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Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong Kindle Edition
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This new book is better. More balanced, more measured, but still with Robert Bryce's journalist eye for the issues, and his research and writing skills. This time around, he makes the argument that people are innovative, and that while we face some stiff challenges as humans, we also have proven in the past that we have the capability to solve problems just as thorny as those we face now. So he gives more of a nod to the arguments made by those who predict catastrophe, while still not accepting their forebodings of darkest doom.
Take energy, for example, which is the main topic Robert Bryce discusses in this book. In the previous books I read, Robert Bryce was quite dismissive of solar power. He told about how he had solar panels on his own roof, but they did not live up to their promise. In this book, by contrast, he is a little bullish on solar power, saying that its costs have dropped so dramatically that what did not make sense before now has a future. (He remains skeptical of wind power, since it takes up so much space, and points out that we are stuck with hydrocarbons for decades if not a century. But his preferred path is N2N, or natural gas to nuclear.)
To make his case that innovation can help us solve problems (note that he just says "help" -- he warns that technology is not going to solve every problem, giving a nod to Evgeny Morozov and his book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism), Robert Bryce looks back at the history of technology as well as traveling the world to report on what he sees. He looks at how so much of technology has changed the way we live our lives. Hunger was a real problem, and people like Paul Ehrlich predicted a hunger catastrophe that never happened. Hunger still remains a stubborn problem in parts of the world, but no mass starvation has occurred. The Green Revolution proved the catastrophists wrong.
The topics Robert Bryce covers, the stories he tells, and the lessons from history he draws, are all so rich and varied that a summary will not do them justice. Suffice it to say, as a summary, that he feels that Bill McKibben and others who want to "degrowth" and retreat from the technological frontiers -- what Robert Bryce calls the "40 acres and a mule Green Acres plan" -- are advocating a path that would lead to problems, not to solutions. Instead, Robert Bryce thinks we need a pro-business, pro-innovation, and pro-human outlook, generating the wealth to help scientists, tinkerers, and entrepreneurs to develop the technologies we need. We need to find more energy, not less. More growth, not less. Everything needs to get smaller, faster, lighter, denser, and cheaper. But to do that, we need to move ahead, not back.
Myself, I'm already singing in the choir Robert Bryce is preaching to. So I'm not sure that those who are not, those who think differently than Robert Bryce, will find as much to like in this book as I did. But I think everyone interested in these topics and worried about the way the world is changing should read this book. Whether you agree with him or not, you will (I think) come away from this book with a changed perspective and with more information. And that's good for anyone.
Instead of accepting this “collapse anxiety,” he provides a full-throated defense of human ingenuity and innovation. Getting back to nature à la Rousseau, Thoreau, and Carson by embracing renewable energy and decreased standards of living is not the way of the future. To continue the advancement of the developed and non-developed world, policymakers need to stop inhibiting progress and embrace the world’s master resource—energy.
Natural gas and nuclear power offer low-carbon solutions to the world’s increasing appetite for growth. Natural gas emits about half as much CO2 as coal does during electricity generation. The growth in U.S. natural gas production has done more to decrease CO2 emissions than every green energy government-mandated program in Europe.
Nuclear power plants have 2,100 times as much power density as wind energy. As Bryce repeatedly points out, density is green. Nuclear energy remains expensive and there are important safety risks to mitigate, but it is still in its infancy. Nuclear is the future, not renewable energy. As Bryce says, “We humans have been relying on renewable energy for thousands of years. And what did we learn in all that time? We found that renewable energy stinks.”
Bryce writes that if someone is anti-carbon and anti-nuclear, they are anti-growth and pro-blackout. Being against these two forms of energy is far from humanitarian since “degrowth” will return a large portion of the world to short lives of mere substance.
The right question to ask is not why we have poverty—it is why we have wealth. Until the recent growth that was enabled by access to cheap, efficient energy, humans lived very difficult lives. The past age that extreme environmentalists romanticize lacked social, intellectual, and economic mobility and was marked by lives of deprivation.
Just 200 years ago, 85 percent of the world lived on under $1 a day. Today, that number is only 16 percent, and falling. Those who want to return humanity to the time when the average life span was under 50 years (the United States before 1900 and the least-developed countries until the last quarter century) are advocating complete rejection of progress and the prosperity that accompanies it.
Most people in developing countries want to increase their life spans and embrace progress. They want to join Bryce’s future—one where human ingenuity is set free to build everything “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper.”
The clarity of Bryce's writing makes short work of even the most technical concepts, and there's even some humor thrown in. All in all, SFLDC is a welcome and overdue antidote to fearmongering and pessimism.
I have read too many books that pinpoint all of the problems the world faces, but offer unrealistic solutions. This is not one of those books. All arguments made by Bryce are supported by facts and data. I recommend this book to anyone interested in innovation, technology, human ingenuity, or energy policy. Because the drive for smaller, faster, lighter, denser, and cheaper is applicable to nearly every industry today, this book applies to all businesses looking to be successful/competitive in the future.
Manhattan Institute Scholar Robert Bryce understands the driving forces behind energy, economics and history as well as anyone on the planet. If you read Smaller, Faster by Bryce; Bottomless Well by his colleague Peter Huber and The Prize by Daniel Yergin, you'll understand far more about the past, present and future than the editors of the New York Times.
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