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Read more about Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet

Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet

(4 reviews)

Thomas W. Murphy, UC San Diego

Copyright Year: 2021

ISBN 13: 9780578867175

Publisher: eScholarship

Language: English

Formats Available

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Reviewed by Jolvan Morris, Adjunct Professor, Bunker Hill Community College on 3/18/23

In the preface, the author frames this book as a physics text that is intended to support a general education college course on energy and the environment. I found this textbook to be comprehensive, albeit quite dense. While I appreciate the... read more

Reviewed by Susan Bilo, Instructor, Montana State University – Bozeman on 11/16/22

Being a physics based energy book, I found the coverage of energy's multifaceted nature complete. The book does a great job in addressing energy issues via sustainability's pillars. With the human population fast approaching eight million, it... read more

Reviewed by Kendra Wallis, Associate Professor of Instruction, University of Texas at Arlington on 4/14/22

This text presents the problem of energy usage on a planet with finite resources in a novel way. Developing the thinking process beginning with considering the absurdity of infinite continued growth through a process that explains the physics of... read more

Reviewed by Sean Moroney, Lecturer, Windward Community College on 3/11/22

The book sets off on its excursion through our knowledge of, and our philosophy of, the energy dilemma of our times with a set of basic contexts of our time. We learn a bit about the math of exponents and its application to energy. The limits of... read more

Table of Contents

  • I. Setting the Stage: Growth and Limitations
  • II. Energy and Fossil Fuels
  • III. Alternative Energy
  • IV. Going Forward

Ancillary Material

  • eScholarship
  • About the Book

    Where is humanity going? How realistic is a future of fusion and space colonies? What constraints are imposed by physics, by resource availability, and by human psychology? Are default expectations grounded in reality?

    This textbook, written for a general-education audience, aims to address these questions without either the hype or the indifference typical of many books. The message throughout is that humanity faces a broad sweep of foundational problems as we inevitably transition away from fossil fuels and confront planetary limits in a host of unprecedented ways—a shift whose scale and probable rapidity offers little historical guidance.

    Salvaging a decent future requires keen awareness, quantitative assessment, deliberate preventive action, and—above all—recognition that prevailing assumptions about human identity and destiny have been cruelly misshapen by the profoundly unsustainable trajectory of the last 150 years.  The goal is to shake off unfounded and unexamined expectations, while elucidating the relevant physics and encouraging greater facility in quantitative reasoning.

    After addressing limits to growth, population dynamics, uncooperative space environments, and the current fossil underpinnings of modern civilization, various sources of alternative energy are considered in detail— assessing how they stack up against each other, and which show the greatest potential.  Following this is an exploration of systemic human impediments to effective and timely responses, capped by guidelines for individual adaptations resulting in reduced energy and material demands on the planet’s groaning capacity. Appendices provide refreshers on math and chemistry, as well as supplementary material of potential interest relating to cosmology, electric transportation, and an evolutionary perspective on humanity’s place in nature.

    About the Contributors


    Thomas W, Murphy Jr, UC San Diego  

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