Humans once obtained all energy directly from the sun and will do so again, writes Barnham (Emeritus, Physics/Imperial Coll. London) in an optimistic, heavily science-based polemic.
The author begins with a dense, not always relevant history of 20th-century nuclear physics, but he also includes a primer on quantum theory that explains the solar cell and the closely related transistor invented following World War II. Aware of the transistor’s possibilities, the American military massively supported research that led to the digital revolution that continues to expand at an astonishing rate today. The military and government showed less interest in solar cells, so development lagged, but Barnham maintains that an energy revolution began around 2000—mostly in Europe. In the second part of the book, the author describes how this is playing out with the necessary inclusion of wind and biogas electricity generators. Americans who assume that solar and renewable energy are laudable but impractical will be surprised by Barnham’s extensive evidence of how well other nations are doing. Germany and Denmark aim to provide all electricity through renewables in 2050; many smaller nations are doing even better. “Their work is further evidence confirming one important message of this book: an all-renewable electricity supply is achievable quickly, cheaply, and safely,” writes the author. “What is missing is the political will.” Nuclear power remains exorbitantly expensive; the industry would vanish without massive government support. Oil, coal, and gas producers receive generous tax breaks and subsidies, and they show their gratitude. Barnham concludes with a cheerful prophecy of progress over the next decades, as well as not-entirely-convincing advice on how British and American readers can persuade their leaders to sacrifice selfish interests and join the revolution.
An admirable addition to the growing genre maintaining that global warming may not lead to Armageddon.