Sunday, September 16, 2012

Time's "Global Warming" glossy scrapbook available at supermarkets, pharmacies

Recently, Time has been selling a heavily illustrated paperback “Global Warming: The Causes, The Perils, The Solutions”, by Bryan Walsh and other Time correspondents, in retail outlets like supermarkets. The book has 112 pages, heavily illustrated with gloss photographs.

It does reiterate, with even more arguments, the substance of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.  Bryan starts out with a piece, “How hot does it have to get?”   It analyzes the idea that we might be able to tolerate a carbon level of 450 ppm, but warns that recent information says that we can tip over at a much lower number. And there are some grave risks that can materialize suddenly, such as the release of methane from permafrost.  Climate change tends to affect people unpredictably by causing extreme events, such as superstorms with floods or extreme droughts.  It tends to affect poor people much more.

Some of the focal points include extinction of species (such as in Madagascar) and detailed analysis of deeper fossil fuels, including oil shale and tar sands.

The last part of the book starts with technological solutions, which sound like piecemeal, local measures like fuel cells, electric cars, green buildings., and solar powers.  The last page of the book is “20 things you can do”, and top among these are carpooling, telecommuting, and living in large cities, particularly if you have a small family.   Universal use of wind and solar panels by homeowners or buildings could not only reduce greenhouse gasses but decentralize the grid and make it more robust.  A smart grid could detect inefficiencies, even though it would be a lot more vulnerable to hackers or terrorists.   Near the end of the book there is a sensitive essay by Bill McKibben, “Children of a Hot Planet”.

The book casts questions of global climate re-engineering with ideas like the (Intellectual Ventures) Mhyrvold StratoShield, which would pump sulfur aerosol particles into the stratosphere.   These could “blowback” with suddenly catastrophic results.

Sociology would seem to have some effect on the sustainability of our way of life (and not doing it on the backs of the Third World, which is more vulnerable to many perils, especially drought and seal level rise). The book is critical of population of expansion, and does not take up right wing (“demographic winter”) arguments that richer people often are not replacing their populations and allowing poorer populations do the job or providing the next generations.   The book does present the idea that people need to drive much less and maybe give up car ownership, and idea that so far has been workable only in cities with very dense public transit (like NYC).  Car sharing (like ZipCar) can help.  It presents the community of Vauban, Germany where private carports would cost $30000 a year.  There is a suggestion that people could have to start learning the values of “intentional communities”. (ABC's story about Vauban in 2009, by Jim Sciutto, is here.)

The book also takes the position that consumers need to know, on a “pay as you go” basis, the carbom footprint cost of every little thing they do.  Perhaps I would not be able to rent sole-occupant cars on my own (at least non-hybrids).  

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