Sunday 22 October 2017

Review: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth By Mark Hertsgaard

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Philip Boroff

NEW York flooded from Wall Street to the United Nations. Local airports and much of the subway system are submerged. So it goes after a severe storm in about 90 years' time.

This scenario from 'Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth' may be familiar to amateur climatologists and devotees of Al Gore.

But Mark Hertsgaard's grim primer about the state of the earth dispels the notion that this is a crisis of the far-off future.

Hertsgaard, a US environment reporter, recounts being told in 2005 by David King, then the chief science adviser to the British government, that the climate was already changing and "was guaranteed to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it got better".

While "Hot" can't address recent snowfalls here, the book explains that warming causes a variety of extreme weather.

Anti-science

It serves as a reality check after dozens of newly elected Republicans arrived in Washington, voicing scepticism that climate change was an immediate concern.

Hertsgaard dismisses deniers of climate change as anti-science ideologues or shills for oil and automobile interests. Not that behaving differently would immediately halt what's in motion.

According to Hertsgaard, even if we swore off fossil fuels within 25 years, because of carbon amassed in the atmosphere, the planet would still face "at least 50 more years of intensifying summer heat, dwindling water supplies, and persistent droughts like the one fuelling civil war in Darfur".

By 2050, every other summer in Europe will suffer a heatwave akin to 2003, which caused about 70,000 deaths, he writes.

Global flooding (now pummelling Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka) will worsen as glaciers melt and warming water expands.

The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are among the places praised for taking steps to slow "climate chaos" and adapt to it. "Adaptation" will become increasingly thorny.

Seawalls

For example, governments can afford to build only so many seawalls.

Hertsgaard's focus on his daughter at times grows tiresome. So does his way of placing himself at the centre of the debate.

In the prologue, he laments his "sense of personal failure" that "time had run out on all of us who had tried to halt global warming before it did serious damage".

So what does he propose?

Hertsgaard offers an international "Green Apollo" programme, under which governments would encourage quick development of green technologies and institute a price for carbon emissions.

Of course, legislation based on that principle, to require companies to buy and sell pollution allowances, died last year in the US Senate.

Hertsgaard quotes a Greenpeace International leader, asking how the developed world could find the money to bail out banks but not the cash to save the planet.

Fair question.

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