I’ve just read the 10-page-summary of David MacKay’s book on Sustainable Energy. It appears to be an excellent book that I recommend to anyone interested in the energy future of our civilization. It is full of calm, rational thinking and solid numerical evidence, and written in such a compelling and entertaining way that it is hard to put down.
There is one aspect that strikes me as odd, and this is however the central assumption of the book: It sets out to show if and how the United Kingdom could totally switch to its own renewable sources of energy. It turns out that this is pretty much impossible — a significant portion would have to be imported from the outside, preferably in the form of solar power harvested in deserts. Given the fact that direct sunlight is by far the largest part of the energy income of Earth, and that the United Kingdom is not particularly blessed with a large area or a favourable position near the equator, I think this result is pretty much self-evident. The whole idea of trying to make do on your own, and import as little as possible from the outside, is an island mentality that appears very British to me. But of course we know and love our British friends for that.
I would like to repeat what I spelled out in greater detail in another blog post just recently: Mankind has much, much more energy available than it could possibly use. MacKay’s book makes it appear more difficult to switch to other forms of energy than it actually is. If we think globally, and learn to consider the Earth as a single spaceship that is inhabited by humanity as a whole, things look very different. From this perspective, it appears to me that the path of action that our civilization needs to take is far more logical and self-evident.
At least this is what I think. And now I will buy and read the whole book.