If you want an unbiased and fact-based explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of energy sources then the book “Energy for Future Presidents” by Richard Muller is a must read!  It is vitally important that the United States has safe and secure supplies of energy.  Our government’s energy policy is complex because it must balance economic, environmental, technological, and political demands.  As the book’s title proclaims, every current or future U.S. president needs to read this book!

The author is an environmentally concerned physics professor who knows and has researched the subject thoroughly.  Clearly written and three hundred pages long, the book is divided into five sections.  We will provide you with a good summary here, and if you are really interested in all the details please read the book.

Let’s start by listing the major take-aways:

  • Energy disaster reporting is always exaggerated and sensational. Yes, Fukushima and the Gulf Oil Spills were disasters, but most so-called problems are not as catastrophic as the public is often led to believe.
  • Global warming may be a reality, but the data is not conclusive. Man’s contribution is perhaps half the cause, and the developing world (China, India, etc) are the main contributors.  And it may be presumptuous to think that man can control it.  This is an emotion-charged subject in which people ignore facts.
  • S. shale gas and oil have revitalized our domestic O&G industry. This should continue into the foreseeable future.
  • The only energy type for which there has been a shortage is gasoline. OPEC made that clear via the past oil embargoes.
  • Nuclear power can be made safely and cheaply. Look at the facts!
  • Alternative energy sources (solar, wind, biomass, etc) will never be able to supply a large percentage of our energy needs. They will remain too expensive and impossible to scale up.
  • Natural gas usage should increase because it is low cost and low carbon dioxide emissions.
  • The current furor about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions offers very little in the way of realistic solutions. The topic is still too emotion-charged.

Now here are the major cautions future presidents must heed:

  • Beware of fads. There is a temptation to endorse the “breakthrough of the month” when in fact there is little other than hype to support it.
  • Beware of risk-benefit analysis. Much of this analysis is short-sighted, simplistic and incomplete.
  • Beware of the precautionary principle. This principle states you should always err on the side of safety.  Often it is hard to define “safety”!
  • Beware of optimism and skepticism bias. You must be relentlessly objective assessing the upside and downside.
  • Beware of aphorisms. “Sound-bite” solutions won’t work on complex issues.

Part I of the book – Energy Catastrophes – provides extensive details on the Fukushima reactors meltdown, The Gulf oil spill, and global warming/climate change.  Solid facts and evidence indicate that Fukushima and the Gulf oil spill were indeed disasters, but perhaps not to the extent hyped by the press.  For example, the radiation exposure is low, and oil dissipates on its own thanks to bacteria and microscopic sea life.  And there is so much data to support either side of the global warming controversy that convincing conclusions are hard to come by.

Part II of the book – The Energy Landscape – takes you through recent developments in conventional energy sources.  What stands out here is how important the shale boom, horizontal drilling and fracking are.  They are here to stay in the U.S.A.

Part III of the book – Alternative Energy – takes you through developments in all the “exotic” energy sources.  There are chapters devoted to each one, complete with detailed explanations and supporting data.  What stands out here is how expensive alternative energy sources are, and how small an impact they have.  Also of note is how good nuclear power can be once you move past the emotional fears.

Part IV of the book – What is Energy – explains at several levels of sophistication just what energy is.  Skip it if you don’t like reading math formulas!

Part V of the book – Advice for Future Presidents – emphasizes the purpose of this book is to inform and educate.  The government and the President together make energy policy, the starting point of which are the facts.  The objective facts presented in this book conclude:

  • Shale oil, shale gas and the replacement of coal with gas make sense.
  • Nuclear power should be used more.
  • Don’t “bet the ranch” on exotic energy sources.
  • The developing world (China, India, etc) will impact global warming/climate change much more than the developed world (U.S., Europe, etc)
  • Don’t rush to judge catastrophes. Guard against too much optimism/pessimism.

So there you have it: a good summary of our energy landscape.  Please read more in the book if you are motivated to do so, or find relevant articles/videos online!

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