No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies

No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies

by William T. Vollmann


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“The most honest book about climate change yet.” —The Atlantic

The Infinite Jest of climate books.” —The Baffler

An eye-opening look at the consequences of coal mining and oil and natural gas production—the second of a two volume work by award-winning author William T. Vollmann on the ideologies of energy production and the causes of climate change

The second volume of William T. Vollmann's epic book about the factors and human actions that have led to global warming begins in the coal fields of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, where "America's best friend" is not merely a fuel, but a "heritage." Over the course of four years Vollmann finds hollowed out towns with coal-polluted streams and acidified drinking water; makes covert visits to mountaintop removal mines; and offers documented accounts of unpaid fines for federal health and safety violations and of miners who died because their bosses cut corners to make more money.

To write about natural gas, Vollmann journeys to Greeley, Colorado, where he interviews anti-fracking activists, a city planner, and a homeowner with serious health issues from fracking. Turning to oil production, he speaks with, among others, the former CEO of Conoco and a vice president of the Bank of Oklahoma in charge of energy loans, and conducts furtive roadside interviews of guest workers performing oil-related contract labor in the United Arab Emirates.

As with its predecessor, No Immediate Danger, this volume seeks to understand and listen, not to lay blame—except in a few corporate and political cases where outrage is clearly due. Vollmann is a carbon burner just like the rest of us; he describes and quantifies his own power use, then looks around him, trying to explain to the future why it was that we went against scientific consensus, continually increasing the demand for electric power and insisting that we had no good alternative.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525558491
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 421,375
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.00(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

William T. Vollmann is the author of ten novels, including Europe Central, which won the National Book Award. He has also written four collections of stories, including The Atlas, which won the PEN Center USA Award for fiction, a memoir, and six works of nonfiction, including Rising Up and Rising Down and Imperial, both of which were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in the New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, Granta, and many other publications.


Sacramento, California

Date of Birth:

July 28, 1959

Place of Birth:

Santa Monica, California


Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University

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What Should Be Measured?

Excerpted from "No Good Alternative"
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Copyright © 2018 William T. Vollmann.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations xi

What Should Be Measured? 1

About Permissible Limits 4


Coal Ideology 9

About Coal 18

Coal Types, Simplified 20

About Sulfur 26

12 America's Best Friend (West Virginia and Kentucky, 2013-15) 31

Comparative Carbon Emissions, Energy Use, Manufacturing Efficiencies and Attitudes About Industrial Regulation: Japan, Germany and the United States, ca. 1995-97, in multiples of Japan's per capita CO2 emissions 47

Comparative Use of Coal for Energy Generation, 2013-15, Japan, EU-15, U.S.A. and West Virginia 50

Highlights of Don Blankenship's Trial, as told by media sources, 2014-16 68

"The Bill Cole Plan": From the platform of Jim Justice's opponent, 2016 108

Letters to the Charleston Gazette, 2013 112

A Field Guide to West Virginian Politicians, ca. 2013-15 122

Coal Combustion's Percentage of Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Releases for Selected Countries, 2010, in multiples of the Swiss figure 134

Active Coal Mining Sites in West Virginia and Total U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions for Coal-Generated Electricity, 2012-14 138

Coal use as a percentage of total fuel consumption: U.S.A., 1870, and World, 1991 139

Regional Coal Prices, per ton, April 15, 2015 140

From a local newspaper, 2014: "Safe Enough to Eat" 147

What Did Coal, Nuclear and Oil Have in Common? (An Anecdote from a Children's Book on the Deepwater Gulf Oil Spill of 2010) 171

From West Virginia American Water's brochure, ca. 2015 177

Legalizing the no comment: From the text of Senate Bill No. 423 178

Legal Consequences of the MCHM Spill, 2014-16 179

American Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Fuels, 1990 and 2012, multiples of the 1990 figure for natural gas 203

Who Was to Blame for Flint, Michigan? (One Man Explains, 2015) 205

From a local newspaper, 2015: "House votes 95-4 for repeal of alternative energy law" 206

From 'A local newspaper, 2014: "Black lung's worst form roars back" 213

From "A Coal Miner's Apology to Today's America" by Roger Horton, 2014 217

Comparative Standard Electrical Loads for Sport, Commercial and Industrial Lighting, U.S.A., 2002, in multiples of the load for an outdoor skating rink lit with high pressure sodium Lamps 218

Correcting the West Virginia Board of Education's science education standards, 2014 222

3 "Today or Tomorrow it will have to come out" (Phulbari and Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2015) 237

Comparative Calorific Efficiencies, 2015, in multiples of the number of bricks produced by 1 pound of Indian coal 282

Comparative Calorific Efficiencies, 2015, in multiples of the thermal energy of Indian coal 283

Barapukuria coal ranked against major American coals, various years 285

Comparative Carbon Dioxide Emissions to Make One Brick, in multiples of the average emissions of West Virginian bituminous coal 285

The Trend 293

Fracking and Natural Gas

Fracking and Natural Gas Ideology 297

About Natural Gas 301

German Emission Factors in Natural Gas Production, 2007, in multiples of the value for nitrogen oxides 301

About Methane 307

Carbon Gas Emissions of Common Fuels, in multiples of methane's 308

Primary Sources of Methane in Mexico, 2002 310

Quantity of Fuel Resource Which Will Release 1 Pound of Methane, ca. 2007, in multiples of the value for hard coal 310

About Fracking 317

4 Among the most Vigilant Protectors of the Environment (Greeley and Loveland, Colorado, 2015) 325

Two Counties Compared: McDowell, West Virginia, versus Weld, Colorado 343

About Volatile Organic Compounds 352

Keeping Trade Secrets in Pennsylvania: The Oil and Gas Omnibus Amendments Act, 2012 358


Oil Ideology 401

Out Oil 408

Quantity of German Oil Whose Extraction Alone Will Release 1 Pound of Specified Greenhouse Gases, in multiples of the value for carbon dioxide, 2007 412

About Internal Combustion Engines 422

Comparative Heat Efficiencies of Engines, 1911-2015, in multiples of the efficiency of a reciprocating steam engine 423

Carbon Dioxide Emissions of Three New-Model American Cars, 2016, in multiples of the figure for an "F-Pace" Jaquar 428

What Was the Work For? (continued) 430

5 "The Whole World Depends on it Here" (Mexico, 2014) 437

6 "You Will Have Beautiful Lawns and Green Grass" (California, 2016) 449

7 "It's All Economic in the End" (Oklahoma, 2016) 463

Global Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1980 and 2011, in multiples of 1980 absolute consumption figures 492

8 "I Am Here Only for Working" (United Arab Emirates, 2016) 499

Per Capita Gross Domestic Products and Unemployment Rates of Some U.A.E. Guest Worker Countries, from Central Intelligence Agency data, 2001-14, in multiples of the GDP for Cameroon 552

About Batteries and Fuel Cells 563

Comparative Battery Energy Densities, in multiples of the lower range of lead-acid battery 564

Happily ever after, or, the Marriage of Carbon Ideologies

And So, and then

Accidents and the Bottom Line: Common Testimony on the Regulated Community, 2010-14 581

Acknowledgments 659

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