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Not really bold enough to come up with inconvenient truths other than the usual fossil fuel debate
on 2 April 2014
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 try harder" and "take a lead" in every aspect of fossil fuel, political and foreign policy. These are rather weak statements, but the reason for taking such inspiring action is provided.
There are 180 pages of evidence of the badness of human economic activity, but I don't need convincing. There are just a handful of pages that suggest that nuclear is not a good idea, despite the fact that France has an incredibly successful nuclear fleet. Carbon capture and storage is glossed over in 2 pages, and fails to acknowledge with any vigour that China alone has almost 900,000 megawatts of coal fired power capacity that would take trillions of dollars to replace with renewables. So why is carbon capture more or less dismissed with "governments and companies could be working much harder...", but boldly admits that green opposition to CCS is an obstacle. This is one of the few 'tell it like it is' statements that comes out in the book which I think has any meat (or quorn).
Let me repeat, 900,000 MW of coal power that has no carbon capture, despite the fact that the oil and gas industry have been capturing carbon for decades. So why is the green lobby dismissing nuclear and CCS in ALL circumstances? These techs may not be appropriate in many regions (Fukushima and any eartquake zone or politically unstable region), BUT there is a place for these techs.
Another criticism about a 'tell it like it is' book is that there is rarely an attempt to consider the 'resource' implications for renewables, ie land area. Nobody considers the finite resource of land as a limit to renewables, we assume the wind and sun is free, then there must be limitless energy. Endless energy maybe (for any square metre of land), but not without limits to capacity (ie the number of square metres available to us).
Also, carbon intensive materials such as steel should be treated as such, but wind turbines require vast amounts of steel, yet a shift to electric based methods (while the world shifts to electric vehicles) doesn't address where the electricity will come from. I think where steel is manufactured inefficiently and doesn't use enough recycled metals is poor practiced and should be stopped, but these things have to be measured and targeted before banning mining of iron ore and steel making using coal.
A great deal of truth in the complexity of the task is discussed in other books (eg Sustainability without the hot air), which is often omitted from books like the Burning Question, but let's be clear, the point of this book is anti-fossil fuels (hence the quotes which cover the book from upstanding members of the green community).
In summary, there are more open ended debates than firm (technological) action points beyond action such as "a massive increase in efforts...", the last point that leaves me wondering what effort? what's massive? There's little sense of scale for the road ahead, but there's plenty of scale regarding the damage that has been done, so if you still need converting, this is an ok book. If you're already converted (like me), it's a good book to reinforce your views, but has almost no concrete (sorry about the C-intensive phrase) solution to replacing fossil fuels today.
One thing is for sure, Britain and its industrial revolution puts us as one of the worst CO2 offenders in history, although today the average UK citizen emits 8.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. That's far too much, but less than solar rich Germany, less than hydro rich Norway, about the same as wind rich Denmark. And even less than the average Greenlander. So if you're asking 'what can I do', you can do a lot lot more, but don't beat yourself up about it.