Responding to Global Warming: The Technology, Economics and Politics of Sustainable Energy

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Responding to Global Warming: The Technology, Economics and Politics of Sustainable Energy

By Peter Read
Zed Books, 1994
304 pp. $25.00
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The author of this closely argued and somewhat technical but nonetheless readable book is a New Zealander trained both as an engineer and as an economist. He surveys thoroughly both the reasons global warming might be expected and the possible public responses to it, with critical commentary on the relevant framework for analysis. He concludes that we cannot be sure that global warming will occur, but that some possible outcomes are sufficiently severe that we should begin now to ward them off, learning in the process how to intensify the measures should that become desirable.

His major substantive contribution to this much-discussed subject is to emphasize that increasing absorption of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) is just as useful as reducing emissions in slowing the thickening of the earth's gaseous blanket. As he puts it, we could begin the process of making coal by growing vegetation, which captures carbon, and then burying it. His principal suggestion, however, is to use woody growth much more extensively as fuel, which in his calculations could be a substitute for coal in utilities and industrial uses at only modest increases in cost, and ultimately perhaps could be used economically to produce substitutes for oil. Growing trees for harvest as fuel would absorb carbon (while the total stock of trees was growing) and reduce net emissions as renewable fuel displaces non-renewable sources. Planting fast-growing trees would help take land out of agricultural production and would initially employ many low-skill workers in planting and caring for the young trees, two objectives that both the United States and the European Union share at present.

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