How will these resources help you? 

Recent spikes in global gas and electricity prices, together with the 2021 COP26, have awakened various stakeholders to the challenges of global energy decarbonisation. There are a variety of solutions, each with advantages and disadvantages. Nonetheless, many routes remain challenging and politically tricky, especially without a global consensus. Several authors have provided pathways or handbooks to achieving a cleaner energy future, but the debate is complex and conflicting. Two accessible resources (see further materials) by popular authors are suggested. Students are also given the opportunity to explore several up-to-date sources about the topic and review a panel discussion that reviews the options. 

Decarbonising data and arguments

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

by Bill Gates, published by Penguin Books, (2021), ‎9780241448304

This book has been met with much acclaim, although it is not without its critics. Reading the reviews on one website shows how this particular text splits the vote from ‘Unrealistic pie-in-the-sky nonsense’ to ‘Exceptional book written by an exceptional individual’. It would be best if you judged – but I still think the resource is valuable, whichever view you take.  Gates offers a pragmatic and practical view on how to look at and tackle the climate crisis. The information presented is accessible, relevant and most importantly, up to date. The Introduction is a logical starting point, setting out the enormity of the challenges and inequalities that exist in possible pathways and futures. The book is also supported at this point by not only data but also the agencies who will be responsible for delivery alongside consumers. Energy and decarbonisation are woven throughout the text, making the resource both interesting and challenging because energy impacts so many of our activities. Perhaps most value for students will come from synthesising the information in Chapter 2 (‘This will be hard’) or Chapter 12 (‘What each of us can do’). With the latter, there is an opportunity for flow diagrams and ranking exercises based on the variety of solutions presented, again looked at through the lens of energy and low carbon solutions.

Complimentary read

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years – Updated Edition

by Mike Berners-Lee, published by Cambridge University Press, (2021), 9781108821575

This is a complementary set of ideas that should support the guidance offered in Bill Gates’ book. Mike Berners-Lee is a leading sustainability thinker and is a leading light about practical tools for thinking about the future. Berners-Lee’s book is structured like a handbook, with sections on food, climate, transport, etc., that should be familiar themes for many GCSE and GCE Geography students. Some sections have more of an economic focus, such as ‘Growth, Money and Metrics’. Energy has its own chapter (pages 59–97) and is an excellent way of promoting understanding of the challenges and possible solutions. Readers can dip in and out of a well of supplementing topics that may be involved in their school or college courses. The ‘Big Picture Summary’ section is 2–3 pages of thought-provoking problems and solutions presented in a synoptic framework. This is particularly useful for students trying to make links between energy, carbon, sustainability and other areas of geography. 

International Energy Agency Report

Global Energy Review 2021

by International Energy Agency, published by IEA, (2021)

The value of reports such as this is twofold. Firstly, their information and data are up to date, making them an invaluable source compared to a traditional textbook. Secondly, technical reports like this are rich in graphical information such as charts, diagrams and various infographics.  A starting point for students is to begin with the abstract and then attempt to navigate the key findings. A suggestion here might be a group activity where each group is given a header (e.g.  ‘Electricity demand is heading for its fastest growth in more than 10 years’) to read, distil and communicate in spider/flow diagram form to the rest of the class. A shared document could be used.  Other sections focus on other energy strands, e.g. Energy demand or CO2 emissions. One useful way of dealing with the information is to pick two or three key diagrams from the section and analyse them – providing short sections of text where there are trends identified and suggestions made for the reasons (a vital skill of the Geographer at GCSE and GCE).  From the same website, it is possible to access a multitude of other relevant information.  

Audiovisual clip

Weather World - Adapting to solar farming

published by BBC, (2021)

This clip explores solar farming as implemented in a farm in Kent, and criticism received by this form of renewable energy exploitation.

Further materials

China’s Next Economic Transformation: Going Carbon Neutral by 2060, published by Wall Street Journal, (2020) Watch this video
Decarbonising fossil fuels by Christiana Figueres, Lauren MacDonald, Chris James and Ben van Beurden, published by TED, (2021) Watch this video
David Holmes is an experienced geographer with a particular interest in technology, fieldwork and research.

Text © David Holmes, 2022.