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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Reviews and Previews

Half Gone by Jeremy Leggett reviewed by Mark Watson

At the end of the first Carbon Conversations meeting Christine spread a selection of books and videos about peak oil and climate change on the floor for us to borrow and I picked this one, partly due to TN’s May meeting about solar PVs with Solarcentury (see report in this bulletin), which is the author’s company.

If you want a solid, accessible reminder of (or even introduction to) the facts about peak oil, global warming and the energy crisis, this is a good book to consult. Before starting up Solarcentury, Leggett worked as a geologist for Big Oil in the 80s, and was chief science advisor for Greenpeace in the 90s.

From the five geo-physical requirements for finding oil in the first place (fascinating) to the link between oil depletion and global warming to possible energy solutions via renewables, Leggett combines hard data with his extensive personal experience in the (literal) field. His analysis of the geo-political problems of oil filled in several gaps in this reader’s awareness in a personable book which still resonates five years after its publication.

Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis by Jeremy Leggett (Portobello Books 2005)

A Blueprint for a Safer Planet by Lord Stern reviewed by Chris Hull

(Lord) Nicholas Stern became a household name as the author of the Government review, 'The Economics of Climate Change' (2006). This later book - published a few months ahead of the Copenhagen summit last year - is less well known yet much more accessible and useful.

Nick Stern is an economist, a former Chief Economist of The World Bank, and a strong advocate for poor countries on the world stage. In this regard the book has its roots in a drive to focus on economic management in the richer countries, in order to alleviate the worst effects of climate change on those who are least responsible for it - the poor countries.

It is solid, rather than emotive, particularly when it comes to addressing 'the deniers'. Stern explains just how complex the science is, and where deniers fall into traps by confusing cycles with trends, sea temperatures with land temperatures, short term risks with longer term more serious risks.

Having said that, I personally love the image conjured up here: Stern illustrates the dry science of probabilities of change by pointing out that the 24% probability of a 5 degree temperature rise on earth by the turn of this century (latest Hadley Centre modelling), would be simply unknown territory for a heavily populated earth. " The last time the world was 4 -5 degrees C above where we are now was 30 - 50 million years ago, in Eocene times, when much of the planet was swampy forest and there were alligators near the North Pole" .

Enough said.

A Blueprint for a Safer Planet by Nicholas Stern (2009)

Transition Books: Local Money & Transition in Action

Just out are two essential Transition reads (to be reviewed in the next bulletin). Local Money by Peter North (Transition South Liverpool) is an inspiring and practical book about local currencies, as well as an overview of money itself and how it works. As Rob Hopkins says in his introduction: "What is key is that as humanity begins its inevitable shift away from energy-intensive, globalised, corporate economics to a more human-scale, localised version, the way we ‘do’ money will need to catch up. This book identifies a number of possible tools, and doubtless there are many more yet to be thought of."

Transition in Action by Jacqi Hodgson with Rob Hopkins is based on the Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan and is the first community-based guide to reducing local dependence on fossil fuels, covering 15 key sustainability areas. The EDAP is the 12th step of Transition (known as the Resilience Plan in TN) and engages the community in the creative process of preparing for resilience and facing the biggest challenges civilisation has ever had.

Local Money, £14.95 and Transition in Action £19.99 (Green Books, 2010)