New technology titles reviewed.
An Appeal to Reason
By Nigel Lawson (Duckworth Overlook, £9.99)
On the face of it, Nigel Lawson seems a peculiar author for a book on global warming, but on closer inspection it makes perfect sense.His pedigree, as a political behemoth in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government - including spells as Secretary of State for Energy and Chancellor of the Exchequer - makes him in truth an ideal candidate for a dispassionate look at a very emotive subject.
In this short and very readable work, he applies the disciplines of his former life to stripping away the hype that surrounds global warming and laying bare its myths. Thankfully, on that point Lawson uses the term 'global warming' rather than 'climate change', explaining that climate changes all the time, for reasons that may have little or nothing to do with temperature, let alone with man, and are only imperfectly understood.
The most surprising conclusion from Lawson's trawl through the hysteria that makes up a chunk of the writings on global warming is that it is far from proven. Given that nowadays pretty well every adverse development in the natural world is automatically attributed to it, and despite carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, it is not, at the present time, happening.
One of the central messages of the book is that, in the light of the uncertainty that exists about the science, and the inevitable uncertainty that there is about the future in general, it must make more sense to rely on autonomous adaptation, buttressed where necessary with positive policy measures to assist it, than pay a heavy price to try and secure a drastic reduction in emissions without even any realistic likelihood of achieving this globally.
Theoretically, the governments of the developed world could increase the taxes on their own people to bribe China, India, Brazil and the rest of the developing world to accept a sharp increase in the price of carbon. But anyone who believes this to be a realistic way forward need not bother about saving the planet; they are already living on a different one.
Lawson's conclusions will not be popular amongst eco crusaders, but will make salutary reading for the rest. He points out that, even on the basis of the IPCC's "flawed" economic assumptions we find that the existential threat to the planet, the disaster that we must do all in our power to avert, is merely that living standards in the developing world in 100 years are projected to be only 8.5 times as high as they are today, instead of 9.5 times.
The rampant drive to reduce carbon emissions and adopt renewable technologies is derided as so much feel-good folly from the middle classes. He is equally disparaging about the possibility of any global consensus, quite rightly, as leaders in the developing world are more interested in raising the standard of living for their citizens than towing any Western line on carbon emissions.
Lawson brands the zeal with which believers follow the global warming bandwagon as eco-fundamentalism. But he points out this new green religion resembles a 'Da Vinci Code' of environmentalism. It is a great story and a phenomenal best seller. It contains a grain of truth as well as a mountain of nonsense. And that nonsense could be very damaging indeed.
Reviewed by Mark Venables, Power editor
Seven years to save the planet
By Bill McGuire (Orion, £9.99)
"Bill McGuire is the director of one of the world's most prestigious hazard research centres. He sits at the apex of a stream of information, constantly collected from around the world, on the state of our planet."
Glance at the blurb on the back of this book and you might think you'd picked up a new title from the burgeoning eco-thriller genre - the latest adventure of a tough yet vulnerable government operative who heads a crack team of misfit scientists responsible for tackling the latest environmental crisis to threaten mankind. "It's not too late, but time's running out," is the ominous tagline.
The austere front cover is more revealing. You'll have to do a little research of your own because it's not obvious, but McGuire is a real-life volcanologist and director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London - a background that should give him a unique perspective on environmental issues.
Why the deadline for saving the planet is just seven years away is the first question that the book sets out to answer. McGuire's justification is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's warning last year that to have any chance of preventing "dangerous climate change" the world's carbon emissions will have to peak by 2015, then start to decline. Through a series of 87 brief sections, each prefaced by a question, he looks at how we've reached this position, the implications for today's young people and what individuals and businesses need to do.
The result is an impressive summary of the evidence for climate change. For most of the issues tackled, however, you wouldn't have to look far to dispute McGuire's stance. For example, can we be certain that the Earth is heating up? McGuire says there's no doubt whatsoever, and cites the IPCC's statement that the evidence is "unequivocal".
As a summary of the case for taking urgent action right now it does a good job of identifying the key issues in a concise way that's easy to dip into.
In the 88th section, 'Que sera, sera' McGuire admits that writing the book has made him less pessimistic about our chances of "saving the planet". We've got the tools to do the job, and industry is chasing the opportunities rather than fleeing the problems.
Reviewed by Dominic Lenton, E&T managing editor
The Innovation Handbook
Adam Jolly, consultant editor (Kogan Page, £19.95)
Most successful companies by default have a reasonable idea of what their customers will pay for and how to deliver it. But when it comes to real innovation, you need to pursue the right idea at the right speed and on the right scale. As Robin Webb, UK-IPO director of innovation, says in his foreword to this new edition of the Innovation Handbook, alongside flashes of brilliance the success of a new idea will depend on strategy, leadership, funding, marketing, teamwork, and appropriate intellectual property within the business model. It's unlikely that you'll have all these resources in house, and even if you do, it's perhaps as well to have a written guide to the effective management of such ideas.
Starting off with 'The Innovation Premium', there's lots here on how and why we need to innovate. There's plenty of straightforward advice, much of it well considered and from leading experts in their fields. The definition for 'Open Innovation' could easily be simplified to 'getting other people to help you', and yet it is helpful for cutting through the jargon. There are interesting discussions on Continuous Improvement (CI), Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and licensing your product.
On the whole, the book's position is that innovation is a positive force, although several contributors stress that it needs to be handled sensitively. Gerard Burke of the Cranfield School of Management is the most cautious. How often, he asks, have we heard that companies must innovate or die? And yet the stats show it's better to stick to what you're good at before attempting to diversify. This, he says, is a much surer way of attaining sustainable growth for your business.
This new edition of the Innovation Handbook is a superb reference for the engineering manager and should be at the right hand of those sincerely wanting to bring new products to the marketplace. My only problem with it is that the contents section alone is more than 60 pages long - a result of it being stuffed full of advertisements. While you could argue that their presence is mere clutter, there is also a case to be made for seeing it as an unequivocal endorsement of this indispensable resource.
Reviewed by Nick Smith, Management editor
The Big Necessity
By Rose George (Portobello Books, £12.99)
It takes a brave author not only to delve into the world of poo, but also to make sweeping statements about cultural attitudes to the stuff: "Of all the people in the world, the Chinese are probably most at home with their excrement."
Rose George has certainly done her research. This is a book that had to be written, and it's fortunate for those of us with a too-sensitive nose that she laces her wide-ranging inquiry with many interesting tales and anecdotes.
Getting back to the Chinese, we find that the country's vast army of farm workers is - under the inevitable direction of the state - recycling its human waste to provide local energy supplies. Courtesy of biogas digesters, the excrement is turned into a heady mix of methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide, which can be used as a fuel for cooking stoves, lights and even showers. But there remains a doubt over whether all the toxins in the waste are fully eradicated.
In the US, the recycling of human waste is more corporate. It is processed in industrial plants to produce natural fertiliser for farmland. The problem, though, is that a lot of the ingredients may not be so natural or particularly benign. George serves up some heart-rending human misery in the form of a woman with holes in her brain who blames the residual chemicals and other harmful substances that some believe remain in the fertiliser despite all the processing.
She leavens these serious inquiries with several dips into the global cultural byways of the excrement disposal. Japan's high-tech robo-toilets, which automatically fire jets of water to wash the sitter's nether regions, have never caught on in the West.
Public facilities seem to be unwelcome in India, where the millions of municipal latrines have been ignored or put to use as goat sheds. The seriousness of India's situation is highlighted by the fact that today only 233 of the country's 5,233 towns have even partial sewer coverage. One of the book's key messages is summed up thus: "Two-thirds of the world is without sanitation. Over a billion people drink filthy water every day."
So, coming to terms with human waste should literally boil down to ensuring that the world's poor at least have safe drinking water. George pays tribute to the "Searchers" who look beyond the "world of engineering certainties" - epitomised by London's Victorian sewers - towards innovations such as China's biogas digesters. But she must realise the contradiction: safe drinking water requires the type of engineering we have come to admire.