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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Books Offer Insight into Powerful World of Energy

Climate change, energy crisis, eating locally are just a few of the terms that crop up on a regular basis in our media and everyday conversations. There's no dearth of books on greening our lives, and here a few of the most recent and most informative.

"A World Without Ice" by Henry Pollack is a very readable summary of the science used to determine the history of global temperature trends. Pollack, a professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan and a regular traveler to Antarctica, reports on the developments at both poles as well as in mountain ranges.

We all know the predicted consequences of warming - sea level rise, coastline flooding, drought due to loss of ice pack in the mountains, extreme weather events, etc. But this book shows what's already happening - including the opening of the Arctic Northwest Passage for the first time in 1000 years. And it appears that might only be the beginning.

"Eco Barons: the Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet" by Edward Humes tells the inspiring stories of individuals who are attempting to save the world's remaining wild areas. Included are Douglas Tompkins, the founder of Esprit, who has purchased for conservation large areas in Chile and Argentina, and the two slackers and founders of the Center for Biological Diversity, who used the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to wage lawsuits that have preserved wild spaces throughout the U.S.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver. One of our best novelists, a native of rural Kentucky, recounts her family's decision to grow - or purchase locally - their own food for a year. Interspersed with musings on agribusiness vs. the family farm as well as the economic and environmental benefits of eating locally, are delicious accounts of growing vegetables from seed, cooking, canning and sharing the bounty with friends and family.

"Storms of My Grandchildren: the Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity" by James Hansen. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, became in the 1970s one of the first scientists to study and warn of the effects of carbon buildup. He charts his and others' frustrating attempts to move the public and legislators to eliminate fossil fuels, and recommends a massive and immediate effort to develop "clean" nuclear energy.

"Atomic Awakening: a New Look at the History and the Future of Nuclear Power" by James Mahaffey. Many of us have a hard time embracing nuclear energy, but research scientist Mahaffey argues that the almost 500 plants worldwide have proven to be safe and efficient. What sank nuclear energy was not sentiment but dollars and cents - coal and natural gas and oil were much cheaper. That is changing, and there are currently a number of plants in the planning stage or under construction nationally.

"Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells - Our Ride to the Renewable Future" by Amanda Little (HarperCollins, 2009). But let's end on a note of optimism with this intriguing account by an award-winning freelance journalist in Nashville, Tennessee. Little crisscrossed the country, getting up close and personal with our power gird by visiting such entities as a deep-sea oil rig, the Pentagon's fuel-logistics division, and T. Boone Pickens.

She explores the complexity of all the energy options as well as conservation measures, concluding with a look at the energetic people and companies and government officials working on viable solutions.