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The Burning Question: We can't burn half the world's oil, coal and gas. So how do we quit? [Paperback]

Mike Berners-Lee , Duncan Clark
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 April 2013

The Burning Question reveals climate change to be the most fascinating scientific, political and social puzzle in history. It shows that carbon emissions are still accelerating upwards, following an exponential curve that goes back centuries. One reason is that saving energy is like squeezing a balloon: reductions in one place lead to increases elsewhere. Another reason is that clean energy sources don't in themselves slow the rate of fossil fuel extraction.

Tackling global warming will mean persuading the world to abandon oil, coal and gas reserves worth many trillions of dollars - at least until we have the means to put carbon back in the ground. The burning question is whether that can be done. What mix of politics, psychology, economics and technology might be required? Are the energy companies massively overvalued, and how will carbon-cuts affect the global economy? Will we wake up to the threat in time? And who can do what to make it all happen?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (15 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781250456
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781250457
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A fascinating examination of the forces that have led to our current predicament and it presents an important framework for a sustainable future. I recommend it highly. The climate crisis is a challenge unprecedented in its scale and complexity. We simply must confront this existential challenge and stop making it worse. That will require the awakening and activism of people all around the world. ' Al Gore, 45th Vice-President of the United States

'The issues explored in The Burning Question are hugely important. Policymakers and the public urgently need to be engaging in this kind of big-picture conversation.' Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

'This is a book that needed to be written: it asks the right question then seeks the most effective ways of answering it. An essential contribution to our thinking about climate change' George Monbiot, writer and campaigner

'Fossil fuels are so last century. The Burning Question tells us clearly why and how to get off them, but crucially also explores why we aren t doing anything much about it at the moment, and points the finger at the villains of the piece. Terrific' Sir Tim Smit, Founder of the Eden Project

'One of those books that doesn't shy away from delivering an uncomfortable message there's no sweetening of the pill, placating political interests or pandering to commercial sensibilities it simply tells it like it is. But much more than that, in accessible language it develops responses to the challenges we face not utopian social change, or unrealistic technical wizardry, but rather a portfolio of options thought through at a system level. The Burning Question is an important contribution to understanding both the scale of the climate challenge and how we may yet develop a low-carbon and climate-resilient society. ' Professor Kevin Anderson, Deputy director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change research

'To keep climate denial from turning into climate despair that we don't know how to solve the climate challenge without suppressing civilisation we need a realistic assessment of the problem and an optimistic set of solutions. This book gives us both, in a short but compelling narrative that may be the difference between a glide to a decent future and a crash of civilisation. Read it, share it, and start preaching its gospel.' Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

'An extremely clear-sighted and highly readable account of the factors fanning the flames of climate change with plenty of practical suggestions how to set about extinguishing them.' Baroness Worthington, Climate change policy expert and life peer

'It s terrifyingly simple. Burning carbon made our modern industrial world. Now we've got to stop burning it. We've got to stop drilling for oil and gas, and leave the coal in the ground. We've got to prick the carbon bubble, write off half the assets of the world's biggest industry, and break the infrastructure and mental lock-in that is preventing viable new energy technologies from taking over. This is the big picture story of why and how that must happen. And why, so far, we are abjectly failing. Brilliant.' Fred Pearce, author of The Last Generation

'At a time when we're making the climate debate 'small', a series of bite-sized chunks each to be 'smuggled' through a resistant policy system, Berners-Lee and Clark remind us that the debate is actually huge in its global scope, its likely impact and, most importantly of all, in terms of the solutions we need to adopt. --Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business, Marks & Spencer

> 'An easy-to-read book about a difficult-to-solve problem. Berners-Lee and Clark illustrate why climate change is such a complex issue. But also that it has a solution.' Samuel Fankhauser, Co-Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE

'The image of scientists and academics used to be one of calm, mild-mannered people but today the frustration among many is palpable. This book shows why. The gap between evidence, policy and practice is yawningly wide. This book tries to bridge that gap, offering a reasoned account of the problem and suggesting what we might do about it from global policy to culture change.' Tim Lang, Professor of food policy, City University London

'Climate change is the most difficult problem the world has ever faced. Berners-Lee and Clark have compressed this complex issue into a short and highly readable book that covers science, psychology and sociology. Uncompromisingly rigorous but easy to read, this book is a perfect introduction to the central topic of the twenty-first century.'Chris Goodall, Low-carbon technology expert and author of Sustainability: All That Matters

'This book hits the climate nail bang on the head: we can only avoid devastating damage if most of the world s coal, oil and gas are left in the ground. In wonderfully clear and readable prose, the authors set out the facts and what we must do about them. It deserves to be widely read: I only hope it will reawaken the climate movement, which has gone into such desperate decline over the last three years. Only public pressure will force governments to close down coal fired power stations and end our oil dependence: this book is a lucid and powerful call to arms.' --Michael Jacobs, Visiting professor, Grantham Research Institute, LSE and former special adviser on climate change to the UK Prime Minister

Book Description

Take one complex scientific discipline. Add the future of energy, economics and geopolitics. Season with human nature ...

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most essential reading 11 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Global Warming: The Human Contribution
The Burning Question is a most thought provoking book and is extremely well written for the general reader and should be compulsory reading for the policy makers of this world. It is a most welcome addition to the literature of global warming which suffers greatly from many books written by extreme sceptics who merely demonstrate their ignorance of the underlying science. I read the very clear ebook version.
We are reminded that the IPCC recommends that a global mean temperature rise since the beginning of the Industrial Age should not be more than 2°C, i.e., an extra 1.2°C above the 0.8°C that has already occurred. The authors deal with the difficulties involved with efforts to restrict fossil fuel emissions to another 565 gigatonnes of CO2 before the `danger' level is achieved. They point out that there is more than enough fossil fuel in the ground to produce sufficient warming. The burning of the known reserves would be more than enough and that would present problems to the producers who would no longer need to do any further exploration.
In part 2 the counterintuitive ways in which the global economy absorbs efficiency improvements are described. This section is particularly important and needs to be spread far and wide. For example, if cars are made more efficient so that more distance can be covered for the same amount of fuel the outcome is not necessarily any saving of fuel and its essential emission of CO2. The tendency would be for people to live further away from their workplace, to live in the countryside in cheaper houses and cause more facilities and schools to be built... IT has not led to energy savings.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very readable account of the challenges around fossil fuel use over the coming decades.

It begins by outlining the history and current state of carbon dioxide emissions from man's use of fossil fuels. It explains how, despite high certainty in climate science and increased awareness of this, we are still on a 'business as usual' trajectory for fossil fuel use over the coming years. The immense political challenge with changing this is realistically appraised, as are the current role of increased energy efficiency and growth in renewables. It concludes with some thoughts on the role that everyone can play in bringing about meaningful action.

The book succeeds in putting across both the fairly depressing gravity of the problem and of the solution. It also succeeds in inspiring the reader to think about their responsibilities and how action at all levels of society is needed. Throughout it is well referenced and seems a balanced representation of consensus views. I would highly recommended it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading 9 Jun 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The main problem identified in the book is that the vast majority of people simply don't want to believe that climate change is threatening life on this planet, and that it is a man made problem that mankind needs to react to now. The book gives very clear summaries of how the problem has arisen, the hurdles we need to cross to alleviate the problem (its already too far gone to stop), and the risks to our descendants if we don't act now. This book should be compulsory reading for every school in the world in the hope that a knowledgeable young generation will force an end to the horrific complacency that abounds today, fuelled by vested interests and climate deniers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The world is in big trouble 9 Dec 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I used to be sceptical about climate change but the more I read, for and against, the more I started to believe that we face a devastating problem that could destroy the world as we know it.

This book starts really strong and pulls together the reasons why there is little talk and even less action to correct the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

As the book says, it's hard to imagine a less convincing argument than the future of the world will be destroyed by something that we can't see, taste or hear but gradually, second by second, the problem builds.

Then there are the vested interests with the big wallets (the existing carbon industries) who are able to buy political and media power far in excess of the climate change campaigners.

Then add in the fact that we have a natural tendency to avoid talking about bad, scary stuff. It's more comforting to pretend that a problem doesn't exist than to recognise it and face up to making changes needed.

Those changes are mainly negative in the short term, sacrificing the way of life we know and want to carry on.

This makes it hard for any politicians with moral fibre to act in the right way. Until the groundswell public opinion builds to be strongly in favour of acting on the climate change problem, it's hard for our leaders to lead.

The book doesn't mention it but one fundamental issue is that the problem, on the surface sounds trivial. The idea that a temperature increase of just two degrees centigrade must be stopped doesn't sound serious.

As someone who feels the cold badly and is rarely warm enough in Britain, an increase of 2C sounds very modest and without the scary end of the world stuff, I'd vote for a 10C increase. Then we might have proper summers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book. It puts environmental issues of the use ...
A great book. It puts environmental issues of the use of Fossil fuels in perspective. Both economic and political arguments well tied to scientific research. Read more
Published 3 months ago by fred
4.0 out of 5 stars I feel ever so much better ...
Mike Berners Lee's first book, 'How Bad are Bananas', was an outstanding example of the proper use of facts and reason: it provided the data for the thoughtful reader to understand... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Simon Loveday
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent run down of climate dynamics
An excellent book, well thought through and well argued. A must read for anyone interested in truly understanding the dynamics of addressing climate change, including the idea of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by MR S GILL
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really bold enough to come up with inconvenient truths other than...
Climate change is happening, and fossil fuels are the main cause. This is a well written and informative book, but rather insipid in parts using the usual language like "we must... Read more
Published 7 months ago by paulyb
1.0 out of 5 stars complete rubbish
more half backed ideas on a subject that is proven not to be true! There is no global warming, been proved the case over and over again. Read more
Published 7 months ago by the-truth
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and robust piece of work
Excellent book. Good understanding and explanation of how the energy system, global energy demand growth, and politics are intertwined. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rasmus Valanko
5.0 out of 5 stars The problems of Climate Change set out clearly
This is very well written and easy to follow.
The suggested solutions are global, national and local.
We all need to act.
Published 9 months ago by E M Garland
5.0 out of 5 stars Do read it!
This is a very important book. It is well written, with helpful tables of figures and statistics which are quite clear and easy to understand. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Janet Stuart
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone
As a big fan of Mike Berners-Lee's previous book How Bad Are Bananas? I was looking forward to reading this one, and it didn't disappoint. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Richard
4.0 out of 5 stars Frighteningly good read
Well written and structured for the lay person interested in this most important of topics. Makes an excellent job of cutting through the opinion, pseudo science and downright... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Dr Nick Scott
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