May 30 2014


Reviewed by Peder Hjorth, Lund University, Sweden

An important and well-documented book. A very helpful guide to sustainable development and sustainability science.



Sustainability Science, by Bert J. M. de Vries, Cambridge University Press, 2013

This book provides one of the best explanations yet of the origins and meaning of sustainable development. Quoting Seneca (3 BC – 63 AD), de Vries writes: “The society of man is like a wall of stones, which would fall if the stones did not rest on another; in this way it is sustained.” The book puts the problems of sustainable development in context, providing case examples, discussing the trajectory the concept has taken to reach the current moment, and highlighting the thinking behind it.

The book clearly states that a scientific worldview by itself cannot give meaning to our lives; nor can it resolve the ethical questions surrounding sustainability. Sustainability science has a more limited scope than sustainable development. Essentially, it is the study of what science can and cannot know. Even if thermodynamics, system dynamics and complexity theory are designated essential components of sustainability science, and it is based on the premise that studies of real-world problems must not respect the confines of artificial nineteenth-century boundaries among scientific disciplines, sustainability science can only illuminate part of what we need to know. Current complexity and uncertainty require a realistic appreciation of the predictive and explanatory powers of science and models.

Questions regarding what we ought to do are outside the scope of sustainability science, although the book opens up a panorama of possible directions we might take, offering multiple options for reflection and discussion. The discussion of sustainable development should be required reading for all university students. The section on sustainability science is much more demanding and is only suitable for students at an advanced level with strong science background. An experienced teacher prepared to jump between traditional disciplines would do well to incorporate this book into his or her classes.

The author focuses on renewable and non-renewable resources as well as the essentials of earth, land, nature and agro-industrial systems. At the end of each chapter, there are relevant book references and websites. The best news is that book has been “field-tested” for seven years. I highly recommend it.

Sep 27 2013


Reviewed by Kathleen Araújo, Harvard University

In this book, Joanna Lewis, provides a detailed account of China’s role in the global climate change situation and the innovative measures they are taking towards a greener future.

Green Innovation in China: China’s Wind Power Industry and the Global Transition to a Low Carbon Economy, by Joanna I. Lewis, Columbia University Press, 2013, 304 pp.

Recent international challenges, like the global recession and sovereign debt crises, may have caused some people to miss a subtle, but important development – China has become a leader in “newer” forms of renewable energy. The Asian energy technology latecomer (widely known for installing one coal-fired power plant a week) has created top-ranked wind and solar energy industries in recent years, leading some national policy-makers from other countries to ask how their own domestic efforts to do the same could be so quickly outpaced. In her book, Green Innovation in China, Georgetown University Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs Joanna Lewis begins to answer this question by examining the rise of the Chinese wind industry.

In a well-researched argument, Lewis makes the case that China is becoming a hub for global innovation with domestic and foreign wind technology firms. Drawing upon interviews, policy documents, and energy data, she details the way in which China transformed itself from a country with no real experience in wind turbine manufacturing to one which can produce state-of-the-art wind technology systems and now leads in cumulative installed wind capacity. Acknowledging that conventional indicators, like R&D spending or patents, can be insufficient to capture the science and technology learning dynamics in play, she argues that licensing and government policy support were critical. She also includes discussion of issues like trade secrets, quality control, and slow grid connection, then speculates that intellectual property rights will probably become more important to Chinese companies as they becomes increasingly vested in wind technology exports. As a China policy consultant and scholar, Lewis brings an unusual, embedded perspective to her closing evaluation of competition and cooperation between the United States and China – the world’s largest energy consumers, greenhouse gas emitters, and economies.

While this book is accessible to a broad audience, it will be particularly valuable for policymakers and industry decision-makers interested in emergent technology markets. Broader questions about the efficacy of the World Trade Organization or debates about China’s role in global technology transfer leave ample room for a sequel. For now, though, those wanting to deepen their understanding of green jobs measures, intellectual property issues in emergent technology markets, or strategic partnering with China will not want to miss what Lewis has to say.

Mar 22 2013


Reviewed by Leah Stokes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Putting Social Movements in their Place: Explaining Opposition to Energy Projects in the United States, 2000–2005, by Doug McAdam and Hilary Schaffer Boudet, Cambridge University Press, 280pp

Social movement theory has typically focused on what many would call the dependent variable: successful mobilization. As a result, it is unclear how often mobilization occurs and whether or not it is successful. Instead of following this pattern, McAdam and Boudet seek to understand whether mobilization against energy infrastructure is a common or a rare phenomenon. They develop a unique research method, rooted in fuzzy set theory and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA). Focusing on energy infrastructure proposals, they randomly selected 20 cases, and after imposing some constraints, study 18 projects across 12 American states between 2001 and 2008. These include liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, nuclear power plants, cogeneration facilities, hydroelectricity projects and a wind farm. The authors are trying to find a middle ground between rigorous case research and large N statistical work.

Overall, they find very little mobilization: only one energy project out of 18 triggered a sustained social movement. A mere 50% of the projects experienced a single protest event. They suggest that three key factors affect social mobilization against energy projects: risk, political opportunity and civic capacity. In addition, they think context matters, including whether a community is experiencing economic hardship, has previously mobilized against a land-use project or already hosts a similar industry. Finally, they argue that political opportunity and civic capacity provide objective measures of whether a community could mobilize, while context helps people interpret whether or not they should mobilize.

The book presents a unique research approach and very rich findings. Future work could examine networked social movements against wind turbines, which seem to be increasing in prevalence.