Friday, 22 February 2008

'The Hot Topic' review

Given some of the headlines surrounding the publication of The Hot Topic last month ('Science chief: greens hurting climate fight') and the cantankerous reputation of co-author David King, it's almost a disappointment that the book itself is so resolutely unsensational. It's only disappointing if you're looking for ideological fistfights, though - instead, it's a level-headed overview of the scientific case for emissions-related climate change, the potential environmental and economic consequences of that change, and the political and technological solutions which could (if we get our collective act together) help us avoid the worst of it.

Jointly written by science journalist Gabrielle Walker and David King, the UK's chief scientific advisor from 2000-2007, The Hot Topic is neatly divided into three parts: The problem; Technological solutions; and Political solutions. There's also a sadly still-necessary appendix on 'Climate myths, half-truths and misconceptions' (as the authors bluntly note, anyone intent on denying the reality of the problem either has 'a vested interest in ignoring the scientific arguments or they are fools').

It's the second part that's most relevant to this site - the technological solutions. Walker and King draw on Pacula and Socolow's wedge strategy to show the potential value of clean technologies. This analysis breaks down the daunting emissions cuts needed to stabilise the atmosphere at 450ppm of CO2 equivalent into a series of less intimidating (if still challenging) goals: doubling the fuel efficiency of two billion cars; cutting building emissions by a quarter; building two million 1MW wind turbines; increasing the global area of solar panels by a factor of 700; etc. Many of these are, of course, the precise areas addressed by cleantech companies - and as the authors note, none require major technological breakthroughs.

The book goes on to introduce some of the current technologies that can help improve efficiency in buildings, industry, agriculture and waste management. The chapter on transport sounds a sensible caution on biofuels, while looking at the options for cleaning up cars and planes. The final chapter in the technological section focuses on power generation, putting the case for solar (photovoltaic and heating), wind and, more controversially, nuclear fission. The chapter also considers the potential of carbon capture and storage, and nuclear fusion - both promising but somewhat more challenging.

If you've been following the various scientific, political and technological debates around climate change over the past few years, there's not much in The Hot Topic that will be new to you. But as an introduction to the issues, particularly from a UK perspective, it's a valuable and well-reference addition to the literature - not as satisfying a read as, say, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, but a solid and ultimately upbeat overview of what's going on. Anyone involved in the cleantech industries should find it a useful resource, and a reminder as to what the business is all about.

1 comment:

Nooboon said...