Book Review: Everyone’s Guide to Atoms, Einstein and the Universe

atomsWhen people are discussing energy, how many conversations revolve around physics and its role in developing better renewable energy? I’d venture a guess and say for most people, the answer is never. Until now. This week I read, “Everyone’s Guide to Atoms, Einstein and the Universe” by Robert Piccioni. Had I had Piccioni for my Physics 101 class, I would have had a much better grade.  

albert-einstein1Although I enjoyed the entire book, I’m going to focus on two chapters, “Energy, Mass and E=mc2”and “Smart Energy”. Einstein brought to the world its understanding of mass and energy and demonstrated that the two are united and that mass can be converted to different forms of energy. But what exactly is energy? “…energy is the currency of existence….Energy cannot be created nor destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another.”

The definition above is very apropos considering we are entering into a new energy economy that will have its own currency (hopefully one that is less expensive than our fossil fuel based energy currency we now have).  But what is the best way to convert mass to energy?

Continue reading

Book Review – The Party’s Over

partys-over-cover-vsmI went back in time this week (if you can call five years ago back in time) and read Richard Heinberg’s,The Party’s Over“.  I was curious to see how the thinking about our addiction to fossil fuels and the need to adopt renewable energy has changed. Well, it really hasn’t.

Like many other authors who wrote books about oil during this time frame, Heinberg talked a lot about America’s (and the world’s) love affair with oil and discussed, at length, when America and the world would succumb to peak oil. Since most people have come to terms with the theory that we’ve already seen peak oil, most authors don’t focus on this issue any longer. From there he focused on the current and future technologies of renewable energy sources.

It’s interesting to note that Heinberg is a follower of population reduction, a concept that is mentioned in several occasions in the book I reviewed last week, “Green Hell”. Heinberg argues that the ideal population level is around two billion people. This would be a reduction of nearly four billion people. Based on the fact that the world has limited resources (he disagrees with the fact that we can keep saving ourselves with technology) he lists five things our leaders should logically and morally be compelled to do.

  1. Adopt the ethic of sustainability in all aspects of thinking.
  2. Institute systematic efforts to improve efficiency in the use of efforts.
  3. Encourage the rapid development and deployment of all varieties of renewable energy.
  4. Systematically discourage (through taxes) the consumption of nonrenewable resources.
  5. Find humane ways to encourage a reduction in human fertility in all countries, so as to reduce the population over time.

The first four in the list are a common theme among authors but where he differs is calling for leaders to reduce the popluation in a humane way. I’m not convinced forced population reduction is humane, period.

Heinberg may have been a little ahead of the energy debate so he published follow-up to this book – “Power Down“. Heinberg powerdown-cover-vsmhas been writing and teaching in sustainability and energy for many years to agree or disagree with him, he is one to watch.

You can buy this book or any book I review here. Also, if there is a book you’d like me to review, contact me at jms@4RCommunications.com.

Book Review – Green Hell

greenhellToday’s Earth Day Celebration is brought to you in part by the book, “Green Hell” written by Steve Milloy. I’ve never met or spoken to the man, but I can presume that he is not a celebrator of Earth Day since his entire book is dedicated to stopping the “greens.” The premise of his book is to educate the public on how environmentalists are trying to control our lives and what we can do to stop them. He writes, “While it is beyond the scope of this book to debunk the scientific claims of global warmists, we’ll take a brief moment here to note the fatal flaw of global warming alarmism: there is no scientific evidence indicating that carbon dioxide, much less man made carbon dioxide emissions, control or even measurably impact global climate.”

Milloy demonstrates the evils of the environmental movement by highlighting the extreme environmental “wackos” such as biologist Paul Ehrlich who has “railed against consumption virtually as a crime against humanity.” Even as a self-proclaimed lazy environmentalist, I think Ehrlich and some of his pals have gone off the deep end. But that being said, Milloy does have some valid points, especially when he talks about next generation transportation fuels. He speaks about how environmentalists are promoting “biofuels” but at the same time are lobbying against them. “Looking closer, we find that greens display their typical schizophrenic attitude towards ethanol. Even while touting is supposed superiority to gasoline, greens denounce ethanol for the environmental damage it causes.”

One of two things will happen if you read this book, you’re either going to agree wholeheartedly with him (many do) or you’re going to become even more passionate about saving the planet. But I think the real lesson to be learned is that moderation (nothing is perfect) is the key – we shouldn’t have to ruin our lives and those things we hold dear while still “doing right” for the planet.

You can buy “Green Hell” or any book I review here, and Happy Earth Day to everyone.

Book Review – Two Billion Cars

two-billion-carsAs we head into the weekend, some of you may be planning a trip to an auto mile to buy a new car. When you drive away in your new vehicle, you’ll be helping the world get one car closer to the two billion mark. Today there are one billion cars on the road and within the next 20 years, there will be two billion cars on the road. And this is the premise of this week’s book, “Two Billion Cars” written by Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon.

“Two Billion Cars” details America’s love affair with cars, the rise and fall of the American auto industry and the rise of foreign auto makers, and discusses how the world will survive the environmental impact of two billion cars. According to the authors, “Cars are arguably one of the greatest man-made threats to human society.”  Using past and current California legislation as a guide and current and future technologies, the authors make suggestions on how the world can develop a sustainable transportation industry through “eco-cars”.

Today the typical American household, which owns and drives two cars, is spending over $15,000 per year (and this number was calculated before last summer’s very high gas prices). “…cars are multiplying faster than people in America and almost everywhere else. In the United States, the increase is vehicle registration has outpaced U.S. population growth by more than 50 percent since 1970.” Houston, we have a problem.  Continue reading

Book Review – Freedom From Oil

Just when I thought there was no creative way to present a plan to address America’s energy issues, I read “Freedom From Oil,” books1by David Sandalow. Two words immediately come to mind to sum up the book. Clever. Brilliant. It is no surprise that Sandalow has recently been nominated by President Obama to serve as DOE assistant secretary for Policy and International Affairs. It appears that the president has adopted a few policy considerations from this book.

“Freedom From Oil” begins with a memo from the “President of the United States” to his heads of various departments letting them know that in one month he will be giving a speech on oil dependence. During this speech, the memo states, “I hope to present the nation with a plan for ending our dependence on oil.” The memo continues with a call to action and deliverable materials and the various aspects that will affect this plan. The president ends by asking his team to keep this quote in mind when responding, “Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul.”

From there, the departments then submit memos back to the president who then summarizes the “pros and cons” of each issue. In addition, there are articles of interest included with the memos that highlight people who are working day-to-day to help solve America’s energy issues. For those of you who are fans of the IndyCar Series, one article focuses on its use of 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol.

In the end, a strategic plan is offered and the finale: the president’s national address regarding the country’s dependence on oil. Sandalow presents ideas that many others have written about (because he says all ideas must be considered) and he offers new policies as well. I’ve not read a more balanced presentation of the pros and cons of potential energy policies and solutions. “Freedom From Oil” is a must read.

To buy this book or any book I review, click here.

Book Review: Hope for a Heated Planet

0422auAs we approach the 39th celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd I’m integrating a few environmental books into the repertoire. Too many people criticize the “crazy tree huggers” as doing more harm than good, but “Hope for a Heated Planet” author Robert Musil offers a different take to approaching the environmental challenges our world faces, one that in my opinion was too long in being recognized.

hope-for-a-heated-planet5“…if Americans and a new, broader environmental and climate movement are to be successful, we will need to find more successful ways to think and talk about—or frame—global climate change and its serious impacts already becoming visible around the country.” One way to reframe this conversation, says Musil, is show people that the environment is not just around us but inside us. “It is us.”

Musil is a strong proponent of the development of alternative energy but he cautions us not to rely on the government to make this happen. “Now that we have entered a new, audacious era of hope with President Barack Obama, I should warn you and give away my ending. President Obama alone will not save us from the destruction of the planet, nor will the new 111th Congress.”  Continue reading

Book Review: Uranium

58265186_a2“Man’s most carnal tendencies are inflamed by the most modern of elements, uranium.”

War, terrorism, treason, energy, and renaissance — the basic elements of uranium as vividly described in the new book, “Uranium: War, Energy, And The Rock That Shaped The World” by Tom Zoellner. This is a fantastic true tale of the quest for “nuclear fission,” the devastation it caused, its role as an “energy savior,” the worldwide frenzy to develop nuclear bombs, and the “nuclear renaissance” on the horizon.

In the 40s and 50s nuclear energy was going to save the world. People couldn’t get the word “atomic” into their lives fast enough incorporating “atomic” into the names of towns, businesses and sandwiches. The Atlantic Monthly wrote in the article, “The Control of Energy,” in 1955, “Reactors to produce electric power from nuclear fuels are now being built both here and abroad, and some soon to be designed should give enough power to fill the needs of the largest city. All of the electrical power now used in the United States could in theory be produced from 60 tons of uranium.”

Well, uranium has not saved the world. In fact, many would argue that its wrecked more hell than help. The US government conspired for decades to deny that nuclear fallout caused life-threatening health issues, and environmentalists can’t agree on whether nuclear energy is “green”. “One of the manifest ironies of the “nuclear renaissance,” though, is that it relies on image of atomic power as a green technology,” writes Zoellner.

nuclear-power-plantMany thought the debate over nuclear energy was cooled but in fact its as heated as ever. There is a vocal worldwide debate about the fate of nuclear energy and its role as a green alternative to coal. Uranium is one of the most abundant elements in the world and ours for the taking. The United States is working on bringing several new nuclear facilities online, the first in more than two decades, and while France is adding more nuclear plants Germany is shutting all their nuclear facilities down citing environmental issues. Yet a handful of countries trying to build nuclear facilities are being denied access to the technology citing “terrorism” concerns.

No one knows how this story is going to end, but I’m certain of two things. First, the movement to clean, domestic renewable energy is not an option. Second, you must read this book.

You can buy Uranium or any other book I’ve reviewed by clicking here.

Book Review – The Green Guide to Power

thinking_outside_the_grid_front_cover1There is an advantage to self publishing because you can truly say what you want to say. And Ronald H. Bowman, Jr. does just that in his book, “The Green Guide to Power Thinking Outside the Grid”. I originally thought the book was going to be about the development of the “Smart Grid“. It wasn’t. Although he did talk a little about the “Green Grid“. However, the book was actually about, “the state of technology…their maturity to the marketplace, reliability, financial feasibility, interoperability with incumbent utility, and ecological impact.” His energy alternatives include: wave, solar, biomass, biowaste, geothermal, tidal, wind, and fuel cell (hydrogen). He also spends time on coal and nuclear energy.

Electric energy usage is projected to go up 50% by 2031 and 100% by 2050. With the current pace of increasing energy needs and slow adoption of renewables to the marketplace, Bowman argues that we won’t have enough power to meet our demands in 2031. Like most others, he believes that there needs to be more tax credits and incentives to spur the growth of alternative energy to market. I know, I know, everyone hates energy subsidies, right? Well, apparently people don’t hate oil subsidies. Just subsidies that are designed to make our country a cleaner, greener place powered by domestically produced renewable energy.

  • Federal subsidies for ethanol in 2006 – $6 billion
  • Federal subsidies for coal in 2006 – $8 billion
  • Federal subsidies for oil and gas in 2006 – $39 billion

Bowman touches on the carbon caps and carbon trading –it won’t work the way it is currently set up (I agree) and like most uniformed people, hates ethanol. BTW in case you can’t hear, see or read, the food versus fuel debate was a complete sham. Overall, he does a decent job of assessing feasiblity of the renewable energy options. Want to learn more?  Buy the book or any book that I review on DomesticFuel.

Book Review – The Tyranny of Oil

the-tyrannay-of-oilThis week I read the book, The Tyranny of Oil by Antonia Juhasz. It started off highlighting a lot of what other energy books discuss but then it got interesting. So much so that I’m giving the theme of this review, “How long will American citizens live in denial?”Here are a few facts as laid out in the book that it seems the average American refuses to acknowledge.

1) Big Oil runs our country – not the federal government.

2) Over 30% of the price of gasoline at the pump falls directly under the control of a Big Oil. Huh. Yet they don’t have any role in price manipulation techniques or the prices at the pump.

3) The war in Iraq is an “Oil War” facilitated in part by Big Oil’s desire to get their hands on Iraqi oil. It is believed that Iraq has the second largest amount of untapped oil in the world.

4) Although Big Oil is touting its “alternative energy investments” on average, they equal less than five percent of all company expenditures. Oh, and most oil companies consider development and research in oil shale as an investment in alternative energy.

I could go on but I will say that Juhasz lays out a plan for taking on Big Oil. One of the most important elements, she claims, is the Separation of Oil and State. She writes: “a separation of oil and state”: a commitment to renounce money from the oil industry and support sustainable clean energy alternatives.” A DC based group, Oil Change International, is fighting for this. The alternative energy industry is not represented in this campaign but needs to be involved.

Well if you need something to fire you up and reafirm your support of alternative energy, this is just the book to get you going.

Book Review – The First Billion is the Hardest

tboonepickensWith the economy in the toilet, I thought I’d get a little inspiration from T. Boone Pickens’ book, The First Billion is the Hardest.” I don’t know about you, but for me the first million is still eluding me…. Pickens was originally known as an oil guy, but today is best known for his role in promoting wind energy and natural gas in the automotive sector. He is also the single largest owner of water rights in Texas (a commodity he is hoping to make millions on).  One other thing he is known for is his lack of support for biofuels such as ethanol—although he cedes he rather support biofuels than pay trillions of dollars for oil from the Middle East.

The majority of his book travails his business life and it is heartening to learn that he both succeeded and failed in his ventures. Ironically, he was out of oil and in his late 70s when he actually made his first billion. But at the end of the book, he briefly lays out his energy plan.

However, before he does that, he has a message for those of you who think we can domestically drill our way out of our oil problem. Consider Pickens’ three rules of energy:

1)    The cost of finding oil and gas is always higher than you originally think.
2)    Oil and gas always take longer than expected to get on production.
3)    Discoveries are never as large as producers originally think. Continue reading

Book Review – Hot, Flat, and Crowded

hot_flat_and_crowded1The other week I was meeting with Suzanne Shelton, President and CEO of the Shelton Group (you should check out their Energy Pulse research) and we were ruminating over how difficult it is to get through a Thomas Friedman book. I’ve been trying to finish Hot, Flat, and Crowded for several months and I’m proud to say, I’m finished! The effort was well worth it because Friedman has some great stuff in the book.

There is too much good info so I’m going to pick a few things that I think are insightful…for starters, “The Laws of Petropolitics.” The first law, “as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down; and as the price of oil goes down, the pace of freedom goes up.”  The second law, “Today, you cannot be either an effective foreign policy realist or an effective democracy-promoting idealist without also being an effective energy saving environmentalist. 

In essence, we need to address our energy policy in conjunction with our environmental policy. The first step is to reduce our fossil fuel use – the greatest contributor to global climate change. Sorry, people, it looks like we’re ALL going green. Continue reading

Book Review – Living Like Ed

the-day-after-tommorrowI’m sitting in artic Tennessee and feel like I’m an extra in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” depicting the world in turmoil due to global warming. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but the bitter cold, along with low gas prices, is a perfect combination to lull me into energy and environmental complacency.

I just finished reading, “Living Like Ed” by Ed Begley, Jr. His book is a “guide to the eco-friendly life.” I read it mostly out of curiosity to see how this long-time environmentalist and celebrity viewed biofuels. It was actually quite surprising in that he is very much in favor of ethanol, specifically E85, even more than biodiesel.

livinglikeed3Most celebrities are out tooling around in their vegetable cars touting biodiesel, and rarely out in their flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) touting E85. (Maybe its because driving with grease is sexier than driving with corn.)

His book has some good tips that don’t border on the extreme – Ed is known to recycle EVERYTHING. But since this is an alternative energy blog, I’ll give you a brief run-down on his “transportation hierarchy.

  1. Walking
  2. Riding his bike
  3. Public Transportation
  4. Electric Car
  5. Hybrid Car
  6. Fly

Continue reading

Movie Review – Who Killed the Electric Car?

who-killed-electric-car1“If there are enough David’s in the world, we can win.” S. David Freeman in “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

I’m switching gears this week and watched a documentary that still has momentum, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” If you have a real passion for alternative energy/technology/environment, then you must watch this movie.

The drama begins by telling us that the number one flaw of cars is smog – one of the top environmental problems in California. So in 1990, the state passed a zero emissions mandate, which in essence, said that some cars on the road should have zero emissions, and each year the number of zero emissions cars should grow. Enter the EV1 (electric vehicle) from GM.

Over the next few years, the EV1 was introduced in California followed by several other electric vehicles, while at the same time, GM along with other auto manufacturers sued California to repeal the law. Now why would a company invest billions of dollars into new technology and then try to sabotage its own success with lawsuits and a covert grassroots PR campaign? There are varying opinions on this but ultimately it worked, as by 2001 or so, every electric vehicle was repossessed and ultimately destroyed. The car companies placed the blame on lack of consumer demand, which was ironically, a “loop-hole” in the zero emissions mandate. In simplified terms, if there was no consumer demand then the law would be repealed. 

I don’t have the space to go into details of what transpired, but there were several conspiracies set forth as to who was the culprit of the killing of the electric car. Continue reading

Book Review – A Declaration of Energy Independence by Jay Hakes

I was recently visiting the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, a museum focused on one of the largest dinosaur finds in California. And I couldn’t help but think of where oil comes from.

Dinosaurs = oil.
No more dinosaurs = no more oil

La Brea Tar Pits

Not exactly. As pointed out in the article “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Oil” (Discover magazine July 2008), “If you are a creationist, crude oil was formed by thousands of years of heat and pressure applied to the carcasses of plants and animals that died in the Great Flood. If you’re not, you think oil comes from dinosaurs, right?”

Okay, so regardless of where oil comes from we’re not getting more. So let’s get a grip and learn about how we can reduce our nonrenewable fossil fuel use.

A Declaration of Energy IndependenceEnter A Declaration of Energy Independence written by Jay Hakes. Throughout the book, Hakes identifies seven solutions that can “help reduce dependence on foreign oil, strengthen the economy, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

This was a good read. Hakes set his book apart from others by not giving a history lesson on the Middle East but giving us a much needed history lesson on America’s energy security efforts –the good the bad and the ugly.

It’s interesting to note that Hakes has been criticized for including global climate change in a book about energy security. However, Hakes points out rather convincingly (as does Thomas Friedman in Hot, Flat and Crowded) that energy independence and global climate change go hand-in-hand. It is irresponsible to develop an energy plan that remains dependent on fossil fuels especially when fossil fuels are the largest contributor to global climate change.   Continue reading

Book Review – Storm World by Chris Mooney

“There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers.”
Michael Crichton, author’s message at the end of State of Fear

book review 1In 2004, Michael Crichton wrote in his novel, State of Fear, “From the beginning, the movement had had to fight apathy in the broader society. Human beings didn’t think in the long term. They didn’t see the slow degradation of the environment. It had always been an uphill battle to rouse the public to do what was really in its own best interest…that fight was far from over. In fact, it was just beginning.” The book’s premise is that an organization fakes environmental disasters to raise awareness of global warming and ultimately money to “educate consumers.” It could be argued that it was ahead of its time. Or maybe not since the theory of global climate change is still under intense debate.

Which brings us to REAL environmental disasters — hurricanes — which science is arguing whether the increased number and intensity of hurricanes is in fact being caused by global climate change. Storm World, by Chris Mooney, sets out to debate this very issue. The book reminds me of college when during a graduate meteorology class we learned about the possible effects of a warming planet (which no one seemed to really buy into at the time) on the weather. Mooney points out that these predictions began as early as the 1900s. I find it interesting that Americans “rediscover” issues every few decades and then try to play it off as a new crisis. Anyway, I digress. Continue reading