The Great Transition | Book Review

the great transition

Some believe that we are at a crossroads and that sooner or later we need to pick a new path to stroll on as a species. “The Great Transition” is a book that tries to look at what’s going on at one of these crossroads: The Energy one. By looking at the data Lester Brown takes his readers on a prediction-journey of which way we are taking.

The old energy economy was tightly controlled by those who held fossil fuel deposits. The new energy economy is much more democratic. The wind and the sun can be tapped wherever people live.” – Lester Brown

With a long career spanning half a century, with some 50 books penned down and numerous awards in the field, Lester Brown is no light-weight when it comes to environmental issues and analyzing them.

Rethinking the use of oil, gas, and coal and gearing up with alternatives that make more sense depending on the surroundings is an area I am deeply interested in so picking up “The Great Transition” at the library was a no brainer.

Its the first of Mr. Brown’s work I’ve read, outside one essay, so I didn’t really know what to expect from the book beyond the front cover with its promising and positivistic theme. After finishing the book I think I know more about Brown as a writer, but not entirely sure if I got that much else out of it – outside of a few gold nuggets buried deep in the text, hidden under mountains of data.

On that note: There is a lot of ways to write about environmental topics and perhaps the least interesting, the least sexy way to do it is sandwich a few lines of text between data-points. With my minimal experience with Brown’s other work, I’m not sure if his other books follow the pattern, or style, of writing laid out in “The Great Transition”, but if it does I’m sure it won’t win any award in any ‘Amazing Prose’ category.

Because [wind] turbines occupy such a small area of the land covered by a wind farm, ranchers and farmers can, in effect, double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity while grazing cattle or growing weat or corn”  – Lester Brown

The strength of the book, or its author, is not in presentation but seems to be in the numbers that are presented. And man, there is a lot of numbers in this book. Dates, dollars, and measurements of all kinds.

If you somehow could pick up the book and shake out all the numbers, you’d probably go from a 192-page book to about 40. This is an exaggeration (I think), but if you ever read the “The Great Transformation” you’ll understand what I mean. You have to really love data to appreciate this book. It got a bit much for my taste at times.

I’m not sure who all these numbers are for even, numbers without something to compare them to as the casual reader is more or less just sudoku without the part where you know you solved something.

I don’t know how significant it is that China has surpassed its nuclear power with its wind farms, to give one example and the book itself isn’t framing or explaining why this matters – It just assumes you are on the same page and moves on.

I prefer a book that can tell me the whole story instead of piling a couple of numbers in front of me and claim victory. Most of the first half of the book is like this and it was a  frustrating reading experience.

The book doesn’t have its own footnote-section, everything in the form of sources is neatly sorted and archived at Earth Policy’s webpage, I guess to save space. Its an odd practice, but as long as I can double-check the sources, I’m happy.

Utilities trying to stifle solar power may soon realize that the effort is futile. The U.K.based fincanical services firm Barclays downgraded the entire U.S-based financia sector in 2014, in part vecause in its view U.S utilities are generally unprepared for the challanges posed by distributed solar power and battery storay” – Lester Brown

There are some interesting sections, I got a few new ways to think about wind-powered grids and got away with some neat stories about geothermal use around the world that I hadn’t heard about before. But, there are way more enjoyable books and essays on the topic and far more pedagogical and better in the academic sense. You can safely skip this one in favor of reading something else on the topic.

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But if you are still interested in buying it and want to support the Utopium-project, please consider purchasing it through Amazon.

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