The Other I

June 15, 2009

A cool look at global warming

I’ve just come across what is looking like a fantastic book dealing with our energy use and the environment.  By sheer coincidence, it is written by David McKay, a professor here in Cambridge, England, who is a physicist who specializes in computational neuroscience, information theory and machine learning.  Despite these rather terrifying credentials, he talks in everyday English.

The book is Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, and is available to download for free on line at  There’s also a downloadable ten-page synopsis which is as far as I’ve gotten so far but I’m definitely going to read the whole thing.

It’s written in terms of Britain but a lot of the things are universally applicable.   Hydrogen-fuel cell cars, for instance, don’t compare in terms of energy efficiency with electric cars, which was something I didn’t know.

To put things in perspective, it is helpful to know that the population of Britain is 60 million.  The US population is about five times bigger at 300 million.  And “an area twice the size of Wales” is about 10 million acres.

I’m telling you this because I think the book is worth reading.  McKay does not have a political agenda, he didn’t start out deciding to build a case for the greens, or for nuclear energy, or for Obama’s energy policies.  What he wanted to do was to look at our current energy consumption in a developed country like Britain and ask whether Britain could, given the will, develop sufficient alternative energy to replace its dependence on fossil fuel.

In terms of current technology, the answer is unequivocally no.

Britain has enough sun to provide most of the hot water needs for a small family and an unusual reservoir of wave and wind resources that could potentially be harnessed for energy use.

I have not yet read the entire book, but I am already convinced that the conclusion is going to be the same for any developed country, including America, and increasingly so for countries like China, India, and Brazil.

I am eager to see what MacKay proposes.  Just how drastic must be the steps we take if the situation is not going to be wrenched out of our control and solved by an involuntary reduction in human population and quality of life?

As I indicated yesterday, the more I contemplate the frequency of human error, the more nuclear energy frightens me.  Can we develop new technologies fast enough to avoid Armageddon?

I’ll let you know what MacKay thinks as soon as I reach that chapter.

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