Two things are clear about the author of Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: He's a smart guy, and he's playing to an audience. His thoughts, research, and historical and contemporary case studies are generally spot on, but the rhetoric slides from earnest to sly to outrageous. Bryce's central thesis is that, despite the panicked cries of radical environmentalists, human ingenuity and technology have and will continue to beat environmental collapse to the punch. In other words, progress comes from expansion and growth, as it always has, and not from living simply or abstaining from the use of resources at our disposal.
The former Chronicle writer does a fine job at spotlighting companies, individuals, and industries that have succeeded in making innovative products that improve our lives. But in the process, he also condescends to a portion of the environmentalist community. Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Naomi Klein, to name a few, are portrayed as out-of-touch dreamers who desire to abandon civilization and take up residence On Golden Pond. The potshots and name-calling do little more than make Bryce quotable to pundits on the right and distract from his often reasonable points.
The book's later chapters begin to lose focus and rehash topics covered in Bryce's previous books about "misguided" trends toward green power and energy independence. In these, he adeptly debunks myths of wind and biomass being energy saviors (though he noticeably glances over solar) and argues convincingly for a shift to natural gas and nuclear power. He plays down those power-sources' dangers and highlights their strengths as sensible replacements for undeniably destructive coal. In the end, it's easy to imagine Bryce taken out of context and quoted on Fox News, and maybe that's by design. Which is a shame, since many of his ideas ring true regardless of politics.
Robert Bryce will read from and sign copies of Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper on Saturday, May 17, 5pm, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar.
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