Book review

Energy for a Sustainable World: From the Oil Age to a Sun-Powered Future, by Nicola Armaroli and Vincenzo Balzani

Paperback, xxi + 368 pages, published by Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, Germany US $45.00 (2011), ISBN 978-3-527-32540-5

According to Nicola Armaroli, Senior Research Scientist at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), and Vincenzo Balzani, Professor of Chemistry at the Università di Bologna, the oldest university in the western world, both active researchers in fundamental science and technological applications, the Earth is a system of intricately connected parts and human activities can markedly affect biogeochemical cycles. They maintain, “our 4.5 billion year old planet has entered a new epoch, Anthropocene, characterized by a dramatic increase of the size of the human ecological footprint.”

Today cheap and plentiful energy in the form of fossil fuels is causing severe damage to the Earth’s atmosphere. The authors’ aim is “to show that we live in a fragile world and that the world’s fragility can be strongly reduced or increased depending on how the energy problem is tackled.” They survey the energy issue from a broad scientific perspective, balancing the pros and cons, while simultaneously considering environmental, economic, political, and social factors. They explain the basic concepts, provide a historical summary of energy resources, assess our unsustainable energy system based on fossil fuels, and show that the energy crisis is not only a difficult challenge but also an unprecedented opportunity to become more concerned about the world in which we live and the society that we have created. By outlining the alternatives for today and the future, they give an extensive overview of solar, nuclear, and thermal energy, photovoltaics, wind power, ocean energies, and other renewables, highlighting the increasing importance of electricity and the long-term perspectives of a hydrogen-based economy.

The book contains a 6-page Appendix that includes “Did you know that…?”— facts and figures about our actions and their deleterious effect on the environment and websites, conversion units, etc. A 26-page list of references includes 943 articles, books, and websites, some as recent as 2010. A 16-page double-column index facilitates location of material.

This well-organized, easily readable, well-balanced and modestly priced sourcebook is replete with up-to-date, carefully documented figures, tables, and illustrations. It is an excellent guide for scientists, students, and teachers seeking solutions for our current energy and climate crisis, and the problems and disparities generated during today’s fossil fuel era.