|Image Source: Oxford University Press Website|
Wow, I just read Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, Second Edition by Joseph Romm, and it was amazing! Time for a book report!
First of all, the author has a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, which is pretty much the physics equivalent of being LeBron James. This guy knows what he's talking about. The book starts off with climate science and moves to technology, climate politics and policy. It's written in a really accessible way, for a general audience, but is also firmly grounded in research, with a cornucopia of end notes you can pursue if you want to plunge into the source material. The entire book is presented in a question and answer format.
Are humans causing global warming by burning fossil fuels? Yeah. So say 97% of actively publishing climate scientists. We know that with the same degree of certainty we know that smoking causes cancer.
Is climate change causing some serious problems? Yeah. I mean, unless you think Miami being underwater isn't a problem. But sea level rise is only part of the story. Climate change is:
- Acidifying the world's oceans, causing sea life to die.
- Making hurricanes more intense. This includes making storm surge worse from relatively modest hurricanes, increasing the likelihood of devastating floods.
- Drying out dry areas, which along with sea level rise and saltwater intrusion into coastal farmland will lead to "dust-bowlification" in which we're going to have to feed 10 billion people this century, but there's going to be less viable agricultural land and fewer fish to do it with (oh crap).
- Putting more water vapor into the air, making wet areas wetter and causing damaging rainstorms and floods.
- Making some places so hot or so insecure for food and water that they will eventually be unfit for human habitation, leading to massive flows of refugees, armed conflict or both.
- Worsening air quality, since hotter climates produce more classic air pollution, like ground-level ozone.
Are all countries as politically polarized as the U.S. when it comes to climate change? Nope. In most other countries, even conservative parties accept the basic facts of climate science. In America, Republicans who aren't in denial exist (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger) but they are an endangered species.
Have fossil fuel interests been spending money spreading disinformation on climate change? Yup. Ever heard of the Koch Brothers? Also, major publicly-traded oil companies have been funding disinformation, even though their own internal reports show that they've known about this problem for decades.
I'm super depressed about all this. Are there any signs of hope? Hell yeah. Solar panels are 99% cheaper than they were in the 1970s and we have lithium ion batteries and dams that can store the energy they generate for later use. There is a technology called concentrated solar thermal power which uses a bunch of mirrors to reflect light onto a giant tower (e.g. the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California). The tower is filled with salt that heats up and the heat runs an electric generator, even when the sun is down. Wind power is growing fast as it gets super cheap. Hybrid vehicles exist and can save you money. Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles exist, they are cheaper and better than they have ever been and they are getting cheaper and better every year. Electric bikes and electric scooters are making waves in cities around the world. China is deploying renewable energy at a breakneck pace. California has a cap and trade system and mandates that a growing share of our electricity come from renewables (sign SB 100 Jerry Brown!). Diets with lower, healthier amounts of meat and dairy (especially less beef) can cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
And of course there's urban planning. I know I'm a broken record on this, but here it is again: through urbanism (building densely, mixing land uses, designing streets for multiple ways of getting around) we can cut out so much fossil fuel use. Urbanism means you don't need to drive as much, or even at all. Multifamily housing is better insulated and therefore more energy efficient. It also saves land, and water, meaning there is more natural habitat out there filled with plants that absorb greenhouse gases like CO2. We have so many tools. There is so much more to say. Read the book and don't you ever give up. The struggle still has need of you.