My WorldChanging “Attention Grant” — David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air”

WorldChanging — one of the top environmental websites — asked me for an “Attention Grant”:

At Worldchanging, one of our three main missions is to practice attention philanthropy. Attention philanthropy is a gift of notice. In a noisy world, deluged in advertising, overrun with PR flacks and crowded with the superficial, one of the biggest barriers to success for a small, good idea or noble enterprise can simply be getting noticed in the first…

Since the summer is the time to recommend books, I thought I’d recognize David MacKay for his wonderful guide: Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air

. MacKay has not merely written an outstanding and highly readable textbook on every aspect of carbon-saving energy — he has put it all online for free.


In this book, you will learn about every kind of low carbon energy, from wind and solar to wave and tidal from hybrid cars to efficient heating and cooling. This is a book for people who like no-nonsense numbers, people who like to do back-of-the-envelope calculations, people who want to know the difference between essentially meaningless advice, like “switch off your mobile phone charger when it’s not in use,” and the serious strategies and policies that could actually make a difference in humanity’s desperate effort to avert catastrophic climate impacts.

How can you not love a book explaining that a more realistic mantra than “every little bit helps” is “if everyone does a little, will achieve only a little.” That is certainly a central message of this blog — see, for instance, “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution.

Yes, the book is pitched towards Great Britain, but MacKay expands his horizon even to the crucial technology of concentrated solar power in his chapter, “Living on the other countries’ renewables?” I am not endorsing every conclusion MacKay reaches, but his book is a standout in a subject area that is dominated by handwaving analysis.

If you want the meat and potatoes of sustainable energy, this book needs to be on your shelf — or downloaded on your PC.