Good Book, Bad Cover
Don't judge a book by it's cover, especially when the cover is this bad. Fortunately the book 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' by David JC MacKay is a much better book than its wrapping suggests. Professor McKay makes a case for, of all things, a fact and number-based energy policy. The idea that rational decision-making should drive energy policy shouldn't be a radical idea, but strangely enough it is.
'Sustainable Energy' begins with a discussion of the author's motivations. Simply, the popular discussion of energy is being driven by emotion and sound-bites. This level of discourse leads to
'a climate where people don’t understand the numbers, newspapers, campaigners, companies, and politicians can get away with murder.
We need simple numbers, and we need the numbers to be comprehensible, comparable, and memorable.'
David MacKay seeks to answer three primary motivations driving the discussion of energy policy: 1. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. 2. We (western countries) desire a secure energy supply. 3. It’s very probable that using fossil fuels changes the climate. Whatever your motivation(s) we need actual numbers for the costs, benefits and supply of each source of energy (fossil fuels and renewable) and our use of that energy to make a plan that balances supply and demand.
What is rather amazing is that Professor MacKay manages to take such an imposing topic and combine reams of data with a straightforward explanation and make the whole mess rather entertaining. Maybe it's years of my youth misspent watching snarky English comedies but terms like codswallop, twitchy beast, and pointless tat put me in a receptive state of mind. That dry British humour flavors an extensively researched and thoroughly footnoted, appendixed and indexed 383 pages of energy policy discussion.
I can only compare 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' to an upper-level college course. I intend that comparison as the highest compliment. David MacKay weaves together economics, physics, chemistry, ethics, ecology and more into a cohesive whole. For those readers who truly want to understand energy, I heartily recommend this book.