Spend much time thinking about the global energy situation today, and it's easy to get profoundly depressed.
Weird changes seem to be rattling the earth's climate, even as 2 billion people in China and India have just begun to start living American-style, fuel-guzzling lives. The unshakeable addiction of the United States to Saudi Arabian oil subsidizes America-hating extremists from Iberia to Islamabad to Indonesia. Electric deregulation has been a costly disappointment in many states, a downright debacle in California. After consumers got a nice break in the 1990s, prices of gasoline and heating fuels seem to have locked into permanently higher levels.
But along comes Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, energy and environment editor for Britain's The Economist, to assure us in this new book that things are not as bad as they seem, and, if anything, are getting better.
''Can we move beyond today's dirty energy system to one that is cleaner, smarter, and altogether more sustainable? Absolutely," declares Vaitheeswaran. He says the solution lies in three converging trends: energy market deregulation, technological innovations like fuel cells and small-scale local power plants, and a growing worldwide environmental consciousness.
''For the first time in decades, there is reason for hope about the world's energy and environmental future," Vaitheeswaran declares.
What starts off sounding like a well-focused book quickly becomes scattered as it attempts to touch on all three issues. Vaitheeswaran meanders through an account of the California electric fiasco, his interview with pugnacious
Vaitheeswaran offers a tantalizing peek at a hurricane-ravaged village in Honduras being rebuilt with solar collectors for power generation, plus computers with broadband Internet connections contributed by
And the book has no shortage of ''to be sure" qualifiers. ''The transition to clean energy will not happen overnight," for example. Big nuclear power plants ''are being swept aside by the global move toward micropower" -- but many may hang in ''for some time in some parts of the world" because at least they don't add to global carbon dioxide emissions. And then there's the ultimate hedge against any solid prediction: ''Of course, no one knows what the future holds for our planet."
Covering yourself for eternity is tempting, but a bolder, braver voice in several places would have made this book more compelling.
''Power to the People" deserves middling grades for presenting a coherent, cogent theory of why the world is not going to the dogs energy-wise. But as a readable, lively survey of today's world of power by a likeable and smart writer, it stands out.
Peter J. Howe can be reached at email@example.com.