Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century

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One of the most important issues facing humanity today is the prospect of global climate change, brought about primarily by our prolific energy use and heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Continuing on our present course using the present mix of fuels as the world economy and population grow will lead to very serious consequences about which there are many claims and counterclaims. This has generated a fog of truths, half truths, and exaggerations, and many people are understandably confused about these issues. The aim of this book is to help dispel the fog, and allow citizens to come to their own conclusions concerning the best options to avert dangerous climate change by switching to a more sustainable energy supply.

Beyond smoke and Mirrors provides an accessible and concise overview of climate change science and current energy demand and supply patterns. It presents a balanced view of how our heavy reliance on fossil fuels can be changed over time so that we have a much more sustainable energy system going forward into the 21st century and beyond. The book is written in a non-technical style, accessible to a wide range of readers without scientific backgrounds: students, policymakers, and concerned citizens.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The climate naysayers will surely challenge Burton Richter: What makes a mere physics professor an expert on climate change, even if he holds a Nobel Prize for finding some exotic particle inside the atom?

The answer: The Stanford professor has been researching issues of energy and climate since 1978 as a member of Jason, an independent group of scientists who advise the government on major policy questions, and he is increasingly concerned that controversies over climate change and energy have become ominously political, and the debates are flaring beyond reason.

Richter's book is the clearest guide yet to the facts and issues of climate and energy - without smoke or mirrors.

Richter has no special interest, and his book's survey of all the evidence for climate change and all the available energy sources is a model of rational discourse in this time of inflammatory arguments." -SF Chronicle

"Global warming and a host of energy problems are in the news every day. In this new book, Nobel Laureate Burt Richter offers a smart and careful survey of the problem and a dose of sobriety on real solutions. Rare in the field, the book is both well-informed yet accessible and written in elegant prose. The core of the study is a series of short yet far-ranging chapters on all the world's major energy sources and their opportunities for improvement. Richter's masterful study is stuffed full of optimism about solving the global warming problem, but it is also realistic about the scale of the effort that will be needed. And he warns that today, governments are falling far short in devising the required policies." - David G. Victor, Professor of International Relations, University of California, San Diego

"Burt Richter has packed a remarkable amount of two very important and rare commodities in a short compass: reliable information on energy and climate change and (even rarer) good judgment. He has done all this with a light touch and engaging style which will draw the intelligent reader’s sustained interest. The reader will be able to improve greatly the level of the important debates on policy in these fields." - Kenneth J. Arrow, Joan Kenney Professor of Economics, Emeritus and Professor of Operations Research, Emeritus, Stanford University

"A brilliant display of ideas and information about energy and climate change: readable, educational, constructive. A wonderful book that sets out with clarity the issues and challenges. I enjoyed this book and I’m sure it will have a wide readership." - George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State (Reagan administration); Distinguished Fellow, Stanford University

"Finally, citizens and policymakers have a comprehensive and comprehensible guide to global warming and what might be done about it. Written by a Nobel prize-winning physicist with no interest other than making the world habitable for his great-grandchildren, this eminently readable book covers the gamut of issues from basic climate science and economics to the policies and technologies necessary to mitigate global warming." - Paul Brest, President, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

"The facts about climate change and the responses to it are the subject of substantial confusion among the public. Burton Richter, a Nobel Laureate in physics, has written a cogent analysis of what is known – and not known – about climate change and about the components of the energy system that contribute to climate change or that are offered as a means to mitigate it. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Change and Energy brings sophisticated insights and common sense to the issues, but is fully accessible to the public. This book should be required reading for anyone who seeks to understand one of the most significant global challenges that confronts humankind." - Richard A. Meserve, President of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

"I enjoyed the book and the lively personal way Richter writes. Readers, once they start, will want to read the book right through to the end. I did. The chapters on energy were wonderful and made me hope that the book will be widely read." - James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Theory, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

"This new book is another important contribution to the semitechnical literature on the human components of climate change: what they are, what expected impacts they will have over the next decades, and what can be done to mitigate the effects. ... In summary, this is an admirably succinct book which effectively presents the key aspects of climate change, human energy use, and the options of changing the latter to help mitigate the effects of the former. It will be a valuable read for anyone concerned about these issues--highly recommended." - William R. Green, The Leading Edge

"'Please point me to a short overview of energy and climate, with numbers but not equations, and with a no-nonsense view of the politics.' This request has been put to me in one version or another dozens of times. At last, I am comfortable with my answer: Read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors. It is an unpretentious yet deeply insightful book by Burton Richter, a physicist at Stanford and Nobel Laureate. ... Smoke and mirrors are the tools of deception, and by contrast Richter is promising to talk straight. With his title, Richter is acknowledging that a large proportion of the energy literature available to the layman is promotional--a sales pitch for this, a sales pitch for that. He is asking us to trust him, and we do. For example, he tells us that he is “a biofuels skeptic,” and he takes ten pages to explain why, stressing impacts on food supply, net-carbon issues, and the thus far unrealized claims from the research community. Such candor is rare and refreshing." - Robert H. Socolow, American Journal of Physics

"...a wonderfully balanced overview. It opens with a fine summary of the science linking carbon to climate ... provides a concise primer on the economics of long-term climate policy, and concludes with a short, sensible, and well-argued set of opinions and policy recommendations." - Physics Today

"It is rare that a scientist with the credentials of the author, Burton Richter, 1976 Nobel Laureate in Physics, attempts to communicate to society in a way that makes such an intimidating and contentious topic as climate change and the complexity of the associated energy issues that must be tackled seem easy to understand. This is a brilliant book written in a very informal way yet packed with easily understood information. Richter’s judgment is superb in assessing the role that the various possible solutions may play in averting a global warming catastrophe. His long experience as an energy advisor to US governments shows clearly in this discussion. He manages to communicate calmly but objectively the urgency of tackling the issues under discussion. ... Richter has been extremely successful in presenting the big picture about the implications of climate change and how the rise in global mean temperature can be minimized. ... It should be on the reading list for 2011 of all concerned citizens. Physicists should read this book because it is a template for how they should proselytize about science to the general public. As Richter observes “I have learned one thing: politics – particularly international politics – is much harder than physics”. This reviewer can only add that the effort to communicate to the political system is well worth the effort." - Harvey A. Buckmaster, Canadian Association of Physicists

"...the author adequately outlined the past, current and future effects on greenhouse gas emissions without requiring the reader to have any preconceived notions of the topic. I would recommend anyone with an interest in climate change to read this book with complete understanding toward those with a background in high school level general science." CMOS Bulletin

"As a compendium of vital energy information, clear facts on climate change and insights into how political decisions about energy are made in the U.S. and the world, Richter's book is an invaluable resource. EnviroLine" EnviroLine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521747813
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2010
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Burton Richter is Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences, Emeritus and Director Emeritus, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center at Stanford University. He is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist for his pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle. He received the Lawrence Medal from the US Department of Energy and the Abelson Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Over the last decade, he has turned his attention from high-energy physics to climate change and energy issues, and has earned a strong reputation in this field as well. He has served on many national and international review committees, but his most direct involvement is with nuclear energy where he chairs an advisory committee to the US Department of Energy. He is also a chairman of a recent American Physical Society study on energy efficiency, and a member of the 'Blue Ribbon Panel' that oversaw the final edit of the US climate impact assessment that was released in 2000. He has written over 300 papers in scientific journals and op-ed articles for the NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

List of units xi

List of conversion factors xiii

List of abbreviations xv

1 Introduction 1

Part I Climate 7

2 Greenhouse Earth 9

Technical Note 2.1 The science of the greenhouse effect 13

3 Climate modeling 16

3.1 Introduction 16

3.2 The first climate models 16

3.3 Climate change goes big time 18

3.4 The big problem: lifecycle of greenhouse gases 20

3.5 The global carbon cycle 21

Technical Note 3.1 Other greenhouse gases 24

Technical Note 3.2 Geoengineering 25

4 The past as proxy for the future 27

4.1 A short tour through 4.5 billion years 27

4.2 The past 400 000 years 28

4.3 The recent past 30

5 Predicting the future 34

5.1 Who does it? 34

5.2 How is it done? 36

5.3 Results 40

5.4 Where are we? 44

Part II Energy 47

6 Talking up arms against this sea of troubles 49

6.1 Introduction 49

6.2 Energy now and in the future 50

Market exchange and PPP 54

6.3 Emission targets 55

Technical Note 6.1 Carbon dioxide equivalents 58

7 How fast to move: a physicist's look at the economists 60

8 Energy, emissions, and action 65

8.1 Setting the stage 65

8.2 Sources of emissions 66

Energy and greenhouse emission from fossil fuels 68

8.3 Reducing emissions 69

8.4 No silver bullets 71

8.5 Winners and losers 73

9 Fossil fuels - how much is there? 75

9.1 World oil reserves 76

9.2 World gas reserves 79

9.3 World coal 81

9.4 Conclusion 81

10 Electricity, emissions, and pricing carbon 83

10.1 The electricity sector 83

10.2 Pricing carbon emissions: carbon capture and storage 88

10.3 Does what goes into storage stay there? 90

10.4 Summary and conclusion 92

11 Efficiency: the first priority 94

11.1 Introduction 94

Primary and end-use energy efficiency 98

11.2 Transportation 98

11.3 Buildings 110

11.4 Conclusion 118

Technical Note 11.1 CAFE standards 120

12 Nuclear energy 122

12.1 Introduction 122

12.2 Radiation 125

12.3 Safety 127

12.4 Spent fuel: love it or hate it, we have it 129

12.5 Economics 133

12.6 Proliferation of nuclear weapons 135

12.7 Nuclear power as part of the solution 139

Technical Note 12.1 Nuclear power primer 140

Technical Note 12.2 France's long-range nuclear development plan 142

Technical Note 12.3 Producing material for weapons 145

Technical Note 12.4 Extract from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 147

Technical Note 12.5 Issues in internationalizing the fuel cycle 148

13 Renewables 150

13.1 Introduction 150

13.2 Wind 151

13.3 Solar energy 156

13.4 Geothermal 162

13.5 Hydropower 167

13.6 Ocean energy 169

13.7 The electric power distribution grid 169

Technical Note 13.1 Photovoltaic cells 171

14 Biofuels: is there anything there? 173

14.1 Introduction 173

14.2 Phase-1: ethanol from starch and sugar 175

14.3 Phase-2: cellulosic ethanol 180

14.4 Phase-3: other processes 181

14.5 Summary 182

15 An energy summary 184

Part III Policy 193

16 US policy - new things, bad things, good things 195

16.1 Introduction 195

16.2 Reducing emissions on a national scale 196

16.3 Bad things 200

16.4 Good things 204

17 World policy actions 207

17.1 Introduction 207

17.2 Kyoto-1: the Protocol of 1997 208

17.3 Kyoto-2 211

18 Coda 217

References 219

Index 222

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    Professor Richter Built Good Case for the Science!

    Professor Richter built a good case for the climate science, probably reflecting since own journey of understanding the range of scientific evidence when he first participated in a National Academy of Sciences / National Reseearch Council review of the 2001 report "Climate Change and Its Impacts on the United States." He described the many lines of evidence that give the compelling conclusion that warming of the Earth's climate system is certain. His analysis of the policy options are insightful, though those of us engaged in the climate policy debates for as long or perhaps longer than he has can probably advise him of improvements in his arguments. While cap-and-trade is out of favor with many people, the idea of a carbon tax could be a good idea but "the devil is always int the details" of any policy option. Taxes too are very well known to have exemptions and can be gamed easily. Professor Richter has talked to me and numerous colleagues in the business world as well and understands this. His book is a fine contribution to the high-level of vigorous discourse in this arena. I recommend it strongly.

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