David MacKay

Before his untimely death in 2016, David John Cameron MacKay, FRS FInstP FICE, was the Regius Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge and former chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

By Tom Blees

Back in 2008, when Prescription for the Planet was published, there was another book on energy that was published that caught my eye. It was by a Cambridge physics professor named David MacKay, called Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air. I was impressed not only with the content of the book but at the fact that David was offering it as a free download if one wanted just an electronic version. As a first-time author myself who still was laboring under the fantasy that a person can make money selling books, this seemed a rarely-seen expression of commitment to use one’s work to educate the public. I wrote to David and we struck up a friendship, and following his example I too began to offer my book for free, as did our recently departed SCGI board member, Joe Shuster. Both books will continue to be available for free here on our website. I thought this would be a good time to explain that David was the inspiration for that.

by David MacKay

I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about sustainable energy. Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and we’re all encouraged to “make a difference,” but many of the things that allegedly make a difference don’t add up.

Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional (for example about wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers, they select them to sound big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather than to aid thoughtful discussion.

This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up.

When it comes to saving the planet, "every little bit helps!" Or does it?

Maybe if we all do a little, we'll achieve only a little. Newspapers and television programmes are full of suggestions on how we can be more green. But how can we tell what works?

Can we cut fossil fuel consumption enough to save the planet? As I argue in this week's More or Less on BBC Radio 4, what we need is a single unit of measurement. I would like to suggest measuring energies in kilowatt-hours, and measuring how fast activities use or produce energy in kilowatt-hours per day.