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green@work : Magazine : Read On : Nov/Dec 2001

Read On
Wise Choices

Ways to redirect national policy toward sustainable, renewable energy sources.


by Richard Walthers

Globally, the volume of new oil discoveries peaked in the 1960s and has been decreasing ever since. Production will peak sometime in the next 30 or so years.

The need to develop other sources of renewable energy has never been more apparent.

Two recently published books, Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change by Guy Dauncey and Tomorrow’s Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet by Peter Hoffman, engage the important discussion that is needed in order to redirect our national energy policy toward more sustainable and renewable energy resources.

Stormy Weather
Stormy Weather is about global warming and the environmental challenges that we face if we cannot wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuels.

With the possibility of irreversible climate change on the horizon, the author takes on a most ambitious project to pose all the energy-related questions and to provide a series of solutions aimed at each issue relevant to specific interest groups. Dauncey is able to reduce his topics to their essential elements in order to make them easily comprehensible. Written in an easy and understandable style, it is a rare combination of science and activism that makes this book so appealing.

The book is creatively organized into 11 sections, the first of which provides a great panoramic view of all of the dimensions of this energy crisis and a primer on all the various types of alternative energy sources. The other 10 sections consist of 101 solutions to the problems posed by our dependence on fossil fuels. Each solution, or chapter, is designed as a two-page spread with practical solutions examined and peppered with engaging charts and graphs. The Web sites listed throughout the book will be greatly appreciated by anyone who needs a quick reference guide for energy-related issues. It is an immensely accessible book that will inspire understanding as well as action.

Both of these books are required reading if you want to understand what is at stake with our continued dependence on fossil fuels and to learn how to move toward sustainable forms of energy.

As the scientific debate rages on as to whether the planet is heating up or whether the forests of the Earth are shrinking or holding their own, I think the argument is a false one.

Since everyone understands the model of global warming, we know what can happen if the temperature of the atmosphere continues to rise or the forests’ ability to sequester carbon is compromised; however, we don’t act on this knowledge.

Dauncey’s book is about providing information and solutions so that anyone, from individuals to corporations, cities, states or nations can take steps to prevent the worst climatic scenarios from happening. He shows us, unequivocally, that fossil fuels—specifically oil—are the common link for most, if not all, of our environmental problems. And with the recent terrorist attacks fresh in mind, most of our geopolitical woes can also be easily traced to our addictive dependence on oil.

Whereas Stormy Weather states the climatic problem that we face rather emphatically, the offered solutions are overviews, and the book is generally horizontal in its treatment of the subject matter.

Tomorrow’s Energy
Peter Hoffman in Tomorrow’s Energy, on the other hand, does not expend much energy on the statement of the problem, but rather delves vertically deeper into the science and technology of hydrogen. It’s a foregone conclusion that hydrogen is the key to creating an absolutely clean atmosphere of the future. This is a scholarly, in-depth look at the history and development of hydrogen as an energy source.

Hoffman’s book provides the background knowledge and the detail for an informed public to demand changes from our legislators. In his chronology of events, he details how President Reagan cut the renewable energy budgets by 80 percent immediately after taking office. It is amazing how the low-point in official interest in hydrogen came as recently as 1987 when the U.S. Department of Energy proposed a mere $1 million for hydrogen research and development for the 1988 budget.

While Dauncey states that the federal government provides $20 billion a year for subsidizing fossil fuels, Hoffman discusses in more detail how corporations, as well as the government, tend to support technologies and policies that continue the viability of the current energy establishment. He also points out that the physical infrastructure of our present energy providers is not going to see much change during the first quarter of the 21st century. However, the choices we make in this time frame for future power requirements will be critical in determining the course of the remainder of the century—the general health of the environment, the quality of our air and the overall quality of life.

Finally, the author discusses a series of scenarios that the World Energy Council developed to help map viable pathways to the prosperous future that we all desire.

Scenario A is characterized by a “no limits technology” mindset with high rates of economic growth. This, of course, leads to very high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Scenario B describes slower technological development, lessened economic growth and lessened energy requirements that nevertheless create a greater dependence on fossil fuels.

This was described as “muddling through.” It is apparent that we are somewhere between these two models at the present time.

It is actually Scenario C that we should be aiming for in the critical 20-year period immediately ahead of us. Of course it is the most challenging vision to implement. It is ecologically driven, characterized by several renewable energy technologies and green taxes employed to create the desired economic response. The gross national product (GNP) would not be as great as Scenario A, but it would be more equitable and greater than Scenario B. Scenario C shows the use of fossil fuels declining throughout the century with renewables accounting for 40 percent of global energy consumption at mid-century and increasing to 80 percent by 2100.

Both of these books are required reading if you want to understand what is at stake with our continued dependence on fossil fuels and to learn how to move toward sustainable forms of energy. Guy Dauncey references Barry Commoner’s four laws of ecology in his last chapter. The fourth law states, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” As the author so succinctly puts it, “We can have polar bears, or we can have fossil fuels. We cannot have both.”

Polar bears, salmon and myriad other life forms on this planet don’t get to vote on how we change the planet’s environment—it’s up to us to become good stewards and maintain the health of the planet by making wise energy choices.

WHERE CAN I GET THEM?

Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change
by Guy Dauncey, with Patrick Mazza
© 2001 New Society Publishers
www.newsociety.com
$19.95

Tomorrow’s Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells
and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet
by Peter Hoffman
© 2001 The MIT Press
http://mitpress.mit.edu/bookstore/
$32.95


Richard Walthers (rwalthers@prairiefish.com) is founder of PRAIRIE fish; a Chicago IL-based consulting firm dedicated to design and sustainability issues.

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