All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future by S. David Freeman and Leah Y. Parks (Solar Flare Press, 2015).
When I saw the synopsis, I thought, as he is the head of the Environmental & Sustainability Studies program at Acadia University, this would be right up his alley.
Was I ever right! He loved it!
Read his reaction below.
A lot of the time we read reviews that start with “this is an important and timely book” and it turns out that the book is neither important nor timely. But in this case it is very clear that David Freeman and Leah Parks have written a book whose importance cannot be understated and whose timeliness is critical.
It is not a thought-provoking book in that it is aimed at an audience for whom the importance of the subject – a fully-sustainable energy future – is entirely clear. But it is an inspirational book in that the authors show clearly not only why energy sustainability has to be the most important policy issue of our time, but ways to achieve it.
Even more, they set out a clear path to that future, one that engages citizens at all levels and which offers ways for all of us to begin the transition to clean energy right now, ways that are within our financial reach as individuals, and which will pay huge dividends, both environmental and financial, as soon as we begin to implement them, and far into the future too.
The first part, “The Promise”, clearly lays out a vision for a fully-sustainable United States economy driven by electrical power sourced from two main energy sources, wind power and solar power.
The second, “Obstacles”, takes aim at the hurdles that have to be overcome in order to achieve fully-sustainable energy, pointing out that those hurdles are either the consequence of at attitude that basically says “this is how we’ve always done things, and we can’t change except very slowly” or “we’re making money doing it the old way, so why would we change?” Not surprisingly this latter vision is held by energy companies, both those involved in the extraction of fossil fuels and those involved in turning fossil fuels into energy distributed via massive, often monopolistic, grids whose structure serves the corporations that own them rather than the customers whom they supply.
Part III, “Opportunities”, lays out the surprising array of technologies that are available now, at reasonable cost and with minimal disruption, to allow individual consumers to begin the transition to clean energy.
The book concludes with a part that is really a rousing call to action, “Let’s Make it Happen”, which urges the reader to be an active participant in the process, on the one hand lobbying politicians to change the legislative and policy environment to encourage the switch at a governmental level, and on the other laying out a clear roadmap that can be followed as an individual consumer, working either alone or with their local community, to transition to a green-energy economy.
Leah Parks is a journalist whose original training was in civil engineering and whose work is very widely read in the electrical industry in the US.
David Freeman has had a long career at the highest levels of the US government, where he was, among other things, one of those responsible for setting up the Environmental Protection Agency. He served as Chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1970s and subsequently as CEO of a number of major public utilities including the New York Power Authority.
In other words, the expertise that the authors bring to the issue, from both the public-policy and private-enterprise perspectives, cannot be overstated, and it lends tremendous weight to their arguments.
When they lay out their case for a transitional path to a fully-renewable energy economy, not only do they clearly know what they’re talking about, but they are also able to show the hollowness of the arguments of those who claim that such a transition is impossible in the short term, who say that it must be based on a period of continued reliance on “clean” fossil fuels such as natural gas obtained by fracking, or on an expansion of the burning of “clean coal”.
Freeman and Parks show, in devastating detail, not only how such arguments are illogical but how they are in fact terrifyingly dangerous. They show how those “slow-lane” arguments are based on false, complacent assumptions about our ability to manage the environmental impact of continued widespread use of fossil fuels, and how big chunks of the private sector at the corporate level are beginning to abandon them as a dead-end that will ultimately cost huge amounts of money and inflict continued damage on the environment.
Indeed, this is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book: Freeman and Parks show the way in which business is getting on board in the transition to a green-electric future – not because it will save the environment, but because it will make money.
They show how the opportunities are growing, at all economic levels, from the individual to the local, to the regional, to the national, to make the transition to clean energy and to do so in a way that will renew our communities, empower individuals (you will be a producer of energy as well as a consumer!), and enrich our economies. Saving the environment will simply be a bonus!
I do have one note of caution though: this book, as the title makes clear, is about the United States and is aimed at an American audience.
The parallels with Canada are strong but not exact, and so if you read this book and are inspired to make change in your life, and in that of your community, then you will need to familiarize yourself with the regulatory environment in your province.
But this book shows you, broadly, how to do that – how to figure out how your utility companies are governed, how provincial legislation may direct their policies, and how you can get involved as a citizen in the creation of new, green policies.
The most important takeaway from this book, however, is not that the transition is possible, but that it is practical, sensible, and must be done now.
And in this sense it is incredibly timely for Canadians: in November 2015 at the international Paris Climate Conference the Federal Government committed to a legally-binding massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. That can only be done by massively reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewably-sourced green energy. It cannot be done by transitioning to natural gas “for a while” until “green energy is ready”. That is a dead-end policy, both for the environment and economically. It cannot be done by governments alone – we all have to work in partnership to make it happen.
Freeman and Parks show that green energy is economically competitive now, both for the individual consumer and for the broader economy. They show that we have an opportunity, indeed, an obligation, to make this happen, so I would urge you to read this book and begin your journey to a greener future!
*Disclosure: We received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are our own*