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Book Reviews

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by tonybelding, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    #1 tonybelding, Oct 12, 2007
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2007
    I've just finished reading two books. The first was Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, by Bjorn Lomborg. The second was Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future, by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran. These two books fit together pretty well.

    Some have said that "Cool It" suffers from being a rehash of Lomborg's earlier books, the only difference being that it's focused on global warming. I haven't read Lomborg's earlier books, and I think focus can be a good thing. It is a bit short at 164 pages plus a mammoth compendium of footnotes, references and index. The book also becomes repetitive at times, as Lomborg seems determined to lead us to the same conclusion from a number of different starting points. That's okay, because he's arguing a point here, and he's certainly building a solid case for it.

    So what is his point? In a nutshell: global warming has been oversold. Yes, it's a genuine problem. Yes it will cause some harm. Yes we should be doing something to mitigate the effects of global warming. But no. . . We shouldn't be going into hysterics and backing the most radical (and expensive) schemes that anybody can possibly dream up.

    Lomborg comes at the problem with a cost-versus-benefit analysis. How much harm will global warming actually cause in lives and dollars? What will be the cost in lives and dollars of the various proposed efforts to combat global warming? And, most critically, what else could we accomplish if we devoted those resources to other worldwide problems: malnutrition, clean drinking water, malaria control and the like?

    He concludes that we simply have higher priorities in the world today than global warming. We can save many more lives and prevent much more loss of property by spending our resources elsewhere. A modest tax on carbon emissions -- say $2/ton -- would make sense, he believes. Radical action to curb CO2 emissions does not. It's a bad deal.

    This book is certainly convincing. I often speak of "putting things in perspective" with a numeric comparison, and that's exactly the idea this book revolves around. Then I checked some environmentalist websites and was astonished by the vicious attacks they had aimed at Lomborg. These people were really up in arms over his suggestion that global warming just might not be the end of the world. Unacceptable! Betrayal! Shill for the oil companies!

    However, in reading their comments, I was unable to find anything that knocked any serious holes in his argument. Some argued that numeric values on climate change (in lives and dollars) was unacceptable, but I wondered how else one would quantify it.

    Some argued that Lomborg erred in using the IPCC report as the basis for his analysis. The truth is much worse, they claimed. New data has come in since that report was issued, they said. The climate may be moving toward some kind of "tipping point" that the IPCC report doesn't acknowledge, they suggested. I have to look askance at that. Earlier when I dared to question the IPCC report, my environmentalist friends beat me around the head and shoulders with how credible and rock-solid reliable it was. You can't have it both ways, people. And you can't decide global energy policy based on vague speculation about "tipping points".

    Furthermore, none of the critics offered alternative numbers. Lomborg is out there trying to quantify things, and I don't see anybody else doing that. That alone puts him ahead of the pack, in my estimation.

    For those of you interested in this subject, I recommend the book. It's not a hard read, it's not a particularly long or dry read, and it convinced me that Lomborg is on the right track.

    Next post. . . Zoom!
     
  2. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Zoom

    Zoom is not what I expected. I thought I'd get a survey of the various alt-fuel vehicle approaches that are being pursued today. Instead what I mostly got is an examination of all that's wrong with Big Oil, Big Auto, and Washington DC. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I certainly learned a lot.

    The book does seem a bit rambling and unfocused, certainly in contrast to the laser-like focus of Cool It. Some have criticized it for including large tracts of text from earlier articles that appeared in The Economist. Well. . . I don't subscribe to The Economist, so this was all new to me.

    As we are led down this winding path, we get a schooling in how Big Oil and Big Auto have corrupted the political process. We see how dependent the world has become on the Middle East. We find that both Big Oil and Big Auto -- squabbling partners, like siamese twins who detest one another yet can't be separated -- are facing serious problems in the coming decades. The authors believe that grassroots political pressure, a great awakening, will eventually force a change to overwhelm the armies of lobbyists and fountains of campaign money that they have showered on politicians. Pressure is rising up from consumers, it's rising up from voters, it's rising up from the states and local governments, and Washington DC will be the last place to come around.

    One big insight here relates to global warming. The authors don't see global warming as a critical problem -- provided that we move away from gas guzzlers toward more efficient cars and energy sources. However, that is only one path that industry could follow. The other path leads to tar sands, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids. If these become the replacement for conventional oil, then our global CO2 emissions could skyrocket.

    Even Bjorn Lomborg would object to that. Even I, a long-time skeptic of global warming, would object to that. Making large changes to the composition of our planet's atmosphere seems. . . imprudent, to say the least.

    So, what do the authors recommend? They are economists. . . It's not surprising that they advocate leveling the playing field so that free markets can solve our problems. They're in favor of a carbon dioxide tax, to "internalize" the various social, national security and environmental costs of fossil fuels. This, they believe, would head off the dirty fuels scenario. They want to end subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels, but also end protective tariffs against Brazilian sugar and ethanol. However, their loudest cry is to end subsidies for the oil companies. They paint a truly disgusting picture of these subsidies in the book. According to the authors, most alt-energy advocates haven't lobbied to get rid of these subsidies. Instead they've been happy to support hundreds of billions in giveaways for Big Oil -- as long as they get a few crumbs for their pet wind, or solar, or biofuels projects along with it.

    Another point the authors make is that government must not try to "pick a winner" among the various alt-fuel technologies. Governments have always done a lousy job of picking technologies, that's something for the free market to decide.

    Unfortunately, they aren't too good at taking their own advice, as throughout the book they repeatedly name the "hydrogen economy" as the ultimate answer. At one point they even make a condescending remark about James Woolsey because he dared to say hydrogen isn't the answer. Yet, at no point in the book do the authors ever explain what advantage hydrogen supposedly offers over battery-electric cars.

    Zoom is a good book if you understand what you are getting and what you aren't. If you're looking for something that truly captures the excitement of all the innovations bubbling up in the auto industry now -- from Tesla and Phoenix, Toyota and GM, Nissan and Subaru -- then you better look elsewhere. These developments are mentioned in passing, but not really focused on. You'll get more and better info from reading AutoblogGreen regularly.

    However, Zoom does have some good insights about how our industries and political system got to where we are today, and how we can start getting out of this mess. As an economic and political manifesto, I'll give it a qualified recommendation.
     
  3. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    I was perplexed when you wrote that the Zoom book was pro-hydrogen.

    The co-auhor was on the CBS Sunday Moring electric car story the other day. He was decidedly NOT hydrogen biased in that report.

    Had something changed?
     
  4. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Maybe it has. I'm told some large parts of the book came out of articles from The Economist, so they may be several years old. So. . . They may actually date from the era when everyone considered electric cars a dead issue, and all the big car companies were banking on hydrogen.

    And let's be honest, many of them still are. GM still sees a big role for hydrogen in China, and China could play a huge role in the future of the automobile industry -- something the book explains in depth. In fact, all of chapter seven is devoted to the rise of China and India.

    From the book: "Some compare Asia's rise to the recovery of Europe and Japan from World War II. But that was puny compared with what is happening in China and India."

    "Some economists and environmentalists think the emergence of China and India, in the way that is having an impact across the whole world, is more akin to the rise of the Roman Empire or the discovery of the New World than to the economic boom seen in postwar Japan and Europe."


    Every major car company has hydrogen cars. They are research vehicles, they are concept cars. GM has them. Honda has them. Ford has them. BMW has them. Companies that have nothing in BEVs or PHEVs have hydrogen research programs. You can argue whether they are sincere, whether the fuel cell cars are just political or PR stunts, but I think the book reflects a corporate reality of the car makers.

    The book also claims that Stan Ovshinsky is a big fan of hydrogen -- something I previously had not been aware of.

    At no point in the book do they ever make any kind of technical argument for or against hydrogen or any other particular fuel. Most of the time the hydrogen bias creeps in as a sort of underlying assumption, but it doesn't have any impact on the points they are trying to make. I see it as a minor annoyance, not really a problem for the book.
     
  5. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

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    In "Who Killed the Electric Car" it was great to see Bill Reinert be so honest about how impractical their Toyota FCHV was.
     
  6. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    #6 vfx, Apr 18, 2009
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2009
    Somewhere in these pages we have talked about other books but this was the only "book" thread I could find.

    One of the ones talked about was Edwin Black's excellent Internal Combustion.

    He has a new book in paperback, The Plan.

    The book has website a trailer (!?).

    Anyone read it?

    From the Introduction:
     
  7. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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  8. dpeilow

    dpeilow Moderator

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    The author, Mike, as some of you have seen is a member here.

    I like Quentin Wilson, but... strange foreword. If he is advising government, it explains a few things.

    (I'm pretty sure we've seen his 10 year old Top Gear report on the EV1 and he did make it back to the dealership. Maybe that was the "magic of television".)
     
  9. dsm363

    dsm363 Roadster + Sig Model S

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    #9 dsm363, Jul 15, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2011
    I just read the book 'Bottled Lighting' on iBooks
    9780809030538_custom.jpg

    Very interesting book and not too long of a read. I am by no means a professional book reviewer so this will be just a general impression of the book. It was very well written. Goes into the chemistry behing the various batteries but not in so much detail that it distracts from the story. Exxon Mobil was actually a major player in the development of the Lithium ion battery back in the 70s I believe before pulling out of the research effort a few years later when oil became cheap again. There are some other good stories in there as well. Anyone who follows this forum probably would likely find this book at least interesting.



    I copied the below post from the 'It's the batteries, stupid' thread.
     
  10. MikeBoxwell

    MikeBoxwell New Member

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    Owning an Electric Car[/QUOTE]

    Thanks for linking to my book. That is actually an out-of-print book. I replaced it at the beginning of the year with the 2011 Electric Car Guide.

    I've also done different versions for different specific cars. I keep wondering about talking to Tesla about writing one specifically for the Roadster.... there just isn't enough hours in a day!
     

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