Global climate change is one of the most important issues humanity faces today. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors assesses the sensible, senseless and biased proposals for averting the potentially disastrous consequences of global warming, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions on switching to more sustainable energy provision. Burton Richter is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who has served on many US and international review committees on climate change and energy issues. He provides a concise overview of our knowledge and uncertainties within climate change science , discusses current energy demand and supply patterns, and the energy options available to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Written in non-technical language, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors presents a balanced view of options for moving from our heavy reliance on fossil fuels into a much more sustainable energy system, and is accessible to a wide range of readers without scientific backgrounds – students, policymakers, and the concerned citizen.
"I enjoyed the book and the lively personal way Richter writes. Readers, once they start, will want to read the book right through to the end. I did. The chapters on energy were wonderful and made me hope that the book would be widely read."
- James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Theory, University of Oxford
"Global warming and a host of energy problems are in the news every day. In this new book, Nobel Laureate Burt Richter offers a smart and careful survey of the problem and a dose of sobriety on real solutions. Rare in the field, the book is both well-informed yet accessible and written in elegant prose. The core of the study is a series of short yet far-ranging chapters on all the world's major energy sources and their opportunities for improvement. Richter's masterful study is stuffed full of optimism about solving the global warming problem, but it is also realistic about the scale of the effort that will be needed. And he warns that today, governments are falling far short in devising the required policies."
- David G. Victor, University of California, San Diego
"A brilliant display of ideas and information about energy and climate change: readable, educational, constructive. A wonderful book that sets out with clarity the issues and challenges. I enjoyed this book and I'm sure it will have a wide readership."
- George P. Shultz, Former Secretary of State (Reagan Administration), Stanford University
"Finally, citizens and policymakers have a comprehensive and comprehensible guide to global warming and what might be done about it. Written by a Nobel prize-winning physicist with no interest other than making the world habitable for his great-grandchildren, this eminently readable book covers the gamut of issues from basic climate science and economics to the policies and technologies necessary to mitigate global warming."
- Paul Brest, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
"The facts about climate change and the responses to it are the subject of substantial confusion among the public. Burton Richter, a Nobel Laureate in physics, has written a cogent analysis of what is known – and not known – about climate change and about the components of the energy system that contribute to climate change or that are offered as a means to mitigate it. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: A Citizen's Guide to Climate Change and Energy brings sophisticated insights and common sense to the issues, but is fully accessible to the public. This book should be required reading for anyone who seeks to understand one of the most significant global challenges that confronts humankind."
- Richard A. Meserve, President of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
"Burt Richter has packed a remarkable amount of two very important and rare commodities in a short compass: reliable information on energy and climate change and (even rarer) good judgment. He has done all this with a light touch and engaging style which will draw the intelligent reader's sustained interest. The reader will be able to improve greatly the level of the important debates on policy in these fields."
- Kenneth J. Arrow, Stanford University
"[T]he clearest guide yet to the facts and issues of climate and energy – without smoke or mirrors. [...] Richter has no special interest, and his book's survey of all the evidence for climate change and all the available energy sources is a model of rational discourse in this time of inflammatory arguments."
- David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle
"'Please point me to a short overview of energy and climate, with numbers but not equations, and with a no-nonsense view of the politics.' [...] At last, I am comfortable with my answer: read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors. [...] An unpretentious yet deeply insightful book. Richter comes across as someone who enjoys nothing more than a conversation with a serious, intelligent nonspecialist. He takes on climate change in 40 small pages, energy options in another 150, policies that link energy and climate in 20 more, and we are done. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors – what a title! It epitomizes the entire book if we unpack it properly. Smoke and mirrors are the tools of deception, and by contrast Richter is promising to talk straight [...] He is asking us to trust him, and we do. [...] Such candor is rare and refreshing."
- Robert H. Socolow, American Journal of Physics
"With so many books so obviously written to catch your eye [...] it's hard to know where to start. But one book is truly outstanding: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter. This book lays out the facts carefully and thoroughly without trivializing or condescending. Here's Richter's bottom line: there is global warming, and we humans are responsible for it. Even if you take into account random fluctuations – one swallow does not a summer make, and one hot July doesn't make a crisis – the globe is getting hotter."
- Chronicle of Higher Education
:[This book] is [an] important contribution to the semitechnical literature on the human components of climate change: what they are, what expected impacts they will have over the next decades, and what can be done to mitigate the effects [...] an admirably succinct book which effectively presents the key aspects of climate change, human energy use, and the options of changing the latter to help mitigate the effects of the former. It will be a valuable read for anyone concerned about these issues – highly recommended."
- The Leading Edge
"[...] a wonderfully balanced overview. It opens with a fine summary of the science linking carbon to climate [...] provides a concise primer on the economics of long-term climate policy, and concludes with a short, sensible, and well-argued set of opinions and policy recommendations."
- Physics Today
"I would recommend anyone with an interest in climate change to read this book with complete understanding toward those with a background in high school level general science."
- Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Bulletin
List of units
List of conversion factors
List of abbreviations
Part I. Climate:
2. Greenhouse Earth
3. Climate modelling
4. The past as proxy for the future
5. Predicting the future
Part II. Energy:
6. Taking up arms against this sea of troubles
7. How fast to move: a physicist's look at the economists
8. Energy, emissions and action
9. Fossil fuels: how much is there?
10. Electricity, emission and pricing carbon
11. Efficiency: the first priority
12. Nuclear energy
14. Biofuels: is there anything there?
15. An energy summary
Part III. Policy:
16. US policy: new things, bad things, good things
17. World policy action
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Burton Richter is Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences, Emeritus and Director Emeritus, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center at Stanford University. He is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist for his pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle.