On Sunday, I interviewed Maggie Koerth-Baker, the author of Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. The interview was live on radio, but you can listen to it here as a podcast.
Maggie is the science editor at Boing Boing, a journalist, and has had an interest in energy and the related science and engineering for some time. Her book is an overview, historical account, and detailed description of the energy systems that we use in the United States, outlining the flow of watts, CO2 emissions, methods of making more watts, what we use it all for, and more. Maggie focuses on the electrical power grid, which is actually responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than internal combustion powered transport (cars, trucks, etc.), but she does touch on the latter. She focuses on the US but she draws from overseas examples in discussing what is normally done, what is not normally done, and what we might do in the future. She develops compelling and sometimes startling imagery and provides interesting and lively metaphors useful in describing and understanding sometimes very abstract problems related to making, delivering, and using energy.
Here’s the bottom line. If you want to have an intelligent conversation about energy, especially related to current problems and needs in the US and especially related to the electrical grid, you have to either know all the stuff that is in Before the Lights Go Out, or read the book before you engage in that conversation, or, if you can’t manage either of those, then maybe you should just shut up. Seriously.
I’ve been engaged in conversations about energy at a significantly heightened pace over the last several months, for various reasons, and I’ve found that the stuff that comes out of people’s mouths (my own included) is very often either very out of date or was never very correct to begin with. Maggie’s book is a very engaging way of fixing that. If you read the book, you will be caught up.
I caution those of you who might listen to the podcast that we only touched on part of what is covered in the book! You can’t just listen to the interview and skip reading the source material! Having said that, I’m not going to go into great detail here either. Listen to the podcast, get the book, read it, and report back. You will probably have interesting questions and additions to add to the comment section.