Book Review – Winning the Energy Wars

This week I read “Winning the Energy Wars,” by R. Paul Williamson. I often find myself surprised that after reading and reviewing more than 100 energy and environmental books, that I would find one with a new and unique angle. But I did. The premise is one you often find in an energy book – the United States energy “strategy” is not working. The twist comes into play when Williamson gives us an educational lesson about the different types of energy – he used a favorite business tactic of mine – the SWAT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

Strengths – When providing additional information Williamson uses a “product code”. Use your phone to click on the code to get and additional information not contained in the book. After giving a brief history of U.S. energy policy, he lays out a Sustainable Energy Plan (USA-SEP) and outlines and goes into depth about the “six major benefits of for an energy-wise US to adopt and implement the USA-SEP.” I also found that his website supporting the ideas in the book has some good follow-up resources.

Weaknesses - To prove a point about the extravagant and monumental use of energy around the globe, Williamson wrote out all energy equivalents. For example, 98,000,000,000,000 Btu or 28,720,978,623 MWh. This is a bit hard to quantify when your eyes are glazing over the digits because you can’t truly comprehend the number.  The book had some factual errors and a lot of grammatical errors. For me, this diminishes the credibility of the author.

Opportunities – Williamson proposes a new way to evaluate possible energy sources, aka solutions: EF=R/D (energy future equals resources divided by demand). This is a good way to think through some of the “unintended” consequences or benefits of possible energy actions.

Threats - What will happen if the U.S. does not have the fortitude to tackle the problem and the courage to stick with the solution? As Williamson rightly points out, it takes each of us and together, we can make change.

Win a copy of this book. Send me an email with the subject line “Winning the Energy Wars” and include your contact information in the body of the email.

Book Review – Clean Energy Nation

This week I read Clean Energy Nation by Congressman Jerry McNerny and Martin Cheek. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I found myself likening the book to the classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Subconsciously I think it was because one of the recurring themes in Brave New World, first published in 1932, is the Fordship’s desire, after Our Ford ‘s first T-Model,” for its citizens to “consume manufactured articles as well as transport.” Ironically, a portion of Huxley’s predictions came true – globally, people have been conditioned to consume both manufactured items and transportation. It is expected that by 2020 or so, there will be two billion cars on the road.

Clean Energy Nation is like most other energy books and begins with a history lesson about energy with special attention paid to the use and development of fossil fuels. In the words of the New World controller, “…you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk. History,” he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk’.” While history is not bunk, as a global population we seem to think that it is, and it bears saying that recurrent energy history lessons are much needed.

The next section of the book delves into America’s energy issues and covers all the usual suspects including national security, environment, economy, agriculture, public health, education, and good government. (Or in the case of the U.S., bad government. Since 1973, the U.S. Department of Energy has missed 34 deadlines to set mandatory energy standards.). Finally, the book gets into a discussion about America’s energy future.

The discussion about the “crossroads” of America was very motivational. Continue reading

Book Review – Rebuild the Dream

This week I read Rebuild the Dream, by Van Jones, which ironically turned out to be a great book to read with the presidential election just three weeks away. Personally, I believe this country is in an economic mess and I wonder at the so called leaders in Washington who threw up their hands and left early without making several key policy decisions that have such an economic impact. But I realize these leaders are in DC because we the people put them there. In an age of instant entertainment TV, Americans seem to no longer go to the polls and vote on import issues like economy and foreign policy and rather vote on social issues. It has been this way, as far as I can tell, since President Regan was in office.

What, I’m sure you are wondering, does my diatribe have to do with Rebuild the Dream? A lot. Van Jones hits the mark in the book about the economic struggles this country is having and offers suggestions on turning things around. And it starts at the grassroots level with people just like you and I.

Jones’s true calling is working with the private sector and policy leaders to spread the benefits of green job opportunities into struggling communities. Many of the green job opportunities he refers to include educating youth and adults about things such as solar panel installation and installing wind turbines. Many will recall that for a short time, Jones worked as part of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy (he did not work directly with President Obama). Quite frankly, I think his work has and will continue, to have greater impact in the private sector because this is where true change evolves and succeeds as his book aptly demonstrates.

But what the book really focuses on are the main insights Jones has gleaned from reviewing the past years of political struggle in the U.S. (2003-2011).  He focuses on three areas in the first part of the book: the political movements around Barack Obama in 2007-2008; the Tea Party movement in 2009-2010; and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movements. (I am part of the 99 percent and more than likely you too are part of the 99 percent.) Continue reading

Book Review: Rooftop Revolution

There are some books you read and you feel a bit smarter and then there are some books you read that get you excited and compel you to action. Rooftop Revolution by Danny Kennedy got me re-energized about solar energy. In simple terms, the book is about the economic and environmental benefits of solar power. Kennedy focuses on photovoltaics, a method of generating electric power by converting solar radiation (photo) into direct-current electricity (voltaic) using semi-conductors because he believes this technology is a game changer.

Think solar panels on the rooftop of every home and business around the world. Kennedy envisions this dream coming to life through a Solar Ascent where Rooftop Revolutionaries take part by putting solar systems on their homes.

Rooftop Revolution is not only a book about solar energy, but a book about how solar energy can change the future of power. It is also a guide for people to learn how to become part of the fight against Dirty Energy. Using his own experiences and telling stories of others who have gone before us, he tells the past, current and future story of solar energy. He does this through relatable stories, memorable acronyms (King CONG: the four headed monster of coal, oil, nukes, and gas) and easy to do steps.

Dirty Energy, says Kennedy, is telling one story, a story full of misused facts and half truths to make you believe that if you move to alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, the world will go back to the Dark Ages and to add insult to injury, pay more for less power. Kennedy says this is not true but in fact the price of solar has been cut in half in recent years and with the advent of solar leases, people can begin to save money as soon as they flip the switch to solar. As more solar gets adopted, the technology will get even better and solar energy will continue to cost less and less. (Did you know that even though the U.S. has huge reserves of natural gas, it is getting more and more expensive?)

Kennedy is an activist for change. Back in the day he joined revolutions as a member of Greenpeace, today he is a part of the Rooftop Revolution, helping people all over the world generate clean, cheap power with the sun – solar energy. He writes, “So get involved….Right now it’s important that everyone know the truth about solar’s power and how we should be making energy. Our future – our safety, our prosperity, and our environment-depends on the success of the Rooftop Revolution.

While most of us do not have the means of the money to start a solar company (Kennedy is the founder of Sungevity), there are still things we can do. One thing is to become a Rooftop Revolutionary and share this book. So I am. Follow @DomesticFuel on Twitter and tweet this story with #RooftopRevolution in your tweet and you will be entered for your chance to win my copy of Danny Kennedy’s Rooftop Revolution.

Book Review – Climategate

For those of you who believe in climate change, you will criticize me for not only reading but reviewing “Climategate,” by Brian Sussman as the last book in my 2012 La Nina Reading List. For those of you who don’t buy in to climate change, you’ll applaud me for bringing you this review.

Sussman is best known as a TV science reporter and meteorologist and a person who does not buy into the theory of global warming. In fact, he wrote the book to “sound a vociferous warning: global warming is a scam perpetuated by an elite sect of Marx-lovers who believe they can do communism/socialism more effectively than their predecessors; and now, with the ascension of Barack Obama as president, the scam has reached hyperspeed.”

If you have read enough of my book reviews (and if you haven’t get to reading), you will note that Sussman is in the same camp as all the others who don’t believe in climate change – it is a scam with influential players from politicians, to scientists to environmental organizations, to make money.

The book takes a look at the “foundation of fraud” that has led us to where we are today. It dates back to the late sixty’s, early seventies, writes Sussman, with the advent of Earth Day and has gained warp speed with the creation of climate conferences, global treaties and legislation. One of the worst hoaxes of climate change—the Environmental Protection Agency determining that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

Why are people buying into this theory? Sussman says when citizens lack a frame of reference they are primed to be sucked into believing what “experts” say. In other words, peoples’ lack of education around basic energy and environmental knowledge has left them open to corruption.

So what are the solutions to this problem? The country needs an energy plan that does not involve restrictions and limitations. An effective energy policy will be one that provides Americans with inexpensive and abundant power that includes harvesting fossil fuel resources argues Sussman.

Who is this book for? Not those mired deep in the beliefs of climate change who are weak of heart. You just might have a stroke. This book is best read by those who agree that global warming is a farce and will give you additional arguments to back up your theories.  Ultimately, Sussman diverges from others in his linking those who buy-in to climate change as being a Marxist or communist. Has he gone too far or not far enough?

Book Review – Eaarth

What is happening to the “Eaarth”? A question many are asking, including author Bill McKibben, as the summer brought us the worst drought in decades along with extreme heat. Many people would blame this on global climate change while others would argue that “global warming” and “weather” are actually two separate things. Well it is time we delve back into the discussion I began earlier this summer as part of my 2012 La Nina Reading List.

McKibben is a true believer in climate change, holds humans responsible and writes we’re dealing with a “spooky, erratic climate”. He writes that global warming is no longer a philosophical threat or a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It is reality. Because we no longer live on the same planet, argues McKibben, earth needs a new name: Eaarth.

The focus of his book is to turn back time, per se, to safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “safe” level according to climatologist James Hansen, is 350 parts per million – a number we have surpassed and now hover around 390 parts per million. Throughout the book, Hansen explains why lowering levels of CO2 “will be extremely hard” but offers ways “we can try”.

Why do we need to do this? Because, argues McKibben, “…the earth has changed in profound ways, ways have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has- even if we don’t quite know it yet.”

One of the main issues he focuses on in the book is the need to replace the fossil fuel system. Other issues include the need to fix infrastructure and he posits that climate change will cause more resource wars and leave billions of people “climate change refugees”.

The book concludes with a discussion about ways to reduce impact with the main theme being things need to get smaller and less centralized. He also writes that we need to focus on maintenance not growth. In addition, McKibben writes we need global governments to have the courage to take a stand against climate change.

For those who are passionate about the environment, you know that McKibben is one of the best-known writers in the field. His latest book doesn’t disappoint – it is an interesting read. Yet he barely scratched the surface on outlining what needs to be done to live on the new Eaarth. Might that be the topic is his next book that he could call Eaarth 2.0?

Book Review – Last Summer at the Compound

This weekend I read the fiction book “Last Summer at the Compound,” by JH Bartlett.  The story takes place outside of Boston, near the aging Pilgrim nuclear power plant with the same design as Fukushima (the plant that was hit by the tsunami). Taking place a year after the Fukushima disaster, there are fears surmounting in the community and in one of the main characters that a disaster with the plant could take place, whether by accident or design. The book ends on Labor Day weekend, so I thought it was only fitting to review the book today.

The story chronicles a multi-generation family who spends each summer near the water at the family “compound”. This summer an unsettling change is in the air and the family begins to discuss whether to sell the property or hang on. One of the most vocal family members to sell is Sarah, who is worried the nuclear power plant will be attacked or have a severe accident. She is also concerned about the spent rods that have been stored near the plant with no where to go.

On the plus side, the author does a good job of laying out the pros and cons of nuclear energy through the characters. Also through her characters she brings up the need for renewable energy and the ongoing wars that have taken place around the world for oil as well as environmental concerns as reasons to support clean energy.

On the negative side, I felt that the characters’ voices weren’t authentic enough and the end of the book was unfulfilled. I also felt like there were many missed opportunities to really explore nuclear energy and various plot lines. The story was more of a novella and it missed the opportunity to be a novel with a true, in-depth exploration of both nuclear power and family dynamics.

Movie Review – Carbon Nation

I took a brief break from my 2012 La Nina Reading list to watch a documentary on climate change.  Carbon Nation touts itself as a “climate change solutions movie that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change.” Yet this movie does care about climate change.  The narrator says, “We thought we had time to figure things out. Trouble is there is no more time. Climate change is happening now.”

The movie features many of the same players and same technologies as other films – Lester Brown, Van Jones (who just released Rebuild the Dream, which I will be reviewing soon), Amory Lovins, and Thomas Friedman.  In terms of technologies, it covers wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, and it also has sections that discuss land use, deforestation, transportation, and energy efficiency.

The movie was well done, interesting and had great graphics. In addition, I really liked some of the people who were interviewed – real down to earth people who are taking clean technologies into their own hands. The other thing I liked about the movie was the way it broke down how each technology or action will or can affect carbon.

What do I mean?

For example, globally, the world uses 16 terawatts (TWh) of energy each year. Of those, it is estimated that when fully developed, solar could produce 86,000 TWh, geothermal 32 THw, and wind 870 THw. In other words, these three technologies alone could replace all fossil fuel based energy and leave room for growth. This doesn’t even include the amount of energy saved and carbon reduced when you factor in gains from energy efficiency and land use strategies.

Continue reading

Book Review – Roosters of The Apocalypse

The second book in my  2012 La Nina Reading List was “Roosters of The Apocalypse,” by Rael Jean Isaac. This book could be a dictionary definition of “opposite” as compared to Climate Wars. Where Climate Wars is on the far right side of hysteria of the evils of climate change, Roosters of The Apocalypse is on the far left side of hysteria that it is a major, orchestrated hoax upon the world that is costing us billions upon billions of dollars.

So what is a rooster anyway? Isaac quotes Richard Landes who describes “those who initiate and build support for these movements as roosters (aka Al Gore) for they crow an exciting new message, and their opponents as owls, gloomsters counseling caution and skepticism (Real Issac).” Issac weaves the message of the Xhosa throughout the book, a parable about an orphan girl’s vision of truth. I can’t tell you her truth because I was unable to follow the thread. Rather than explain it in one section, she drops little nuggets of the story throughout the book and not in a clear, concise way.  I could have looked up the story on Google, but quite frankly, I’m far to lazy to go to the trouble.

Anyway, the key to building momentum is getting “elites” to join the cause. Al Gore, or U.S. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid would be considered rooster elites.  Once that happens, ordinary people will join in.  Isaac tells the story of how the prophecy of global climate change caught fire and spread around the world in breathtaking speed.  While doing this, she deconstructs all the “deceptive techniques” and fakery” used by organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I won’t rehash the scandal involved in their report but the bottom line was accusers claim they fudged the numbers to support climate change.

It is no doubt that those on the “right side of green” will make millions on global climate change.   Continue reading

Book Review – Climate Wars

The first book on my 2012 La Nina Reading List was “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer. The premise of this book is that global warming is happening and will continue to happen and as the world overheats, the result will be a range of “climate wars”.  One of his hypotheses is that the climate will change and affect different regions and countries differently but all countries will be negatively affected in multiple ways.

First, claims Dyer, the globe will experience a crisis in the food supply. Dyer writes that another major factor in the world’s future is that today a number of great powers are already using climate change scenarios to plan military strategy. To prove his hypothesis Dyer created eight future scenarios based on published science and current or past events with each ranging from worst-case to moderate case.  Each scenario focuses on one or two countries and their reactions to climate change.  After each scenario is presented, and written as if the events had already occurred, he then reviews the science and events used to create the scenario.

A reader asked the question, “What does climate change have to do with DomesticFuel?”  Everything, I argue because of you buy into the concept of climate change or global warming, the largest contributor to warming is carbon.  The largest generator of carbon are fossil fuels and fossil fuels are used to create energy and electricity – the crux of this blog. The theory would then be, if you reduce or replace the carbon generated by fossil fuels with lower or no carbon alternative energy sources, then the reduction would help to help to stave off the heating of the planet.

So how does Dyer portray fossil fuels and alternative energy in his scenarios?

Not with much hope. Continue reading

Mobilize the Earth – Earth Day 2012

Earth Day snuck up on me this year which is surprising considering all that people can talk about is the hot weather in the Midwest caused by “global warming”. Think what you will about that statement, Earth Day is April 22nd coined “Mobilize the Earth,” and because I can’t come up with new ideas (it must be the unusual heat) I’m going to review four environmental books and one movie leading up to the big day.

Inevitably, I’m going to get both applauded and ostracized for what I’m about to do – two of the books will be pro climate change and two of the books will be anti-climate change. Someday I may be drowning off the coast of Iowa and I will go under screaming and flapping my arms that you can’t learn and move forward if you don’t educate yourself about an issue as a whole – and that means all sides of the issue should be heard.

My review of books and movies is not an endorsement of the author’s beliefs – the point of the review is to let you know what the author thinks to determine if it’s a book you want to read in your lounge chair on the beach of Council Bluffs this summer.  And without further ado…My 2012 La Nina Reading List:

  • Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer
  • Roosters of Apocalypse by Rael Jean Issac
  • Eaarth by Bill McKibben
  • Climategate by Brian Sussman
  • Carbon Nation

Well I’m off to the scuba shop to buy gear for my qwest to find the Hollywood sign….

Book Review – The Powers That Be

I felt like an academic when I read this week’s book, “The Powers That Be Global Energy For The Twenty-First Century And Beyond,” although author Scott L. Montgomery wanted the book to be “fun.” I sported my black geek glasses and curled up in a chair at a local coffee shop and attempted to give off the personae that I’m smart. Although I’m not sure anyone was fooled, I’m definitely smarter about our country’s energy options now than I was before I read the book.

This is an extremely in-depth look at what our energy landscape looks like today. It also reviews where we stand, as a world, with regard to resources and options as well as politics and policies that are driving the future. In addition, it looks at where we are headed.  As I look at our country, I’ve felt for a long-time that we are “energy illiterate” and need to become better students of energy education. While Montgomery agrees to some degree, he feels the problem lies more in lack of curriculum and the inability for people to learn about energy in a nonpartisan setting.

Montgomery writes, “Energy matters are critical to understand because they are fundamental to our way of life and because they are the subject of endless misconception, misrepresentation, and, as already noted, myth.”

Throughout the book, Montgomery takes an approach that many other authors have not and that’s the view that he doesn’t categorize energy as “dirty or clean” or necessarily “evil versus good.”  He explains that fossil fuels help build and transport renewable sources and also reminds us that every type of energy has an impact on the environment. Yes everyone, there is no “renewable” energy source that is developed, produced or transported without a fossil fuel. Continue reading

Book Review – Climate Capitalism

Can we clean up the environment and make money at the same time? The answer is yes according to L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, the authors of “Climate Capitalism.” They write, “Two words define the current era: ‘climate’ and ‘capitalism.’ ” The authors begin by talking about America’s economic collapse and then reframe the argument around the environment from one of a moral or environmental issue to one of a “crisis of capitalism.”

The authors write, “What is little recognized is that the twin threats, to the climate and to the economy, are linked in both cause and cure. Unless nations move aggressively to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy, key elements of the transition away from fossil fuels and necessary to save the climate, it is difficult to see how our economy can lift itself from recession or avoid further crises. Solving the climate crisis IS THE WAY OUT of the economic crisis,” (authors’ emphasis).

Now that the stage is set, Lovins and Cohen begin providing case studies of sorts of different companies that have improved their bottom line by investing in energy efficiency and sustainable technologies. For example, Toyota became the largest auto maker in the world through the production of hybrid vehicles and fuel efficient cars while U.S. automakers continued to churn out oversized SUVs when a consumer green shift was taking place.

Conventional thinking around the issue of reducing green house gas emissions has held that averting climate catastrophe will cost the world trillions of dollars during a time countries can’t afford to invest due to the financial crisis. However, the authors argue that climate capitalists will seek out economic opportunities in the context of averting runaway climate chaos that will both mitigate climate change as well as offer profits.

Climate capitalists will be successful, the authors write, because they follow the principles of natural capitalism. The first principle is buying time by using all resources as efficiently as possible. The second principle is redesigning how we make and deliver all products and services using approaches such as cradle-to-cradle concepts, Biomimicry, the circular economy, Design for the Environment, and others.

While the information was interesting, and arguably relevant to supporting the authors’ argument, I found it to be a bit difficult to digest – the cause appeared to be information overload. But I still managed to grasp hold of the big takeaway – if you believe that the world is in fact threatened by climate crisis, then can you afford to not do anything? Lovins and Cohen say no. Those who choose not to plan and invest in a future based on sustainable practices will fail miserably.

Movie Review – Deep Green

This week I watched the documentary, “Deep Green,” written and produced by Matt Briggs. The documentary takes the position that global warming is real and global warming is serious but, “We can fix this.” Using a combination of animation shorts such as “The Krill is Gone” along with interviews of leading global warming influencers, the documentary says that if we don’t cut out carbon emissions between 80-90 percent in the next few years, it will be too late to reverse its course and well, we’re doomed.

The documentary travels to nine different countries including Germany, Sweden, China and the U.S. to take a look at actions taken to solve global warming. The film features green building projects, renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar and highlights energy efficiency strategies. Briggs interviewed several environmental “who’s who’s” including Lester Brown, the founder of the Earth Policy Institute; David Suzuki, Co-Founder of The David Suzuki Foundation; James Woolsey, former CIA Director and founding member of Set America Free Coalition; Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma; and Amory Lovins, Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The documentary was well done and beautifully produced and did an excellent job on intertwining commentary, with interviews, with animated shorts, and solutions. And Brigg’s solutions are not presented as once and done, a strategy often undertook. He continues to lay out solutions over, and over so that you walk away with some solid personal actions you can take to mitigate your own personal carbon footprint. Continue reading

Book Review – The Vertical Farm

I switched gears this week and spent some time learning about ways the world can feed a burgeoning population. One emerging idea is through a “vertical farm,” an idea that has been promoted by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a former professor of microbiology and public health in environmental sciences at Columbia. He recently authored, “The Vertical Farm Feeding the World in the 21st Century,” which lays out the idea of growing our food vertically in greenhouse skyscrapers, rather than spread out over hundreds of millions of acres of farmland.

This idea has really captured my fancy and got my head spinning around all the ways it could be carried out. But let me take a step back. Today, our food travels on average 1,500 miles from field to table. Crazy. Much of our produce and fruits come from places like Mexico and South America. Wouldn’t it be cool if they could come from your own city?

That is exactly what Despommier is promoting. In the middle of an urban area could be a “vertical farm” that grows produce, fruits and grains and houses things such as fish farms. These future farms would grow our food year round while the excess waste, or biomass could be used to produce bioelectricity and biofuels. In fact, Despommier says that in some cases, a vertical farm could have up to five harvests per year.

He writes that ideally, they would be cheap to build, modular, durable, easily maintained, and safe to operate. A vertical farm would mitigate external influences on crops such as too much rain or drought and disease along with the need for fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Vertical farms would provide well-paying jobs and improve economics. He also believes they should be independent of economic subsidies and outside support once they are up and running and they should be profitable. Continue reading