Future Tense

The Six-Point Inspection: Quick Takes on the New Books Green Illusions, Interop, and Resilience

A “solar power tower” in Sanlucar La Mayor, Spain

Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

In the “Six-Point Inspection,” we take a quick look at new books that are changing the way we see our world.

Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner

The nutshell: Forget electric cars, says U.C.-Berkeley energy policy scholar Zehner. Renewable energy sources are no panacea, and simpler non-technological solutions can make us greener faster.

Literary lovechild of: William Nordhaus’ A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies and Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies.


You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’ve started using your solar panels primarily as sock warmers.

Cocktail party fodder: Spain has prided itself on being a leader in solar and wind power, but over the past two decades, its greenhouse gas emissions have risen 40 percent.


For optimal benefit: Consider this book your license to tell a lot of sanctimonious people to get lost.

Snap judgment: With chapter subtitles like “Step Away From the Pom-Poms” and epigraphs from the likes of Dr. Seuss, Zehner is a delightful apostate in the church of green energy.

Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

The nutshell: Palfrey and Gasser, scholars at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, think we can do more to take advantage of our interconnected world—as long as we prepare for its dangers. They posit that their theory of connected systems, which they call interop (short for interoperability), can go beyond the Internet and change the way we live and work.


Literary lovechild of: James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and Tim Wu’s The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. 

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’re the visionary who got your office to join the cloud computing revolution and install Dropbox.

Cocktail party fodder: Every year, 51,000 tons of redundant cell phone chargers are produced. (Probably enough to power 7 trillion pointless text messages.)

For optimal benefit: Start reading on your iPad, switch to your Kindle, then move to the app on your Android phone before hitting the beach with the hardcover. Stop to marvel at the interop, but do not be the first to use the word in social settings.


Snap judgment: Palfrey and Gasser nicely toe the line between digital dystopians and globalization shills—they’re forward-looking but pragmatic.

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy

The nutshell: To explore why systems fail, futurist Zolli and writer Healy investigate disasters ranging from the Northeast blackout of 2003 to the decimation of sea urchins on Jamaican coral reefs. To prevent such failures, they argue, we need to create infrastructure that emphasizes resilience.


Literary lovechild of: Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: Your brain is encased in the world’s first rubber skull.

Cocktail party fodder: In a population that experiences trauma, about one-third will suffer from PTSD, while another one-third to two-thirds will prove resilient.

For optimal benefit: Read before subjecting yourself to war, earthquake, or plague.

Snap judgment: It feels like every few months brings a new global-level crisis—but Zolli and Healy are persuasive in arguing that the outcomes don’t need to be so dire.

This Six-Point Inspection is being published simultaneously on Zócalo Public Square and Slate magazine, as part of our Future Tense partnership.