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Introduced by Cimino 17 September 2010
Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, figure 11

Who’s Out of Control: Professor David MacKay’s ‘cartoon’ demonstrating that China is not the carbon dioxide culprit, certainly not per capita in 2000. Aotearoa’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are similar to those of South Africa—significantly more than China, which has since risen to match the relative fossil-fuel frugality of nuclear-powered France. chart Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air

Bill Gates puts it as well as anyone:

If someone wants an overall view of how energy gets used, where it comes from, and the challenges in switching to new sources, this is the book to read.

Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air was written by physicist David J C MacKay and published just nine months before Gordon Brown set up the Department of Energy and Climate Change, with Professor MacKay as its chief scientific advisor.

That Professor MacKay was appointed to the role is a credit to Gordon Brown because the former is not particularly complimentary about the latter’s performance as Energy Minister. Mind, he is positively derisive of Tony Blair.

Professor MacKay stresses that he is not an economist, but that carbon-dioxide-free energy alternatives have to add up physically before debating what might be affordable, or politically acceptable:

This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up.

Many books on climate action ignore nuclear power or rule it out on account of the supposed intractability of the issue of long-lived radioactive by-products. Professor MacKay’s book is comprehensive, and accordingly covers the fourth-generation technologies for generating power from so‑called nuclear waste, and from thorium.

If anything, Bill Gates undersells Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. Professor MacKay brilliantly illustrates his numbers with beautifully clear charts—an excellent example is on page 12. Encouragingly, Professor MacKay displays a number of energy plans that do stack up. All that is needed now is the said courage.

Although the book in its entirety is available online, it has the most uninviting home page. Lest potential readers be turned off by that, the Mahurangi Magazine provides access directly from this page:

Sustainable energy


Part one: Numbers, not adjectives

  1. Motivations
  2. The balance sheet
  3. Cars
  4. Wind
  5. Planes
  6. Solar
  7. Heating and cooling
  8. Hydroelectricity
  9. Light
  10. Offshore wind
  11. Gadgets
  12. Wave
  13. Food and farming
  14. Tide
  15. Stuff
  16. Geothermal
  17. Public services
  18. Can we live on renewables?


Part two: Making a difference

  1. Every big helps
  2. Better transport
  3. Smarter heating
  4. Efficient electricity use
  5. Sustainable fossil fuels?
  6. Nuclear?
  7. Living on other countries’ renewables?
  8. Fluctuations and storage
  9. Five energy plans for Britain
  10. Putting costs in perspective
  11. What to do now
  12. Energy plans for Europe, America, and the world
  13. The last thing we should talk about
  14. Saying yes


Part three: Technical chapters

  1. Cars II
  2. Wind II
  3. Planes II
  4. Solar II
  5. Heating II
  6. Waves II
  7. Tide II
  8. Stuff II


Part four: Useful data

  1. Quick reference
  2. Populations and areas
  3. United Kingdom energy history
  4. Power translation chart