. Zero-emission hydrogen does not contribute to CO2-caused global warming. Abundant and renewable, it is unlikely to be subject to geopolitical pressures or scarcity concerns. In this new edition of his pioneering book Tomorrow’s Energy, Peter Hoffmann makes the case for hydrogen as the cornerstone of a new energy economy.

Hoffmann covers the major aspects of hydrogen production, storage, transportation, fuel use, and safety. He explains that hydrogen is not an energy source but a carrier, like electricity, and introduces the concept of “hydricity,” the essential interchangeability of electricity and hydrogen. He brings the hydrogen story up to date, reporting on the latest developments, including new hydrogen and fuel-cell cars from GM, Daimler, BMW, Honda, and Toyota. He describes recent political controversies, including Obama administration Energy Secretary (and Nobel laureate in Physics) Steven Chu’s inexplicable dismissal of hydrogen--which puts him at odds with major automakers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and others.

Our current energy system is a complex infrastructure, and phasing in hydrogen will take effort and money. But if we consider the real costs of fossil fuels--pollution and its effects, international tensions over gas and oil supplies, and climate change--we would be wise to promote its development.

America is addicted to fossil fuels, and the environmental and geopolitical costs are mounting. A public-private program-- at an expanded scale-- to stimulate innovation in energy policy seems essential. In Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution, Charles Weiss and William Bonvillian make the case for just such a program. Their proposal backs measures to stimulate private investment in new technology, within a revamped energy innovation system. It would encourage a broad range of innovations that would give policymakers a variety of technological options over the long implementation period and at the huge scale required, faster than could be accomplished by market forces alone. Even if the nation can't make progress at this time on pricing carbon, a technology strategy remains critical and can go ahead now.

Strong leadership and public support will be needed to resist the pressure of entrenched interests against putting new technology pathways into practice in the complex and established energy sector. This book has helped start the process.

Technology and Policy Options

Tackling climate change and improving energy security are two of the twenty-first century's greatest challenges. In this book, Marilyn Brown and Benjamin Sovacool offer detailed assessments of the most advanced commercially available technologies for strengthening global energy security, mitigating the effects of climate change, and enhancing resilience through adaptation and geo-engineering. They also evaluate the barriers to the deployment of these technologies and critically review public policy options crucial to their adoption.

Arguing that society has all the technologies necessary for the task, Brown and Sovacool discuss an array of options available today, including high-efficiency transportation, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, and demand-side management. They offer eight case studies from around the world that document successful approaches to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and improving energy security. These include the Danish approach to energy policy and wind power, Brazil's ethanol program, China's improved cookstove program; and the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory.Brown and Sovacool argue that meeting the twin challenges of climate change and energy security will allow us to provide energy, maintain economic growth, and preserve the natural environment--without forcing tradeoffs among them.

Downloadable instructor resources available for this title: file of figures in the book

Are We Making the Grade?

Americans are concerned about the state of the environment, and yet polls show that many have lost faith in both scientists’ and politicians’ ability to solve environmental problems. In America’s Environmental Report Card, Harvey Blatt sorts through the deluge of conflicting information about the environment and offers an accessible overview of the environmental issues that are most important to Americans today. Blatt has thoroughly updated this second edition, revising and adding new material. He looks at water supplies and new concerns about water purity; the dangers of floods (increased by widespread logging and abetted by glacial melting); infrastructure problems (in a new chapter devoted entirely to this subject); the leaching of garbage buried in landfills; soil, contaminated crops, and organic food; fossil fuels; alternative energy sources (in another new chapter); controversies over nuclear energy; the increasing pace of climate change; and air pollution. Along the way, he outlines ways to deal with these problems--workable and reasonable solutions that map the course to a sustainable future. America can lead the way to a better environment, Blatt argues. We are the richest nation in the world, and we can afford it--in fact, we can’t afford not to.

Consequences for the Global Environment

An environmentalist maps the hidden costs of overconsumption in a globalized world by tracing the environmental consequences of five commodities.

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