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The ENERGY Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth

Bill McKibben Daniel Lerch David Fridley David Hughes Gloria Flora Richard Heinberg

October 31, 2012

What magic, or monster, lurks behind the light switch and the gas pump? Where does the seemingly limitless energy that fuels modern society come from? From oil spills, nuclear accidents, mountaintop removal coal mining, and natural gas “fracking” to large-scale wind, solar, and biomass plants, every source of energy has costs.

Featuring the essays found in ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth plus additional material, The ENERGY Reader takes an unflinching look at the systems that support our insatiable thirst for more power along with their unintended side effects. Over thirty leading thinkers on energy, society, and ecology lift the veil on the harsh realities of our pursuit of energy at any price, revealing the true costs, benefits, and limitations of all our energy options.

Edited by Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch and George Wuerthner. Introduction by Richard Heinberg.


PAPERBACK: via Bookshop.org | Indiebound | Amazon
DIGITAL: via Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble (Nook) | Kobo (ePub) | eBooks.com (ePub, PDF)

Also available as a large-format book featuring full-color photo spreads.

Read online

Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, every chapter of The ENERGY Reader is available online:





Part I. A Deeper Look at the Energy Picture
*On the original book website, the material in Part I was grouped under a section titled “The Energy Picture”
Introduction by Richard Heinberg


Part II. The Predicament
Introduction: Energy, Nature, and the Eco-Social Crisis

Five Carbon Pools, Wes Jackson

Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits, Wendell Berry

Life-Affirming Beauty, Sandra B. Lubarsky

Our Global Ponzi Economy, Lester R. Brown

Coal: The Greatest Threat to Civilization, James Hansen

The View from Oil’s Peak, Richard Heinberg

Energy Return on Investment, Charles A. S. Hall

Alternative Energy Challenges, David Fridley

When Risk Assessment Is Risky: Predicting the Effects of Technology, David Ehrenfeld

Malevolent and Malignant Threats, R. James Woolsey

Progress vs. Apocalypse: The Stories We Tell Ourselves, John Michael Greer


Part III. The Landscape of Energy
*On the original book website, the material in Part III was grouped under sections titled “The Energy Terrain” and “Energy in Numbers”
Introduction by David Murphy


Part IV. False Solutions
Introduction: False Solutions to the Energy Challenge

Drill Baby Drill: Why It Won’t Work for Long-Term Energy Sustainability, David Hughes

Nuclear Power and the Earth, Richard Bell

The False Promise of “Clean” Coal, Jeff Goodell

The Whole Fracking Enchilada, Sandra Steingraber

River Killers: The False Solution of Megadams, Juan Pablo Orrego

Bioenergy: A Disaster for Biodiversity, Health, and Human Rights, Rachel Smolker

Oil Shale Development: Looming Threat to Western Wildlands, George Wuerthner

Gas Hydrates: A Dangerously Large Source of Unconventional Hydrocarbons, George Wuerthner

Regulatory Illusion, Brian L. Horesji

Retooling the Planet: The False Promise of Geoengineering, ETC Group


Part V. Under Attack
Introduction: Onslaught of the Energy Machine

Will Drilling Spell the End of a Quintessential American Landscape?, Erik Molvar

Backing the Front: Fighting Oil and Gas Development in Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, Gloria Flora (The ENERGY Reader only)

Tar Sands, Pipelines, and the Threat to First Nations, Winona LaDuke, with Martin Curry (The ENERGY Reader only)

Sweet and Sour: The Curse of Oil in the Niger Delta, Michael Watts (The ENERGY Reader only)

Outsourcing Pollution and Energy-Intensive Production, Vandana Shiva (The ENERGY Reader only)


Part VI. Depowering Destruction
Introduction: Toward an Energy Economy as if Nature Mattered

The Case for Conservation, Richard Heinberg

Reinventing Fire, Amory B. Lovins

Cap the Grid, Robert E. King

Protected Areas: Foundation of a Better Future Relationship with Energy, Harvey Locke

Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming, Bill McKibben

Distributed Renewable Generation: Why It Should Be the Centerpiece of U.S. Energy Policy, Sheila Bowers and Bill Powers

No Ecological Sustainability without Limits to Growth, Philip Cafaro


Part VII. What We’re for

What We’re For


Afterword: Places Where the Wind Carries the Ashes of Ancestors, Lisi Krall

Praise for ENERGY and The ENERGY Reader


“A great resource, a wonderful collection.”

— Eric Zencey, Fellow, The Gund Institute for Ecological Economics

“It’s great! Thanks so much.”

— Daniel Blumstein, Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of California, Los Angeles

“A wonderfully written book rich with information and probing perspectives!”

— Daniel Fernandez, Faculty, Science and Environmental Policy, California State University – Monterey Bay

“I found the material excellent.”

— Daniel Leavell, Associate Professor of Geology, The Ohio State University

“Very helpful and informative.”

— Jeffrey Broadbent, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota

“Excellent, comprehensive, well laid-out — a great selection of contributors.”

— Mike Snyder, Founder and Filmmaker at Interdependent Pictures and Adjunct Professor at Allegany College of Maryland

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Doug Tompkins, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Sandra Lubarsky, Lester Brown, James Hansen, Richard Heinberg, Charles Hall, David Fridley, David Ehrenfeld, James Woolsey, John Michael Greer, David Murphy, David Hughes, Richard Bell, Jeff Goodell, Sandra Steingraber, Juan Pablo Orrego, Rachel Smolker, Brian Horesji, ETC Group, Erik Molvar, Amory Lovins, Robert King, Harvey Locke, Bill McKibben, Philip Cafaro, Sheila Bowers, Bill Powers, Lisi Krall. The ENERGY Reader includes additional chapters by Winona LaDuke, Vandana Shiva, Gloria Flora, and Michael Watts.

Published by the Foundation for Deep Ecology in collaboration with Watershed Media and Post Carbon Institute. 384 pages, 6” x 9”, 7 b/w photographs, 5 line illustrations. ISBN 978-0970950093.