Friday, 4 March 2011

Climate Code Red by David Spratt & Philip Sutton

Lowdown: The case for immediate and drastic action to mitigate global warming.
Review:
We all read or watched An Inconvenient Truth (here and here). Over the years I have been reading lots of popluar science on global warming as well as browsing through proper scientific papers. Recently, I got to read several science fiction works dealing with our world post a global warming catastrophe (e.g., The Windup Girl). Put together, all these sources made me think we should do something about climate change; what I found lacking is a view of things not from the eye of those trying to convince me that human induced climate change is real, but rather an already convinced view offering more quantified details regarding what the damages from climate change are going to be and what we can do about it. As in, I wasn’t looking for someone to tell me “stop carbon emissions”, I wanted someone to tell me how much air travel humans can afford and how much fossil fuels we can afford to burn or how many cows we can afford to raise for meat while still living in a liveable world.
The above need was met by Climate Code Red. Written by two Aussie non scientists, the book looks at the science to create a detailed picture. First it shows what has been going on to date as far as global warming effects are concerned (or to the date of its publishing, which seems to be around 2008). It moves on to discuss the implications and it progresses to discuss what we can do to deal with this impeding danger.
The dominant message of the book is pretty grim. We are already past the point of having a decent world to live in; with the emissions we’ve already released we stand to have ourselves a 2 degree rise in average temperatures. This would trigger events like the permanent melting of the arctic during the summer, which would cause huge meltdowns in places like Greenland, which would cause severe sea level rises, which would cause much grief to billions of people. That is actually but one example of what the science is telling us. In contrast we have our politicians: even the Stern report, commissioned by the UK government, takes it for granted that we will not be able to take measures on reducing climate change before temperatures rise by 3 degrees. Such a temperature rise would be horrendous; them again, if we continue with our business as usual, as the world seems fixed on doing, we will have ourselves pure cataclysm at something like a 7 degree rise.
Obviously, the question of what actions we should take becomes political, and Climate Code Red accuses our politicians and the political system in general for being too restricted to act: we need to adopt an emergency program the way we did during World War 2, but with governments being more the representatives of big business than carers of this world this will not happen unless drastic actions are taken and soon.
While captivating in the extent of the tragedy it portrays, Climate Code Red is not a nice read. It does not seem to be written in a captivating manner: there are too many dry accounts of evidence quoting and too many repetitions; by the time you finish the book you may well vomit each time the melting of the arctic is mentioned. There is also the matter of Climate Code Red not really revealing anything new to those who are relatively up to date with the science, being that it simply quotes from scientific sources rather than present its own scientific agenda.
On the other hand there can be no doubt as to the importance and relevancy of its message, especially as it delves into the complexity of solving the problem (and shows how "stopping carbon emissions" on its own is, surprisingly, not enough anymore). At the core of this Australian centric book written by Aussies is a country that is currently debating placing a price on carbon emissions, yet the level of debate is ludicrous: Prime Minister Julia Gillard told us a couple of weeks ago that she wants to go with carbon tax, but she wouldn’t give us the critical figures of how much and who gets to get away with what; on the other hand, she made it clear she expects a carbon cap and trade program to start a few years down the line in order to appease those craving business as usual mode (in one disguise or another). What is clear is that Gillard is probably aiming at a three degrees or more heating target which spells disaster for our children (and at the rate it’s going, us too). In contrast, Gillard opposition’s climate change plans have been verified (see here) to cause an increase in carbon emissions by official government sources...
Obviously, our politicians are incapable or unwilling to take action. We must do it ourselves by applying pressure on them, but first we need to be aware of the problem; books like Climate Code Red help in this regard, it’s just a pity the book is not better written so as to capture hearts in addition to minds.
Overall: Not a particularly good read but an important one. 3 out of 5 stars.

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