Friday, February 18, 2011

“Clean Tech Clean Profits," Book Review

I wrote the following book review for the British magazine Chemistry and Industry which I thought might be germane to the subject of this blog.

"The twin spectres of peak oil and climate change loom large, urging humanity toward a low-carbon future. Burning oil at the rate of 30 billion barrels a year contributes around 12 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, or roughly 40% of the total quantity blamed upon humans for their extravagant use of fossil-fuel. Once world oil production peaks, the provision of cheap crude-oil on which the whole of modern civilization is based, will begin to shelve. Fuel-supplies will become increasingly expensive and unreliable and a state of instability will unlevel the world economy.

Since the other fossil fuels, gas and coal are also expected to peak within a few decades, it would appear a simple and dually beneficial strategy to stop burning all of them at the present excessive rate, and move to a low-carbon economy, thus reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and slowing climate change, while prolonging vital energy supplies while alternative “green” energy sources might be found and implemented. It is important to stress that not only does crude-oil fuel almost all of the world’s transportation, but is also the raw feedstock for virtually all chemical manufacturing, providing products ranging from plastics to pharmaceuticals. It is an instructive challenge to look around a room and find something whose production did not involve crude oil at some stage as a raw chemical feedstock.

Even the production of food, now undertaken mostly in modern industrialized farms, relies almost entirely on crude oil to fuel tractors and combine-harvesters, and natural gas as a source of artificial fertilizers to bring forth life from soil that would otherwise be barren, having lost much of its organic element. Finding a material with the same ease of handling, energy density and chemical processing power as petroleum, is an impossible task, and our clear and inexorable dependence on carbon overall to power the world is so innate to our identity and actions, that delivering a low-carbon future might appear an insurmountable obstacle. Nonetheless, either by design or default, we will end up using less carbon, as there will simply be less available fossil fuels. If we continue along the business-as-usual route, the default outcome will be anarchy and chaos. Hence we must design and plan.

There are possibilities for decomposing the global to the local, thus providing energy, food and economic and social currency at the level of small communities. Thus, not only would local farms become key agents of change and sustainability, but farming methods per se, moving away from high input methods that rely heavily on oil, gas and freshwater, toward regenerative agriculture and permaculture which follow more natural patterns and use less in the way of resources to yield their bounty. Perhaps sustainable business practices will encourage the next leg on the journey to this brave new low-carbon world."

“Clean Tech Clean Profits: Using Effective Innovation and Sustainable Business Practices to Win in the New Low-carbon Economy,” By Adam Jolly. ISBN-10: 0749461179 ISBN-13: 978-0749461171