Nobel Prize winner Laughlin (Physics/Stanford Univ.; The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind, 2008, etc.) invites readers on an “armchair journey” to a future devoid of petroleum, coal and natural gas, proposing alternative resources.
Beginning with a 23rd-century scenario, the author explains how several concerns, including climate change and fossil-fuel dependency, are important yet not as critical as they seem when viewed in geologic time. The earth, with its capacity for renewal and patterned routines, will continue on its course long after the energy crisis has peaked. Instead of panicking and engaging in political debates over the hot-button issues of today, it is a more useful starter for change to consider the logical ramifications of particular decisions. What could happen if society converted to synthetic fuels, biofuels, hydropumping as an energy-storing technology, fast-breeder nuclear reactors, manure power, algae farming, trash as a carbon source, solar power and deep-sea exploitation, among other ideas? Laughlin presents hypothetical cases, supplementing them with clear, personable analogies as well as explanations of quantum mechanics. The result is a work of moderately accessible science that strikes a cautionary note. For all that the future may hold in regards to innovations or improvements on current technologies, an essential, increasing greed for cheap energy and a focus on economic and governmental factors will determine which solutions take precedence. The book should not be seen as a speculative exercise, which Laughlin considers “foolish,” since “how history will play out thousands of years from now is anyone’s guess”; the value of the book rests in the author’s thought-provoking assessment and his relentless faith in the earth. Humans may be resourceful, but the planet itself is more so.
A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.