'Power Trip' and Energy Studies as a Liberal Arts Major

With a list of 8 other books on energy that I’ve reviewed for IHE.

June 23, 2019

Power Trip: The Story of Energy by Michael E. Webber

Published in May of 2019.

Is energy an academic discipline? Are there academic departments of energy? Can students at liberal arts institutions major in energy?

Read Webber’s fine (if weirdly titled) Power Trip, and you may be convinced that the answer to each of these questions should be “yes.”

Where Power Trip differs from other books on energy is how Webber contextualizes the impact of our various sources of power on modern life.  The chapters are arranged by how energy is utilized in the production, distribution, composition, and consumption of: water, food, transportation, wealth, cities, and security.

The result is that the reader of Power Trip starts to understand our energy extraction (oil, gas), creation (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear), and distribution (pipelines, tankers, grids) as the essential unifying force driving our economic and social lives.

Energy scarcity is highly correlated with barriers to schooling.  In poor countries, girls and women spend much of their days collecting water, and the fuel needed to boil water for cooking and drinking.

A billion people throughout the world lack access to reliable and affordable electricity, making it impossible to study at night.  Rural electrification has historically been one of the most effective tools in the fight against poverty.

If Webber had included a chapter on higher education, what would he have concluded about the role of energy in the modern university?  There is a fascinating story to be told about how many schools generate some or all of their electricity, heating, and cooling.

The university power plant would make an interesting lens from which to study the history and future of higher education.  How many schools are now working to replace fossil fuel energy generation with renewable sources?

What books should someone majoring in energy read?

Definitely Power Trip.  Webber does an excellent job of being clear-eyed about the environmental costs of our continued reliance on fossil fuels.  While providing a book-length explanation of how the quality of our life is largely dependent on energy, Webber makes a strong case for the feasibility of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The energy books in my digital library that I have reviewed (see links) include:

Can you recommend any other books on energy?

What are you reading?


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