4 Energy & Environment Reading Essentials

It is the summer of 2020, and the dominant political, economic, and societal dialogue is hijacked by COVID-19. Human lives have been changed, largely for the worse, but I find myself seeking the silver linings. With summer finally around the corner and ample free time available to many, I see an opportunity to use this time to learn something new or to try something different. I am an avid reader, mainly of non-fiction, and I am finding that expanding my reading list to be an adequate way to unwind. Energy and the environment are timely topics and are still the backbone of daily life, despite the pandemic. In light of some of the ongoing conversation and uncertainty around the energy sector, I have created an energy-and-environmental-themed reading list. I aimed to fill it with work that covers relevant and critical topics in energy and the environment. Some I have even read multiple times. Each one of them refined the way I consider energy and environmental topics. They also have influenced my work in school and how I will navigate the rest of my engineering career. 

Here are my 4 essential books for this summer:

#1: Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats by Gwynne Dyer 

Climate Wars is my favourite on this list. It is the book that got me into the energy and environment genre. It acts as a road map for the climate crisis, and despite being written in 2008, so much of it rings true to today’s circumstances. While many climate books discuss polar bears and coral reefs, Climate Wars makes predictions about population shifts, swings of power and the future of humanity. Through an exciting series of interviews with military and political experts, the book explores various scenarios ranging from the Canadian Arctic in 2019 to India in 2045. These scenarios  give context to the climate disaster by taking real places and showing exactly how they could change, politically, economically and geographically.  I think that this book is the most important to consider on this list.  It is not only incredibly insightful regarding the urgency of climate change, but is a page turner, which I find rare in my experience with non-fiction. I think this should be a mandatory read for leaders and stakeholders, so they consider the impact their decisions carry. At the very least, Climate Wars should be a mandatory read in your book queue. 

#2: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Micheal Braungart & William McDonough 

I think this is the most unique on my list. The book itself is an example of exactly what Braungart and McDonough’s thesis is. The first chapter, “This Book is Not a Tree” (the book is made from fully reclaimable plastic and ink), delves right into what the authors envision is the future of producing goods. Providing the idea that “reduce, reuse, recycle” is not an adequate response and has as much potential to damage as doing nothing does. Braungart and McDonough attempts to flip the traditional cradle-to-grave manufacturing model on its head by providing, hence the title, an alternative method dubbed cradle-to-cradle. It considers the production of goods and the places of potential environmental destruction. Rather than pointing out the flaws exclusively, Cradle to Cradle provides solutions. Many of the solutions are not theoretical, but have been applied on a large scale for real clients. Likewise with Climate Wars, the book is as relevant now as it was when it was published in 2008. Cradle to Cradle envisions a cleaner earth, and proposes how to achieve this as well.

#3: Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses by Vaclav Smil

Power Density uses more technical language than my other choices. However, it is not boring. Written by Vaclav Smil, a member of the 100 Global Thinkers List, Power Density is a key step to understanding why we get our energy from the sources we do. Although simply defined as the rate of energy flux per unit of area, the concept of “power density” carries a lot of impact, and Smil’s work unpacks this. Traditionally, “power density” is overlooked in energy decision making processes, but he argues that it is one of the most important concepts in energy. Looking at all sources of energy, Smil provides insight on why certain countries or regions use the type of energy that they do. Using the “power density” as the basis, Smil explains how modern energy use has evolved using high energy dense fossil fuels and will need to evolve again to low energy dense renewable sources. Overall, Smil paints an interesting picture of the future of energy focusing on one concept.

#4: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin

The Prize is an essential book for understanding the deep and rich history of the most impactful resource in the history of humankind. The Prize has been deemed the “best history of oil ever written” by Bloomberg’s Businessweek. It looks at the roots of the industry, the background behind the largest monopolies in history and the importance of oil behind many major historical events. Oil has its hand in some of the most notable events in history and The Prize explores them all. The most interesting points made are those that connect oil with conflict and power. It is this connection, Yergin proposes, that has led to formation of a “Global World Order” and an unequal distribution of wealth. He makes a point to say that the main reason World War II was rooted in contention over oil. Today, oil is still one of the most important resources that drives society, and The Prize is a must read for understanding how it became so fundamental. At roughly 97,103,871 barrels of oil a day, the sector is not going away. Understanding some of the tribulations in the history of oil use is a way of better grasping the potential for change.

Thank you for giving this blog post a read and hope that you have enjoyed. If you have found any of the books intriguing, I hope you give them a shot. I hope everyone is staying safe and that you enjoy the rest of the summer.

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