After years of radio silence, I am popping back up and will have more to say at Do the Math in the coming months as I re-engage on topics relevant to this blog.
The first thing is to announce the launch of a textbook at eScholarship Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet: Assessing and Adapting to Planetary Limits that is free to access electronically (PDF download), or is available in paperback form for the cost of printing (royalty-free; at Lulu). Over the years, I received a number of encouragements to write a book collecting the ideas and analysis from Do the Math posts. I appreciated the sentiment, but given the substantial effort required to produce something that was already available for free, it never rose to a high priority in the competition for limited time.
After a long hiatus from teaching the general education energy course at UCSD—due mostly to a heavy administrative role for five years—I picked it up again for Winter quarter 2020. I had always been discontented when it came to textbook choices: my sense was that they tended to play it safe to avoid the risk of being provocative. But provocative may be what our situation calls for! I had been inspired by David MacKay’s fabulous and quantitatively rich Sustainability: Without the Hot Air, but its focus on the UK and not-quite-textbook format kept me from adopting it for the classroom.
So I set out to capture key elements of Do the Math in a textbook for the Winter 2020 class, following a somewhat similar trajectory: growth limits; fossil fuels and climate change; alternative energy capabilities and pros/cons; concluding with a dose of human factors and personal adaptation strategies. I stayed just ahead of the class, issuing one chapter at a time as visually unappealing PDFs having a few key figures and tables. So I essentially wrote the book in early 2020. But that turned out to be the smaller end of the workload.
During the course, I collected feedback on each chapter from students as part of their assignment regimen. I asked what was missing, what was confusing, what figures or tables would help, and if anything seemed dubious or wrong. I have to hand it to the students: they dug in and provided fantastic feedback. Reformatting the book to include margin notes, a hyperlinked glossary, an index, etc.—while also responding to about 2,600 feedback “tickets”—took substantial time and was completed in December 2020. I thought I was done, but suggestions from colleagues and three rounds of proofreading prints added a few months. Reassuringly, my list of actions at each stage dropped from 42 pages of notes to 17 to 9—indicating convergence.
Also, feel free to leave reviews at the Lulu site (if purchasing a print version) to help others understand what the book offers.
In the coming months, I plan to start creating more Do the Math posts to share the evolution of my thoughts around this whole civilization business.