The following is a review of Just cool it! The climate crisis and what we can do by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, published by Greystone Books/David Suzuki Institute.
Two passages in the introduction to this book encapsulate the situation that confronts us as the effects of global warming become more serious every day. The first describes a scene right out of a horror movie: flying to Smithers a few years ago, David Suzuki looked out the window to see that the once-green forest beneath him “had turned bright red. Pine trees were dying because of an explosion of mountain pine beetles…no longer controlled by cold winter temperatures. Immense clouds of beetles attacked billions of dollars worth of pine trees…”
The second passage correctly states that the crisis is also a tremendous opportunity to “create a healthier and more just world for everyone.”
This dualistic approach is why the book is, ultimately, hopeful, even though it chronicles both the destruction that climate change is already causing to our environment and the much more severe devastation that awaits us—unless we act swiftly and decisively to address the causes. One problem is that we should have acted years—even decades—ago, to start moving towards a post-carbon world. The failure to do so means that the damage will continue to increase even if we ended all fossil fuel use today.
The book is, ultimately, hopeful, even though it chronicles both the destruction that climate change is already causing to our environment and the much more severe devastation that awaits us.
The book provides a clear synopsis of both the history of global warming as well as the rock-solid science behind it. In other words, climate change is not a hoax invented by China, as the current resident of the White House ignorantly claimed. (Nor is the fact that 2016 was the hottest year on record just “fake news”).
Suzuki and Hanington chronicle lesser-known sources of danger, such as the rise in emissions of methane, “a gas many times more potent than CO2” that increases as Arctic ice melts. (In December, a new study warned that “global warming triggered by the massive release of methane…may be apocalyptic.”)
Moreover, we almost never hear about the human costs of air pollution caused by such carbon sources as factories, automobiles, and the tar sands. The authors point out that just breathing our polluted air resulted in “21,000 premature deaths in Canada…as well as 620,000 doctor visits, 92,000 emergency room visits…and an annual economic impact of over $8 billion”—in 2008 alone.
Globally, air pollution kill 1.7 million children every year.
The authors point to the connection between human-caused climate change and other problems around the world, such as the growing numbers of refugees. For example, “drought and increasing water scarcity…along with an influx of Iraqi war refugees…caused Syria’s urban population to increase from 8.9 million…to 13.8 million.”
They also chronicle the efforts of the fossil fuel industry to try to pretend that global warming is not a problem and there is no need to restrict their harmful, and very profitable, practices. In arguing, for instance, that British Columbia should approve the plan to triple the shipping capacity of pipelines from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, Kinder Morgan explains that “spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities…” Indeed.
Such costs, both human and economic, are known as “externalities.” In other words, they are passed on from industry to the public, which is forced to pay the real price—both in dollars and disease—of these profitable corporate activities.
More importantly, Suzuki and Hanington provide a number of realistic ways that Canada could be a world leader in limiting the damage to our biosphere and transition to a truly sustainable future. (We are the second largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world). They find hope in the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, even though the deal itself “will only get us halfway to the emission cuts” that are required to avoid catastrophe.
For real progress, the public must demand that all levels of government take seriously their highest duty—to protect the health and well-being of their citizens.
British Columbians could get the same amount of energy from geothermal sources as from the Site C dam, but “for about half the construction costs”, while also creating “more jobs throughout the province.”
[Note: since this review was written, a UBC study has concluded that the “Site C dam project has become ‘uneconomic’ and should be suspended” and that “..power from the hydroelectric station will likely be exported at losses of up to $1 billion.”]
As former (Republican!) California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, his state is “40% more energy efficient than the rest of the country,” with an economy that is “growing faster than the US economy as a whole.”
For real progress, the public must demand that all levels of government take seriously their highest duty—to protect the health and well-being of their citizens. While personal solutions are crucial to reducing our unsustainable ecological footprints, BC ecologist William Rees correctly points out that “there are no individual solutions.” People must act at the political level to make real progress.
When faced with the threat of fascism in 1939, our governments did not hesitate to take charge of the economy in order to insure our survival. And even if there is only a 50% risk that unchecked global warming will be a disaster, consider this: would you board an airplane that had “only” a 50% risk of crashing?
This book is vital for anyone who wishes to both understand the danger and act to prevent the unthinkable.
This review was originally published in the Vancouver Sun.