—Choices that countries make about energy supply commit them to those choic-
es for decades, because power plants and other energy facilities typically last for 40 years or more and are too costly to replace before they wear out. This is one of the reasons it is imprudent in the extreme to wait for even more evidence than we already have before letting climate-change risks start to influence which energy options we choose.
—Energy technologies that exist or are under development could greatly increase energy efficiency in residences and businesses, reduce dependence on oil, accelerate the provision of energy services to the world’s poor, increase the reliability and resilience of electricity grids, and shrink the impacts of energy supply on climate and other environmental values. The most promising of these options include renewable sources of a variety of types, advanced fossil-fuel technologies that can capture and sequester carbon, and hydrogen-powered fuel cells for vehicle propulsion and dispersed electricity generation.
—These prosperity-building, stability-enhancing and environment-sparing options will not materialize in quantity matching the need unless and until three conditions are met: The massive subsidies favoring continuation of energy business as usual are ended.
The massive risks of greenhouse gas-induced climate change are at least partly internalized with a carbon tax or its equivalent. And the industrial nations commit to helping the developing ones “leapfrog” past the inefficient and dirty-energy technologies that fueled the industrialization of the former but mortgaged the environ-
ment in the process.
There are a few small technical slips in the elaboration of all this, but not many, and none that matter to the thrust of the argument.
Written for the intelligent layperson, Vaitheeswaran’s book is by far the most helpful, entertaining, up-to-date and accessible treatment of the energy-economy-environment problematique available. Its title, Power to the People, might strike some at first as too cute or too presumptuous. By the time I finished the book, though, I thought the title was apt, and in more ways than one. One must hope that knowledge translates to power in the political sense and that the knowledge to the people conveyed here will help lead to the political outcomes needed to bring the book’s optimistic vision into being.