Civilization is in no immediate danger of running out of energy or even just out of oil. But we are running out of environment--that is, out of the capacity of the environment to absorb energy's impacts without risk of intolerable disruption.' Book cover.
Power to the People
Scientific American reviews of Vijay Vaitheeswaran's new book that asks the hard questions about the world's energy future.
Editor's Note: After publishing this article, a reader brought to our attention an interveiw Vijay Vaitheeswaran did last month with the CBC in Canada. Here's the link to that interview.
In the December 2003 issue of Scientific American, John P. Holden reviews Vijay Vaitheeswaran's new book, "Power To The People." The entirety of Mr Holden's review is now available online to the general public and we encourage to take a few moments to read it.
But if you're short on time, here's a quick synopsis that Holden considers, "the critically important points" developed in the book.
Civilization is in no immediate danger of running out of energy or even just out of oil. But we are running out of environment--that is, out of the capacity of the environment to absorb energy's impacts without risk of intolerable disruption--and our heavy dependence on oil in particular entails not only environmental but also economic and political liabilities.
Choices that countries make about energy supply commit them to those choices for decades, because power plants and other energy facilities typically last for 40 years or more and are too costly to replace before they wear out. This is one of the reasons it is imprudent in the extreme to wait for even more evidence than we already have before letting climate-change risks start to influence which energy options we choose.
Energy technologies that exist or are under development could greatly increase energy efficiency in residences and businesses, reduce dependence on oil, accelerate the provision of energy services to the world's poor, increase the reliability and resilience of electricity grids, and shrink the impacts of energy supply on climate and other environmental values. The most promising of these options include renewable sources of a variety of types, advanced fossil-fuel technologies that can capture and sequester carbon, and hydrogen-powered fuel cells for vehicle propulsion and dispersed electricity generation.
These prosperity-building, stability-enhancing and environment-sparing options will not materialize in quantity matching the need unless and until three conditions are met: The massive subsidies favoring continuation of energy business as usual are ended. The massive risks of greenhouse gas-induced climate change are at least partly internalized with a carbon tax or its equivalent. And the industrial nations commit to helping the developing ones "leapfrog" past the inefficient and dirty-energy technologies that fueled the industrialization of the former but mortgaged the environment in the process.
You can order the book online from Amazon.com using the link above. In addition, there are some excellent reviews of the book on Amazon.com.