This book points you to the root of climate change.
This book is also a beautiful follow-up if you have already watched Don’t Look Up. It can teach you to take action instead of letting fear immobilize you into doing nothing.
Quotes from the book
We shouldn’t be surprised when scientists are wrong. All human beings are a lot better at describing what is happening than predicting what will happen. Somewhere along the way, however, we began to hope that scientists were different–that they could be right all the time. And because they’re not, we kind of stopped listening. By now we’re quite practiced at not listening to things scientists say over and over again.
Ultimately, we are endowed with only four resources: the earth, the ocean, the sky, and each other. Because absolutely everything is at stake, it behooves us to begin by thinking clearly and simply.
In 1817, only 3 percent of the global population lived in any kind of a city. Now, just two hundred years later, about half of the people on planet Earth reside in cities–that is, within urban centers containing at least one hundred thousand people. Cities may hold half of the world’s population, but they are also distributed very unevenly around the globe.
Cities are the very definition of more–hot spots of humanity visible from space. At night, they pulse with artificial light, and from above they resemble nothing so much as the network of nerves in the brain. Gleaming dendrites of suburbs splay from the blazing nuclei of city centers, each one connected to its neighbor by an axon of glittering highway.
Every year, several million people move into urban slums because access to essential medical services and improved wages are still, as a rule, higher than the rural alternative.
The production of meat requires a tremendous investment of resources; it is a process of concentrating an almost unimaginably large amount of raw materials into a relatively minuscule product.
Starvation is caused by our failure to share what we produce, not by the earth’s ability to provide.
When women began to work outside the home, the hours available for meeting domestic demands dwindled, and time-consuming activities such as baking got cut under the sensible rationale that they had mostly yielded treats, after all.
There are many points between the farm and the fork where food is wasted. Vegetables are rejected for being too big or too small, grain spills from conveyor belts, milk goes bad on the truck, fruits rot on display, meat expires in the package, and uneaten dinner buffets are scraped into the trash. The more we eat, the more we waste…
We live in an age when we can order a pair of tennis shoes from a warehouse on the other side of the planet and have them shipped to a single address in less than twenty-four hours; don’t tell me that a global food redistribution is impossible.
We annihilate, pointlessly, a countless number of plants and animals that spent the entirety of their short time on this planet in service to our appetites. And in the end, it’s also about us.
Why do we walk the aisles, examine, select, buy, slice, mash, season, serve? We spend our lives on these labors–we wake in the morning and leave our homes and we work, work, work, to keep the great global chain of procurement in place. Then we throw 40 percent of everything we just accomplished into the garbage.
We can never get those hours back. Our children grow up, our bodies wane, and death comes to claim some of those we love. All the while, we spend our days making things for the purpose of discarding them. When we cast food into the landfill, we are losing more than calories: we are throwing away one another’s lives. It is the ultimate demonstration of how our relentless pursuit of more has landed us, empty and exhausted, squarely in the middle of less.
Flying on an airplane has to be the most resource-intensive way you can spend your day, outside of being launched from Earth’s surface in a spacecraft.
We drive and drive and drive in circles, some of us all day every day. Where are we going? Mostly, we go to work and back.
We also vacation and visit and sightsee, but most of what our cars do is take us away from the people we love, so that we can do the things that we have to do in order to buy more gas to put into our cars.
If we want human society to outlast the finite resource that is dependent upon, then any movement away from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction, and one that can’t happen too soon.
The electricity generated by solar and wind power is considered green, clean, renewable, and environmentally friendly because no by-products are emitted and for as long as the wind continues to blow and the sun continues to shine, the turbines will continue to spin–that is, no resources are noticeably used up and no ecosystems are disturbed during the process. It would be great if we could also harness the energy that we use to talk about renewables, for we tend to do it in gross disproportionate to the amount of power they generate: wind and solar power, put together, provide less than 5 percent of the electricity used on planet Earth.
The problem is that there’s no way to enforce a cultural aspiration posing as an international agreement; so far, nations have gone to war in order to secure fossil fuels, not to desecure them. There’s also short-term economic incentive for stuffing the fossil fuel genie back into its bottle, or for even trying. Fiscal cycles turn much faster than biogeochemical cycles, and there is no industrial profit to be made in pushing a Story of Less. These realities, taken in conjunction with our trajectory of more, lead me to sorrowfully conclude that the worst-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not unlikely and may be unavoidable.
One puzzling response has been to suggest that the answer to our fear is to become more afraid and that our real problem is that we’re not terrified enough. “People Need to Be Scared About Climate Change” and “Time to Panic:…And fear may be the only thing that saves us,” shriek today’s headlines, as if from a mirror-universe version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address.
We need to transform our collective idea of what energy is for, and then transform our individual–and eventually collective–practices of how energy is used.
Two centuries from now, two centuries ago–four centuries from the beginning to the end, perhaps to our end. Fate has placed you and me squarely at the crossroads of environmental history. The year 2200 will also be during the lifetime of our great-great-great-grandchildren. This means that we’re down to about three generations to figure out how humanity might survive civilization.
The global records of carbon dioxide, temperature, ice mass, and sea level are large data sets from simple measurements that show an obvious trend over the last twenty years and yet somehow, they also give rise to nonstop drama. I can’t turn on my computer without hearing about climate deniers and their lack of brains and sophistication. I can’t click on any of the links within without hearing even more about climate alarmist and their hypocrisy and hyperbole.
…when we finally devote ourselves to work and to love, even our most fantastic dreams will eventually come true.
Planting trees will offset your energy use, but it won’t pay off during your lifetime and possibly not during your children’s lifetimes, either.
The good news is that there is no reason to think that energy conservation will necessarily reduce our quality of life: life expectancy in Switzerland back in 1965 was similar to that of today’s America and much higher than the current global average. Workdays were shorter, as were commuting distances. Life was not perfect then, but the basics of a healthy life were already in place at a much lower level of fossil fuel use.
Indeed, if we look to the most comprehensive measures used to estimate the elusive concept of “happiness,” we find that our increasing consumption of food and fuel over the last decade has not made us happier–quite the opposite.
As a solution, energy conservation by its very definition requires the least effort of any approach. It is a strong lever by which we could pull ourselves back into alignment with a future that our grandchildren might survive. There’s only one problem: driving less, eating less, buying less, making less, and doing less will not create new wealth. Consuming less is not a new technology that can be sold or a new product that can be marketed, and acting as if it can be is absurd.
Climate science is a part of science, after all, and science is now just as it has always been: overworked and underfunded and absolutely unwavering in its refusal to ever stop trying to figure it all out.
The succeeding centuries did bring unfathomable solutions to even the most intransigent of these ancient plagues, and though the solutions came far too late for many, they were not too late for all.
I ask them: What will you do with the extra decade of life given to you, over and above your parents’? We, the 20 percent of the globe that uses most of its resources, must begin to detox from this consumption, or things will never get better. Look at your own life: Can you identify the most energy-intensive thing that you do? Are you willing to change? We will never change our institutions if we cannot change ourselves.
Do not be seduced by lazy nihilism. It is precisely because no single solution will save us that everything we do matters. Every meal we eat, every mile we travel, and every dollar we spend presents us with a choice between using more energy than we did last time or less. You have power. How will you use it?
We are troubled, we are imperfect, but we are many, and we are doomed only if we believe ourselves to be. Out history books contain so much–extravagance and deprivation, catastrophe and industry, triumph and defeat–but they don’t yet include us. Out before us stretches a new century, and its story is still unwritten. As every author will tell you, there is nothing more thrilling, or as daunting, as the possibilities that burst from a blank page.
In most ways, we are just as noble and frail and flawed and ingenious as the people who cared and dared and built and forged centuries ago. Like them, we are ultimately endowed with only four resources: the earth, the ocean, the sky, and each other. If we can refrain from overestimating our likelihood of failure, then neither must we underestimate our capacity for success.