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The topics of climate, environment and energy are often discussed separately because they are so complex. By summarising them in one compact, one-hundred-page volume, Panjkovic is able not only to present them, but also to look at their interactions and better consider what can be done about the problems associated with them. If you were looking for a book on these important topics which falls between Prince Charles’ Ladybird book and the mighty tomes forming the basis of academic courses, this could be it. Panjkovic is refreshingly honest in his approach; in one appendix, he concludes the discussion of a particular controversy with the words “This is all so messy that I cannot see who is right”. He provides a large number of eclectic references, ranging from Ovid and Shakespeare through to Karl Marx and the Daily Mail, and from Radiohead and U2 to the Proceedings of the Royal Society. He thus tackles not only the philosophy of his subject, but the sober science as well.
Throughout the book, there is a healthy scepticism as to what should and should not be believed in the current plethora of published work. Panjkovic introduces the two main character groups: the “alarmists” – those who worry that our current practices in the fields of energy and resource use will cause the collapse of the environment and society as we know it; and the “deniers” – those who claim that we can carry on as we are and all will be well. The mutual antagonism of these two groups reinforces the need to question their claims. Intriguingly, it also makes the reader question what follows in the rest of the book; but that is good science!
In considering climate, Panjkovic looks at how it can be defined and measured, what changes are occurring, to what extent they are the result of human activity and what the consequences might be. Trends considered include global temperatures, floods, droughts and storms, with observations of greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level, ice cover, desertification and ocean acidification. The data from all these observations is immensely complex, inconsistent and confusing, and Panjkovic discusses how they might be brought together to formulate a strategy, without coming to any hard and fast conclusions. This falls within the remit of bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-initiated body who concluded that greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming are increasing on average, probably due to human activity, and that the effects will probably, on average, be detrimental. Panjkovic is highly critical of the IPCC in one of his appendices, where he questions objectivity again.
Threats to the environment—from pollution from pesticides, acid rain, mining and industry—are judged as bad, unless starkly vested interests apply. Resources of minerals (particularly metalliferous) are finite and need to be conserved, and their distribution throughout the world can lead to human conflict. Deforestation causes flooding problems and loss of species and biodiversity. However, with this depressing background, Panjkovic finds a glimmer of light with an example from the industry in which he has spent most of his working life – steel. It has been possible to make significant reductions in energy use and pollution output via better process design. Finally, the ever-increasing problem of non-renewable fossil fuels, which currently provide for 80% of the world’s energy requirements, are an environmental threat. Panjkovic notes that the many millions of dollars spent annually by the fossil fuel industries on lobbying governments may well have affected their current preponderance. He discusses existing renewable sources, such as photovoltaics, wind turbines and hydro, noting that for the first time the generating capacity from renewables has exceeded that from conventional fuels.
In addition to production, an equally important part of energy strategy is its efficient use. Panjkovic presents an impressive and encouraging set of efficiency improvements in the last few decades, involving domestic, industrial and transport users.
By the end of the book, a range of problems regarding climate, environment and energy have been presented which are either man-induced or for which man has been able to find a technological solution. All that is required, therefore, is to stop doing bad things and apply solutions as appropriate. That requires political will, and politicians respond to people power. Thus, more people should read books like this and take action. That is the ‘Hope’ in the book’s title, and how better to finish than with a true-to-form Panjkovic quote: “the price of liveable Earth is eternal vigilance”.
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