Yes we can! but it’s harder than we thought

I have just found what I think might be the most brilliant book on climate change on the market for people who care about the environment but might not be physicists, climatologists, or politicians.

The book is Sustainable Energy and is available in paperback or to download for free on-line.   There is also a downloadable ten-page synopsis which provides an introduction or summary for those without time to read more.

Why is it so fantastic?  Well, first of all, the author, David MacKay, is a physicist at Cambridge University in England, and he knows what he’s talking about.  But he talks in everyday English, English that non-professionals can understand.  He realizes that the huge numbers involved in so many discussions about alternative energy are so big as to be meaningless to many of us.

His second great contribution is that he is seriously trying to evaluate our options.  He didn’t make up his mind before learning the facts that a green or nuclear or change-of-lifestyle is the solution to our environmental challenge.  

He evaluates whether we can save the planet if we all do little things like turning off our tv stand bys, computer monitors and phone chargers when we’re not using them.  (No, it’s not enough.  It would be rather like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon.)

He evaluates whether Britain, which has a population of 60 million, or about 1/5th of that of the US, could meet its energy need through its renewable potential wind, wave, and solar resources.   (No, not unless we are willing to cover 5-10% of the country with solar panels, and fill the sea with ten million acres of offshore wind farms.)

He evaluates in a rational comparison whether hybrid or electric cars are more environmentally friendly.  (Electric cars win hands down.)

Overall, McKay’s conclusion is that if we want to ween ourselves from our excessive use of fossil-fuels, we will have to radically reduce our energy consumption as well as find significant alternative energy sources along with ways of reducing our carbon footprints. It is possible.  But it probably won’t be easy.

What is so refreshing about MacKay’s approach is the lack of hot air and unsubstantiated claims.  It calmly makes the nature and size of our choices clear.  It makes rational decisions by all of us and by our politicians possible.

Which, in its own way, is a little terrifying.

Do read the book.

About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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