Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines

Muller, Richard A.  Energy for Future Presidents: the Science Behind the Headlines, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, NY, 2012: pp. 350 + xvii,  ISBN 978-0-393-34510-0 (softcover), $16.95.

Q&A. Q: Why review this book here? 

A: The title could relate to the “Chemistry and Materials for Energy” theme of the Dallas Meeting and the subtitle could suggest: “A Reference for the Rest of Us” like it is for every volume of the ubiquitous “for Dummies” series.

Q: Why here since it’s written by a physicist and deals with technology, economics, politics, and just a little chemistry?

A: All of these topics are important and at least related to chemistry. 

Q: Why in the CIB?

A: It contains a lot of valuable information as well as well-thought out policy recommendations, important not only to librarians and information specialists, but students, teachers, and scientists, as well as J. Q. Public.

In the Preface, the author posits 15 results of energy analysis, sans politics, to be discussed in depth in the remainder of the book. They include several contentious and controversial conclusions including energy catastrophes, nuclear energy, biofuels, automotive design, and solutions to increased carbon dioxide production. Remedies proposed for seven of the conclusions involve natural gas. He also champions nuclear energy. The catastrophes include the Fukushima disaster, the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and global warming and climate change. The first two are discussed in the context of other disasters in their industries. Muller describes himself as a climate change skeptic, but after much analysis seems convinced that it is real, with reservations. He presents his list of six categories on the political spectrum of those reacting to and commenting on climate change ranging from the extremes of Alarmist to Denier. Both classes of extremists are said to “pay little attention to the science” and deal in exaggeration to further their stances.

The remainder of the book is organized into a section on the energy landscape, including sources, and a section on alternative energy sources and utilization. The book concludes with a section on advice to a President, as if one were a presidential science and technology advisor. Included are aspects of energy technology policy, key considerations including foreign policy, and five topics to beware of. Even if one has no intentions of being a Presidential advisor, these topics are food for thought if providing advice to other government officials, colleagues and friends, or the public in general.

Muller is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he tends to generate even more than may already exist.  You may disagree with some to many of his findings. Environmentalists and activists may disagree with the values and productive effects he places on recycling or environmental effects of nuclear energy. Politicians may disagree that many of their policy decisions are based on political rather than sci/tech considerations. However, Muller provides enough analysis and calculations that critics must expend the same amount of energy to debate his findings. Recommended for libraries, students, teachers, and the general public.

Bob Buntrock, Member, CINF Communications and Publications Committee