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Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know?


The book titled “Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know” was written by Jose Goldemberg – a famous Brazilian physicist, research scientist, and scientific leader of the renewable energy community. He is one of the world’s leading experts on energy and environmental issues. The book was published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, New York. The book was obtained in a public library.

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Author’s background (“Curriculum Vitae,” 2017):

  • Jose Goldemberg was born in Santo Angelo, Brazil, on May 27, 1928.
  • After finishing school, studied at Universidade de Sao Paulo, where he obtained a degree of Bachelor of Science in 1950.
  • From 1951 to 1953, studied at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada and University of Illinois, U.S.A, Department of Physics. Graduated from both, successfully.
  • Achieved his doctorate in physics in 1954, at Universidade de Sao Paulo.
  • Between 1955 and 1978, worked at Universidade de Sao Paulo, starting as an assistant professor. In 23 years, managed to become the director of the Institute of Physics at the university. At the same time, became a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, Canada (1973).
  • In 1979, became the president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • Between 1986-1989 worked as a rector at Universidade de Sao Paulo
  • Between 1991 and 1993, held several high-ranking posts within the Federal government, such as the Minister of State of Education and Acting Secretary of State of Environment. Reclaimed the latter post in 2002.

The book addresses the issue of energy, which is becoming more and more pressing every year. The author explains the basics of how the world energy system works, what problems it has, and proposes forth technological and societal solutions to most of them.

Book Structure Outline

The book is divided into five parts and has an introductory theoretical part right after the preface. Therefore, in total, there are six parts, with the theory given in front being “Part 0”. Every part is divided into several chapters, which, in turn, are divided into subchapters. To avoid clutter, we will outline only chapters and parts.

Energy: The Basic Concepts

In this part, the author introduces the readers to basic concepts of energy and physics, such as forces, work, friction, energy, and the First Law of Thermodynamics (Goldemberg, 2012). These are important for further understanding of the book.

How is Energy Used Today?

Chapter 1 – Present Energy Use. In this chapter, the author explores how much energy humans need to keep alive, and conduct activities, explains the origins of energy that we use, as well as why the current energy consumption rates are growing (Goldemberg, 2012).

The World’s Present Energy System

  • Chapter 2 – Energy Sources: In this chapter, the author lists primary and secondary energy sources, as well as explains the loss of energy when being used in engines, turbines, etc (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 3 – Fossil Fuels: In this chapter, the author explores what kids of fossil fuels are out there, how evenly are they distributed around the world, and how many of them are left. The key idea of this chapter is that these resources are not renewable and are about to end (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 3 – Renewables: In this chapter, the author explores renewable sources of energy, primarily wind power and solar power. He states that while these powers are unstable and unpredictable, further development will help cut costs and save energy (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 4 – Nuclear Power: In this chapter, the author explains how nuclear power plants work. The main idea of this chapter is that, while nuclear power is a potent source of energy, it is also dangerous. Nuclear waste disposal is a problem (Goldemberg, 2012).

The Problems of the Present Energy System

  • Chapter 5 – Exhaustion of Fossil Fuels and Energy Security: This chapter is dedicated to the slowly approaching fossil fuel crisis. According to the author, over half of the world currently, relies on fossil fuels to power its electrical systems. Once they start becoming exhausted, entire national electricity networks will be compromised (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 6 – Environmental Problems: In this chapter, the author talks about how energy consumption and environmental problems are intertwined. He connects deforestation, air pollution, and oil spills with the world’s greater needs for energy resources (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 7 – Energy Costs: In this chapter, the author explains to the readers the nature of energy costs. His main idea in this chapter is that costs for fossil fuels will inevitably grow, according to the laws of supply and demand (Goldemberg, 2012).

Technical Solutions and Policies

  • Chapter 8 – Energy Efficiency: The author states that energy efficiency is the most plausible way to save energy using present technological achievements. Improving energy efficiency and energy consumption of old buildings will help reduce the total energy consumption level by 20-50% (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 9 – New Technologies: In this chapter, the author analyses potential technological breakthroughs that might help save energy and improve energy consumption rates. He states that using biomass, hydrogen, and electricity would replace fossil fuels once the technology is refined enough (Goldemberg, 2012).
  • Chapter 10 – Policies: In the last chapter of this part of the book, the author talks about international policies that are made to help curb emissions and energy consumption rates, such as the Kyoto protocol. He views these agreements as important and states that without a worldwide consensus on energy, effective policing will be impossible (Goldemberg, 2012).

Non-Technical Solutions

Chapter 11 – Energy and Lifestyle: In the conclusion of his book, the author reviews how lifestyles changed in the past 50 years, with energy consumption levels per person increasing with every emerging gadget. His closing thought for the book is that energy consumption increases with technological advancement (Goldemberg, 2012).

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After reading this book and stating the themes and general ideas to every chapter, it must be concluded that the author’s worldview is that of a Human Exceptionalism Paradigm, also known as HEP. This worldview is built around the concept of humans being different from the rest of the creatures on earth through the virtue of culture and free will (Buttel, 1987). The topics of culture are thoroughly explored throughout the series, as they are addressed in sections of the book dedicated to industrial and post-industrial countries. Culture is also given plenty of attention in the last chapter of the book, “Energy and Lifestyle” (Goldemberg, 2012).

One of the core beliefs within a HEP philosophy is that human ingenuity and technological innovations will allow solving all problems, including those with energy consumption that we are facing today (Buttel, 1987). Indeed, at least half of the book is dedicated to logical, practical, and achievable measures of changing the situation for the best. While the author thoroughly acknowledges every problem there is with the current energy system, he remains relatively optimistic in humanity’s capabilities at overcoming the crisis.

Ethical Technology Assessment

In his book, Goldemberg (2012) largely avoids the topic of ethics in regards to energy consumption and sustainability, as in his point of view, the survival of the human race takes prevalence. If we take a closer look at some of the issues with energy security and international policies proposed to mitigate the ongoing crisis, it is possible to identify several potential ethical issues. These are (Palm & Hansson, 2006):

  • Issues with control, influence, and power: As it stands, fossil fuels are the most important commodity in the world. Influence, power, and economic prosperity are largely based on those. Ethical issues will inevitably arise when certain countries use their superior resource base to acquire power over others.
  • International relations: According to Goldemberg (2012), international policies will only be effective if everyone adheres to them. This includes developing countries that will have to invest in energy-saving programs without having economic means to do so. Also, said policies would in one way or another undermine sovereignties of certain countries.
  • Impact on Human Values. At the end of his book, Goldemberg (2012) suggests a shift in human values as a prerequisite to improving the situation with energy resources. He suggests that to save energy, humans would need to oppose consumerism and diminish personal wants and desires in favor of the common good. This creates an ethical conflict between individualism and collectivism, which will need to be resolved.

Some of these ethical dilemmas are unsolvable – the issue with human values is a matter of individual choice, while the unequal distribution of resources could not be solved without drastic changes on the political map, which would likely bring about a new set of ethical issues. However, it is possible to mitigate international issues, by crafting policies that take everyone’s interests into account and having transitional plans put in place for countries that are currently developing their industry and infrastructure.


Buttel, F.H. (1987). New directions in environmental sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 465-488.

Curriculum Vitae Jose Goldemberg. (2017). Web.

Goldemberg, J. (2012). Energy: What everyone needs to know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Palm, E., & Hansson, S.O. (2006). The case for ethical technology assessment (eTA). Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 73, 543-558.

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