On this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff sits down with Richard Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author, and author of newly released book, Energy: A Human History, to discuss what history can tell us about our current energy transition. 

In the book, Richard takes us on a journey through the history behind energy transitions over time—from wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond – by looking back on five centuries of progress, through such influential figures as Queen Elizabeth I, Benjamin Franklin, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and others. 

Richard and Jason discuss this history and more, including the successes and failures that led to various energy innovations, the threat of climate change, and how to provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for a growing global population.

 

View the transcript

[00:00:02]

Jason Bordoff: Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. Richard Rhodes is one of my favorite authors. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb. He's written countless other books and his new book which comes out May 29th is about energy called Energy: A Human history.

 

And if you're an energy nerd like me you won't be able to put it down. Richard takes us on a journey through the history behind energy transitions over time from wood to coal to oil to renewable’s and beyond. Some stories are well known, some much less so, a fascinating set of characters that go back in time all the way to Elizabethan England. It’s a collection of fascinating stories in the history of energy from people like Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, Michael Ferretti, Colonel Edwin Drake, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Hyman Rickover and many, many others.

 

It also provides fascinating insights into how energy history should help us today understand a possible energy transition of the future towards lower carbon economy, to provide affordable reliable and sustainable energy for a growing global population. I greatly enjoyed my conversation with Richard Rhodes. I enjoyed reading the book. I hope you will as well, here's that conversation. Richard Rhodes thanks so much for joining us and being with us on Columbia Energy Exchange today.

 

[00:01:27]

Richard Rhodes: Thank you my pleasure.

 

[00:01:29]

Jason Bordoff: It’s a pleasure to talk with you I’ve been a fan of your work for some time and it’s a pretty broad and diverse body of work from some aspects of energy like nuclear, but everything from disease to art to the Spanish Civil War even Hedy Lamarr. So, what brought you back to energy this time for your new book Energy: A Human History?

 

[00:01:51]

Richard Rhodes: Most of all the fact that we're now in the middle of what I think is the largest energy transition in human history. And you know, I’ve written so much around this subject and here was the chance to take a look all the way back to what was really the beginning and the rest. One of the things that I discovered when I was working on The Making of the Atomic bomb, in fact one of the reasons I wrote that book is because we seem to be in the early 1980s at a crossroads where it looked so dangerous for the world. All the nuclear weapons brought in the world.

 

And it seems to me that if we went back to the beginning and took another look there might have been alternative pathways that would have led in a safer and better direction. And I thought that my thing – the same thing might be true for our energy dilemmas of today. So, that's the reason I wrote the book.

 

[00:02:51]

Jason Bordoff: And so tell me what you – let’s go back kind of further back and start a little bit at the beginning. I think some people may be familiar with more recent energy innovations electricity obviously, oil, nuclear power. But you really start with animals, with woods and what it meant for human civilization as we know it to depend on that for their energy sources and how transformation it was to then convert initially to coal and then beyond. Talk a little bit about how big, how big a deal that was and what it meant for the human experience as we know it.

 

[00:03:31]

Richard Rhodes: Well, the story of the transition by the Elizabethan English from wood to coal was one of the most fascinating and in some ways comical although of course it wasn’t comical for them. Parts of the whole history and I mean I have to say one of the things that I wanted to do with this book was to tell the human stories that are behind the technologies that involves, so many books on the history of energy focused almost entirely on the technological changes.

 

And of course there are vast human stories, because changing from one source of energy to another is as much a social phenomenon as it is a technical phenomenon perhaps more so. So, the Elizabethans had been cutting down their trees in vast numbers, primarily for firewood for their homes. And they burned firewood usually on wood on stern platforms or fire places set against the wall that didn’t have chimneys.

 

They like the smell of wood and they thought that the smoke hardened their rafters, so either there was just a hole in the roof leading straight up from the fire place or they let the smoke drift through the rooms and out through the windows. Well, that was fine as long as they had enough wood, but as they cut the wood down farther and farther away from London it got more and more expensive to transport.

 

So, eventually it reached the point where it was really too expensive for the common people to afford, at that point the only alternative that they had was really smelly bituminous coal from New Castle up the river -- up the country in the northeast, and they didn’t like its characteristics compared to wood. First of all imagine lighting a bituminous coal fire in the minute of your living room with no place for the smoke to go and imagine what – you’d be coughing and breathing from that. And then on top of that imagine resting your beef, your good English beef over a coal fire with all the sulfur that's in coal smoke.

 

They had a real problem and then in addition their preachers in churches, which by the way some of the observers of the day described it as being so full of smoke when they started burning coal that they couldn’t see from the piers to pulpit -- that bad. But the preachers were convinced that these layers of coal that they found underground all over England typically maybe two or three feet wide and extending across large areas of land.

 

In a way England was just one vast coal mine that these layers of coal which was black and dirty and smelled sulfurous when you burned it was literally the devils exponent. If the devil had hell down in the center of the earth this is where his body waste accumulated further up during the surface. Well, that obviously didn’t mean dear coal to the populous. So, they really struggled with it and basically what happened is the rich kept buying wood which they could afford and the poor had to find a way to survive with coal and they hated it.

 

The transition really was a social transition when Elizabeth died at the end of the seventh century at the end of the sixteen century just around 1598 or so King James I -- VI of Scotland became the King of England. And he came down to London as James I and the Scots who had a much thinner forest to begin with up north then the English had had already switched to coal a long time ago. They had been working on coal for a hundred years.

 

And so Scottish coal was better quality, it didn’t have so much sulfur in it, so when the King came to London and started burning coal in the castle it became fashionable. Well, the King does it I suppose we can too, was the result and after that the transition was much facilitated. In addition they had to retrofit all the homes that didn’t have proper chimneys with chimney, which is another lesson that has extended across the entire history of energy transitions.

 

In this regard it seems so simply – you find a new source of energy when it’s old – when it is causing you troubles and you switch over to it. I mean that's the way people are talking today about wind and solar and other renewable’s. But it turns out, it takes anywhere to a 50 to 100 years to make a full scale energy transition, because it’s not just a matter of the technology at all, it’s a matter of all sorts of social and societal changes.

 

In this case for example even they had to retrofit all the chimneys. They had to open coal mines and find a way to transport the coal down to London and the years to perform. They had to develop markets. They would sell the coal and then most of all you had to figure out how to burn it in your home without making the place un-inhabitable. So, it took a while it was -- excuse me, it was not really until the 1650s and the 1660s that coal had really moved in England and then of course they had the problem of air pollution.

 

[00:09:16]

Jason Bordoff: Yeah and I guess --

 

[00:09:17]

Richard Rhodes: Yeah.

 

[00:01:18]

Jason Bordoff: -- in that – sorry to interrupt in that story you were just telling. I mean there seems to be two different – at least two different drivers of innovation in energy history. One is – just over a decade ago there were yet again wide spread concerns about Peak oil supply. We were running out of – oil prices were high and then innovation comes along to find new alternatives. Shell oil is one example of that. So, that – what you said about running out of wood and the economic driver -- the imperative to finding new source.

 

And another are the negative externalities associated with our energy consumption when the consequences, the unattended consequences of energy become too severe that itself drives innovation. We've seen a lot of just last year in China switching from coal to natural gas to deal with air pollution. But you talk about Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century’s with a similar shift. What have been the primary driver's of these major innovations and shifts we've seen in the energy sector?

 

[00:10:18]

Richard Rhodes: You mean in the twentieth and twenty first century?

 

[00:10:21]

Jason Bordoff: And going back in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, how much of this is --

 

[00:10:25]

Richard Rhodes: Well, just – just --

 

[00:10:26]

Jason Bordoff: -- is it driven by economics alone and how much of it is sort of dealing with all these unintended consequences of what that energy yields.

 

[00:10:33]

Richard Rhodes: Well, just staying with the English, ones they started digging coal they first dug of course the superficial layers that tended to out crop on hillsides. So, they could easily drain their mines just by putting in what they call adits which were to -- basically channels for the water to flow out. But as they continued to dig deeper as they used the superficial coal they began to intersect the water table and the mines began flooding. They tried pumping them out with horses and what were called Rims which were basically horse turned pumps.

 

But that got more and more difficult as the mines continued to deepen, they were going down as far as 800 feet below ground to dig their coal. It’s hard to pump water that far with just a couple of horses. So, the solution that they found as time went on and this is now the early eighteenth century the middle eighteenth century was to develop an engine – a steam engine an early form of steam engine that was very inefficient less than 1%.

 

So, it was a big thing the size of a house, they would kind of sit on top of the coal mine opening to the surface and pump out the water, so that the mines could continue to be mined.

 

[00:11:53]

Jason Bordoff: This was Thomas Newcomen --

 

[00:11:55]

Richard Rhodes: Yeah, this was the Newcomen engine which basically produced a vacuum which then allowed atmospheric pressure to rush in and function as a pump. That limited its function to the pressure of the atmosphere about 32 feet of lift. And therefore there continued to be a desire for innovation, a better way to pump water farther along, because if you had a – let’s say a 300 foot shaft in a coal mine.

 

The only way you could pump with a Newcomen engine would be to put the engines every 32 or so feet up and down the shaft, which was not a very efficient idea, especially since coal mines tend to release a certain amount of methane and other gases. And there were lots of explosions that people had to deal with. So, it quickly became apparent that there was a place for a better steam engine that's where James Watt the Scotsman came along with and invented a true steam engine one that worked by using steam expand and push the piston back and forth.

 

And it could pump as much as its capacity was – was built to pump then of course they had the problem of moving the coal from the mine down to the river or the ocean in order to barge it to London. Again moving stuff around which turns out to be a large part of the problems in dealing with these forms of energy. At first the mines were close enough to the water to simply put the coal on a cart and roll it down hill. They used rails to do that, originally wooden rails, but then they started covering the wooden rails with cast iron plates on top to make it more efficient. And --

 

[00:13:42]

Jason Bordoff: And [crosstalk] [00:13:42] just to make sure people understand how transformative that was, I mean you write about how significant the ramp up of coal use was and how much it changed the economics of it.

 

[00:13:51]

Richard Rhodes: Yeah.

 

[00:13:52]

Jason Bordoff: Just to come up with those sorts of innovations of – instead of moving it by – I guess bags attached to horses to actually come up with --

 

[00:13:59]

Richard Rhodes: Exactly.

 

[00:13:59]

Jason Bordoff: -- rails and rails originally pulled by horses and then eventually rails powered by steam engine.

 

[00:14:04]

Richard Rhodes: And you know, once you, once you switch from wood to coal and as the country began to industrialize, particularly with advent of the steam engines, coal production got more and more enormous. And it wasn’t just a matter of heating homes anymore it became a matter of running factories as well. And you couldn’t do that with bags of coal on the saddles of horses, you needed some more large scale way to move the coal around.

 

So, but once it became – once the mines were farther back from the valleys where the rivers ran if you will or the canals as they came to be you had to find a way to move the material uphill as well as downhill. And horses weren’t going to do that job not at the scale that England was operating by then. So, someone realized that if you had a small steam engine and by then Watts engine could be made fairly small, you could mount them on wheels and move the coal with the steam engine, which is a certainly a railroad engine. And then --

 

[00:15:16]

Jason Bordoff: We can [crosstalk] [00:15:14] powered by the coal that you were trying to move. It was interesting about --

 

[00:15:19]

Richard Rhodes: Exactly.

 

[00:15:19]

Jason Bordoff: -- this whole story is – how self reinforcing all of these things were – you need to go deeper and deeper to get the coal for heating and cooking. You develop an innovation like the steam engine to do that that enables an innovation to transport the coal and then use the very energy you were trying to get for another purpose to power that new innovation.

 

[00:15:39]

Richard Rhodes: Exactly and once it was clear that you could move carts of – in this case railroad carts of coal with a steam engine someone realized that you could move people too. And England suddenly blossomed with railroads all over the country. The canal age was over and the railroad age began and it all followed from this early transition from wood to coal. And all the industrialization that came with the development of a stable, reliable source of continual power which water power had not been, animal power had been limited.

 

Here was an engine you fed it coal and it gave you – it gave you a turning wheel that would turn mills to loom cotton that would turn mills to make steel whatever you needed to do. So, it really was an innovation stage by stage just kind of piggyback from one to the next, really a fascinating transition time in history.

 

[00:16:41]

Jason Bordoff: And then the way you tell it is fascinating and of course had enormous consequences for global economic growth for the --

 

[00:16:48]

Richard Rhodes: It did.

 

[00:16:49]

Jason Bordoff: -- for the industrial revolution, but as you said it also brought – I mean people have – many have read about the great smog in London in the early 50s, but what you write about in 1600s going --

 

[00:17:00]

Richard Rhodes: Right exactly.

 

[00:17:01]

Jason Bordoff: -- be -- followed London. So, how did – over time what did you learn about how we have addressed the cost, the environmental pollution--

 

[00:17:09]

Richard Rhodes: Well you know --

 

[00:17:10]

Jason Bordoff: -- associated with these energy innovations, and what does that tell us about where we can go moving forward?

 

[00:17:14]

Richard Rhodes: Well I think one of the interesting things that's very clear and it’s as clear today in Beijing as it was in London at 1660. And that is the first thing you do is get your energy, you do what you have to do to increase the energy supply to your country or your society. Then as a kind of a luxury good in a way, you start looking at how to reduce the baleful side effect such as air pollution that come along with that source of energy.

 

There the first paper published by the newly formed royal society of London in 1664 was a study of how to improve the air in London and it was remarkably similar to today's ideas to move industry into the suburbs, to ring the city with plant life, trees. So, this particular writer proposed all sorts of wonderful trees that put out perfume during their flowering season that should be built in a belt around London.

 

The King was so busy having just been restored to power after that – after the Roundhead Revolution that had caused his father to be beheaded that he was much too busy selling monopolies and refilling his coffers to actually do anything about it. But the point is people were thinking about this prospect and it was not different from what happened in Pittsburgh in the – when Pittsburgh at the turn of the century was so filled with coal smoke that I’ve got a photograph in the book from a nearby hill where you barely can see the city.

 

And that was pretty much true in most American cities up until the 1950s Pittsburgh’s answer interestingly as they went about cleaning up their air supply in the early 1950s when there was a proposal by United States government to share the cost of building the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States at a place called Shippingport near Pittsburgh on the river. I talked to the president of the Duquesne Light which was the company that was going to be the private contractor for this power plant.

 

He said you know, we sold this power plant to the city council of Pittsburgh as a green technology. I think people who have come to think of nuclear as the devil’s excrement the age, might be surprised, but compared to burning coal, compared to burning what they had available to burn at the time nuclear with its total absence of carbon production was great from their point of view they wanted it. So, that's the kind – again I think the past can really inform the present when you're look at how things have been done before and why they were done that way and what lessons they offer us to learn in, in the process.

 

[00:20:24]

Jason Bordoff: We are an energy policy center so I’ll just – I’m curious when you see those transitions when you see problems like air pollution get addressed how much of that was innovation technology, human ingenuity and how much is it – because government stepped into put a price on this externality or mandate some alternative. How important was the role of government in addressing of these problems?

 

[00:20:47]

Richard Rhodes: Well, certainly the stories that I tell are very much intertwined I mean to jump to Los Angeles in the 1950s when what we now call smog was beginning to be a very serious problem there. The companies that refined oil in and around Los Angeles did want anything to do with whatever was available to clean up the air pollution, because it was commonly believed that it all was coming from their refineries or from trash burning, the role of the automobile engine in producing this new thing called smog.

 

Previously cities had been focused and states had been focused primarily on coal smoke – on smoke and its baleful effects on the atmosphere. The fact that there was this invincible thing that came out of car exhausts that when combined with chemicals in the atmosphere produced a brownish sheen to the air that we now call smog. Smog was originally smoke and fog two words combined. But in the 50s in Los Angeles they became this photochemical phenomenon that was going on in the atmosphere that was making everything look brown. And the question now was what do you do about that? A lot of --

 

[00:22:10]

Jason Bordoff: And I remember the – sorry go ahead.

 

[00:22:13]

Richard Rhodes: -- a lot of the – a lot of the innovation came from the interaction of government concerned with the work of a Dutch chemist, a specialist in perfume essence of all things. I --

 

[00:22:27]

Jason Bordoff: Yeah I was going to say. I was going to say if I remember the book correctly there’s a story about a laboratory full of pineapples here, which I had not read about before. So I was wondering --

 

[00:22:35]

Richard Rhodes: Yes --

 

[00:22:36]

Jason Bordoff: And maybe you can tell listeners what that has to do with the history of smog -- role.

 

[00:22:39]

Richard Rhodes: Dr. Haagen-Smit at Caltech was carrying out an exercise in identifying the perfume essence of ripe pineapple. So, he had a room full of ripe pineapples that he was sucking the air in the room through a machine that included some liquid nitrogen that would freeze out of the air, the essential aroma of chemicals. It was to Dr. Haagen-Smit that the California county people turned and asked him if he could identify the component of this smog that was in the air.

 

So, he used the same machinery, but he put the pineapples away and he opened the window and sucked in about 30,000 liters of California smog into the room ran it through his machine and ended up with a few drops of very nasty brownish sticky material, which was essence of California photochemical smog, and identified where it came from. And its primary component with the other things like the refineries and so forth were certainly a part of it.

 

But the main component was automobile exhaust and that gave Los Angeles the beginning of what turned out to be a large national struggle with the automobile manufactures to get them to put catalytic converter on their automobiles and eventually to get rid of the ____ [00:24:10] which was another component of automobile exhaust that was deadly. So, again these wonderful -- I mean I repeat again this not merely a technical book this is really a collection of the most amazing human stories.

 

But Haagen-Smit who was then of course put down by the great laboratories that had been turned to by automobile companies to refute his work, he with his simple experiments, he was a veteran of World War II. He had been a survivor of World War II so he knew how to make things simple. He with his laboratory work was able to identify what needed to be done and finally by the 1980s the entire country was trying to deal with smog by way of adding convert -- catalytic converter to cars.

 

[00:24:56]

Jason Bordoff: And we would of course need several hours to walk through all the other stories, some of them people may be broadly family with the history of discovery of electricity, the discovery of oil by Colonel Drake in Pennsylvania, the internal combustion engine. I wonder if you could -- what was maybe most unexpected or surprising in those – those things that have been written about and told before. What did you learn that you didn’t know before about those important energy innovations?

 

[00:25:25]

Richard Rhodes: Well, I think one of the important ones was it’s a truism of the oil industry that the petroleum saved the whales. And they say that because one of the main sources of lighting for wealthier people – it was pretty expensive this whale oil particularly spermaceti which was the very lovely refined oil that whales carry on their heads as a way of controlling their buoyancy. By heating and cooling the oil in their heads they can adjust their neutral buoyancy and therefore don’t sink to the bottom or rise to the top unless they want to.

 

So, these beautiful whales which always were -- they used to make candles we're indeed collected at the rate of 10,000 whales a year at the height of the whaling industry as Herman Melville beautifully describes it in Moby Dick. But most people couldn’t afford whale oil that was pretty expensive item, what they actually used -- and I had never known about this -- and I think most people don’t was something that was called burning fluid which was basically the sap of the long leaf pines of south eastern United States which could be refined into turpentine and the turpentine could then be mixed with plain alcohol.

 

And with a little bit of menthol to sweeten the smell because turpentine burning is not a great smell, this then became something called burning fluid which is what almost everyone used in their lamps. One particular brand of burning fluid was called kerosene we know that name from its later application to petroleum I’ll jump to that in a sec. But -- so most people burn lamps or they simply burn the cheap tallow candles, which smell like burning beef fat, not a great smell in your home either. It was with a discovery of petroleum in 1859 or rather the discovery of – if you could drill for this stuff and pump it out in vast quantities.

 

There had been petroleum seeps in various parts of the country and particularly one in Pennsylvania where they tried to use the petroleum by soaking it up as it floated on the surface of streams where it oozed out from underground, in blankets, and squeezing the blankets out into a jug, and then selling that for liniment to rub on your sores and on your gums and swallow as a healthy item and so forth, if you can imagine. Anyway, once Colonel Drake went off to oil city as it came to be called and drilled a well and showed how you could pump oil out of the ground or indeed some wells would pump it for you and spate it into the air.

 

All of a sudden petroleum was the new stuff, but it wasn’t the new stuff for powering machinery, nobody had found that use yet. Its first use for the next 50 years was for lighting, once they figured out how to refine petroleum into what was now called kerosene made from petroleum or it was used for the lubrication. But since the automobile hadn’t been invented and they had among their waste products their refinery -- this stuff called gasoline which was much too volatile to put in a lamp.

 

The lamp would blow up from the fumes, so they would either pour it out on the ground to evaporate it into the air or they dump it into the streams and rivers of America in the dark of the night and so much other waste was in those days. It was beginning in the 1880s to be question among oil refiners so would they kind of run out of possible uses for their stuff. In a way the automobile – petroleum save petroleum in a way. It was the automobile that came along just at the turn of the century than any --

 

[00:29:28]

Jason Bordoff: And --

 

[00:29:29]

Richard Rhodes: -- and it evolved [crosstalk] [00:29:29].

 

[00:29:30]

Jason Bordoff: -- I think it’s interesting the way you write about sort of you know, the disruptive, unexpected consequences of these innovations. As you said the whales are being slaughtered by the 10s of 1000s and oil is discovered and then that comes – now that significantly reduces demand for whale oil. And then you wrote about the automobile and how one of the major problems at the turn of the century was horse populations and horse manure in cities like London and New York.

 

And nobody really knew what to do about that problem and then that was sort of solved with the technology innovation that we didn’t expect and I was wondering [crosstalk] [00:30:08] what does that tell you about you know – does it tell you anything about maybe what's coming around the corner and maybe the level of humility we should have for our ability to anticipate it.

 

[00:30:20]

Richard Rhodes: Well, you know, our problem today is a much larger problem than any previous energy transition, because all of our really major sources of energy today expect for nuclear power put carbon into the atmosphere. And we are facing the challenge of having to go to non carbon sources of energy or face the risk of climate change beyond I think what people really have comprehended. The examples that I use in the book and it shocked me when I read it, is that in 2015 in one city in northern Iran the heat index meaning of course temperature and humidity combined reached a 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

I looked around in my cook book to see what that might represent that's the temperature of a roasted chicken and that's what people were facing in that city in Iran that month. And that's what we could all be facing in the years to come, in the decades to come. Certainly all of the climate disrupting phenomenon that we're already beginning to see, but I think if you just think about what would happen if our cities heated up to – I mean today in the Middle East it’s not unusual at all for summer temperatures to reach 125 degree and higher.

 

And that's as hot as a hot tub that anyone ever gets in, so we're already talking about almost unconscionable levels of – or excess temperature. But there’s worse to come if we don’t solve the problem of reducing the amount of carbon we put into the air, carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. To me that means and that's the way this book comes to its conclusion that every non-carbon source of energy we've got has got to be developed as rapidly as we can develop it. And that means wind and that means solar and that means geothermal, but it also means nuclear --

 

[00:32:24]

Jason Bordoff: Yeah I was going to ask, I was going to ask you about nuclear because your again --

 

[00:32:29]

Richard Rhodes: Yeah.

 

[00:32:29]

Jason Bordoff: -- you are best known for your work on nuclear of course the Pulitzer Prize for The Making of Atomic Bomb, but also nuclear renewal I guess you wrote about a quarter century ago about that – the history of nuclear power. And I’m just wondering you know, looking again at that issue today what new insights you had or how your thoughts have changed on nuclear past or future.

 

[00:32:50]

Richard Rhodes: Well, I simply say we have to use every available energy source that isn’t carbon heavy in order to survive this largest of all energy transitions. And there are signs that if not in the United States certainly – oh wait and there’s another catch to this problem as well which we not only need to de-carbonize our energy supply. But much of the world is just in the process of developing that is to say people who have lived for millennia in deep poverty are slowly beginning to see the possibility. China being the most obvious example of moving up to the kind of middle class lives that we in the United States pretty much take for granted.

 

So, we have a double problem which is increasing the energy usage of large numbers of people around the world while at the same time reducing the carbon levels of the energy we use that is a really big challenge, bigger than people realize. And that means that we're not going to be able to sit down and say well nuclear has a – is dangerous, because once in a while nuclear power plant blows up which is true of any energy source and particularly unusual in the nuclear world by the way.

 

We're going to have to find a way to work with nuclear, as well as, these other energy sources. You cannot power the world on renewables. The United States is rich enough that if it really wanted to it could probably work out a way to run its entire energy economy on renewables although I don’t think it would be a very efficient system it would be a very expensive system. But the rest of the world doesn’t really have that luxury. Right now China has on the drawing boards or in development some 125 nuclear power reactors. They are not even to deal with global warming. They are to deal with air pollution. And the Chinese are selling coal to the rest of the world unfortunately.

 

So, when Germany for example decided to eliminate its nuclear power and go – it hopes all renewables it has found itself compelled by its own energy demands to increase its use of brown coal which is the most carbon producing of all the various kinds of coal. They are actually have increased their production of carbon dioxide since they decided to go -- to eliminate their nuclear power supply.

 

The Italians eliminated their nuclear power, so now they buy their electricity from the French and the French of course are about 80% nuclear, which is pretty hypocritical of the Italians. I mean this is the kind of discussion that I think we're all going to have to have and swallow hard and look again at nuclear, look again at all the other sources of energy we can think of that are not carbon producing to deal with what is the worlds – the histories most enormous energy transition yet.

 

[00:35:55]

Jason Bordoff: Richard Rhodes and the book is Energy: A human history. It goes on sale May 29th and that's a fascinating book I think anyone with an interest in energy, the environment, the global economy and the history of trade there’s – the human experience general will find it of interest. And perhaps find why those of us who have spent their career studying energy do so and why we find it such a fascinating and important field to spend our time in. Thanks for being with us to talk about your book today.

 

[00:36:23]

Richard Rhodes: Thank you.

 

[00:36:26]

Jason Bordoff: For more information about the Columbia Energy Exchange and the center on global energy policy please visit us online at energypolicy.columbia.edu or follow us on social media at Columbia U Energy. Thank you all for joining us we'll see you next week.