Steve McKevitt and Tony Ryan

Icon Books

2013 | 304pp | £16.99 

ISBN 9781848315136

In Project sunshine, Steve McKevitt and Tony Ryan fluctuate between scaring the pants off the reader and offering glimmers of hope that all is not lost. This carrot-and-stick approach is precisely what is needed to draw attention to the daunting scale and immediacy of the social challenges we face related to energy and food security on a planet with a rapidly growing population and diminishing resources. Options are laid on the table in a manner that is digestible to non-scientists without sacrificing the underlying technical details that lend these arguments strength.

At times, the book has a disproportionate focus on western history and current research in the UK but, fortunately, the tales of pressures on civilisation are universal and the cutting-edge research projects outlined are good examples of work undertaken more broadly on the global stage. Indeed, McKevitt and Ryan have somehow managed to cover the history of the universe and life, and to explain how sunlight and energy are inextricably intertwined, both succinctly and compellingly.

Nonetheless, there is a missed opportunity in this book: the extraordinary hidden costs of traditional energy technologies are mentioned only in passing. While climate disruption is surely the most serious of these costs (and one that is surprisingly downplayed in comparison to population growth), there are countless other examples associated with severe health impacts, food cost and toxicity, and damage to infrastructure, to mention just a few. These hidden costs serve to bolster the arguments outlined in this book because the economic targets for alternative energy technologies become far easier to achieve.

Project sunshine clearly benefits from pairing one author’s robust technical background with the other’s extensive expertise in communication and business. Their book is as easy to read as a good novel, if it weren’t for the sobering nature of the subject matter. Despite the minor shortcomings mentioned here, Project sunshine should be required reading for students the world over. They are the ones who will inherit this problem, so now is the time to equip them with information on the stark challenges that lie ahead and to light the path toward the solutions we must pursue together.

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