. That's right, period... as in, the "most important book, period." One hundred and ninety-one pages to save the world. What sort of idiotic hyperbole is this, you ask? I asked myself the same thing each time I considered the heading, and each time the answer was the same. What's the most important book? You tell me. Is it Newton's Principia... Galileo's Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius)... the Gutenberg Bible... da Vinci's Codex Leicester? None of those books confronted the end of civilization. Science, religion, and art would have proceeded apace whether their creators made them when they did or not. We'd have gotten to the same crossroads without any one of them.
But---whether you are aware of it or not---we are at a fantastic and unprecedented precipice, one that has the dangerous profile of the 'slippery slope', the seductive entrapment of slow accommodation, and a scale in time and space that is both epochal and global. This book will help you, as I suspect no other will, to "do the math."
And the math is scary stuff, but only if you have kids you care about. Despite having already become convinced, prior to reading The Answer, that nuclear power was the only safe answer to heat both liberal and conservative houses alike, I had no idea how many were the ways of my ignorance. I suspected that most alternative energies were merely stop-gaps but I did not know that they are often outright CO2 losers. I thought that forests were a straightforward CO2 winner but now, I not only accept Palley's explanation that forests are merely CO2 neutral, I wonder how I could have thought otherwise. (The logic goes like this: if forests had a net absorption of CO2 they would have long ago thrown nature terribly out of balance. Their CO2 logic reverses when vegetation dies and decomposes.) I did not know the relative persistence in the atmosphere of the various greenhouse gases. I did not know the military motivation that explains our pathetic nuclear policy, using the term 'policy' too generously. I did not know that too-big-to-fail is just as fatal in our electrical grids and containment vessels as in our banks. I did not have quite the right understanding of the energy risk to drinking water... my children and yours' most likely short term risk. And so on and so on. I did, however, know that population growth, and growth in any terms, is unsustainable (or the very opposite of sustainability) but Palley wisely leaves this challenge to his closing message. After all, he's no da Vinci, right?
And I did have some inkling of the potential of small reactors, having read of them in a recent Wired magazine article. But I had no framework in which to gauge if it was pulp-nonfiction or earth-moving fact. It remains to be seen whether and when small modular reactors (the answer... SMRs) will be perfected. But it would not seem that there is any other viable path forward without cataclysmic downsizing of Mankind.
Reese Palley didn't have to write this book. Far from it, I suspect. Rather, it appears to be a gift. Is it perfect? No. It could benefit from a few good graphs and an explanation of SMRs earlier on. And I'd like a little more info on the CO2 balance sheet on wind energy. But that's not important. What is, is that you read it and spread the message. Now.