One of their sections is FiveBooks, in which an editor interviews a renowned authority who discusses his or her area of expertise and provides their choice of the best five books to read. Ever wondered what the experts read? FiveBooks has the answers.
And this week, two of our books on renewable energy were referenced by former Congressman Jerry McNerney! Read the entire interview over at The Browser.
We’re in a “dual energy crisis”, says the author of Clean Energy Nation, and not doing enough about it. He tells us what we must do if we’re to overcome our dependence on oil and limit the damaging effects of climate change
Prior to joining Congress, you were an engineer and executive in the energy industry. What sort of work did you do and what did you learn from it?
The importance of our national energy picture stared me in the face when I graduated from college in the middle of the Arab oil embargo of 1973. It was clear how dependent we were on imported oil and how vulnerable we were as a result of that dependence. So I was motivated to go into clean energy by our national security interests. Although I wasn’t aware of global warming in the 1970s, I was very concerned about our long-term impact on the environment. Clean energy was a new and exciting field. The technical work that was being done in the 70s was novel and exciting. The people were fun to work with. Together we developed reliable high-tech products that are now producing a lot of clean energy, and we saw the wind business grow.
You are such an enthusiastic proponent of air-current energy that you named your daughter Windy.
We did. Her first name is Margaret. Windy is her middle name. But she likes it so much that she chooses to be known as M Windy McNerney.
You have calculated that your energy work contributed to saving the equivalent of about 30 million barrels of oil. Why did you run for Congress when you were doing such a great job in the private sector?
I loved being in the industry. It was a lot of fun, and there was a high personal reward for the type of work that we were doing. But after 9/11 my son signed up for the air force, and when he received his absentee ballot in the mail in 2004 and saw there was no one running against the incumbent congressman in our district, he said, “You know Dad, people need a choice. I’m serving my country and I want you to do the same.” I thought about that a lot and I didn’t know how I could say no.
In your book Clean Energy Nation you posit the notion that the world faces a “dual energy crisis”. Please explain.
The dual energy crisis is a twin problem. First, there’s only a finite amount of oil out there to use. We may not be at peak oil now, but our consumption is increasing exponentially. So even if we have twice the amount of oil reserves that we think we have, we’ll blow through those reserves within a fairly short period of time. So much of our technology, our society and our civilisation depends on oil. Food production to feed the seven billion people who inhabit the earth, water production for our cities and our homes, transportation, heating, cooling – it all depends on oil. So if we hit peak oil and the supply starts waning, we’ll see a huge shock to our markets and our economy.
The other problem is global warming. The more oil we use, the more carbon we pump into the atmosphere. And the atmosphere can only take so much before we start seeing significant changes in the way the climate behaves, like the melting of the polar caps, the migration of species and the acidification of the ocean. These are all problems that we’re going to experience. We need to start taking steps to mitigate them. And we need to develop alternative energy sources so that we don’t continue to add to the problem.
Let’s start with books that make clear the severity of this crisis. The Limits to Growth, first published in 1972, projected the consequences of continued population growth in a world of finite resources. What is its core argument?In the book, three scientists from MIT looked at five variables: World population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion. They put population and consumption on the existing path of exponential growth, and showed that we’re going to start running out of resources and it’s going to start impacting civilisation. They projected pollution, food shortages and so on.
The book was written 30 years ago. I read it in the 1980s and it made a big impact on me. The predictions were pretty accurate. They foresaw the strains of growth, and the wear on our planet is certainly starting to show. So it’s a good book, an easy read and it gives you some idea of what we’re up against. We must clean up our environment and find cleaner sources of energy.
Some critics argued that the authors loaded their case by projecting exponential population and pollution growth but sporadic technology growth. Isn’t clean energy technology keeping pace?
Any model of society or human behavior is not going to be entirely accurate but nonetheless there is explosive growth, and if we don’t find the technology to replace oil we’re going to be in trouble. We have the know-how to produce the technology that can keep pace. Solar, wind – these technologies can supply a large fraction of the requirements of our civilization, as long as we don’t keep growing exponentially. So we need to find new clean energy sources and become very, very efficient.
Lastly, you cite Wind Power by Paul Gipe. Please tell us about this book.
Paul Gipe is a very well-known wind energy personality. He’s been in the field a long time, he’s traveled a lot and he’s written a number of books. This one is fun to read because it’s about how ordinary people can harness wind power for homes, farms and businesses. It lays out the basics – it talks about the foundation requirements and how to lift the wind turbine up there. It conveys the idea that you don’t have to rely on giant industrial-sized windmills to supply power. It’s aimed at the little guy.
Not everyone is looking to erect wind turbines on their property, but Gipe reminds us that there’s more to renewable energy than massive plants. In some countries, turbines are dispersed throughout the countryside instead of concentrated. Household-sized turbines can even generate surplus energy that can be stored and shared. So even if you’re not in the market for a “how-to”, you might be interested in this book’s vision of the potential of wind energy.”
Our latest title in this category is making a splash as well! Here’s a podcast interview with Amory Lovins, author of Reinventing Fire on ThinkProgress: