Great Science Does Not Great Politics Make


Energy from Heaven and Earth, by Edward Teller, San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1979, 312 pp., $15.

Many readers, seeing Dr. Teller's dedication of his book to Nelson Rockefeller, will stop cold before getting to the first page. Indeed, although it is clear that this eminent and knowledgeable scientist has managed to grasp the fundamental energy problem as one of overregulation and government meddling, he nevertheless cannot quite wean himself from the idea that somehow the government can mend its errant ways and do something constructive to solve the problem. This book would have been an excellent vehicle for advancing a truly free-market solution—one of lifting all controls, regulations, taxes, labor laws, safety laws, environmental laws, production controls, and so on ad nauseum from the energy industries and letting individuals, alone and in business groupings, show what they can do.

Teller devotes the first seven chapters of his book to the terrestrial origins of planets, life, energy, and fuels and to the uses of various forms of energy other than nuclear. Following this is a lucid explanation of the origins of and uses for nuclear energy, where he has great difficulty restraining himself in replying to the false criticisms and charges of the environmentalists, including the "double doctor" (John Goffman?) whom he fails to identify but charges with a thousandfold overestimate committed "with full knowledge of the facts." I rather prefer the more direct, Pegler-style of Petr Beckmann in commenting upon such chicanery.

In his chapter on controlled fusion, Teller has some difficulty—no doubt because of his enormous expertise in the area—communicating in the somewhat lay terms adopted throughout the rest of the book. Even an experienced technical reader would have some difficulty with this chapter but would nevertheless be able to fully appreciate that (a) the production of usable energy from fusion reactions is a long way off yet and (b) this concept is far from being as safe as it sounds.

Dr. Teller discusses in a technically correct way the matter of solar energy, which includes wind, ocean thermal gradients, and the like. Recognizing it as dilute (wind energy amounting to between 1,000 and 2,000 BTU per square foot per day referring to collecting area, and as such comparable with direct solar at around 1,900 BTU/ft2/6-hour day), he nevertheless manages to leave the impression that it is useful for other than localized heating applications. He does not address the enormous waste of land resources involved. His Table 12-1, "U.S. Appropriations for Solar Energy," once more reveals his thinking that the federal government, instead of the free market, ought to be the source of the money spent on energy research.

In chapter 13 Teller makes a mild and rather velvet-gloved attack on past energy policies. He lays a fair share of his criticism on "exaggerated" environmental concerns. But unfortunately, time after time he offers statements that, taken out of context by environmentalists, will support their unreasonableness. Dr. Teller proposes to discuss four solutions, which he terms Business as Usual, Minimum Energy Option, Growth Approach, and International Approach. It is here that the book fails, because what might be termed the Laissez-Faire Approach is not even suggested. Dr. Teller then launches into the field of economics, in which, even by his own admission, he is not an expert. The figures show it. Although mentioning that figures do not really mean much, he goes on to compare the 10-year "costs" of each of the four approaches when differences between them are only something around 10 percent. If there is any point at all to this, it is that, regardless of what is done, something close to a trillion capital dollars will have to be spent on energy by 1987 if we are to avoid disaster.

Teller's "Model for the Future" is useful in that, for once, electric power is separated out of the energy mix. While listed within each category in terms of energy used, it is not added into the total for that category but appears only once as the energy input required to make that electric power. But Teller's conclusions that domestic energy demand will be only 106 quads by the year 2000, 45 quads being for electricity, are, I believe, short of the mark and assume far more gains from conservation and fewer losses from the excesses of inflation than will actually occur. He discusses direct conservation measures at great length but does not go into indirect conservation measures, which can be far more productive. I refer to anything from throw-away gum wrappers to metal shipping containers and appliances and to the enormous amount of energy-intensive food that is wasted each and every day, the grand total amounting to about 640 million tons in 1979 in the United States, which translates into around 15 quads if it could all be recycled.

This book, by a giant of science, might possibly convince the politicians of the seriousness of the problem we face. Whether it will convince them to get out of the act remains to be seen.

R.W. Johnson is a professional electrical engineer with a consulting practice in California.