“Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air” by Mackay


Title: “Sustainable Energy- Without the Hot Air”

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Author: David J. C. Mackay

Publisher: UIT Cambridge, Published 1 December 2009

Book Availability: The book is available in several forms, including a free online PDF version. According to the author, the book was not meant for profit purposes because the urgency of seeking sustainable energy solutions underscores the need to make money. Consequently, the book is freely available to non-commercial users at select websites. Anyone can access the book easily just by conducting a simple online search. The paperback version of the book can also be published at various online stores, including Amazon.

Author’s Background

  • The author of the book has a background as a physics and mathematics scholar.
  • MacKay served as the Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.
  • He served in the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DEEC) as the Chief Scientific Adviser between 2009 and 2014
  • The book- “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” is his claim to fame.
  • The author grew up and studied in Britain, where he received various education accolades. He gathered his PhD at the California Institute of Technology in 1992
  • He received a fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, thereby furthering his quest as both a mathematician and physicist.
  • His notable contributions include the development of Bayesian methods, the invention of Dasher, and the rediscovery of low-density parity-check codes.
  • He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
  • He died in 2016

About the Book: The book is both a technical and theoretical case study on sustainable energy. The book addresses the issue on various scopes, including European, American, and the world at large. The main aim of the book is to provide users with useful data on the way forward when it comes to sustainable energy.

Outline Structure of the Book

The book is divided into four main parts: Numbers, not Adjectives, Making a Difference, Technical Chapters, and Useful Data.

Numbers not Adjectives

  • This first section contains a total of eighteen chapters, and it aims to create a sustainable balance between the amount of energy that is used in the UK and the country’s potential for producing renewable energy.
  • This section provides a detailed analysis of the amount of energy consumption per person every day. This energy usage covers items such as cars, wind, planes, heating and cooling, and light, among others.
  • The main area of analysis in this first chapter tracks how the country’s power sector performs in terms of profit and loss. The chapters in this section are also accompanied by subsequent chapters that offer a breakdown of the math and advanced statistics. The statistics of both the accumulated energy consumption and the potential for sustainable energy production are also graphically analyzed in this section. The last part of this section addresses the UK’s political will in the deployment of renewable resources.

Making a Difference

  • The second section of the book is made up of thirteen chapters, and it moves towards exploring strategies of getting rid of the deficit between actual energy consumption and renewable energy production within the UK. The book continues to offer several strategies that can be useful in closing this production gap.
  • Some of the suggested methods of closing the energy production deficit include reducing the population, applying changes in lifestyle, and adopting technology that is more effective. All these strategies are expected to reduce the current demand for non-renewable energy. Another solution aims to eliminate the possibility of a deficit in energy production escalating. Some of these solutions include employing carbon capture in incidences where non-renewable energy is used, conducting more research on nuclear power, and importing renewable energy from other countries.
  • Eventually, this section provides the building block for achieving sustainable energy without the hot air. These chapters acknowledge that all viable methods of adopting renewable energy have to factor in the use of clean coal and nuclear power. This analysis also finds solar power to be an unreliable prospect of clean energy, thereby underlining the open-minded and radical nature of the author.

Technical Chapters

  • This chapter provides the information that was discussed in the previous chapters, including cars, wind, solar, heating, and waves.
  • The information in this section is made up of the physical aspects of renewable energy production. The section is for individuals who have a deeper understanding of the theoretical frameworks of energy production.
  • Some of the technical details that are explained in the technical chapters include solar farms, wave farms, and tide farms.

Useful Data, Bibliography, and Index

  • This section contains more details for anyone who might be concerned with applying the author’s formulas in a practical situation.
  • The section highlights the author’s insistence on transparency in the quest for sustainable energy.
  • The book sums up the author’s strategies in a manner that can be analyzed from both a practical and a theoretical approach.


The worldview that best fits Mackay’s book is the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP). NEP encompasses the view that “while humans have exceptional characteristics, they remain one among many species that are interdependently involved in the global ecosystem” (Buttel 470). This is a running theme in the book, whereby the author insists on looking at the question of sustainable energy from all possible angles and not just cultural and physiological aspects. Consequently, the author explores all aspects of energy consumption in terms of kilowatt-hours-per-person-per-day. The core element in MacKay’s book is that the environmental movement is often simplified by the idea that small changes can achieve big results.

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The NEP is based on causality factors that include minute linkages and purposive human actions. In “Sustainable Energy- Without the Hot Air,” the author points out that “to achieve our goal of getting off fossil fuels, these reductions in demand and increases in supply (of renewable energy) must be big…do not be distracted by the myth that every little helps” (MacKay 114). This is a big indicator that the author leans towards the NEP school of thought, whereby the overall argument is that ‘ecological laws cannot be changed’ (Buttel 470). Therefore, in accordance with this book, big instances of climate change cannot be countered by small human efforts. According to NEP, the affairs of human beings have a direct and quantifiable effect on the environment. A large part of MacKay’s book is dedicated to providing readers with formulas and statistics on sustainable energy. It is evident that the book’s main purpose is to provide both simple and complex facts instead of propagating a certain point-of-view. Popular environmental ideologies are mostly found within the Dominant Western Worldview (DWW).

Ethical Technology Assessment (eTA)

One of the ethical issues that apply to this book is the dissemination and use of information. Most of the information that pertains to environmental issues is often disseminated from governments and other parties of interest. The fact that this book is available to readers at no cost means that its information portfolio is easily accessible. Most notably, MacKay has made his book available on the internet. There are positive impacts to this strategy because the book is easily available to people all over the world. However, even though MacKay has forwarded strong facts through the book, the internet also exposes his work to manipulation and climate-change deniers. Consequently, readers find crafty criticism of MacKay’s claims in the same place that they find the book. Furthermore, the book might not reach individuals in remote areas where the issue of sustainable energy has a bigger impact. This issue could be mitigated by making the book available in all media forms, including print, audio, and video.

Another point in the eTA’s checklist involves the impact on social patterns. In this book, the author takes time to address how social patterns influence energy usage. According to the author, the secret to eliminating renewable energy deficit lies in understanding socially accepted norms. For instance, the author notes that some of the existing environmental fads including, hydrogen-powered vehicles, micro-wind turbines, and removing chargers from wall sockets, do not have a significant impact on sustainable energy (MacKay 157). The eTA checklist notes that “the general trend in current developments seems to provide communication that is direct, cheap, and easy to use” (Palm and Hansson 553). In this book, MacKay takes time to breakdown how energy usage can be reduced in a ‘big’ way. The ethical issue is that the book underscores the influence of both social and political patterns. For example, the author suggests the importation of renewable energy from desert African countries without considering its impact on social patterns. This issue can be addressed through combined efforts by all stakeholders.

The other potential issue in the eTA list involves human reproduction. One of MacKay’s solutions to the problem of sustainable energy is population control. This point-of-view immediately elicits clashes between social norms and technical solutions to sustainable energy (Palm and Hansson 554). A sustainable energy regime that depends on population control raises several questions. For example, the author does not explain how this goal can be achieved without crossing ethical boundaries. Population control has been a challenge for governments, especially within democratic regimes. Consequently, the author’s suggestion appears doomed to fail in terms of its ethical integrity. However, the solution to this issue is to educate people in order to get them to engage in population control voluntarily.

Another glaring ethical issue in MacKay’s book is international relations. According to the eTA checklist, “new technology often changes the relationship between nations, and in particular between the developed and the developing world” (Palm and Hansson 555). Most of the solutions in “Sustainable Energy- Without the Hot Air” depend on the concept of cooperation between the developed and the developing world. Some of the countries in the developing world depend on non-renewable energy resources to sustain their economies (Zarsky 34). Therefore, the possibility of renewable energy resources poses a risk to their economies. To address this challenge, the energy stakeholders need to seek a solution that does not threaten the economic interests of some countries while supporting those of others.

Works Cited

Buttel, Frederick. “New Directions in Environmental Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 13, no. 1, 1987, pp. 465-488.

MacKay, David. Sustainable Energy–Without the Hot Air. UIT Cambridge, 2009.

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Palm, Elin, and Sven Hansson. “The Case for Ethical Technology Assessment (eTA).” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 73, no. 5, 2006, pp. 543-558.

Zarsky, Lyuba. Human Rights and the Environment: Conflicts and Norms in a Globalizing World. Earthscan, 2012.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 14). "Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air" by Mackay. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/sustainable-energy-without-the-hot-air-by-mackay-book-review/

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""Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air" by Mackay." StudyCorgi, 14 May 2021, studycorgi.com/sustainable-energy-without-the-hot-air-by-mackay-book-review/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) '"Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air" by Mackay'. 14 May.

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