Powerful Stuff

Apr 26, 2011
Outside Magazine
Climate Capitalism, Bottled Lightning, Powering the Dream

   Photo: Courtesy Hill and Wang and Da Capo

Hope sells, or at least publishers and politicians often bet that it will, and this month three new works face down the energy crisis with something that approximates optimism. In Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change (Hill and Wang, $26), eco-icon L. Hunter Lovins and carbon-offset executive Boyd Cohen make the case that with entrepreneurs creating profits from things like home insulation and biofuels, global warming can be defeated by the free market. It's cheery stuff, but one has to wonder: What happens when corporations—say, Monsanto, which is developing drought-resistant corn—see an upside to climate change? Popular Science editor Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy (Hill and Wang, $26) is a more rewarding read. As he traces the lithium battery from 18th-century Italy to the laboratories of 1970s Exxon (Exxon!) to modern Detroit to the salt flats of Bolivia, Fletcher provides a history of the tech that could fuel a green uprising among automakers. He also puts to bed the myth that "peak lithium" is as great a threat to the new economy as peak oil is to the old. But better batteries won't be enough to charge the future, argues Alexis Madrigal in the beautifully wrought Powering the Dream: the History and Promise of Green Technology (Da Capo, $28). With an eye to misfires in America's past, including the electric carriages and solar water heaters of the early 20th century—failures that were more sociological than technological—he astutely points to what it might take: technocrats wise enough to see that we need to reinvent not just our technology but our relationship with it.
Filed To: Books