Reviewed 2/10/2010

Earth: The Sequel, by Fred Krupp

The Race To Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming
Fred Krupp
Miriam Horn
New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008




ISBN-13 978-0-393-06690-6
ISBN-10 0-393-06690-8 279p. HC $24.95

"Two months after the [1977 sulfur-dioxide cap and trade] law was passed, Richard Clark, then CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric, America's largest publicly owned utility, sat next to Fred Krupp at a dinner for the President's Commission on Environmental Quality. 'When you were talking to the president about this cap-and-trade idea, I frankly thought you'd lost it,' he said to Fred. 'But now that there's a way to make money from cutting pollution, I have a dozen proposals for emissions reductions from my own employees on the shop floor, and a dozen more from outside consultants. The environment isn't just a money loser—it's a profit center. I have to admit it's a powerful law."

– Page 6

Quite right — and so it has proved to be. As the authors note on page 6, U.S. utilities cut emissions 30 percent more than the law required by 1982, even while generating 6.8 percent more electricity from coal and reducing prices on retail electricity. It also disproved the forecasts of economic ruin that appeared beforehand. The projected cost of $6 billion turned out to be between $1.1 and $1.8 billion.

This book is an excellent complement to George Monbiot's Heat, which examines what might be done. The authors of Earth: The Sequel conducted extensive interviews with a host of energy entrepreneurs who are demonstrating what can be done, and their first nine chapters lay forth the current status (as of early 2008) of startups in every alternate-energy area: wind, solar PV, solar thermal, biofuels, ocean energy, geothermal, and conservation. Finally, they consider the blue-sky concepts: nuclear fusion, balloons tethered in the jet stream, even solar power stations in space.

It is a very useful, and very hopeful, survey of activities. In these pages we see people coming up with good ideas, and following through to make them real. They take Nike's motto to heart: Just do it. As an antidote to the gloom and doom promulgated by certain factions, it cannot be surpassed.

"In fact, the sheer scale of the problem is one reason our sense of alarm has given way to excitement and hope. The question is no longer just how to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, but which nations will produce—and export—the green technologies of the twenty-first century. A cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide will mean billions of dollars for the innovators who figure out how to save the planet, and provide the opportunity to mobilize virtually every realm of economic activity."

– Page 252

There are no endnotes, but sources are cited in place, as footnotes or in the text. An appendix labeled "Resources" provides a two-page list of Web sites; these include environmental organizations like Grist, mainstream media2 like the Wall Street Journal, science and technology sites, and green business news aggregators. The book is a detailed and entertaining overview of the current state of alternate-energy development in the U.S. A thorough index rounds out the book. I recommend it highly.

1 This is not to say making progress will be easy. As the authors remind us on page 11, "Even the best ideas will fail in a contest as rigged as the $5 trillion energy business is today. While innovators developing semiconductors and the Internet got to play in a virtually open field, these energy innovators are up against the most powerful companies in the world, companies that have spent decades successfully pushing for subsidies, trade agreements, and regulatory structures that favor their business. Oil and gas companies spend some $60 million a year lobbying for policies that favor their industries and receive, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, benefits worth $6 billion a year. Incumbent companies control pipelines and transmission grids; the high cost of upgrading and connecting to the grid can strangle a start-up renewable-energy plant. Venture capitalist Doerr observes that each year the federal government devotes just $1 billion to research on renewable sources of energy—less than ExxonMobil earns in a single day. Most important, policymakers are only just beginning to confront the huge, hidden subsidy for fossil fuels: that no financial account is taken of the use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for the pollutants that cause global warming."
2 Many of the mainstream media outlets, and notably the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, do a poorer job of covering alternate energy and climate change than they might. The WSJ does business news better than the Times, but its editorial positions are usually badly biased.
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