Seven essential books on energy and climate change

Looking for a summer read with a bit more substance than the latest mystery novel? These seven books are loaded with it. They probably won’t make you shiver, but they will give you insight into the greatest threat facing our planet as well as clear steps that can be taken to address it. Going for carbon neutrality would not only avert the suffering and deaths of million of people in the not-so-distant future, it would also save lives in the present. 

Of the dozens of books I’ve read on these topics, I am selecting seven of them, each of which bring interesting information. The books are listed by their publication date. They are easily accessible to the general public and do not need require an MBA or PhD to understand what is at stake. All point out to one certainty: Humankind has the technological tools to fix this crisis.

This should cover your summer reads needs in an ample manner. Enjoy !

Sustainable energy – without the hot air (2008)

David J. C. MacKay’s early deep dive into sustainable energy is a great introduction to key energy concepts. Even better, you can read it online or download it for free, either in its entirety or chapter by chapter.

The author was an engineering professor at Cambridge and the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and was knighted by the Queen for his work. Because MacKay believed in “numbers, not adjectives” his book doesn’t argue for or against any solution and even presents controversial nuclear and clean coal as potential solutions.

Verdict: Sustainable Energy does show its age a bit, as some things have changed in the last ten years.… For example nuclear energy has become uneconomic if not exhorbitant and clean coal is still not a reality (although this might change).


Factor Five (2009)

Focusing on the often overlooked, yet crucial, part of the puzzle that is energy efficiency, this opus was at one time the definitive book on the topic. Author Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker contends that our economies could use five times less energy and still achieve the same levels of comfort.

To back up this bold claim, von Weizsäcker provides numerous examples: LED light bulbs already consume five to seven times less than their older incandescents counterparts, passive housing can essentially eliminate the need for heating in buildings and public transportation or biking could easily slash transportation emissions compared to our current reality cars.

The book also highlights energy efficiency opportunities in industry, such as converting the steel industry to Electric Arc Furnace which is as much as 90 percent more efficient than the current Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF).

Verdict: This book should enable you to better grasp what is behind green growth and how it could benefit us all.


Crossing the Energy Divide (2009)

Crossing the Energy Divide is another gem that lays out three main goals; massive reduction of greenhouse emissions at negative or very low net cost; energy independence without drilling for oil off the California or Florida coasts; and greatly improved energy security. 

Written by brothers Robert and Edward Ayres, the book introduces readers to many great technologies such as recycling industrial waste-energy (which could bring 100 GW of capacity in the US alone) and combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration (with a potential for 135 GW in the United States alone).

The book predicted the threat of rising sea levels and the need to reform fresh-water management strategies to combat droughts. Since then, many cities around the world have been struggling with freshwater needs, more recently Cape Town.

Verdict: This book shows that reversing climate change is not a technological one as we have the solutions to do so.


Reinventing Fire (2011)

Reinventing Fire

Much like Factor Five and Crossing the Energy Divide, Reinventing Fire demonstrates the importance of efficiency, Written by the visionary Amory Lovins and his team at the Rocky Mountain Institute, I would recommend this book to both professionals and the general public interested in building a new society and economy based on efficiency.

My favorite idea in the book – and one that I had not read anywhere else – is using carbon fiber to make vehicles. Coupled with electric motors, such cars – equally safe but much lighter – could reach 125–240 miles per gallon (mpg) compared to today’s 25-30 mpg. Other innovative breakthroughs presented include industrial ecology and integrative housing design.

Verdict: I really enjoyed reading Reinventing Fire as it is full of examples and data and figures.


Driven by Demand: How Energy Gets Its Power (2015)

Driven by Demand explains pretty much everything you need to know about energy. Co-authored by Jimmy Y Jia, founder of the utility consultancy Distributed Energy Management, it is based on his curriculum for the Certificate in sustainable energy solutions that he taught at Pinchot University (now Presidio Graduate School). (Full disclosure: I am a graduate of the course and Jimmy is a friend.) 

But while the book delivers graduate-level insight, it is an easy read. Unlike other books in this list, Driven by Demand delves into the physics of energy, its distinction from power and other important, yet geeky stuff. The book explains wicked problems, advocates waste-to-energy (and converted me on the subject) and delves into topics such as the grids, resilience, risk, security and energy independence.

Verdict: This must-read book will give the reader a comprehensive understanding of the issues at hand.


Climate of Hope (2017)

Climate of Hope was my favorite book last year. Written by Michael Bloomberg, the famous billionaire businessman and Carl Pope, the former Executive Director of the Sierra Club, this book is a perfect introduction to climate change: it lays out the what, why when and where. and is very complete with all the numbers to date, on both the threat of climate change and the costs of renewables and other technologies.

The book addresses agriculture and land management which are often overlooked. The authors dig into critical nature restoration practices and explain the roles of mangroves and peat bogs, which can be major carbon sinks. It shows not only the possibility of cutting significantly our carbon emissions but also how we could harness the power of finance to do so.

Verdict: Bloomberg and Pope make the business case for solving climate change in an accessible way.


Drawdown (2017)

Drawdown, edited by environmental activist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken presents 80 current methods (and 20 future ones) that can enable Humankind to become by mid-century not only carbon neutral, but also carbon positive. This means we could stop, with time, warming temperatures.

The solutions presented here range from the well-known and much talked about such as solar or wind, to the lesser known such as educating and empowering women, refrigerant management, combatting food waste and changing our diets.

Verdict:  Image-heavy while also giving costs and savings estimates, it has a light and optimistic tone. It is my current favorite and easily the most comprehensive book on this list.


I hope you liked this selection of seven essential books on climate change and energy. Which one have you read or will you read? Do you have another favorite book on these topics?

Image credits: Flickr, Christopher Cotrell

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