Who Turned Out the Lights, by Bittle and Johnson
Review by W. J. Rayment / ConservativeBookstore -- In reality we have been undergoing an energy crisis since the beginning of civilization. There always seems to be competition for resources, and energy is the prime resource nation-states, corporations, and individuals seem to squabble about. Only there are times when the constriction of energy resources becomes more intense. We are in one of those times now (or at least it seems that way, perhaps because we are in this time). It is my hypothesis that our current "energy crisis" is self-inflicted. Not because we have been too careless with carbon-based fuels, or that we need worry much about global warming, but because we have constrained our technological advancement with artificial barriers.
Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson have produced a very readable analysis of our current energy crisis. It is called, "Who Turned Out the Lights?: Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis". The writing style is colloquial, with references to movies and culture that will be familiar to most. It goes into depth on the types of energy we use, where it comes from, how it works, its potential, etc. Well-researched and well-thought out, the book delves into oil, gas, coal, nuke, wind, and solar. Though it does not make specific policy recommendations, it does present most of the options available on the world, national, and individual levels.
Being a bit of a policy wonk, especially regarding the energy side of things, most of the facts presented by the authors were familiar - there were not too many surprises. But what was nice about the book was having all of the facts in one place, written in an accessible format. But more than a good reference, this is a book I would not hesitate to recommend to people who want to know about energy policy, and some of the details about the nation's options.
Besides being a policy wonk, I am one of those curmudgeons who reads politics into every book or article, sees it in every movie, and hears it in every song. Our friendly neighborhood writing team of Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson write with an ingenuousness, honesty, and clarity that is exemplary. They try hard to avoid political hot buttons. Many of the ideas and options they present I believe will contribute to solving our current energy problems. Their have a general swarming approach to problem solving - doing a whole lot from every direction and keeping things, in the main, on the lowest economic level. However, I think they have made one wrong assumption, and that is that Al Gore knows what the heck he is talking about.
I don't want to get on my high-horse here about carbon dioxide. My thinking about that and global warming in general is well-documented. By allowing the whole carbon issue to infect everything we do, we are artificially limiting our possibilities. I read in the Wall Street Journal recently that Exxon has developed a bacteria that eats cellulose and basically defecates oil. Now to me that sounds like every time we mow our grass, we can fuel our car. How can we implement a solution like that if we have to worry about carbon emissions?
Yet in defence of the authors, I should point out that they are at least reasonable about their globalwarmingism (if that is a word). They propose that fuels emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that would go into the atmosphere anyway (from plant decay, animal exhalation, or whatever) should be considered a zero addition of greenhouse gasses, which would make bacteria produced oil acceptable. The authors seem to be bothered by the addition of carbon from the reserves we have underground in the form of carbon based fuels. But how many global warming purists will accept their premise?
We talk about running out of fossil fuels, the idea of Peak Oil. Alarmists are saying by 2100? or thereabouts we will be out of fuel. Well, then that is when all this ersatz global warming will stop! With no new fossil fuels adding their carbon to the atmosphere we will have the same amount of carbon perpetually. It will simply get cycled through the process of photosynthesis (energy building) and the ATP-ADP process (or burning of fuel). Carbon then is like a natural battery storing and releasing energy. There is literally only so much carbon. Burning more or less only means it is in a different state. So ultimately, if we get five degrees warmer because we have dug up this extra carbon...well, that isn't so bad. It means we have more carbon to store the energy of the sun. Here in the cold of a Michigan winter a five degree rise in temps sounds about right. And when we run out of fossil fuels, where will we get our energy when that happens? The sun beats down every day, loading us with more energy than we know what to do with, we just have to develop ways of harnessing it between now and then, and isn't that just what we are doing anyway with solar, wind power, and making fuels from bacteria waste?
Sorry about going off on a rant or two, but that is what this book is good for. It makes you think clearly about all of the possibilities. In spite of a bit of bowing and scraping to Al Gore, I found "Who Turned Out the Lights" to be uplifting, thoughtful, and even entertaining. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the energy situation, and even if you think you already know everything (sounds like me) it will help you focus. Recommended!
Who Turned Out the Lights?: Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis is available at Amazon.