The Innovationist vs. The Catastrophists

"Because we are not taught about how innovation really works, it is easy to fall prey to the idea that today’s way of life is going to collapse.

But, as Smaller Lighter points out, time after time throughout history, catastrophism has been wrong. We’ve been “running out of oil” since the inception of oil–yet human ingenuity keeps unlocking new forms of oil (thanks to innovations like fracking). We were supposed to run out of food as population increased–and yet agricultural technology (such as fossil fuel-powered tractors and combines) has meant more people and more food per person.

Why does catastrophism fail? The book’s basic answer is: innovation. Innovation enables human beings to create new forms of value—e.g., computers–but also enables human beings to solve problems that human creations create.

Bryce is anything but evasive about the risks of various technologies, including ways in which technology can be abused. Real problems connected to technology. One particularly scary fact I learned was the sheer number of government requests for citizens’ data. “Each year, according to the Economist, South Korean authorities make more than 37 million requests to see communications data on its citizens. (The country has about 50 million people.)”

But Bryce’s solution is, well, to actually try to solve the problem using innovation and what was once celebrated as a “can-do attitude.”

That might seem like common sense, but it is definitely not common practice."

Forbes, July 30, 2014, by Alex Epstein


Wind? Biofuels? Get Real, a Contrarian Says

“Every so often we need someone to put in a kind word for the devil, if only to remind us of unpleasant facts. On energy policy, we need someone willing to declare flat out that ‘if oil didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. No other substance comes close to oil when it comes to energy density, ease of handling, and flexibility.’ We need someone who says: Don’t kid yourself, coal will be around for a long, long time, as a cheap source of electricity across the globe. Someone who scoffs that anyone who believes in wind power and biofuels as a solution to the soaring demand for energy also believes in the Easter Bunny. And someone willing to argue that the most sensible long-term answer to the world’s unquenchable thirst for electricity is a revival of nuclear power, a reality that he says thinking environmentalists are coming to accept….

Bryce…fills that role with zest. The author of four books on oil and energy, Mr. Bryce has written a new book well worth reading… “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” — captures the headlong rush of Western culture’s endless drive for ever better technology. It is an extraordinary impulse that has created a world in which more people live longer and more comfortably than ever before.”

New York Times, June 7, 2014, by Fred Andrews


Defending Human Ingenuity And Innovation

"Worldwide living standards are getting better, driven by humans' desire for making things Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper. This is the title of Robert Bryce's new book in which he devotes 300 pages to refuting the claims of those neo-Malthusians who think mankind is near or at "peak everything."

Instead of accepting this "collapse anxiety," Bryce, a senior fellow and my colleague at the Manhattan Institute, provides a full-throated defense of human ingenuity and innovation. Getting back to nature à la Rousseau, Thoreau, and Carson by embracing renewable energy and decreased standards of living is not the way of the future. To continue the advancement of the developed and non-developed world, policymakers need to stop inhibiting progress and embrace the world's master resource-energy."

Real Clearn Energy, May 29, 2014, by Jared Meyer


How To Defuse the Power Elite

Bryce's engrossing survey has two purposes. The first is to refute pessimists who claim that technology-driven economic growth will burn through the planet's resources and lead to catastrophe. "We are living in a world equipped with physical-science capabilities that stagger the imagination," he writes. "If we want to bring more people out of poverty, we must embrace [technological innovation], not reject it." The book's other purpose is to persuade climate-change fundamentalists that they are standing on the wrong side of history. Instead of saving the planet by going backward to Don Quixote's windmills, they need to take a progressive approach to technology itself, he says, striving to make nuclear power safer, for instance, and using the hydrocarbon revolution sparked by fracking and deep-offshore exploration to bridge the way to the future.

… President Obama likes to call oil "yesterday's energy." But "for the vast majority of the world's population," Mr. Bryce argues, "the cheapest and most reliable forms of energy are, and will continue to be, hydrocarbons." Anyone who thinks that he is doing the world a favor by compelling the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar is consigning billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.

Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2014, by Arthur Herman


Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper by Robert Bryce

Bryce delights in mocking the pessimists of the past and the present, with their anxieties over the prospects of environmental collapse and resource depletion, and deploys plenty of hard data to support his sunny view of the future. The reason for his confidence is summed up in his title. For the past two centuries, people have produced the necessities of life in far greater abundance and much higher quality because we’ve gotten so good at making things smaller, faster, lighter, denser, and cheaper.

Boston Globe, May 14, 2014, by Hiawatha Bray


The Neo-Malthusians

… Bryce presents neo-Malthusian catastrophists with a choice: If climate change is the result of rising global demand for energy, and we all agree that we should address climate change, then world leaders can either limit the available supplies of energy — thus denying billions of the world’s poor the security and prosperity that ample, cheap energy brings — or they can figure out a way to make energy cheaper, denser, lighter, etc.

…the other big theme of Bryce’s book: The enemies of innovation, by and large, are environmentalists who claim to be defenders of the “natural” world — so long as it does not include humanity.

…The data, which Bryce applies in heavy doses, add up to this: In almost every corner of the global economy, innovation is increasing efficiency and in the process driving up profits and creating wealth and prosperity.

National Review, June 2, 2014, by John Daniel Davidson


Beautiful Progress

Part of the fun of Bryce’s book comes from the sheer range of his examples. In one chapter, we learn how the weight of the Tour de France winner’s bicycle fell by more than half between 1903 and 2003, before the Tour stepped in and imposed minimum weight requirements for competing bicycles). In another, Bryce shows how using cell phones to transfer money in the developing world instantly raised salaries of Afghan policemen by 30 percent (due to the fact that corrupt officials could no longer skim from their paychecks before they were delivered).

…Even where Bryce’s examples are well known, he has a way of bringing them to life. Moore’s Law, which says that computing power (measured by the number of transistors on an integrated circuit) is almost a common place. Yet the implication of this trend over the course of half a century, to quote Bryce quoting Ray Kurzweil, is that a “kid in Africa with a smartphone is walking around with a trillion dollars of computation circa 1970.” Bryce is careful to acknowledge that innovation is not an unalloyed good. One of his examples of innovation in action is the AK-47. And he notes that many times innovation helps to solve one problem, only to create others (which in turn are solved by further innovations). But the overall picture that emerges is of a world made much brighter by human ingenuity.

Master Resource, May 19, 2014, by Josiah Neeley


A Valuable Source of In-Depth Energy Information

Few science books are worth reading each and every page. Climatism, by Steve Gorham, (reviewed here in March) is an exception. Power Hungry is not, but without doubt it contains more than enough great information to make it a terrific buy for anyone with a strong interest in the nation’s energy supply.... A full 54 pages devoted to references illustrate the comprehensive research Bryce has done, as well as the quality of his sources. He is at his best destroying many of the myths regarding renewable energy, providing powerful mathematical proofs that anyone can understand.... The primary theme of this book is the importance of power density. As Bryce thoroughly documents, coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power provide such power density while wind, solar, and biofuels do not. You will not find a book on energy that makes this important point more strongly than this one.

Heartland Institute, September 4, 2010, by Jay Lehr


Power Hungry

Bryce deftly sets out to debunk the myths of the ever popular going green campaign and answers more specific technological difficulties and cost containment issues. “The hard truth is that we must make decisions about how to proceed on energy very carefully, because America simply cannot afford to waste any more money on programs that fail to meet the Four Imperatives.” His views will undoubtedly be rejected or disbelieved, but he backs up those views with hard evidence provoking the reader to do the math for themselves, verify statistics and basically, check up on him with more than ninety pages of references, statistical appendixes ,and energy data notes. This is the must-read book for the Twenty-First century.

San Francisco Book Review, August 28, 2010, by M. Chris Johnson


A Call for Energy Realism

...the promise of renewables has consistently been oversold by the political class. Solar and wind energy both suffer from major structural deficiencies. As Bryce observes, they are “incurably intermittent” and very difficult to store, and have low power density. Because of their low density, solar and wind “require huge swaths of land — which often becomes unusable for other purposes.” ...Our current national energy debate is heavy on passion and hyperbole; it could use a sizable dose of historical perspective and empirical reality. In that sense, Smil and Bryce have done a valuable service. Their new books should be mandatory reading for U.S. policymakers.

The National Review, August 2, 2010, by Duncan Currie


The True Price of Power

...I have long known that there is nothing remotely "green" about putting wind farms all over the countryside, with their eagle-slicing, bat-popping, subsidy-eating, rare-earth-demanding, steel-rich, intermittent-output characteristics. But until I read Robert Bryce’s superb and sober new book Power Hungry, I had not realised just how dreadfully bad for the environment nearly all renewable energy is. ...Bryce’s book is more than a demolition of renewable energy. It contains a fascinating and detailed account of the shale gas revolution and of the latest developments in modular nuclear technology. It makes a persuasive case that this century will be dominated by `N2N’ energy – natural gas to nuclear – and that the consequence of the rise of both will be continuing steady decarbonisation of the economy. This is the best book on energy I have read. It confirms my optimism – and my rejection of the renewable myth.

The Rational Optimist, July 26, 2010, by Matt Ridley


The Truth Behind Energy, Green or Otherwise

This is a blatant plug for a wonderfully frank book by Robert Bryce, “Power Hungry: The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels of the future.” It won’t be well-received by greenies and global warmists. Bryce, incidentally, has 3,200 watts of solar photovoltaic panels on his house’s roof, though after breakdowns, monthly roof-top mopping to keep them clean and substantial cost (despite subsidies) to put them there, he wonders aloud “if they were really worth it.” That aside, Bryce sums up his energy policy as simply (and a lot like everyone else’s on earth when you scrape away the faux ideology): “I’m in favor of air conditioning and cold beer.” ...We recommend you break through the media “happy talk,” as Bryce describes it, and the ideologically green Utopian thinking and pick up a copy of “Power Hungry…” Until you’re persuaded he’s right, you can read it by candlelight. But by Chapter 1, you’ll have flipped the light switch on and maybe settled into air-conditioned comfort with a cold beer.

Washington Times, May 31, 2010, by Martin Sieff


Bryce’s Must-Read Book on Energy

Robert Bryce is an energy realist. So reading him is refreshing. First, because most people when discussing matters of energy are either ill- or misinformed, naive, liars, or have a personal stake in the policy outcomes. Second, because everytime I read something by Bryce, I learn something new — and I usually learn a new, persuasive, way to make points that I’ve tried to make previously. In his 2008 book, Gusher of Lies, he showed that he brooks no fantasies, fairy tales, or pie-in-the-sky predictions or proposals about how the United State can (or should) become energy independent, as so many politicians and pundits claim is possible. His latest book — and first in his new role as a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute — Bryce undertakes the same laser-like dismantling of the myth that so-called green energy can displace fossil fuels anytime in the near future. It’s called Power Hungry — and you should read it.

National Review Online, June 17, 2010, by Sterling Burnett


In Praise of Natural Gas and Coal

...his magnificently unfashionable, superlatively researched new book dares to fly in the face of all current conventional wisdom and cant. It points out that there is no short-term substitute for hydrocarbon fossil fuels - except for nuclear energy - to maintain adequate quantities of cost-effective energy to sustain prosperity for 300 million Americans through the 21st century. I have never yet found any book or author who does a more thorough, unanswerable job of demolishing universally held environmental myths than Mr. Bryce does. He does not fall back on false environmental fairy tales and fake-science wind farms, which he points out require 45 times the land mass that nuclear power plants do.

Washington Times, May 31, 2010, by Martin Sieff


For Whom the Wind Blows

Bryce douses the green energy movement with a cold shower of facts and figures, ones that collectively remind us that a transition to wind and solar power would take decades, that it would be astronomically expensive, that it would make the U.S. reliant on China for turbines, and that it would lead to “energy sprawl.” For all the intuitive appeal of renewable energy, Power Hungry makes a convincing case that decarbonizing the world’s primary energy use will mean letting the sun shine and the wind blow while embracing natural gas as a bridge to nuclear energy.

Freakonomics blog, May 17, 2010, by James McWilliams


A Few Thoughts on Power Hungry by Robert Bryce

Bryce has produced a well-argued set of challenges to much of conventional wisdom in popular discussions of energy policy. For this reason, I will be adding this book to the syllabus for my fall graduate seminar as a way to introduce students to challenges of energy policy and to get their attention. Power Hungry with do both. Bryce's arguments force a reaction that requires engaging the simple mathematics of energy and emissions. In the end, whether you wind up agreeing or disagreeing with his policy arguments, engaging the arguments and the numbers on which they are based is well worth your time.

Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog, May 13, 2010, by Roger Pielke Jr.


Keep the Lights On

Bryce shows that just one modern coal mine in Kentucky, the 35th largest in America, produces nearly as much energy as all wind and solar in the U.S. And the natural gas production from just one state, Oklahoma, produces well over nine times as much energy as all U.S. wind and solar.

The American Spectator, May 5, 2010, by Peter Ferrara.


The Wrong Way To Get to Green

"Power Hungry" unfolds as a brutal, brilliant exploration of this profoundly deluded quest, from fingers-in-the-ears "la-la-la-ing" at the mention of nuclear power to the illusion that we are rapidly running out of oil or that we can turn to biomass for salvation: Since it takes 10,000 tons of wood to produce one megawatt of electricity, for instance, the U.S. will be chopping down forests faster than it can grow them.

The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2010, by Trevor Butterworth


November Energy Futures

...suffice to say, Bryce has compiled a catalogue of hard facts and statistics that puncture just about every myth you will read in breathless accounts of the coming "Green Economy."

The American Spectator, April 26, 2010, by William Tucker


Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, by Robert Bryce (nutrition for energy appetites)

As it is, Power Hungry provides a grand tour of our energy landscape in the best journalistic tradition of serving the public good, exposing the cant of received wisdom and using the authority and weight of good numbers to put ideas into proper perspective. Bryce’s numbers provide giant shoulders upon which to stand, allowing us to see farther and better, increasing our knowledge and improving the odds for institutional wisdom. There are few things more important to the world’s life, liberty, and happiness than an enhanced ability to convert abundant energy into high power at affordable cost. Robert Bryce, with buoyant bonhomie, marks the way.

Master Resource, April 27, 2010, by Jon Boone

Public Speaking

Bryce is an engaging public speaker. View some of his past speeches here. For a partial list of recent speaking engagements, click here.

SFLDC Book Trailer

SMALLER FASTER LIGHTER DENSER CHEAPER: How Innovation Keeps Proving The Catastrophists Wrong

Bryce's Writing

Robert Bryce has written five books and hundreds of articles.  Check out his work.

Bryce TV

Bryce appears regularly on Fox, CNBC, and other networks. View his YouTube Channel.

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