Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review - Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, by Al Gore

Climate change and sustainable energy seems to be one of the most polarizing issues on the planet right now, and Al Gore seems to be a focal point around which much of that polarization is based. Those who love him may read this book just because of that; those who hate him may be predisposed not to read it. That would be a mistake. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should read this book.

The book, of course, is “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” Published in November of 2009, the book takes an honest look at the unsustainability of our current energy usage, and the ways we can become more sustainable. After identifying the issue, Gore takes us through a series of chapters, each of which deals with our sources of energy. The chapters include a look at our current reliance on oil, natural gas and coal; solar power; wind energy; geothermal energy; biofuels; the possibility of carbon capture and sequestration; and finally “the nuclear option.” For each energy source he gives a very readable and visually appealing overview of the current state of the technology, the advantages of each, the drawbacks of each, and the political and technological obstacles to taking fullest advantage of each. He also provides some ideas for future enhancements.

The book then goes into discussions of “living systems” such as the role of forests (and deforestation), soil, and population as related to climate change and energy usage. These are often overlooked in the debate but extraordinarily important. He also has a section on “how we use energy” in which “less is more” and the need for a super grid. The penultimate section is a thorough discussion of “the obstacles we need to overcome.” This section focuses on the need to change the way we think, the need to accurately and honestly put a true cost on carbon, and, of course, the political obstacles. While there are obviously many technological challenges still to be faced, it is clear that the real inhibition to innovation is the lack of political will, and in many cases, the downright political obstructionism. Removing these hindrances will allow America to use our full ingenuity to keep jobs in America and be on the forefront of innovation and energy self-sufficiency.

Gore ends the book with two chapters on “The Power of Information” and the fact that how we proceed is “Our Choice.” We need to “go far quickly” if we are to outcompete other countries that are not holding themselves back and if we are to correct our energy trajectory before it is too late.

To reiterate my lede, people seem to either love Al Gore or hate Al Gore, but it would be a serious mistake to pass up this book. It manages to treat a highly technical topic in a way that is accessible to the public. And it does it in a way that is highly enlightening as well as informative. If you hate Al Gore and don’t want to buy the book, then suck it up and go borrow it from the library. Cover it with a paper bag if you have to, but read it. This book is way too important to miss. Our collective energy future depends on us learning and moving forward.

Other global warming and climate change articles can be found here.

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