Seeking Reader Input for a Book Project

It should be clear that I enjoy writing. Over the past three years, I have written 665 essays for this blog, a book chapter on renewable diesel in Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems, 130 essays for The Oil Drum, and essays for numerous other web sites. I write for different reasons, but primarily because I enjoy it and I like to share knowledge. I also enjoy the occasional sparring that goes along with the writing. (As someone once said to me, it seems that I like wearing a black hat).

I have been approached semi-seriously on a couple of occasions about writing a book, and on other occasions about giving up the blog to write exclusively for various media outlets. While I have given both options serious thought, I don’t like writing to deadlines. I also don’t like writing to assigned topics. While I may be able to whip out an essay on Miscanthus as an energy source in 20 minutes, if you asked me to write up an essay on Miscanthus it might take me two weeks to do it. The difference is writing something that struck me as interesting or important, or writing something because it is a job.

I now have in front of me a serious proposal from a major publisher. Right now, all I have said is “maybe”, citing the time commitment. After all, the renewable diesel chapter took me a good month’s worth of work to complete. How long would it take me to write an entire book? Would it consume my Saturdays and Sundays for the next 3 years? Would I need to stop writing my blog? Could I perform my current job without having my attention constantly wandering? The fact is, I don’t know the answers to these questions. That’s one reason I haven’t said yes.

The second sticking point for me is the matter of original content. I would only write a book that could add something original, or explain a topic in a different way (potentially reaching a broader audience). Yet is is very hard to find a niche that someone hasn’t already filled. The proposal is pretty broad: “any aspect of environmental science, including (but not limited to) alternative energy sources.” My first thought was to just run down the list of all energy options available to us, presenting the pros and cons. A quick search of Amazon, and I find a book very near what I had in mind: Powering Our Future: An Energy Sourcebook for Sustainable Living. If I look through the contents, this book really covers the energy spectrum. Whether it does it well, I can’t say since I haven’t read it.

This issue almost kept me from ever starting my blog. I thought “there are a million blogs out there, and I will just be one more person writing things that only friends and family read.” Yet I think I finally found my niche. I could see that there were certain topics that either weren’t covered, or were explained in highly technical language. Eventually, I carved out my niche. There are still lots of blogs out there with a lot of overlap. Any story I write has been, or will be covered by others as well. All I can do is inject my own style into the story, and hope that my contribution is original enough to make reading it worthwhile.

So, with that very long-winded introduction (I guess I should ask to be paid by the word), I am seeking reader input. What sort of book on energy or the environment would you read? What topics haven’t been well-covered by previous books? If you have written a book, how did you find the experience?

If I do happen to write a book, certainly the contributions/ideas from readers of this blog will be acknowledged. While I can’t offer money (I hear the money for doing a book in this field is quite modest), if you suggest a specific idea that ends up being a part of a book, your specific contribution would be acknowledged by name. Once I am established, maybe I can sell out and write a steamy romance novel with more sales potential. 🙂

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

59 thoughts on “Seeking Reader Input for a Book Project”

  1. RR,
    I would like to encourage you to write a book. I think you are a great writer – your writing has a lightness which makes it so effective in communicating complicated ideas. Among scientists and engineers, not too many people have this gift.

    Biofuels would probably be an obvious choice as a topic. Far too many people still think of biofuels as a serious scalable solution to our problems. When I was in California over the summer, I heard a discussion on NPR in which people discussed the problem with the mandate (mainly: too costly), with none of the participants saying what I learnt here: it’s not green, it doesn’t save oil imports, it’s not the way forward.

    If indeed we will see government energy investments in the next few years, it’s vital that they go in more promising directions, so a book could help .

  2. Hello,

    I typically browse your work through the RSS feed. The amount of posts that you write is amazing, usually I have to pick out one or two things and get on with it. So, good job with what you’ve been doing–I’ve noticed the effort.

    As for the book, I think it would be worth your time. I’m also interested in the biofuels topic, but would suggest looking at anaerobic digestion, such as the work being done by Feed Resource Recovery in the US or specific feedstock for biodiesel such as algae.

    Keep up the great work, and if your blog posting have to be cut back a bit in order to accomodate, so be it.

  3. Risk assessment is required for every energy proposal. There will always be tradeoffs, and all too frequently, the risks are either unknown, ignored or swept under the rug. In the case of biofuels, there are many risks; a great many of the feedstocks being proposed are potentially invasive species, for instance. Windpower has its downsides, and so does every proposal across the energy spectrum. Effective decisions really must take into account all of the costs and benefits of every proposal. We need an objective, comprehensive review of our energy choices. RR, not only could you do this, but you could enlist your followers in helping identify potential risks, opening up the whole issue to more discussion. And now is definitely the time to do it.

  4. Write a book called “The Citizen’s Guide to Evaluating Energy Options.” Necessarily this would mean a more technical book that would not sell as well (ewwww, math!) as a survey where you simply give your conclusions. On the other hand, the waterfront is littered with books touting this or that energy or fuel source. What’s missing is an objective guide that would help non-engineers understand the issues.

    There’s a good book in a different field you can use as a model: “Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting Systems” by Prof. Douglas Amy is a book where he explains the different dimensions you need to consider when thinking about voting systems and then reviews all the systems that have been proposed and analyzes them against the criteria. He doesn’t tout any of them, instead showing how each has strengths and weaknesses and letting the reader learn to apply the evaluative criteria. It’s a valuable book.

    I think something similar in energy would be a niche you could fill nicely and that you would have all to yourself.

  5. @RR

    If the topic of the book is energy and the environment, you do not have any great insight. I would recommend that you write less and analyze more. Just for the record analysis is not cutting a pasting from the NYTs. The same lie get told over and over, anyone who questions the collective is labeled a troll or a shill for the coal industry.

    There is a systematic approach to analyzing energy and the environment and there is a way of telling am organized lie. RR provides well written essays supporting his agenda. However, this is not the kind of analysis that solves energy and the environmental problems.

    For example, RR approaches ethanol from the prospective of an Aggie Chem E. If I have a farm community with economic and environmental problem, the first thing I do is look for the root cause of the environmental problem. If ethanol can help with the economics of solving problem, then there are the Texas and California folks explaining why it is a bad idea with out actually considering how it being done.

  6. I see you as the rational center between the doomers and the cornucopians. That is why I really enjoy your blog.

    I think you should take your blogs and organize them into a book. You covered a lot of interesting topic (e.g., companies than have now gone broke, your $1000 bet for $100 oil). There is no need to try and create something totally new and current; if you wanted to do that, you’d write a Sarah Palin biography.

  7. @Kit

    Pardon my French, but you are f’ing crazy. What have you been around for, 2 weeks? RR has produced some of the most incisive essays on energy you can find. He is an energy insider who writes in a conversational tone that doesn’t make your eyes glaze over. That is a rare combo. No great insight? Indeed!

    The previous essay is a perfect example. The energy return of oil sands is much debated. RR had the insight when he saw Marcel Coutu’s comments to put together an explanation of energy returns and put it all in a concise story that Googlers can now easily find when they search for this information. The story has already shot up the What’s Hot charts at Reddit, which is where I saw it (though I am a frequent reader). How did he know? Because he knew that the energy return is debated, that it is a hotly contested environmental issue, and that there isn’t a definitive information source. That is insight and passion, my friend, not agenda. I have seen him do the same with many topics. How much water does an oil refinery use? I didn’t know until I read it here. Is Brazilian ethanol sustainable? Is it transferable to the U.S.? Read it here. What is the difference between gasification and cellulosic ethanol? The list is long, my friend.

    Even the ethanol critiques are multidimensional. You imply that RR has a simplistic view of ethanol. I have heard him say that it might be a decent solution for Iowa, but it doesn’t work well for Iowa to supply California. I have seen him suggest ways to improve corn ethanol production. That is a contrarian position for someone who has spoken out on the environmental consequences of ethanol. But then that is the sort of objectivity that might cause a publishing company to call him up.

    Write the book, RR. I concur with London Mink that you are indeed a writer who is skilled at communicating complex topics. But energy issues are naturally controversial. There will always be Kits throwing popcorn from the cheap seats. Best of luck.

  8. RR I have written two books, and I might have made minimum wage. In your particular field, I think you now have more influence as a blogger. You may want to take the next step and start appearing on financial shows, and start up a consulting business. A book from a reputable publisher might help in a consulting career.
    But, there is also the possibility we are facing a global recession, and an oil price collapse. Just like the oil-energy books of the early-mid 1980s, any book now, by the time it is published, will be out of date.
    My other bit of epperience is that the work of writing a book is more than you think, then the publisher will want you to publicize the book too. That can mean getting up at 4 am for phone calls from radio stations, and flying places for conventions etc. I take back what I said about minimum wage. It was less than minimum wage.

  9. I would like to see a book with Very Specific Energy Policies that could move this country forward while not putting an unfair burden or extreme favor to one entity or technology.

    It might not sell fantastically, but it would be the most worth while book yet, where a balance is found between the left and the right and fantasy and reality.

  10. My vote would be for a book aimed at the educated but not specialist reader, something the average reasonably intelligent person could understand and use as a reference. I’d be aiming for something to raise the energy awareness of the general public, without taking sides. There are plenty of doomsday scenario books and plenty of tales of wide eyed optimism about the future – those sell – but I’d like to see something that’s positioned as an impartial review for the rest of us, and maybe something that politicians would read.

    Maybe four basic sections:

    1) A presentation and discussion of useful metrics for understanding and evaluating various energy alternatives. Establish a context for chapters to follow. To include both energy and economic metrics, such as EROEI and NPV. I’d also like to see a discussion on uncertainties, and the differences between a planning scenario, a constrained prediction, and a fact. People (read, especially, politicians) need to understand why they can’t take the EIA’s prediction of the gasoline price impact (20 years out!) of opening the offshore US to exploration as a quotable fact.

    2) The reality of fossil fuels. Supply/demand forecasts, decline curves a la the recent IEA report. Reserve growth opportunities available to the western oil industry versus the NOC’s.

    3) A survey of currently credible energy sources. Where the technology is now, where it could be in 10 years, scalability, cost (esp. relative to fossil fuels), efficiency, practicality, impact on the environment, etc.

    4) Policy recommendations. What you’d do if you were Secretary of Energy, and why.

    Appendices could add more technical rigor and or references for the more advanced or curious readers.

    I’d also like to see a generous amount of debunking, as you’ve done frequently in your blog. Such as, why the US can’t be Brazil in five easy steps, or silly myths about the oil industry along the lines of conspiracy theories or your “election year price drop” post.

    Being a geologist, I’m reasonably well versed in exploration and petroleum economics, but weak in the field of alternative energy and would like to read such a book.

  11. If the topic of the book is energy and the environment, you do not have any great insight.

    Kit, I am not asking whether you think I have any great insight. I am not looking for validation.

    I am trying to decide whether to proceed based on whether there are any glaring, open niches out there that need to be filled. I am also interested in hearing from others who have experience writing a book. If you can’t help with either of those questions, save your criticism for a question like “A publisher is trying to figure out whether I am qualified to write a book. What do you think?”

    And if you are looking for a more technical version of my writing, go read my graduate thesis or the book chapter I wrote. Both are primarily directed at more technical audiences.


  12. I have written two books, and I might have made minimum wage.

    Benny, believe me, I know that money is not the reason to write a book. Like you, I have concluded that the pay would be minimum wage or less.

    I have corresponded with Chris Nelder and Robert Bryce about their experiences, and both reiterate what you wrote: It’s going to take longer than you think. That scares me. It would be one thing if that was my job, and I didn’t have a family that I like to spend time with. But it is hard for me to estimate how much free time I might have over the next couple of years.

    The other thing is that I am already committed to another book chapter. That’s going to take away a big chunk of my time in the next few months.

    One idea I had was to go and grab the 10 or 20 essays I have done that get the most traffic (which should be an indicator of interest). I could clean those up, update them, fill in the holes, plug in references, and maybe that could speed up the process.

    Cheers, RR

  13. The biggest problem with publishing a printed book is that by the time you finish it, pretty much everything you wrote about new technologies would be obsolete. Lead times to publication, as you know, are usually 18 months to two years.

    I have a couple of ideas on this problem. Be happy to privately communicate them to you on

  14. @RR

    “I would only write a book that could add something original, or explain a topic in a different way (potentially reaching a broader audience). Yet is is very hard to find a niche that someone hasn’t already filled.”

    I suppose it depends on on what you want to do. There is already tons of the kind of ilk you post on your blog. Everybody else give RR a group huge. However, there is a significant shortage of good investigative journalism on energy.

  15. RR:
    IMO do the writing that optimizes your overall impact, which is likely a balance across media.

    Your blogging has much, particularly given your posts on ethanol and your correct calls in your debates with venture capitalists. I hope that you have “behind the scenes” impact on the new administration’s energy policies. Their choices are critical. With much in flux, blogging has immediate impact but is transitory. Books take years to complete but the really good ones have enduring, widespread impact.

    IMO we need an excellent textbook on energy to support a survey class targeted at the intelligent, open minded college student not majoring in engineering or a physical science. Somewhat similar to Vaclav Smil’s “Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems” but not as dense and targeted more at the contexts, experiences and concerns of the typical student such that the relevance grabs them.

  16. Kit P is the kind of troll best ignored by everyone. His ultra-negative attitude–on display in the archives of the The Energy Blog, among others–has never been tempered by an actual solution to a problem. He lives to criticize and self-aggrandize.

    Go away, Kit

  17. What about a book that is specifically addressed to Obama. It could be a book about energy policy but the title could be something catchy related to what Obama needs to do in the next 4 years to begin to move us forward with our energy problem.

  18. RR – a book in and of itself might not pay out, but it might be an entry into bigger media, like tradional newspapers/magazines, radio, and cable TV. Maybe a weekly column based on your blog.

    Much of what the public knows about energy issues is just wrong. The rest they learn from useful idiots like Tyson Slocum at Public Citizen or Dugan at It would be great to hear from someone a bit more knowledgeable. Punditry actually does pay.

    OT – I filled up the KoK hybrid this morning after church for $1.599 at a branded Phillips 66.

  19. An engineer who writes clearly would also be able to deal with issues like this:

    Dr. Hansen uses crappy data – again

    I would hope that people on both sides of the AGW debate could agree on the need for accurate data. With McIntyre and Watts and their readers pouring over the data you would think that Hansen and GISS might be improving their quality control. Perhaps if Hansen wasn’t jetting around testitying in court trials or hanging out with celebrities he’d have more time to do some REAL science.

  20. i think one of the problems is that we are always looking for “the solution”. The solution that can satisfy everybody, because it’s not only the energy source but also the equipment… Perhaps discussing different alternatives as a function of the needs, different industries, different locations, different wastestreams.

    Clearly, energy is cheapier in the states and that makes it a country much less environmental friendly, because not only more energy is consumed as when it is about the wastestreams, they bother less, just add some chemicals, or aerobic biological conversion, as in the end it costs less to dump it somehwere than treating it properly…

    Anaerobic digestion is not yet fully applied, when we discuss fisher-tropsch or the biological conversion of syngas into ethanol, or even bioethanol. Anaerobic digestion has a great potential in the field of chemicals production, if it could be further combined with other physical processes…


  21. Kit P is the kind of troll best ignored by everyone. His ultra-negative attitude–on display in the archives of the The Energy Blog, among others–has never been tempered by an actual solution to a problem. He lives to criticize and self-aggrandize.

    I just went and searched through the archives of The Energy Blog. After reading a dozen of Kit’s entries there, everything he has ever posted here is now in context for me. Thanks for the tip.

    Cheers, RR

  22. I can’t say I’ve been reading for too long (just about a year now), but I feel like you have a great, realistic voice on the energy matters at hand. I would say take the time to write the book and design it to educate a general audience rather than a technical one.

    I believe Armchair maybe on the right path with the four parts. I would say you have some significant coverage on most of those topics in your blog essays. You would just have to clean them up a bit and make them a bit more fitting for a book.

    With that said, I think there is enough information scattered out there on alternative energy sources that it would be nice to have it all in one place, but i don’t think a book with that alone would be worth reading.

    In my opinion having a piece covering what you might do if you were secretary of state would be the most interesting part.

    All in all, a book written in way that a person with a non-technical background can understand would be a choice read for the masses. You are one of the few people that could make this happen.

  23. I would advise against the book unless there is real money in it or you feel it can advance your career. You will impact more people, and get much more valuable feedback, on this blog than a published book.

    Kit P is not a troll, he sometimes has useful thoughts here and elsewhere. That said, his put-downs earlier in the thread were uncalled for (not to mention incorrect).

  24. an interesting question. I wonder if you would be allowed to publish parts of your book on your blog or have the complete freedom to write about topics you feel like writing about.

    You may find that writing a book will give you some access to people and information that you might not normally have.

    One option is to write a free book
    such as
    giving you the benefits of doing alot of work with no pay. 8)

  25. @ doggydogworld

    Thanks for the defense. Please point out the ‘put-downs’ and are you sure that they were not just an honest opinion?

    There is an expression, ‘if you cannot take the heat, get out of the engine room.’ I suppose negativity and trollishness is in the eye of the beholder. RR wrote, “McCain ran a disastrous campaign.”


    RR also wrote about me, ‘…everything he has ever posted here is now in context for me…’

    Really? I everything like everything?

    So RR have you ‘actually read the National Energy Policy, May 2001’?

    Everybody is an expert on every thing. Dr Hansen is an expert on climate and making electricity.

    So RR, I an not sure what your expectations was when you asked your question, Clearly you were looking for a group hug. Group hugs are why we have mothers. Being a critic is one of my jobs, it comes with spending time in an engine room. You are welcome for the free advice.

  26. A Book subject, with possibly an unfilled niche, that occurs to me:

    Energy technologies that have particular applicability to the “developing” world.

    Things that are relatively straight foreword, robust, scaleable, extensible, needing only trainable maintenance skills, appropriate to immediate and mid-term local requirements, and with as much in area fabrication content as is sensible. A useful discussion of trade-offs along these points, and the others I’m sure a group of your acquaintances gathered around a table with pitchers and napkins would think pertinent.

    Possible consideration for actual moderate to large scale implement. As John, points out, paths that can work, that might do so, and those that just lead to sink holes need some marking. Hype abounds, but another China’s worth will be joining the sphere’s surface every generation.

    Touting two that don’t seem to get much coverage or funding that I’ve seen: low temp geothermal and small-scale in-stream hydro electricity generation.

    I’d suspect the research requirement would be quite demanding.


  27. Ha, I say go for it. Tell em you want a year to do it. You might even kick it to an agent. You like writing and have a lot to say and it’s an important subject. If you get enough time you can work on it almost at your leisure, when you’re inspired, rather than trying to conjure content for a deadline, makes for a much better book.

    Here’s the real sorry inside dope of the matter: Publishing companies don’t want original content, necessarily. They want books that are similar but just different enough from other books that have proven successful. Book proposals — usually, uh, the proposal goes from the author to the publisher! — tend to include a list of similar successful books to the one proposed, which soothes the publishers, who tend to have a very low tolerance for risk.


  28. a friend of mine has written four very good nonfiction books. A good publication run for her is 1800 copies. Most people haven’t seen her books although they contain important information such as documenting the conflict between the people of Nebraska and nuclear waste disposal. She’s moving into romances and will probably get around $5,000 for a completed book with no royalties whatsoever. almost everyone I know who has worked on a book says that it’s not something you do for money and maybe you can leverage it into more business opportunities.

    It is not all doom and gloom. Skipping the long detailed description, the core of what you can do instead is publish chapters on your blog, make major corrections visible within the blog, allow readers to comment on the chapters. I would suggest pulling down the blog just before publication and then restoring the fully edited content after the normal sales cycle of a book has completed. Don’t forget to offer the book itself as part of the up selling opportunity presented by the online copy of the book.

    The pluses I see are that you build an audience for your book, you get corrections and feedback to help improve the book. Those side is that the publisher may flip because this is a model counter to their normal way of doing business. another problem is that you may come to see just how much work this book requires and abandon the project part way through.

  29. Whatever you write, I wouldn’t buy it. I have long since grown tired of your blog, but as it is free, I peruse it occasionally.

  30. A book would, of course, record a long line of thought or a well-fleshed-out argument for posterity. By comparison, blogs are ephemeral features of the cyber-landscape which don’t often follow such a clear line of logic.

    Educators, such as myself, would love to have something more than a series of blogs to share with students.

    Along those lines, and I know it’s not really up your ally, but I would love to see a book which breaks alternative fuel options out by mode. Or maybe something about differential impacts of fossil fuel depletion across geographic space?

  31. There is an expression, ‘if you cannot take the heat, get out of the engine room.’

    Kit, since you didn’t seem to understand the first time around, let’s do this one more time. I am not interested in your self-aggrandizement, nor of your opinion of whether I have anything to contribute. I didn’t ask that question, and thus your “heat” is simply time-wasting noise. Per the publisher, the inquiry came about as a result of a review of the renewable diesel chapter that I wrote. Thus, your opinion on the matter of my insight is completely irrelevant – regardless of whether your opinion is high or low.

    So RR, I an not sure what your expectations was when you asked your question

    Then you are not as intelligent as you think you are. Just about everyone else seems to have understood the request: It was for idea generation, based on the books people have read. My expectation was that the collective readership here could offer up suggestions on any topics that haven’t been covered, or haven’t been covered very well. Or, if someone has written a book, that they could add some wisdom. Now, most people seemed to understand that, and I have gotten a lot of useful comments. You contributed absolutely nothing except 1). A demonstration that you didn’t understand the question; and 2). A puzzling need to answer an irrelevant question.

    Regarding trollish behavior, with all due respect to DDW, he did write “he sometimes has useful thoughts.” In my book, someone who only sometimes has useful thoughts, but spends the rest of their time making snarky comments and dishing out gratuitous insults is at minimum a part-time troll. Your style that I saw on display at The Energy Blog has certainly put your comments in context for me. You have deluded yourself into believing that gratuitous insults amount to dishing out heat, and that people who respond negatively “can’t stand the heat.” How about you spend more time dishing out light, and save the heat – and I mean actual heat – for when heat is called for?

    And you are also welcome for the free advice. Maybe some day it will get you promoted out of the engine room. But please do not waste any more of my time.


  32. I would advise against the book unless there is real money in it or you feel it can advance your career.

    There is definitely not real money in it. Whether it can advance my career is a different matter. I don’t think it can advance my present career. It could open up some new doors, though. But again, that’s not why I would do it. The compelling reason to do it is to shed light in an area of darkness. That’s what I need help trying to decide: “What are the areas of darkness?” With that in hand, I have to decide “Is that something I can help with?”

    Cheers, RR

  33. I wonder if you would be allowed to publish parts of your book on your blog or have the complete freedom to write about topics you feel like writing about.

    This would be ideal, but based on my experience before they don’t want any portion to have been published anywhere else. Remove that stipulation, and this would be considerably less burdensome.

    Cheers, RR

  34. Hi
    I enjoy your blog. Suggest you read “sun in a bottle” about the quest for fusion. I read it recently and could not put it down. (I have no involvement with the book and cannot even remember the author)

  35. Robert, you would need to have a very clear (& realistic) idea about why you wanted to write a book — it is not like the book market is under-supplied with titles.

    A cautionary tale — Prof Bernard Cohen in 1990 wrote "The Nuclear Energy Option", a concise well-considered even-handed discussion of the pros & cons of nuclear power. Even today, it is one of the most accessible sources of information on all sides of that topic — if you can find one of the mere 6,000 copies sold.

    There are already lots of topical books published on energy & the environment — most of them highly forgetable. One more is not going to help.

    If you are going to invest the effort in a book, take a longer view.

    Charles Darwin (the grandson) wrote a book about the future of the human race in 1952, "The Next Million Years".

    Among other things, Darwin pointed out that the human race would have to get along without fossil fuels for most of the next million years. He focused on the social side of human development. It would be fascinating to have an intelligent technically-competent person explore at length the interaction between possible future energy supply technologies and the resulting possible structures of society over the long term. There is so much that we take for granted today which is primarily a result of the current abundance of cheap energy in the West.

  36. Lotta comments …

    I didn’t have anything to add when I first saw this topic, and the first few. I had a thought this morning though:

    I believe the AGW debate will be bigger in your publishing window than energy scarcity or energy cost debates.

    I could be wrong though, which brings up the logical hedge:

    Write a book that is half about energy scarcity and energy costs, and half about the carbon economy.

    Then you and your publisher will have the opportunity to pitch it either way. Win win.

    – odograph

  37. @RR
    “I am not interested in your self-aggrandizement, …”

    Unlike RR, when I receive criticism I check it out. I went back and looked, did not find any ‘self-aggrandizement’ on my part. Is this what you mean by ‘self-aggrandizement’? RR wrote,

    “It should be clear that I enjoy writing. Over the past three years, I have written 665 essays for this blog, a book chapter on renewable diesel in Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems,[Photo] 130 essays for The Oil Drum, and essays for numerous other web sites. I write for different reasons, but primarily because I enjoy it and I like to share knowledge.”

    This first criticism was more of a personal attack than anything else, but moving along to a second criticism, RR wrote, “A demonstration that you didn’t understand the question.”

    First there is the headline in bold, “Seeking Reader Input for a Book Project”.

    Then RR wrote, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,blah, blah, blah, blah”. Seven paragraphs of blah, blah, blah.

    Had RR written, “I am writing a book on (insert topic), what specif subjects would my readers like me to write about.”

    Pardon my self-aggrandizement, but many times I would ace hard technical tests. On one test, I got the wrong answer on one calculation. While getting it right the first time is preferable, it is important learn from one’s mistakes too. Since I did not understand my mistake, I checked the key. Dr. Professor had made several incorrect assumptions to simplify the calculation. Dr. Professor regraded the test and I was the only one to get a 100%.
    For those who know root cause analysis (more subtle self-aggrandizement), this is called having a mindset. RR questioned my intelligence (a personal attack) without considering that his verbose writing style might be root cause.

    Finally, there is this “A puzzling need to answer an irrelevant question.”

    Really? If I would ask RR if he still beats his wife, that is a question inferring a personal attack. If I asked how many people is mercury from coal plants killing, that is a question inferring coal plants are killing people with mercury.

    Of course a good reason to ask questions is to get information, like have you read the National Energy Policy, May 2001? For the one reader who said that he read it, I can engage him at a higher level on the topic.

    However, I can also learn by the refusal to answer an honest question. The reason RR should not right a book is lack of understanding of the topics he would write about, a mindset that leads him to not validate his assumptions, and resorting to personally attacks.

  38. @Kit

    You seem to be unfamiliar with the following terms: self aggrandizement, irony, troll, thread hijacking, and right/write. Here are examples:

    Self aggrandizement – Lots of examples. Kit aces the test by apparently having the wrong answer, but actually the teacher was wrong and everyone but Kit had the wrong answer. Much like this thread, where everyone but Kit seemed to understand and answer the questions that were asked, and Kit doesn’t think that reflects on himself. Root Cause Analysis would likely show that Kit himself was not the issue, despite him being the only person who ‘misread’ the question. Also, Kit’s job is being a critic. He hangs out in engine rooms. He engages people at a high level.

    Irony – Kit complains about what he perceives as a personal attack. Correction: That is actually an example of rich irony.

    Troll – Self explanatory. RR, take note and please do not feed. You see what happens.

    Thread hijacking – There are multiple responses now from Kit, none of which were on point and now are drifting far off point into bitter personal attacks.

    Right/write – “RR should not right a book. He isn’t smart like me.” Could also be filed under “irony.”

    Kit, I know your type. You don’t get the credit in life you think you deserve, so you spend your time attacking those who do, while trying to draw attention to yourself. You want so badly to be the center of attention, and this is the only way you know how to do it. You wonder why you can’t be the one asked to ‘right’ a book. You wonder why the people who know you all think you are an asshole. So you troll on Internet discussion boards and blogs for attention, hoping to extract some sort of retribution for the crappy hand you have been dealt.

    Go away or contribute, troll. Due to my lack of contribution with this response, file away under “irony.”

    Oh, and by the way, is this May 2001 energy policy report the most recent thing you have read? But I guess you would have obviously read Robert’s book chapter given that you know better than a publisher whether he is qualified to write a book.

  39. Kit, mind what I said about heat and light. I have a pretty high tolerance level, but I won’t allow you to clutter up the comments and start flame wars. The purpose of this blog is primarily to discuss energy and the environment. If you continue to feel the need to disrupt conversations, I will start deleting your posts. To this point, your posts have been worse than valueless, since they have prompted others to make responses that add nothing to the debate. Thus your posts are encouraging noise as opposed to signal.

    If you want to talk about energy, you are welcome here. If not, you are going to have to meet your aspirations for disruption elsewhere. I have better things to do than babysit.


  40. Re: wearing a black hat.

    I wish you wouldn’t. While it’s certainly useful to get an oil-industry perspective, it would also be helpful to acknowledge some of the extremely harmful things done by the oil industry.

    Here’s a good article on Exxon:

    A quote:

    No company has done more to fund anti-science deniers and delayers — thereby undermining any effort to take action on the greatest preventable threat to humanity’s health and well-being….two second on the web…would have found ExxonSecrets, which details the millions of dollars that the company has shoveled to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil’s two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil’s tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see “Today We Have a Planet That’s Smoking!”).

  41. Robert,

    I am continually amazed at the amount of ignorance on energy topics members of the general public have.

    Instead of writing a long, technically detailed opus you might have

    1. More impact
    2. Less time required

    If you focused on retrospective review of the dangers of feel good policy making that ignores technical reality.

    A discussion of the environmentally and economically destructive unintended consequences these policies have caused would be good.

    It would be interesting to see just how much economic value has been destroyed by the collapse of the mandate driven ethanol construction boom and how much more that value could have produced if applied somewhere else.


  42. Robert,

    Instead of writing from scratch you might be able to produce a very useful book just by collecting into a book form the various essays you have written.

    Updating your older essays with results to date and ongoing activities would make it relevant to current conditions.


  43. nick g,

    I suspect an accurate environmental cost benefit analysis would show:

    1. The environmental destruction caused by alternative energy policies (especially biofuels) driven by global warming panic causes more destruction than petroleum production.

    2. By raising questions about global warming and thereby delaying the push for policies like biofuel mandates exxon has helped to protect and preserve the environment.


  44. I like your idea of energy options listing pros and cons, but I think you should stick to what you know best. Making liquid fuels. You could break down various steps of various processes and list the pros and cons not just of each process but more for each step.

    for example sugar to ethanol, write about how much sugar and starch is available, the fermentation, the separation or distillation, the energy imputs.

    Then growing oil, look at sources, processing, etc

    then to cellulose, different ways of breaking it down to sugar, chemically, pros and cons. Or enzymatically, pros and cons.

    Then what do you do with the sugar, feed it to bugs that make various fuels, what are the different paths.

    Or do you change the sugar to fuel with a chemical process, pros cons.

    Then go to making syn gas, pros and cons. what are the potential sources. Then what do you do with the syn gas, what kind of fuel should you make, pros and cons of each option. Or do you feed the gas to bugs or do you just burn it.

    I guess I want to see each possible biofuel step broken down to stand on its own. I’m thinking more technical than enviro fluff.

    Sorry if this is disjointed, I’m brainstorming.

  45. Nick G,

    I don’t know that Mother Jones or Greenpeace are any more impartial than an Exxon publication when it comes to environmental issues. Each side has deeply vested interests.

    Also, I imagine that a member of Greenpeace has a very low standard of proof as far as global warming goes. He’ll naturally be sympathetic to environmental causes and anti-corporate claims of the type issued by the sources you quote.

    An oil industry CEO on the other hand, will be the opposite. He has fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders, and he employs tens of thousands of people. His standard of proof… the point at which he will make decisions that may negatively (in a financial sense) impact his stakeholders… will almost certainly be far higher, as it should be. He will want to be far more confident that the benefits of his decisions outweigh the costs.

    Your (or Mother Jones’s) inference of malicious behavior could be another person’s demand for far more rigor than a liberal magazine journalist would seek. If Exxon’s financial support was done in the dishonest and destructive way you claim, i.e. knowingly distorting the truth, then they deserve the criticism. But critics may be misinterpreting Exxon’s intent. I don’t know the details on your claim…. but I do know that the industry has been wrongly criticized for just about everything under the sun.

    Not necessarily taking sides on this, but the public’s insistence in seeing Big Oil as a uniformly evil monolith blinds it to perfectly plausible alternative perspectives. I believe that Big Oil is coming to accept that global warming is a serious problem and that the kind of donations you mention are losing favor. John Browne, before he resigned, was steering BP in that direction.

    Finally, keep in mind that it’s people like you and I who are supporting Exxon. They don’t drill for oil in a vacuum, with dollar bills flying out of the borehole. They do it because we’re buying their products.

  46. nick g,

    With their opposition to nuclear power, the union of concerned scientists do their share of spreading disinformation and advancing unfactual anti-science attacks. They whine about problems and oppose real solutions. Also, the word “scientists” in their names seems to be false advertising.

    At least ExxonMobil can fill my tank when it’s empty. The UCS offers nothing.

  47. RR, I read your blog faithfully and selfishly hope you don’t write a book because I’m sure it’ll cut into your blogging..

  48. Putting your specific question aside for the moment, I think the world actually needs two books, an Isaac Asimov style one that presents free standing “nugget” essays on particular themes and a broader ranging, advanced Richard Feynman style one one that carries underlying concepts along and builds them up. The former would work as a primer for the intelligent but uninformed (or worse, misinformed) reader, dumbing down without oversimplifying or insulting readers’ intelligences. The latter would educate and fit him for thinking about principles so he could assess and absorb new material in the area as it emerged in the world.

    The thing is, I don’t think one book could do both jobs, because of their very different function and focus, and I don’t think either book would be very useful without the other, or at any rate without getting what the other gives through other channels. The primer would provide concrete stuff, particular examples, and the advanced book would provide generalisations that most people can’t grasp or apply without the concrete stuff (and those that can often forget the value of the concrete – Richard Feynman was not one of those).

    So, which sort of writer are you, and what sort of material can you pull together while still enjoying it? And can you link your work to someone else’s that does the other job?

  49. armchair261 said “I don’t know that Mother Jones or Greenpeace are any more impartial than an Exxon publication when it comes to environmental issues. Each side has deeply vested interests.”

    But you aren’t sure? Could you expand on that? What specifically have they done that isn’t impartial?

    “I imagine that a member of Greenpeace has a very low standard of proof as far as global warming goes.”

    I’m not sure what you’re saying. Do you disagree with Greenpeace about global warming?

    “If Exxon’s financial support was done in the dishonest and destructive way you claim, i.e. knowingly distorting the truth, then they deserve the criticism.”

    If? Have you looked at the evidence?

    “I believe that Big Oil is coming to accept that global warming is a serious problem and that the kind of donations you mention are losing favor.”

    Have you read the article? While Exxon may moderating it’s PR due to shifts in public climate, it’s behavior is only becoming more rigid.

    “Finally, keep in mind that it’s people like you and I who are supporting Exxon.”

    They produce an important and valuable product. That’s no excuse this kind of behavior. Until Exxon starts to really behave differently, people will continue to be angry at them.

    Anonymous referred to “global warming panic”

    So you feel global warming isn’t real? Let’s nail that down first…

    Dennis Moore said “the union of concerned scientists do their share of spreading disinformation and advancing unfactual anti-science attacks”

    Could you expand on that? What specifically is disinformation and anti-science?

  50. RR,

    I would like to second the suggestions in this thread along the lines of compiling your essays and/or blog entries into a book…with a slight twist: organizing and encapsulating them around themes, tasks or skill sets such that the reader can pick up the book, quickly find the most relevant content for his/her energy issue or question, and then provide pointers to related topics within the book. For readers of a blog, this could sound self-evident. But in books I find it far less common.

    One of my favorite books for making technical topics understandable for mere mortals is the “Excel Pivot Tables Recipe Book” by Debra Dalgleish. Debra posts quite a lot of (positively stellar) free advice, tips, and tricks for various aspects of the MS Office Suite, particularly Excel. The “Recipe Book” (the compilation of these tidbits) lets me get in, get smarter, and get back to work (or play). I would never read the whole thing cover-to-cover; the topic is too technical to digest all at once. Not unlike some (many? most?) aspects of energy policy are once you scratch the surface.

    Maybe this book of yours could apply the same principle and become something of a handbook for decision-makers, commentators and policy wonks (or at least the members of their staffs tasked with making sure their policy suggestions are coherent). Or maybe mere mortals with an interest in energy will keep it near the coffee table and pick it up whenever they smell pandering in the latest statement from some politician.

    This method isn’t particularly original. But combined with the quality and style of your posts, it might hit the “sweet spot” of quality, wit, and ease-of-use that leads to commercial success. More importantly I think this path would maximize your chances of informing/influencing energy policy (read: make more of a difference than the blog already does) without sacrificing family life and sanity in the process.

    Hope this helps!


  51. nick g,

    the following is a paragraph from an essay written by Kerry Emanual (MIT hurricane researcher and no stranger to anyone who knows global warming) entitled Phaeton’s Reins

    “Paradoxes abound on the political left as well. A meaningful reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions will require a shift in the means of producing energy, as well as conservation measures. But such alternatives as nuclear and wind power are viewed with deep ambivalence by the left. Senator Kennedy, by most measures our most liberal senator, is strongly opposed to a project to develop wind energy near his home in Hyannis, and environmentalists have only just begun to rethink their visceral opposition to nuclear power. Had it not been for green opposition, the United States today might derive most of its electricity from nuclear power, as does France; thus the environmentalists must accept a large measure of responsibility for today’s most critical environmental problem.”

    That’s what I’m talkin’ about…

    When I think of greens blindly opposing nuclear power, I think of UCS and I agree with Dr. Emanual that they must accept a large measure of responsibility.

    You (I) don’t like ExxonMobile (USC) because they twist facts and spread doubt to further their political agenda and thus prevent moving forward with real solutions to the problem.

    This is off topic, I am done with this.

  52. You come from a farming family. A different take might be a book that is partly autobiographical. Can your family farm work and support your family in a post peak age? Are your parents going broke like many farmers? What skills does the farming community in Ok still have, and what have been lost? Can farmers diversify with small acreages in several crops, or are they irrevocably wedded to an industrial model?

  53. “What specifically have they done that isn’t impartial?”

    A quick glance through Mother Jones’s and Greenpeace’s web pages reveals openly hostile language concerning Exxon. Here’s a quote from the Grist page: “poor, misunderstood, disinformation-peddling, planet-destroying ExxonMobil.” Is this justifiable anger, bias, or a bit of both? Not sure, but when I see such language I immediately discount anything the article says. These are people with an axe to grind. These are people who are blaming Exxon for fetching their gasoline for them. These are people I wouldn’t trust to carry out cold and unbiased research.

    “I’m not sure what you’re saying (about standards of proof). Do you disagree with Greenpeace about global warming?”

    Consider the following proposal: “Global warming is seriously endangering the planet, and huge investments need to be made immediately to reverse the process.

    What does Greenpeace risk by accepting this proposal, even if it’s wrong? Nothing, in fact they gain from it, because it fits right into their mission. So they will tend to accept the statement without requiring a great deal of rigor.

    What does Exxon risk? Huge costs, possibly resulting in a significant loss of jobs. Now, the proposal might be correct, but if you’re Exxon you want to be very sure that the science is solid before you implement the proposal. Increasing your costs and/or reducing your profits will require a new mission. Doesn’t this make sense?

    I don’t think many people doubt that global warming is occurring. The question is, what role does man have in it, and what are the implications if we don’t make changes? I’m not a climatologist, but I took a course and have attended 3 professional lectures in the past year to try and get a little insight into it. Personally I think the evidence is pretty strong that humans have had a major role in the recent warming trends. There is also evidence that this is coming on the back of a natural warming trend. But the implications are far from certain. Climate models all agree that warming will continue, but as to how much and where, the models are all over the map. You can, for example, look at two predictions of future rainfall patterns in the midwestern US by respected British and Canadian researchers, and the differences are profound.

    “If? Have you looked at the evidence?”

    No. I’m not necessarily defending Exxon. I’m just not going to react in the knee-jerk way most people do when it comes to the oil industry. Maybe they’re guilty as charged. But the references you cited are so obviously biased that I wouldn’t bother to read them. I prefer a more cool-headed source.

    “While Exxon may moderating it’s PR due to shifts in public climate, it’s behavior is only becoming more rigid.”

    Hostile readers will write this off as PR. Is it any more biased than your sources? Maybe, maybe not. But at least it seems that they are publicly acknowledging the issue and claim to be taking steps to mitigate.

    “That’s no excuse this kind of behavior.”

    Has the article proved that their behavior was unethical or dishonest? Is the science proven to the extent that those with dissenting opinions should be prosecuted? Would the charges stand up in a court of law? I think you could be pretty certain that the person who wrote the Grist line I quoted would not be allowed to sit on the jury.

    Like the previous poster said, this is way off topic, and I am done with it.

  54. Robert,

    Most useful to me would be a compilation of your main content into one place, as a mid-level reference and something to give away, say to elected officials’ energy staff members.

    Two current examples I like are Lester Brown’s Plan B (I stopped with 2.0, though) and Sherry Boschert’s Plug In Hybrids.

    I’ve read your blog from early on, and bookmarked significant posts for future reference. But that doesn’t work so well for newcomers or to help educate another.

    I also like armchair261‘s idea of four sections. But don’t take very long describing the overarching problem, that’s been done many times now. Your strength is technically evaluating potential solutions.

  55. I just returned from Europe last night, and I am far behind in my correspondence. Thanks to all for the ideas that have been submitted. I am collecting them in a spreadsheet, trying to decide whether I want to proceed with this.

    One comment I wanted to address:

    Re: wearing a black hat.

    I wish you wouldn’t. While it’s certainly useful to get an oil-industry perspective, it would also be helpful to acknowledge some of the extremely harmful things done by the oil industry.

    Nick, one thing that you will note is that my defense is never a blanket defense. I have never spoken a work of defense over XOM in relation to the Valdez, nor have I ever defended any of their funding for climate research. And to this day, I will only buy gasoline from XOM if I have no other options. That has been my personal protest for the past 20 years over the Valdez spill.

    On the other hand, there are some issues over which I have sharp disagreement with the critics. I recently had an exchange like this with someone who said that XOM was sitting on a lease in Alaska and not developing it. My request for details and expectation that a certain burden of proof would be met was read by the other person as a defense of XOM. It wasn’t. It was a defense against rushes to judgment, and a request that we look at the entire picture before proposing legislation that may be cutting off our nose to spite our faces.

    Cheers, RR

  56. Robert, after I interviewed I thought “I should’ve asked when are you going to write your book”.

    Skimming the responses here, I see a strong consensus. Do it. And I think the best angle is along the lines of how do we get out of this mess. The first I think I noticed about reading your blog is your strong pragmatic ability for problem solving, and your well tuned bullshit detector. And God knows, we need that right now.

    You are also an engaging writer. If you’re concerned about whether “that’s been done before” I’d say not to worry about it too much. Pardon the corny line, but on this I’d say go with your heart. Write about that for which you have a passion. It matters.

    Another way to look at it: on the blog, you reach a few thousand. In a book it could be orders of magnitude more. Do it.

    – Rod Taylor

  57. Reading through all the noise … well, that was depressing.

    Anyway, maybe something good could come out of it.

    Write a book along the lines I suggested above, which is similar to Armchair’s four-part outline.

    And aim it specifically at the non-science/non-engineering majors in colleges — the kind of people who become the uninformed policy wonks you object to. Give them a book that plays it right down the middle on energy choices, while equipping them with tools for how to evaluate options (and demonstrating that there’s no free lunch).

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