Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects

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The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is greater now than at any time over at least the past 650,000 years, with prospects to increase over the next few decades to levels not seen since dinosaurs roamed the earth 65 million years ago. Increases in the concentrations of so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are responsible for important changes in global and regional climate, with consequences for the future of global society that, though difficult to predict in detail, are potentially catastrophic for a world poorly equipped to cope.

Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects offers a comprehensive account of how the world evolved to its present state in which humans now exercise a powerful influence on global environmental change. It outlines the history that led to this position of dominance, in particular the role played by our increasing reliance on fossil sources of energy, on coal, oil, and natural gas, and the problems that we are now forced to confront. Our challenge now is to transition to a new energy economy in which fossil fuels will play a much smaller role. Michael McElroy explains that we must cut back on emissions of climate-altering gases such as carbon dioxide while at the same time reducing our dependence on unreliable, potentially disruptive-though currently indispensable-sources of energy such as oil, the lifeblood of the global transportation system. McElroy concludes with a discussion of options for a more sustainable energy future, highlighting the potential for contributions from wind, sun, biomass, geothermal and nuclear to supplant our currently unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With scientific depth and beautiful writing, Professor McElroy delivers the benefits of his wide-ranging teaching and research to readers of this book. His lively narrative traces the human uses of energy from early human history to today's dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. With the help of realistic, telling, and well-chosen examples, he drives home the scale of our current dependence and sketches pathways to the future. A very important and engaging book!" — Ralph J. Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences

"This is a book that makes it possible for a reader either to drill down in a dozen specialized areas (with never a dry hole), or to look down from 50,000 feet in order to see the grand pattern (without haze). Given the tremendous amount of information presented, it is especially useful that the author pauses repeatedly to summarize. It is also very important (and rare) that he cleanly separates his personal opinions from the factual content. As a result, it is possible to trust this book for the tremendous quality of its information. This is what they used to call a magisterial work. I would call it a grand tour in the company of a learned guide." — Leon Fuerth, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore and Research Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University

"This is a fascinating and beautifully written book on energy, the 'lifeblood of human enterprise.' McElroy has accomplished nothing less than unifying the two cultures of the sciences and the humanities." — Yuk Ling Yung, Professor of Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195386110
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/18/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael McElroy is the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Science at Harvard University. His research covers topics ranging from planetary atmospheres to more recently extensive studies of the Earth's environment with particular attention to the impact of human activity including options for policy responses.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3

2 From Hunter-Gathers to English factories 19

3 Energy: What Is It and How Do We Measure It 75

4 Wood, Photosynthesis, and the Carbon cycle 93

5 Coal: Origin, History, and Problems 105

6 Oil: Properties, Origin, History, Problems, and Prospects 123

7 Nature Gas: Origin, History, and Prospects 149

8 Energy from Water and Wind 163

9 Nuclear Power 191

10 Steam Power 215

11 Electricity 241

12 Automobile, Trucks, and the Internal Combustion Enqine 277

13 The Challenge of Global Climate Change 299

14 Prospects for Carbon Capture and Sequestration 325

15 Ethanol from Biomass: Can It Substitute for Gasoline? 347

16 Current Patterns of Energy Use 371

17 Vision for a Low-Carbon Energy Future 383

Index 401

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