Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday's Green Books: On Empty by Bill Roth (and a copy giveaway)

On Empty (Out of Time) is an energy industry veteran's take on the current sorry state of affairs of the US American dependence on oil imports, and the impending economic and ecological crises stemming from man made global warming.

As such, it joins the ranks of similarly billed books such as Washington state congressman Jay Inslee's Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, and Environmental Defense Fund founder Fred Krupp's Earth: The Sequel (previously featured in our green books series).

Krupp's work brought to life the alternative energy technological sector with a focus on the exciting soap operatic world of cleantech start-ups and investors, while Inslee focused on political leadership and vision. Roth's approach is different. First of all he brings to the table a solid background in the energy sector, with a career that included posts such as senior VP of marketing and sales with PG&E Energy Services, COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions and president of Cleantech America, a developer of solar power plants.

Yes, Roth ( is a corporate America insider and a reluctant environmentalist, whose resistances had to be overcome. These resistances fell away when they were faced with hard scientific and economic facts, and Roth now believes that global warming is here, was created by human activity, and that something can be done about it. As such, he is well worth listening to.

Numbers are something you will not be able to ignore when reading this book. Roth likes to explain the economics and goes as far as defining basic principles to the uninitiated reader, such as supply & demand, income effect, price elasticity and so on. Once he has given you the basics he begins to demonstrate each of his points with figures, facts and explanations.

Here is one of my favorites:

FACT: There is a national debate on whether our country should drill for oil in the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The motivation to do so is based upon estimates that this area contains 4.3 to 11 billion barrels of oil... This monster-sized oil deposit only equals between 1 to 2 years of out annual imports of oil. It would only fulfill about THREE MONTHS of the world's current annual oil demands of 85 to 90 billion barrels.(p.33)

This drives home quite clearly the futility of extra drilling as any form of real solution to the energy crisis, and the frivolous way in which drilling advocates are willing to condemn the Arctics to ruination for a relatively insignificant return.

An interesting position Roth holds is in that which is in favor of renewed national interest in nuclear energy. According to Roth (p. 101), “The U.S history of nuclear-fueled electricity is an unqualified success from a consumer and environmental perspective”. He then goes on to list some facts which are sometimes quite hard to accept.

The first is that there are “no fatalities tied to nuclear power plant operations”. Having reviewed here recently Kelly McMaster's Welcome to Shirley, a memoir from a town adjacent to a nuclear research facility in Long Island, I will have to take this assertion with a grain of salt.

Another point which he makes, writing that “nuclear waste has been safely contained”, is in contrast to many views, such as Krupp's assessment of nuclear power in Earth: The Sequel. Such public debate can only benefit us and help direct research agendas and funds. I can only hope that there will be more open and widespread discussion on these topics.

Finally, Roth presents his own agenda and big solutions to the crisis at the end of the book, but I am not going to list it all here. He builds up his case over time, and it is really imperative to digest some of the economics and numbers in order to get where he's going with it and why. So I'll just say that some of his ideas are very interesting, feasible, and yet quite radical in today's political climate. But who knows, maybe next year we'll see it all take place.

Bill Roth is working with Eco-Libris to green up the book. A tree will be planted for every copy sold of the book. Buyers will also receive our sticker with their book, saying "One tree planted for this book".

Book's name: On Empty (Out of Time)

Author: Bill Roth

Publisher: Self Published (2008)

Pages: 204


We will be giving away the review copy of the book. It also comes with a tree that will be planted for it with Eco-Libris and you will also recieve our "One tree planted for this book" sticker.

How you can win? please add a comment below about your thoughts on nuclear energy and whether you are in favor of wider use of this option or not. Submissions are accepted until Saturday, September 6, 12PM EST. The winner will be announced the following day.


Eylon @ Eco-Libris

Plant a Tree for Every Book you Read!


Unknown said...

I believe that there are other viable methods of generating energy (wind power, for example) that are not as environmentally hazardous as nuclear power. Even a small risk is too much risk for us to accept when there are other options available. So, no, I don't support it. I think we have the technology and resources to avoid using it all together, if the country wasn't strangling itself in red tape and greed.

I'd love the opportunity to read On Empty. Thanks for the giveaway!

Mary512 said...

I dunno I'm kind of torn on the subject. I have heard plus sides and negatives to nuclear energy. One of my best friends has a degree in nuclear engineering so maybe I should ask her. Great giveaway, thanks!

hermeslyre said...

I'm not sure about it either, myself. I've heard all the negative connotations, and few of the positive. I'm sure I've heard overreactions and much sensationalism regarding the subject, and I really wouldn't be comfortable developing an opinion without some comprehensive research of my own.

Which I haven't done. There are so many controversies in the world today, i can't keep up with half of them! I hope this half-answer still enters me in the contest, this book might edumacate me alittle.

Alyce said...

I think that nuclear power is only slightly better than oil because of the dangers and risks involved with it. (Like the China Syndrome or Chernobyl.) I would be in favor of renewable energy, such as solar power, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.

Anonymous said...

A reluctant environmentalist?

I am truly honored that Eco-libris and Eylon Israely have reviewed my book, On Empty (out of time). It is a unique and beneficial experience to have people of such talent and insight willing to offer their perspective on your work.

But as a point of clarity, while I would be honored to be known as an environmentalist, even a reluctant one, I am not. The environmentalists I know are better than me. They are caring, typically very knowledgeable people about life-science, who love all things living. I am an economist, a numbers guys who does care very deeply care about mankind and life. What drew me to economics was its key definitions, namely that we do live on Spaceship Earth which economics defines as a “scarce resource” and that we all have been cast “East of Eden” which in economics is called the “marginal propensity to consume” or in other words, people are pretty self-absorbed on a daily basis and will typically do what’s in their personal best interest.

The fact I am an economist is important to putting Eylon’s review into perspective and seeing the unique value of On Empty (out of time). The thrust of this book is that while environmentalism is our moral high ground it is through the economy that things get done. And the enabling tool for getting things done in an economy is the price signal. Today our price signals are not telling the whole story on energy. If the cost of having “boots on the ground” and air emission impacts were added to the price at the pump, rather than being paid for through income taxes and national debt, we would be paying $6-8 per gallon. If coal-fired electric power plants were required to achieve the same zero-emissions as wind and solar power then industry estimates are that coal-fired power plants and solar thermal power plants would be approximately equal in price at the meter and wind powered electricity plants would be the low price leader.

And most importantly, if our prices were reflecting the true costs of energy production the biggest “winner” would be conservation and energy efficiency. Isn’t that what we have seen when the price at the pump jumped above $4 per gallon?

So while a discussion on nuclear power is always beneficial, that is not the focus of On Empty (out of time). Nuclear is one of seven technology paths discussed in the book. As an economist I take note in the book that the latest price estimates for the next generation of nuclear power plants being proposed by the utilities is almost three times historical levels so whether nuclear power is safe, or safe enough, is unlikely to be an issue of much relevance if the price per kilowatt hour of energy from proposed nuclear power plants are not competitive with conservation, solar, wind or any of the other fantastic range of options our free enterprise system of economics will propose to consumers.

And that leads to my “radical” suggestions. Let’s price energy at the meter and pump in a manner that includes the entire supply chain and environmental impact costs. Really, is that so radical? Yes, if you are an oil company or utility principally using coal as a fuel resource. Yes, if you bought a V-8 engine. Yes, if you bought the biggest house you could afford because that also provides you with the largest amount of Federal Income Tax benefits. Yes, if you are a major retailer that has built your competitive advantage upon importing goods from countries that subsidize their comparative manufacturing cost advantage through the consumption of lower cost, higher polluting fuels.

One hope in writing On Empty (out of time) is that it will be a bridging platform on a complex and highly emotional topic. It outlines the facts, lots of facts. The purpose for all of those facts is to help in the definition of what types of changes are required and on what scale. And whether we are environmentalists or economists or mom’s or dad’s, in our country we answer the questions of “how much and when” through our economy. So to quote from On Empty (out of time), the purpose of this book’s ideas is to enable the American consumer to vote with their pocket books for the changes that their political votes have failed to achieve.

Thanks again to Eco-libris and Eylon for the honor they bestowed upon me in reading my book and this opportunity to add these additional thoughts of explanation.

Bill Roth

Chrissy said...

I believe that we need to find additional energy sources but neclear power is very scary and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

The last few days all news media are reporting about the newly discovered leak in the nuclear waste facility in Saxony, Germany:

"The Asse-II mine was closed in 1964 and converted to an "experimental" nuclear facility in 1967. Now it officially holds up to 130,000 metal drums of low- and mid-level radioactive waste. But the report said highly radioactive plutonium had also been dumped in the mine, along with a number of nuclear fuel rods. Radioactivity readings there are at eight times the "safe" level, some barrels have tipped over and rusted through, and the worry is that saltwater leaking from the mine is not just radioactive but might contaminate public water supplies. The mine has been known to leak brine since 1988. Some experts fear it may collapse altogether by 2014."
From Spiegel.

It is a scary world indeed. "We" are putting enormous responsibility in the hands of few, when we use nuclear power. Our over infatuation with tech fixes is scaring me the most. The only way forward is conservation. In order for this to work, understanding of human behavior is much, much more important than the next hot tech innovation. Sadly, most research money goes to the tech fixes and not to understanding consumer behavior and how it can be changed without much welfare loss.

Bill says in a comment that including the true cost will overcome some of the problems. However, economics is a subjective area more than for example nuclear research. One economist will find one cost to include, and another will not. How will we arrive at a true cost estimate for anything? I would argue that it is impossible. Thus, this cost-focus is only a very small part the solution. Perhaps the arguments for this are better explained in the book which I haven't read... yet.

kat. said...

Has anyone seen Greenpeace's calendar with photos from nuclear devastated areas of ex-USSR? People are ill and dying but cannot afford a better life, they're forced to stay there with all the contamination surrounding them. On the other hand, our culture spends more than we can afford - just observe how much electricity is being spent during night for lighting up buildings, ads... That's sick. Everyone should strive to use less electricity - it should be an ethical issue, and we wouldn't even have to talk about building more nuclear plants.

Sarah said...

I need to research nuclear energy more, I think, before I can answer...but my initial reaction is: Why not safe, renewable energy sources first? Wind and solar? Let's get the infrastructure in place so we can generate energy cleanly, safely and cheaply instead of relying on sketchy alternatives.

This sounds like an excellent read. Thank you for the contest. :)

ignoramoose (at) gmail (dot) com

Buki Family said...

first of all, i love that they plant a tree when you get the book. second of all, why should we mess with fire when there are safer proven measures for energy. I think we should be investing our research money into sustantible energy

cathyhall said...

I am an avid fan of nuclear energy. In countries such as the usa, who can run and control nuclear stations - I think there should be more of them. I am from the UK originally and we have many nuclear fission plants there, without problems.

As for the ex USSR - there is a whole story behind that issue. People are still choosing to live there, due to insufficient knowledge.

Anonymous said...

plant a tree and use less electric - lets get going with solar panels and wind turbines. NO to nuclear.

david j norris at ntl world dot com

Misty said...

I don't know much about the subject but my brother-in-law does work at a nuclear plant in Avila. He is a firefighter there. He seems to think it is safe. Not sure what it is doing to the environment but as long as we have other sources then maybe we should hold off on nuclear energy.

Thanks for the chance to win.


kaylee8 said...

If we can find a way to safely use and dispose of the waste createdm then I am in favor, but I want to explore all the options first.

Annie said...

My son, like most of the younger generation, is very much in favor of nuclear power. Being older, my husband and I are more skeptical. There is definitely a generational divide on this issue!

pintolinda said...

I am worried about all of those spent fuel rods that have to be transported and stored for thousands of years. Surely we can do better.

Derek Markham said...

Nuclear power is safe... when it's 90 million miles away.

Anonymous said...

I think that it just makes sense to use the nuclear power plants that we do have to their potential. Otherwise, what's the point? However, I don't think we should expand nuclear energy at all. I'd rather see us move into wind power and solar power options.
Thanks for the chance to win!

off2europe said...

Nuclear Energy has its pros and cons. As we deplete our other natural resources, I do believe it's time we really look at expanding our nuclear energy in our country. It is a safe way to begin our seperation of oil dependency on other countries. You hear from many people that it is an unsafe and dangerous energy. My question is, how many accidents have we had over the last 30 years. Russia had 1, but that was their incompentence. We had one years ago and we have been working since to make it safe. It's time we begin expanding our nuclear energy availability.

Unknown said...

I think we should look at cleaner energy sources first. Also, you don't have to worry so much about a terrorist blowing up a wind mill or solar panel.

Anonymous said...

I don't really know where I stand on nuclear energy right now, but I do believe that the government needs to work harder at promoting alternatives and making them more accessible. Hydroelectricity, wind power, solar power etc. I think that's what we should be concentrating on right now. Along with more electric vehicles.

sweetsue said...

I don't know much about nuclear power, but it frightens me. I am sure there have been many close calls that the public hasn't been informed about. Something has to be done about our current situation, but I hope there is a safe solution.

Dani' said...

More natural sources (water,solar,wind, GARBAGE!) need to be investigated before jumping to nuclear.


Before I open my mouth I would love to read it, because I just don't open my mouth without all the facts. I would like to see more natural resources being used though..