Book Review: The Age of Sustainability

I seek out Denis Pombriant, a fellow analyst, at industry events. We hardly ever talk about enterprise software. He is a history buff and a foodie and I walk away always having learned something and happier given his cheerful disposition.

Given his prodigious knowledge of US history I called him when I was writing Silicon Collar and asked him why as a society we go through “panic attacks” every few decades about automation causing catastrophic job losses. He explained that by talking about K-waves – Kondratiev’s long -term economic cycles.

His new book expresses optimism about the world of renewables and sustainability from his perspective of a K-Wave for the next few decades.

First a personal pov: As an innovation author I have written about Kleiner’s cleantech portfolio and Facebook and Google’s hyper efficient data centers in my books and I have countless blogs on New Florence on EVs and renewables. But I am not dewy-eyed about renewables. I believe in energy diversity for national security reasons. I am impatient that decades after subsidizing corn for ethanol, home solar salebacks to utilities and other incentives renewable energy still scales only so gradually and has hardly made a dent in our commercial transport sector.  And I smile at the guilt trip people set us on – see the frequency and ferocity of hurricanes this year? Has to be all the carbon pollution. Hello, I live in Florida and for a decade after Al Gore’s scary book and movie, NO hurricanes make landfall. I am hoping for similar with his sequel. Disruptive as the 2017 hurricane season has been, it may not even crack the top 5 most active in history.  Or the outrage that more of us in Florida do not have solar panels. Why not guilt the solar industry for doing a poor job pricing and blanketing the entire US South and Southwest with our plentiful sunshine? Or those who with bated breath talk about EVs. EVs are clean only in places like Canada or Norway where the majority of utility fuel comes from hydro. In the rest of the world, utilities we depend on to charge EVs are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

I found Denis’ book measured from that point of view. He covers wide ground when it comes to energy – the role of albedo in deflecting solar radiation, carbon sequestration, the limits to hyrdo and nuclear power growth, the risks that come with fracking, the concept of “peak oil”.  He is also realistic about our fossil fuel infrastructure and sunk costs. Not going away anytime soon because they also are source of raw materials for essentials like plastics and tires.

Given Denis’ meandering style, I also enjoyed as a bonus his various detours though how the English broke through in the quest for maritime navigational precision in the 1700s, the US Space Program in the 1960s and how different religions view man’s role in global warming.

It is a good read – will make you think long and hard why energy continues to be one of the globe’s vexing “Grand Challenges”. And why we need solar and wind energy in particular to scale up much more quickly and at far lower costs if we are serious about diversifying from fossil fuels.


(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.