Mark Hertsgaard’s book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, is less about what climate change is like or what is causing it and more about what we can do to make living through it for the next fifty years more bearable.
Hertsgaard talks about both mitigation and adaptation, the language used by the scientists and journalists and policy experts who work in the climate field. Mitigation is the attempt to either emit less CO2 into the atmosphere or ways in which the CO2 that is already there can be taken out. Adaptation refers to the ways in which we might be able to cope with the climate change that is already in the tube, the warming that is going to be unavoidable even if we were to eliminate all CO2 emissions right now. Hertsgaard’s book is about adaptation.
Mitigation has to do with things like more fuel-efficient vehicles, renewable sources of energy and sequestering the CO2 released when we burn coal. Adaptation has to do with things like figuring out how to maintain water supplies after all the mountain glaciers are gone, how to grow food in arid climates, building dykes to keep out rising water and designing new kinds of cities better suited for a hotter world.
Hertsgaard discusses the remarkable progress that has been made in adapting to the consequences of global warning that have been made in Seattle, Chicago, New York and all over Europe, particularly in the Netherlands. He also talks about the remarkable lack of progress that has been made in the US as a whole when compared to what Brittain and Europe are doing.
Hertsgaard’s book begins with the fact that climate change is not something that will happen far in the future; it is something that is happening right now. He says that one day, after listening to the chief British science minister talk about the immediacy of climate change, he realized that his young daughter was going to have to live through the worst of climate change. This was a real wake up call for him and he felt that it was imperative that all of us need to wake up and deal with it seriously right now, before it is too late.
And I feel the same way. I have five grandchildren ages 12 to 21. These kids are probably going to live right through the worst of climate change and their lives are going to be seriously affected. In fact, I am deeply fearful that they and many other people may not live through the coming environment disasters.
This is a tough thing to face and I don’t like it any better than Hertsgaard does. But, like Hertsgaard, I think we have to do something and we have to do it now. At least we have to try. I think that Lynas’ plan of using a number of wedges to at least mitigate climate change and to attempt to avoid the immediate tipping points seems to make a lot of sense. All of what he recommends can be done right now–all of it is technically possible and do-able right now. Unfortunately, the current political situation in the US is making any kind of meaningful environment change next to impossible in this country.
None of the books I review in this article discusses this unavoidable fact in any detail. President Obama had planned to introduce a bill that would mandate a carbon cap and trade bill in the US late in 2010. However, after realizing that the Democrats just didn’t have the votes to pass the bill, he abandoned the effort. Since then, even any mention of climate change or climate change has totally disappeared from the main stream news media.
Unfortunately, before anything can be done about climate change, the first step is going to have to be the defusing of the deliberate campaign by energy companies, oil companies, automobile companies, and other large corporations to undermine climate change legislation and to cast doubt that climate change even exists. Perhaps the corporate campaign to conceal climate change can be defused if enough people in the US begin to understand that climate change is real and that it is not something that is going to happen in the distant future, that it is happening right now and that the earth is balancing on the very edge of several irreversible tipping points as we speak.
Hertsgaard’s book was written in 2011. This essay was written by me in 2012, probably. Unfortunately, hardly anyone I read these days is as optimistic as Hertsgaard. Few think that adaptation is a practical way of dealing with global warming. Most writers on global warming these days, in 2018, are much more concerned with the survival of the human species and of civilization than anything else. Some are still hopeful that we may somehow survive, but many have given up on survival and write more about how to deal with the impending demise of the human race.
My God but these are unbelievably frightening times we are living in.
The image above is of the Tetons at sunset, taken from
the Snake River Overlook.