Foundations of Environmental Physics: Understanding Energy Use and Human Impacts

Book Review: Foundations of Environmental Physics: Understanding Energy Use and Human Impacts
Kyle Forinash. Island Press, Washington, DC. 2010. $65.00. 414 pp. ISBN 978-1-59726-709-0

By Stephen H. Anderson

Foundations of Environmental Physics: Understanding Energy Use and Human ImpactsThe science of physics is essential for a broad understanding of how society can respond to its energy challenges. The objective of Foundations of Environmental Physics is to indicate how and why understanding the principles of physics can help to evaluate environmental issues.

This book begins with an overview of the challenges our world society faces regarding population growth and environmental impacts. Effects of population growth on water consumption and food production, as well as waste and pollution generation, are outlined.

Forinash lays the foundation of the implications for efficiency as determined by physics, specifically as governed by the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Physical principles such as temperature, power, specific heat capacity, vaporization, thermal expansion, and efficiency are defined and reviewed. Types of energy transfer are outlined, including conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation.

The author also discusses energy efficiency and the economy. Efficiencies of heat engines, refrigeration, fuel cells, batteries, electric motors, and generators are explained.

Forinash reviews current and projected global energy demand and sources, including nonrenewable fossil fuels as well as nuclear energy and the benefits and challenges of these resources. Renewable resources such as hydropower, wind, biomass, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy sources are covered. Aspects of energy storage are explored along with a focus on energy for transportation.

As to be expected, this book addresses the subjects of climate and climate change. Topics include natural origins of climate variation, such as sunspots and ocean and atmospheric circulation. Discussions concerning the carbon cycle and climate modeling as well as ice and ocean sediment core data are included.

Forinash ends the book with a discussion on risk and economics, with an emphasis on risk due to new technology. Discussions on risk perception, economic factors, and cost-benefit analysis all help give perspective and increase understanding of the implications of risk in our society.

The book includes many fascinating diagrams, graphs, equations, analogies, and examples throughout to effectively explain and illustrate the principles discussed. Occasionally, graphs are difficult to interpret because legends use similar markings for distinct parameters; however, overall understanding is improved by their inclusion.

Forinash provides a summary at the end of each chapter suggesting implications of the information contained in the chapter. Numerous questions, problems, and projects are then given to review and expand on the issues and principles covered, along with references and a suggested reading list. Several of these problems point to resources available on the Internet.

This book offers valuable insight to those interested in the current energy challenges faced by our society. While a background in basic college calculus and physics could aid in understanding the equations and technical descriptions, the issues are discussed in such a way as to appeal to and educate most undergraduates.

It is well written, and I would highly recommend it for consideration as a supplementary text for introductory environmental science courses as well as more advanced undergraduate offerings. As a professor who teaches courses in an environmental science curriculum, I believe this book provides an excellent perspective of physics relative to environmental issues.

Book Review: Foundations of Environmental Physics: Understanding Energy Use and Human Impacts.
Source: Journal of Environmental Quality 2011 40:657-657

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