Lately I've been recommending that folks take a look at a new book by a Cambridge professor named David MacKay. The book is an ode to no-nonsense back-of-the-envelope realism, and therefore a swift knee to the groin of mass media and popular culture, at least to that sector of it which fosters and consumes the illusion that current levels of energy consumption can be satisfied with renewable sources. MacKay patiently explains why the illusion doesn't add up, using the simplest terms possible. Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air is meant to jolt an English reader out of his/her stupor but works even better on Americans.

There are Big energy items and activities and Little ones. In our newfound fondness for 'green' this and that, we like to focus on the Little ones, things like changing lightbulbs and unplugging cell phone chargers, as cover for ignoring the Big ones, driving, home heating, plane travel and general mass consumption of consumer goods. Our tiny gestures toward sustainability only provide psychological comfort, distraction, and leave us worse off than we were before in terms of energy security. As MacKay says, if everybody does a little bit, it does not add up to a lot as is commonly believed and expressed; a tiny percentage of savings from each individual adds up to a tiny percentage of savings overall. And that gets us nowhere.

MacKay has been battling feel-good energy myths by unleashing his book on the masses for free, baby. He has encouraged the free distribution of it so I've made it available for download directly from here (pdf). It can also be viewed in part and dowloaded on this site. It's always an uphill battle when you're fighting against mythology that makes people feel good about themselves. MacKay is one of the floating disembodied heads featured on my evolving ENERGY AND TRANSPORT PAGE.

 

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