To achieve fossil fuel independence, few technologies are more important than batteries. Used for powering zero-emission vehicles, storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines, and revitalizing the electric grid, batteries are essential to scaling up the renewable energy resources that help address global warming. But given the unique environmental impact of batteries – including mining, disposal, and more – does a clean energy transition risk trading one set of problems for another?
In Charged, James Morton Turner unpacks the history of batteries to explore why solving "the battery problem" is critical to a clean energy transition. As climate activists focus on what a clean energy future will create – sustainability, resiliency, and climate justice – the history of batteries offers a sharp reminder of what building that future will consume: lithium, graphite, nickel, and other specialized materials. With new insight on the consequences for people and communities on the frontlines, Turner draws on the past for crucial lessons that will help us build a just and clean energy future, from the ground up.
James Morton Turner is a professor of environmental studies at Wellesley College. He is the author of The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964 and coauthor of The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump.
– Finalist for The Cundill History Prize 2023
– Winner of the 2023 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship, sponsored by the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University
– Winner of the 2023 Nautilus Book Award, sponsored by the Nautilus Book Awards
"In Charged, Turner offers an eminently readable, elegantly precise treatise on the topic of batteries."
"An enjoyable and accessible book [...] Many readers may be susceptible to the trap of wide-eyed idealism in terms of environmental activism and the 'clean energy future' Turner discusses in this book. He strikes a great balance between optimism and pessimism on that front; he puts a lot of things into historical and highly realistic perspective. In doing so, he provides a roadmap for people who actually want to achieve a clean energy future, pointing to the pitfalls previous engineers fell into or carved themselves, and advising how to learn from those mistakes and forge ahead."
– H-Environment (H-Net)
"Engrossing and sobering, Charged is essential reading for anyone concerned about environment, energy, and the sustainable future."
– H-Sci-Med-Tech (H-Net)
"The book provides readers with a valuable history of battery technology, the interdependency of batteries and the environment, and the challenge (and perhaps impossibility) of just energy transition policies."
– Environmental History
"Turner's pathbreaking book deftly unpacks a key feature of modern history – the battery – and traces its globe-spanning material footprint. Detailing the incremental successes in battery engineering and recycling alongside the industry's persistent failures in social and environmental justice, Charged is nothing short of a manual for building a more humane clean energy future."
– Megan A. Black, author of The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power
"Charged answers all the questions you didn't know to ask about batteries then and now. It complicates basic assumptions about technology, supply chains, and sustainability. And Turner marshals it all to offer a remarkably specific (dare I say electrifying?) blueprint to achieve the early-21st-century great white whale – a just transition to a clean energy future."
– Jenny Price, author of Stop Saving the Planet! An Environmentalist Manifesto
"Lithium ion batteries, electric vehicles, and their critical mineral supply chains are the oil pipelines of tomorrow. Charged is crucial in framing our biggest challenge: scaling from the niche critical minerals to mainstream commodities fueling the fourth industrial revolution."
– Simon Moores, CEO of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence
"Charged is history that can make history. Jay Turner's brilliant book will help with one of the great challenges of our time – the transition to a sustainable energy system. Full of arresting insights, written with grace and verve, Charged ends with smart suggestions about what still needs to change for batteries to drive a greener future. It's a model for historians who aim to shape contemporary debate about pressing issues and a must-read for everyone working to move the world beyond fossil fuels."
– Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation