I’m off to destroy a piece of the environment by flying across country this weekend, so I thought I’d write a review of a book on climate change to point out my sins.
When I was in college taking a Geology class in ’95, scepticism still ruled the day when it came to discussing climate change. I have a feeling if I looked up that professor, I’d also find that she had ties to the oil industry, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the oil industry has strong motivation to convince people that climate change is all in our minds. No need to change from our oil-dependency, of course not! Global warming is a scare tactic to try to … do something evil like convince people to be responsible with their usage of severely limited resources on the one and only earth we have to live on.
After graduating with my Biology degree, I admit that I did very little scientific reading, other than the odd bits that pop up in the mainstream press. Global warming didn’t seem like that bad of a proposition anyway, since I hate being cold. Little did I know that my thoughts echoed that of the first scientists to identify the prospect of global warming, back around the turn of the 20th century. Global warming is perhaps a term that is too simplistic, in any case, and it doesn’t help us to visualize exactly what we might have to look forward to as global warming occurs. Climate change is much more accurate, though still not as dramatic a word as the reality of what we might experience as interlocking systems within our climate reach tipping points and provide increasing feedback for each other.
Recently I read a book I’d picked up at the library, “With Speed and Violence“, by Fred Pearce. It promised to be an exciting read, full of the calamitous events that humans are precipitating on ourselves, by means of our unending pollution, resource over-consumption, ecological manipulation, and a short-sighted vision of our current stable climate as the norm, rather than the exception. The book was all that I expected, and more.
The book ended up being a primer on the global climate, from the start to the potential future, from the earth core, to the stratosphere, from the polar ice caps to the Amazonian rain forests, and how all these seemingly separate areas of the earth work together and provide feedback for each other. The author is a self-professed sceptic, who nonetheless is convinced not only that the climate is being heavily impacted by human activity, but that we are fast approaching serious tipping points, if they haven’t already been triggered. His arguments for and evidence of the fact that these changes will not be gradual, but will be large changes happening over short periods of time were convincing, as well as chilling.
I certainly appreciated learning the overall structure and dynamics of the Earth’s climate. Despite my degree in Biology, my classes in Ecology and Geology and Chemistry and Physics, I had never had been given an overall picture of how climate works, with all the interconnected features. What exactly does a giant whirlpool near Greenland have to do with the coral reefs off the coast of Florida? What does the Amazonian rain forest have to do with rainfall in Mexico? I learned all that, and it was fascinating.
I also felt like I got a balanced view of the possibilities, the opinions, and the theories. The hard core sceptics’ points were brought up, and the current theories answers to those. The various scenarios were brought up, will full disclosure that these were possibilities, and exactly why they were unpredictable, and what the factors were that were not well-enough understood to be reliable in the various models. The models were compared to real-life data, the real-life data was scrutinized for issues in the data-gathering. All this, with enough detail to satisfy the scientist in me, and yet explained with the kind of language that doesn’t leave you feeling that you’d have understood what was going on if only you’d had a few years dedicated study on the topic. Knowing no climate science at all starting this book, you should finish feeling like you’ve got a solid understanding of the overall mechanics.
You will also finish feeling like we’d better all make changes, and fast. It isn’t a matter of whether or not climate change is going to happen and how it will affect us, it takes only a look around the world to see that it is already here and already affecting us. We will see how it continues to affect us, and we need to decide how to handle it.
The author estimates that if we drastically reduce the amount of “green house gasses” we dump into the atmosphere now and in the upcoming years, we will be able to just skate underneath the overall tipping point. Maybe. It is a guess, and on the generous side. It might be too late, but how foolish if we were to find out that we could have prevented devastating changes, and just didn’t make the effort?
The author also recommends that people focus on reducing methane emissions, which have a 100x warming effect than carbon in its first 10 years in the atmosphere. We all know what to do to reduce methane emissions, of course: go vegan.
Not that the author mentions this as part of the solution. The one weakness I saw in the book was in the recommendations at the end. I appreciated being pointed towards methane as a focus point, but frankly, he didn’t say much, or say it strongly enough, when he gave his recommendations for reducing methane emissions. Radical change is needed. There is no escaping the reality we are facing. That’s the main point of the book, and one that is made in-depth and with conviction.
Read it. Change.