Reviewed 8/30/2013

A Newer World, by William F. Hewitt

Access to this book courtesy of the
Sunnyvale, CA Public Library
Politics, Money, Technology and What's Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis
William F. Hewitt
William K. Reilly (Fwd.)
Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, December 2012




ISBN-13 978-1-58465-963-1
ISBN 1-58465-963-7 321pp. HC/GSI $27.95

This book is first and foremost a compendium of events and trends presaging a green revolution. Its author has done an investigation of Homeric proportions to document the changes in energy infrastructure taking place outside of Washington, DC. Those multifarious changes, taken together, represent a rebirth of hope for dealing successfully with climate change. It is, to be sure, not a hope of alleviating all the harm. But it does show that the paralysis of America's federal government in the face of this creeping crisis is not the whole of the climate-change story. Indeed, it may prove to be the smallest part of that story.

Even now, in the U.S. Congress, a faction beholden to special interests blocks any action to combat climate change on the federal level. William K. Reilly points out in his Foreword1 that more than $12 trillion is currently invested in the world's energy infrastructure, that most transportation systems run on oil, and that 2.3 billion people now lack full-time access to electricity. These facts go far to explain both the challenging nature of the switch to renewable energy and the resistance to that conversion.

Yet those who are in touch with the multitude of adaptive changes already taking place in human society will understand that the problem of substantially reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is not as intractable as it might appear.2 William Reilly headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the administration of George H. W. Bush. He is one of the people who has that insight.

As disappointing as this lack of progress in Washington is, a lot is going on across the country, as Hewitt documents, in states and communities and in the private sector. California has ambitious mitigation initiatives under way, including a cap-and-trade program. Several northeastern states have something comparable. We have much to learn from these programs, as well as from the cap-and-trade experience in the European Union. Chicago offers a leading example of what communities are doing to adapt to a warming world. A company on whose board I have served, DuPont, has ambitious energy and water efficiency goals and a strategy of marketing products designed to serve a warmer world. Fuel switching by utilities from coal to natural gas, the new fuel economy standards, new building efficiency standards, and other measures have dragged the business-as-usual trajectory for carbon dioxide emissions down significantly from what the Energy Information Administration first projected in 1990 for the year 2020. As one example, EPA's Energy Star buildings program has certified more than sixteen thousand commericial buildings, which are said to use 35 percent less energy per square foot than the benchmark average."

– William Reilly, Page xiii

The author devotes very little space to the political obstruction binding up the Congress on climate change (and numerous other matters), and rightly so. When the people of this country recognize a real crisis, they are second to none in devising and implementing solutions to it. As honest polls have been showing for some years now, the American people, by and large, "get it" — they recognize the slow-moving crisis that is climate change. Many, mired in deep recession, didn't assign it top priority. But now the recession has ended, jobs and stable incomes are returning. People no longer living hand to mouth can look to the future once again. And as they look at the probable future of Earth's climate, they see that things can be done to change that outcome.

That optimistic outlook has a solid basis: they know things can be done about climate change because, as this book thoroughly documents, things are being done about it. So many things are being done that it's embarrassing to ponder the recent recalcitrance of certain Republicans. Consider just these two things:

Imagine those savings extended to every office building in America. Some actual numbers are available: A study4 found that, from 2000 through 2008, the green construction market in the United States contributed $173 billion to GDP and supported over 2.4 million jobs, and those numbers are projected to approximately triple in the following decade (page 74.) And that is just new construction; it says nothing about retrofitting older commercial buildings, much less the country's millions of homes. The total potential for saving energy and money, and making drastic reductions in greenhouse gases into the bargain, is truly mind-boggling.

"There are, in short, many very hopeful portents for the future."

– Page 225

William Hewitt is a writer and teacher of classes on energy and the environment at New York University's Center for Global Affairs. He is certainly no Pollyana; he identifies the huge risks attendant to climate change: the restrictions on water supplies, the likelihood of stronger storms, and all the rest. But his goal here is to show us the other side of the coin, and he succeeds admirably at that. The major fault I find in this book is his dismissal of nuclear power as a part of a comprehensive clean energy plan. Like Philip Warburg in Harvest the Wind, he looks only at existing nuclear power plants and ignores the new designs now being proposed. Also, I think the book needs a much better index, and it could use another editing pass.5 But it presents a great deal of useful information and does so in a generally well-organized way. The endnotes are extensive, and many provide URLs for online sources. I'll mark it down one notch, but I still consider it a must read. And if Hewitt comes up with that improved index, I'll probably buy a copy of the next edition.

1 In the book, neither "foreword" nor "introduction" is capitalized. I've chosen to follow convention.
2 Or as intractable as some — notably Republicans in Washington — might wish to make it appear.
3 In the book, neither "foreword" nor "introduction" nor any chapter title is capitalized. I've chosen to follow convention.
4 This November 2009 study by the U.S. Green Building Council is on-line (52-page PDF).
5 I rather suspect the author wishes he'd had time for those changes, but was cut short by publishing schedules.
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