From the Publisher
“A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.”
“An illuminating, ultimately hopeful perspective on energy policy.”
“A pragmatic, authoritative look into energy alternatives for general readers.”
Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal
“[Powering the Future] is written with cheerfully can-do brio and is full of fascinating calculations.... Mr. Laughlin brings a refreshing, upbeat outlook for our energy future.”
“[A] sardonic and vivid exercise in futurology.”
“Laughlin says many useful things with a pleasing directness.”
It's a matter of interpretation whether this book is ultimately optimistic, pessimistic, or just honest. In his "armchair journey" into Earth's energy future, physicist and Nobel laureate Laughlin transports readers to a hypothetical age, some 200 years from now, when every last lump of coal and drop of oil has been extracted from the planet. Some may be unwilling to accept this proposed future, especially in light of the inevitable environmental wreckage it would cause. Laughlin, however, assumes that human nature is such that we will demand energy first and seek to manage the consequences second. Even so, he believes that we could continue to power our machines with a combination of natural, synthetic, and alternative energy sources. Many will cheer his endorsement of biofuels; not so many his assertions that nuclear power will be essential. Solar energy, too, would be a necessity, although environmentalists may cringe at the idea of deserts shaded by a canopy of solar collectors. His proposal that colonies of robots will manage energy-transport systems on the ocean floor isn't likely to win anybody's green seal of approval either. Laughlin contends that any technology that can be economically developed will be. The easy flow of the text masks the book's erudition (there are over 450 detailed notes). VERDICT A pragmatic, authoritative look into energy alternatives for general readers. Another perspective is Robert and Edward Ayres's Crossing the Energy Divide: Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future.—Gregg Sapp, Olympia, WA
Nobel Prize winner Laughlin (Physics/Stanford Univ.; The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind, 2008, etc.) invites readers on an "armchair journey" to a future devoid of petroleum, coal and natural gas, proposing alternative resources.
Beginning with a 23rd-century scenario, the author explains how several concerns, including climate change and fossil-fuel dependency, are important yet not as critical as they seem when viewed in geologic time. The earth, with its capacity for renewal and patterned routines, will continue on its course long after the energy crisis has peaked. Instead of panicking and engaging in political debates over the hot-button issues of today, it is a more useful starter for change to consider the logical ramifications of particular decisions. What could happen if society converted to synthetic fuels, biofuels, hydropumping as an energy-storing technology, fast-breeder nuclear reactors, manure power, algae farming, trash as a carbon source, solar power and deep-sea exploitation, among other ideas? Laughlin presents hypothetical cases, supplementing them with clear, personable analogies as well as explanations of quantum mechanics. The result is a work of moderately accessible science that strikes a cautionary note. For all that the future may hold in regards to innovations or improvements on current technologies, an essential, increasing greed for cheap energy and a focus on economic and governmental factors will determine which solutions take precedence. The book should not be seen as a speculative exercise, which Laughlin considers "foolish," since "how history will play out thousands of years from now is anyone's guess"; the value of the book rests in the author's thought-provoking assessment and his relentless faith in the earth. Humans may be resourceful, but the planet itself is more so.
A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.