The near-meltdown of Fukushima, the upheavals in the Middle East, the BP oil rig explosion, and the looming reality of global warming have reminded the president and all U.S. citizens that nothing has more impact on our lives than the supply of and demand for energy. Its procurement dominates our economy and foreign policy more than any other factor. But the "energy question" is more confusing, contentious, and complicated than ever before. We need to know if nuclear power will ever really be safe. We need to know if solar and wind power will ever really be viable. And we desperately need to know if the natural gas deposits in Pennsylvania are a windfall of historic proportions or a false hope that will create more problems than solutions.
Richard A. Muller provides all the answers in this must-listen guide to our energy priorities now and in the coming years.
©2012 Richard A. Muller (P)2012 Tantor
"An informative, comprehensive discussion of important economic and environmental issues." (Kirkus)
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
I will start by admitting that I am a fan of Richard Muller. Before I even went to university I watched every lecture in his "Physics for future presidents" course at UC Berkeley, which was one of the first courses to become available online as a free webcast. I would describe Muller as an honest and rigorous scientist who is not afraid to speak his mind even when his views are controversial. He is also very critical of the way that different energy issues are portrayed in the media, something which you will realize if you read this book.
One good example of what can only be called overblown media reporting is what followed the BP oil spill in the Mexican gulf. When it happened the media was reporting on little else and many high standing politicians described it as one of the worst (sometimes the worst) environmental disasters in the history of mankind. What happened next? Suddenly the media moved on and I was surprised to learn (from this book) that though the initial explosion killed 11 workers, the subsequent oil spill only caused 6000-30.000 bird deaths. "Only" is indeed the appropriate term here, considering that glass windows kill 100.000.000 birds annually and power lines kill many million more. The BP oil spill was unfortunate, and it cost human lives, some birds and a lot of money to fix it, but it is clear that the media and the politicians got a bit carried away with this one.
Another so called " disaster" which got an unfair treatment in the media was the Fukushima power plant accident. To date not a single person have died from the radiation released and the prognosis is that a few hundred extra cancers, some of which could have a fatal outcome, will be the result of this “disaster”. My Fukushima headline would have read: “No deaths from breakdown of old nuclear power plant even though it was hit with an 8.0 earthquake and a tsunami”... (also see my pre-fukushima post on the irrational fear of nuclear power as well as my Review of the book “Radiation”).
Richard Muller spends a good deal of this book discussing the ever controversial topic of Global Warming. He was at a point very critical of the methodology used by climate researchers when they calculated the rate of global warming. For example it is not appropriate to use weather stations in populated areas because as population grows so does temperature. He also found some of the mathematics used... funky...
For this reason he did his own study, and unlike IPCC researchers this study was/is completely transparent with all data freely available for anyone who desires to make their own calculations. What did Muller find? Basically he says that the IPCC, despite their sometimes flawed methods, are correct. In other words, according to Muller the globe has warmed, and this warming has been due to human caused increases in atmospheric CO2 levels. While backing their overall conclusions about the temperature increase on earth Muller does not seem to share many peoples sense of pending disaster due to this warming. Models that predict the future climate of earth tends to have a lot of uncertainty associated with them, and it is almost impossible to know if we are able to come up with technologies that will significantly alter the future climate.
He also says that if we really want to prevent increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we should turn our efforts to China. For quite a long time they have been building one coal plant per week spewing out not only CO2, but also huge amounts of other pollutants such as lead and arsenic. Convincing them to use clean energy sources such as solar or nuclear power (by paying them if necessary), makes a lot more sense than going for expensive alternatives in the west. That is, if you aim to achieve the maximal reduction of CO2 release per dollar, that dollar should be invested in China. Muller also reiterates several times throughout the book that energy conservation will be a huge part of the future. Proper isolation of houses, driving efficient cars etc can drastically reduce energy expenditure.
I have really only touched upon some of the issues that are discussed in this book. Muller offers a perspective on many other energy related issues such as Shale gas/oil, electric cars, fusion, wind/solar/water energy, etc etc. All in all this book is both very educational and at the same time a page turner (keep in mind though that I am kind of a nerd). If you are even just a little interested in the technologies and politics related to energy issues this book is a terrific buy!
My taste differs from kid books to gory horror books.
Look Mom I Did it.
I almost want to pat myself on the back, or Muller's back for getting through this. I love science, but I am not that knowledgeable (although I know more then most in the Media). This review is directed at those like myself who just want to know the basics without all the scare tactics.
The Media and Scare Tactics
I felt Muller gave a level and mostly unbiased look at Global Warming, man made disasters and our future in energy. Most of the material, I as a normal layman could understand. There were some parts especially toward the end which went over my head, but overall I stayed a float. I first read Muller when he wrote a book several years ago on the Theory of Nemesis, a possible companion star to Sol, which is responsible for the regular cycle of extinctions on our planet. I devoured that book and was glad to see he had something else out. In the past few years I have become more and more angry as the teleprompt readers on the nightly news keep spouting death and destruction for sensationalism. I felt Muller was even tempered, giving the pros and cons on each subject, leaving the conclusions up to us.
In the book Muller warns us against theories that are the end all for all problems, then he keeps slamming Natural Gas in our faces. Every time I turned around he was telling me how great natural gas was and how it was the answer to all our problems. I have a bigger respect for natural gas, but I still have to be skeptical.
Pete Larkin sounds exactly like the guy who narrated all the science films I watched in high school, or like the guy who does the safety films I listen to at work. Well, that might not be a good comparison as those put me to sleep. I guess I am trying to say he sounds professional. Plus they put me to sleep because I have watched them a million times.
This is a very accessible collection of executive summaries of current energy technologies and science. From coal to solar, algae ethanol to fuel cells, and all the other current energy technologies/resources, he provides objective and very interesting analyses of each technology from the viewpoints of science, economics, and the environmental ramifications of each.
The author includes a very well documented section on global warming that will please neither right wing nor left wing partisans, but which is very enlightening.
He approaches each topic as a comparative cost benefit analysis, first from a current state of the science standpoint, followed by a global economic analysis.
What I really appreciate is that he states very clearly his sources for every piece of data in his calculations. So anyone can go and evaluate the data and repeat the same calculations independently.
I found the level of detail just perfect. It was just enough to keep me very interested and focused, but not so much as to bog down. A high school graduate with basic chemistry and physics classes in his background could easily follow most of the science and everyone can gain great insights into the economic and environmental/political aspects of each topic.
I highly recommend this to everyone who wants a solid objective understanding of the energy issues that are in our headlines and affecting our lives every day.
I've also listened to Muller's book "Physics for Future Presidents," which I loved, and this one is just as good. Muller always presents all valid sides of controversial topics, uses all the evidence to arrive at the most logical conclusions, and them states them as his opinions. This should be required reading for both the right and left sides of the political spectrum.
Muller presents a scientist's view about a broad range of energy topics. He backs up his conclusions with data and reasoning. The narration is fine but not exceptional.
This is a fresh view, on a topic that seems to confuse many.
Some of the conclusions are surprising, e.g., about plug-in hybrids; but Muller explains his assumptions, and the conclusions seem to derive rather solidly from them. Perhaps some of those assumptions are mistaken, but at least they are clearly called out; Muller himself admits that shale resources are far greater than he had realized just a few years ago.
The overall organization is well thought out - so, even though there is an accompanying PDF, the narrative is clear from the audio alone.
Abolish nuclear weapons!!!!
Richard Muller teaches the "most popular course at UC Berkeley". His video course "Physics for Future Presidents" on Youtube is outstanding. So is this audiobook.
It is as the title aimed at an American audience, but there is a lot of past rhetoric about energy rather than future energy.
Also some of the assumptions especially around electric car batteries are wrong and dangerously so. 500 times rechargeable and then discarded, that is old and wrong thinking.
It has some good work but should be redone with up to date information even though it is only a few years old.
A great introduction and summary of current energy issues but would have liked a slightly broader take - for example under shale gas discussing the challenge of water shortage and whether we should use precious water to extract gas - and some more global context at times not just against China. When discussing subsidies for newer renewable energies it would also have been fair to compare with subsidies the oil and coal industry gets and got in the past to establish themselves and remain profitable.
I'm an environmental consultant myself and I found this book shocking in its ignorance and its selective use of information.
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