A new book about energy, climate change and what it might take to leave fuel worth trillions of dollars in the ground.
"Fascinating, important and highly recommended"
Al Gore

The book

The Burning Question reveals climate change to be the most fascinating scientific, political and social puzzle in history. It shows that carbon emissions are still accelerating upwards, following an exponential curve that goes back centuries. The solutions we assume will help aren’t working, because saving energy is like squeezing a balloon: reductions in one place lead to increases elsewhere. Even clean energy technologies don’t in themselves slow the rate of fossil fuel extraction.

The simple truth is that tackling global warming will mean persuading the world to abandon oil, coal and gas reserves worth many trillions of dollars – at least until we have the means to put carbon back in the ground. The burning question is whether that can be done. What mix of politics, psychology, economics and technology might be required? Are the energy companies massively overvalued, and how will carbon- cuts affect the global economy? Will we wake up to the threat in time? And who can do what to make it all happen?

Fascinating, candid and wide-ranging, here at last is a book that makes sense of the biggest challenge of the century.

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The authors

Duncan Clark

Duncan Clark is a consultant editor at the Guardian, co-founder of data visualisation and digital journalism company Kiln, and a visiting researcher at the UCL Energy Institute. He helped set up the 10:10 and Cool Earth climate campaigns, and has edited many books on climate change, energy, technology and related topics.

Mike Berners-Lee

Mike Berners-Lee is a leading expert on carbon emissions, founder of Small World Consulting and author of How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything. He is involved in sustainability research across many departments at Lancaster University and has worked on energy and emissions with a wide range of corporate and public sector organisations.

Reviews & quotes

‘The Burning Question is a fascinating examination of the forces that have led to our current predicament and it presents an important framework for a sustainable future. I recommend it highly. The climate crisis is a challenge unprecedented in its scale and complexity. We simply must confront this existential challenge and stop making it worse. That will require the awakening and activism of people all around the world.’
Al Gore
45th Vice-President of the United States
‘The issues explored in The Burning Question are hugely important. Policymakers and the public urgently need to be engaging in this kind of big-picture conversation.’
Jim Hansen
Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
‘This is a book that needed to be written: it asks the right question then seeks the most effective ways of answering it. An essential contribution to our thinking about climate change.’
George Monbiot
Writer and campaigner
‘Fossil fuels are so last century. The Burning Question tells us clearly why and how to get off them, but crucially also explores why we aren’t doing anything much about it at the moment, and points the finger at the villains of the piece. Terrific.’
Sir Tim Smit
Founder of the Eden Project
‘The Burning Question is one of those books that doesn’t shy away from delivering an uncomfortable message – there’s no sweetening of the pill, placating political interests or pandering to commercial sensibilities – it simply tells it like it is. But much more than that, in accessible language it develops responses to the challenges we face – not utopian social change, or unrealistic technical wizardry, but rather a portfolio of options thought through at a system level. The Burning Question is an important contribution to understanding both the scale of the climate challenge and how we may yet develop a low-carbon and climate-resilient society.’
Professor Kevin Anderson
Deputy director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change research
‘To keep climate denial from turning into climate despair – that we don’t know how to solve the climate challenge without suppressing civilisation – we need a realistic assessment of the problem and an optimistic set of solutions. This book gives us both, in a short but compelling narrative that may be the difference between a glide to a decent future and a crash of civilisation. Read it, share it, and start preaching its gospel.’
Durwood Zaelke
President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development
‘An extremely clear-sighted and highly readable account of the factors fanning the flames of climate change with plenty of practical suggestions how to set about extinguishing them.’
Baroness Worthington
Climate change policy expert and life peer
‘There have been many books on this issue but The Burning Question lives up to the urgency of its title. Clearly set out, steely with the numbers but fair and humane in its assessments of human strengths and weaknesses, it is a book to reignite the debate.’
‘It’s terrifyingly simple. Burning carbon made our modern industrial world. Now we’ve got to stop burning it. We’ve got to stop drilling for oil and gas, and leave the coal in the ground. We’ve got to prick the carbon bubble, write off half the assets of the world’s biggest industry, and break the infrastructure and mental lock-in that is preventing viable new energy technologies from taking over. This is the big-picture story of why and how that must happen. And why, so far, we are abjectly failing. Brilliant.’
Fred Pearce
Author of The Last Generation
‘At a time when we’re making the climate debate “small”, a series of bite-sized chunks each to be “smuggled” through a resistant policy system, Berners-Lee and Clark remind us that the debate is actually huge in its global scope, its likely impact and, most importantly of all, in terms of the solutions we need to adopt.’
Mike Barry
Head of Sustainable Business, Marks & Spencer
‘An easy-to-read book about a difficult-to-solve problem. Berners-Lee and Clark illustrate why climate change is such a complex issue. But also that it has a solution.’
Samuel Fankhauser
Co-Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE
‘The image of scientists and academics used to be one of calm, mild-mannered people but today the frustration among many is palpable. This book shows why. The gap between evidence, policy and practice is yawningly wide. This book tries to bridge that gap, offering a reasoned account of the problem and suggesting what we might do about it – from global policy to culture change.’
Tim Lang
Professor of food policy, City University London
‘Climate change is the most difficult problem the world has ever faced. Berners-Lee and Clark have compressed this complex issue into a short and highly readable book that covers science, psychology and sociology. Uncompromisingly rigorous but easy to read, this book is a perfect introduction to the central topic of the twenty-first century.’
Chris Goodall
Low-carbon technology expert and author of Sustainability: All That Matters
‘This book hits the climate nail bang on the head: we can only avoid devastating damage if most of the world’s coal, oil and gas are left in the ground. In wonderfully clear and readable prose, the authors set out the facts and what we must do about them. It deserves to be widely read: I only hope it will reawaken the climate movement, which has gone into such desperate decline over the last three years. Only public pressure will force governments to close down coal fired power stations and end our oil dependence: this book is a lucid and powerful call to arms.’
Michael Jacobs
Visiting professor, Grantham Research Institute, LSE and former special adviser on climate change to the UK Prime Minister
‘A great overview of why this stranded assets issue is both important and so intractable a problem. It reflects a mature and evidence-based approach to energy policy. It has some strong, explanatory prose and is refreshingly short, with a tightly plotted, clear structure.’
Alice Bell, New Left Project

News & events

World Bank talk

3 March 2014 in Washington DC. Burning Question summary talk opens a major World Bank conference about big thinking on energy.

Aberystwyth lecture

20 February 2014 in Aberystwyth. Public lecture with Aberystwyth University and C3W. Video here.

RSA event

28 November 2013 in London. Public talk at the Royal Society of Arts. Audio here.

Lewes event

21 November 2013 in Lewes. A talk organised by Transition Towns Lewes.

NLP review

19 November 2013. New Left Project review by Alice Bell published.

Leeds event

November 4 2013 in Leeds. A talk and debate organised by the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the University of Leeds.

Soho Festival

29 September 2013 in London. Details here.

Edinburgh Book Festival

24 August 2013 in Edinburgh. Details available here.

MPs summer reading

19 August 2013. The MPs summer reading poll was just released and The Burning Question is on the list at #8

Green Alliance top reads for the summer

10 July 2013 in London. Burning Question selected in the Green Alliance top reads for the summer.

Nature summer books

10 July 2013 in London. Burning Question selected in the Nature summer books.

IPPR event

4 July 2013 in London. Presentation and discussion with staff from the Institute for Public Policy Research.

House of Lords seminar and panel discussion

3 July 2013 (evening). The panel discussion will be chaired by Lord Oxburgh, advocate of climate change solutions and ex-chairman of Shell, and feature the High Commissioner of Canada.

People and Planet event

3 July 2013 (afternoon) in Oxford. Talks for student campaigners.

UCL public lecture

2 July 2013 in London. Part of the Energy Institute series. Video available here

Hub Islington event

25 June 2013 at Hub Islington. Tickets available here.

NEON talk

13 June 2013: Presentation at the New Economy Organisers Network, with a response from John Ashton, previously the UK's Special Representative for Climate Change.

Guardian review

31 May 2013: Guardian review by Peter Forbes just went live.

CDP event

8 May 2013: Lunchtime seminar based on the book with staff from the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Science podcast

29 April 2013. An extended chat with Adam Vaughan on the Guardian's science podcast. Available here.

Monocle Radio

21 April 2013. Discussion of the book on The Monocle Weekly. Available here.

Guardian extract

13 April 2013. A G2 cover feature based on the book. Read it here.


Datasets from the book are available on request. See contact information below.



For publishing, rights and publicity queries, contact Drew Jerrison (drew.jerrison@profilebooks.com) at Profile Books.
Or to contact the authors directly email Duncan Clark (info@duncanclark.net) and Mike Berners-Lee (mike@sw-consulting.co.uk).


You can find Duncan and Mike on Twitter at @theduncanclark and @mikebernerslee.