The book offers a comprehensive account of how the world evolved to its present state in which humans now exercise a powerful, in many cases dominant, influence for global environmental change. It outlines the history that led to this position of dominance, in particular the role played by our increasing reliance on fossil fuels and the problems that we are now forced to confront as a result of this history.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is greater now than at any time over at least the past 650,000 years with prospects to increase over the next few decades to levels not seen since dinosaurs roamed the Earth 65 million years ago. Increases in the concentrations of so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are responsible for important changes in global and regional climate with consequences for the future of global society which, though difficult to predict in detail, are potentially catastrophic for a world poorly equipped to cope.
PREFACE; ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS; 1. Introduction; 2. From Hunter Gatherers to English Factories; 3. Energy: what is it and how do we measure it?; 4. Wood, Photosynthesis and the Carbon Cycle; 5. Coal: Origin, History and Problems; 6. Oil: Properties, Origin, History, Problems and Prospects; 7. Natural Gas: Origin, History and Prospects; 8. Energy from Water and Wind; 9. Nuclear Power; 10. Steam Power; 11. Electricity; 12. Automobiles Trucks and the Internal Combustion Engine; 13. The Challenge of Global Climate Change; 14. Prospects for Carbon Capture and Sequestration; 15. Ethanol from biomass: can it substitute for gasoline?; 16. Current Patterns of Energy Use; 17. Vision for a Low Carbon Energy Future; BIBLIOGRAPHY; INDEX
"With scientific depth and beautiful writing, Professor McElroy delivers the benefits of his wide-ranging teaching and research to readers of this book. His lively narrative traces the human uses of energy from early human history to today's dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. With the help of realistic, telling, and well-chosen examples, he drives home the scale of our current dependence and sketches pathways to the future. A very important and engaging book!" -- Ralph J. Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
"This is a book that makes it possible for a reader either to drill down in a dozen specialized areas (with never a dry hole), or to look down from 50,000 feet in order to see the grand pattern (without haze). Given the tremendous amount of information presented, it is especially useful that the author pauses repeatedly to summarize. It is also very important (and rare) that he cleanly separates his personal opinions from the factual content. As a result,