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The Science Behind the Headlines

by Richard A. Muller

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-08161-9
Publisher: Norton

Regarding the merits of clean energy technologies, eminent scientist Muller (Physics/Univ. of California, Berkeley; Physics for Future Presidents, 2008, etc.) offers a road map through the minefield of competing claims by security analysts, environmentalists and potential investors.

The author distinguishes between concerns about a coming domestic oil shortage and the threat posed by global warming. The author explains that the necessity to import petroleum is a threat to military security and the major cause of the U.S. balance-of-trade deficit, but it is not a significant contributor to global warming. “As far as global warming is concerned,” he writes, “the developed world is becoming irrelevant. Every 10 percent cut in US emissions is completely negated by 6 months of China's emission growth.” Muller writes that a decent alternative would be a worldwide switch from coal to natural gas, which could halve the rate of carbon dioxide emissions. For the longer term, he anticipates that the developing sector will adopt nuclear power, employing small modular nuclear reactors that are designed to be intrinsically safe. Muller makes an intriguing case that for the U.S., extracting natural gas and oil from shale will be cost-effective, can be regulated to ensure environmental safety, and is a plentiful, untapped source of supply (substantiating his claim with a detailed overview of the technology). In his opinion, plug-in electric automobiles will prove unfeasible because of the time required to recharge them and the replacement cost of batteries, but hybrid vehicles that use gasoline or natural gas as fuel are an attractive option.

An informative, comprehensive discussion of important economic and environmental issues.