Book Review: Earth: The Sequel

The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming

The Earth's environment has limits. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has long recognized that those limits can ignite economic growth and ecological prosperity at the same time. Earth: The Sequel written by Krupp and Miriam Horn, a journalist and staffer at EDF, begins with a case study of how we can solve global warming and improve our economy by addressing the need for limits.

In the early 1980's sulfur dioxide emissions from coal fired power plants caused acid rain, damaging forests and aquatic life. We had reached the limits of how much sulfur dioxide we could pump into the atmosphere. The knee-jerk reaction to this problem was to create strict 'command and control' regulations that required adding expensive scrubbers to smoke stacks. But this solution was not addressing the problem...The tight regulations tried to usher in a single minded solution. A solution that didn't take into account local variables, or innovative technologies. Krupp, realizing the cost of these regulations in the 1980's proposed to the George H. W. Bush administration that they create the world's first 'emissions cap and trading system'. The cap and trade system was adopted and it inspired innovation throughout the market. In the new system a company could make money by not emitting sulfur dioxide. Within five years emissions were 30% lower than the cap required by law. Earth: The Sequel makes the case that we can do the same for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

We are again facing a situation where we have exceeded the limits of the environment. Earth: The Sequel shines a crystal clear light on the technologies that could make a difference as well as make entrepreneurs and investors immense fortunes.

The book is a snapshot of the clean energy industry. If you are just waking up to renewable energy, this book is the place to start. I often had the sensation I was reading an in-depth TeeHugger round-up. The breaking news quality of the writing kept me on the edge of my seat, and provided a thorough look into the technologies and people that could change our lives. A short youtube video presents the book in their own words:

This book is one of a new breed, as it clearly pays attention to the blogosphere. A page at the end of the book is dedicated to online resources. The resources read like a treehugger's blog roll, including sites EcoGeek, TreeHugger, Worldchanging, Green Wombat, and many more. The online resources are credited with provided the authors 'up-to-the-minute, insightful coverage'. In fact, our very own Jacob Gordon sat down with the authors on a TreeHugger Radio post March of this year to discuss the book.

The authors are careful to present a wide range of possible energy solutions. In fact, they declare 'No single technology will stop global warming'. However, what is made clear is that the single most important act required to solve global warming is for U.S. leadership to create an emissions cap and trade system. The authors make a convincing argument that once a cap and trade system is implemented, the right incentives will be in place for market forces to help solve the problem.

Better yet, the authors point to a stunning array of technologies that are already viable or near implementation if we had a cap and trade system. Solar power, algae biofuel, wave power, and even controversial technologies such as clean coal and nuclear power are explored in the book. All of them are backed by a mountain of facts and figures. For example the book describes how cars could easily be more efficient:

"Even the leading car companies could go further still, says Axel Friedrich, head of the transport department at Germany's Federal Environmental Agency. In 2007 he hired university engineers to rebuild a Volkswagen Golf with off-the-shelf parts: they cut emissions 25 percent while keeping horsepower intact. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 2 billion gallons of fuel a year could be saved in the United States just by reducing the rolling resistance of ties 10 percent, with no compromise on safety."

The quirky characters featured are truly stranger than fiction, and make the book enjoying to read. For example the chemical engineer and co-founder of GreenFuel Technologies, Isaac Berzin who discusses his relationship to algae:

"They're not pond scum. They're the sweetest creatures...Belly dancing around, they have a little mustache. They touch each other with the mustaches.... My kids ask me,'Oh, Daddy, it's so cute. It's like pets. So, what do you do with them in the end?' I say,'Uh-oh ... I burn them,'"

The book only briefly touches on some of the the general challenges facing implementation of these new technologies. For example biology, chemistry, engineering, and design all speak in different languages and it is clear that interdisciplinary work is a large challenge, yet it is not given much attention. The book also does not address other policy solutions outside of the cap and trade system, except for a brief passage concerning carbon taxes and their failures.

But that might be a whole other book. Earth: The Sequel provides hope, and tangible solutions. The immense volume of innovation between the covers leaves the reader certain we can overcome global warming while also creating a vibrant economy. Earth: The Sequel is available at Amazon.

Tags: Alternative Energy | Technology