Ormsby #102 David vs. climate change
If we are not collectively mindful, Joni Mitchell will have no more rivers to skate away on.
March 10th, 2017
David Suzuki and Ian Hanington have provided realistic solutions in Just Cool It: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do.
If we are not collectively mindful, it’ll mostly be Canoes Only on the Rideau Canal. Ice hockey could be declared an Endangered Sport.
The only ski resorts will be atop of the Alps; Whistler will be for golf.
With a catastrophically narcissistic president in the U.S. who believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and with our own increasingly stressful streets filled with SUVs, we need sane, scientific leadership more than ever.
That’s why Canadians view David Suzuki as one of the country’s foremost citizens–ever.
While most politicians continue stumbling–some even blatantly taking illegal donations from energy companies via surrogates–Suzuki has risen to the educational and inspirational challenge by providing a clear path forward in Just Cool It: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do, co-written by Ian Hanington. — Ed.
by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington
Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2017.
$24.95 / 9781771642590
Review by John Gellard
It’s early March in Vancouver and the daffodils should be in flower. I wake up to an inch of snow on the steps and you tell me about global warning.
Well, you say, it’s the Polar Vortex. Cold air is sweeping down from the Arctic, while north of 60 the temperature is ten degrees above normal and methane is bubbling out of the permafrost in a positive feedback loop that accelerates climate change.
Confused? Don’t be. Read Just Cool It by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington. You will be convinced beyond a doubt that climate change is real.
The atmosphere is heating up. It’s a result of human greed and wilful ignorance, and if we don’t do something about it, the human species is done for by the end of the century.
So what’s to like about a book that paints such dismal scene of doom? Optimism and hope, that’s what.
If we can put a man on the moon, Suzuki says, we can change the outcome of the dire crisis that is upon us.
Just Cool It is a demanding book, structured like a university course. First, we must understand what global warming is. What is meant by calling carbon dioxide a “greenhouse gas”? Why is methane a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2? What is a “positive feedback” mechanism? What is the “albedo effect” that should keep the Arctic Ocean cold but doesn’t?
We learn why this particular geological epoch is called the Anthropocene. Human activity is profoundly altering the biosphere and, by extension, the very geology of the planet.
What particular human activities affect climate? Just Cool It gives exhaustive details about the effect of our addiction to fossil fuels, our profligate use of fertilizers, deforestation, overfishing, the “massive swirling islands of plastic waste in the oceans.” Everything is connected.
“The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone is affected by changes in the ability of the oceans to support life on earth,” says Alex Rogers of Somerville College, Oxford.
If the oceans are being killed, can the land be far behind? The book gives vivid accounts of desertification of grasslands, massive insect invasion of forests, catastrophic storms and floods, and migrations of people escaping starvation when droughts cause crops to fail.
“With growing human populations and profit-driven consumer based economics, more land is being eaten up by development, habitat is being destroyed and degraded, and resources are being exploited at unsustainable levels. Natural capital is disappearing.”
A rather quaint “sidebar” here is the fear that ice hockey in Canada might become an “endangered sport.” It’s a Canadian tradition that kids spend countless winter hours skating and playing hockey on frozen lakes and ponds and improvised backyard rinks. The season is getting shorter (www.RinkWatch.org ). “[Ottawa’s Rideau] Canal’s skating season could shrink from 9 weeks to 6 weeks by 2050 … and to just one week by the end of the century.”
William-Kurelek’s painting, “Breakaway.” (1976)
Are you a climate change denier or skeptic? Do you make fun of Al Gore? Just Cool It examines your arguments and has them covered. The Heartland Institute, for example, argues that “global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but it’s natural … that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it, that global cooling is the real problem … that CO2 is a benign gas that stimulates plant growth.”
Suzuki and Hanington carefully point out fallacies in these often self-contradictory arguments. Another, frequently heard, is the argument that pits “the natural environment against the human-invented economy.” It’s a foolish “false dichotomy” that leads to the myth that “economic growth” necessarily offers happiness.
Very well, you are convinced that we have a crisis on our hands. So what is to be done? The bulk of the book is taken up with solutions — things we can do individually and collectively.
- As individuals we can resist an economic system that encourages waste and consumption and the careless use of fossil fuels.
- We can divest from the fossil fuel industry and invest in renewable.
- We can cultivate habits of bicycling, walking, and using public transportation instead of cars.
- We can resist anti-transit campaigns.
- We can use fuel-efficient cars or electric cars.
- We can insulate our homes and use energy-efficient lighting.
- We can install solar panels on our houses.
- We can buy less “stuff” and waste less.
- We can eat less meat and, by composting, waste less food.
In our agriculture, we can get away from factory farming and monocultures that use GMO seeds requiring chemicals. We can “design an agroecosystem that mimics the structure and function of local ecosystems and replace GMOs with “evolutionary plant breeding.”
The authors praise the urban agriculture movement which uses space within cities to grow food and keep livestock.
Technological solutions are most important. We must revolutionize the way we produce electricity. Right now in northern B.C. construction has begun on the 1100 megawatt Site C dam. The reservoir will flood 80 km of the Peace River Valley containing valuable farmland and essential wildlife habitat. The justification for it is that we need another reliable “base-load” power station. The authors argue that the base-load idea is obsolete and that we should take advantage of the versatility of “variable renewables” hooked up to a “smart nimble grid” that can co-ordinate supply and demand.
Renewables would include solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal. Development of these systems is growing by leaps and bounds, and the costs are coming down. The Meikle wind farm, for example, near Site C, now generates close to twenty percent of the expected power of the dam at about a quarter of the cost per megawatt. And the sixty-one beautiful turbines have a far smaller “footprint.”
Yes, Dr. Suzuki, if we can send a man to the moon, we can solve the climate crisis. That is, if we have the political will to commit ourselves to challenging the system where deregulated capitalism seems to dominate government.
Ay, there’s the rub.
Just Cool It came out right after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, “man baby” according to Jon Stewart, “monster” according to Chris Hedges.
The President of the United States thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China.
The new US administration is packed with climate change deniers. In one short month administrative orders have gutted the Environmental Protection Agency, removed restrictions from dumping highly toxic coal mining waste into streams and rivers (“Almost heaven, West Virginia”), and sent in troops to clear Native American protestors away from construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The government of Canada has approved the Site C dam, and the Kinder-Morgan pipeline which will bring diluted bitumen to the coast to be shipped off in supertankers — 400 a year. The loaded tankers will inevitably destroy the coastal ecosystem whether or not they run aground. The Prime Minister says that it’s more important to “get the product to market.”
Suzuki and Hanington remain optimistic. “Despite Donald Trump’s promises to overturn what progess has been made… there’s no stopping the wave [of renewable energy investment] already underway.”
Just Cool It requires one more chapter. What is to be done when we have governments that are so in thrall to the powerful, impersonal force field of Capital that they are incapable of acting in the best interests of the people and of the planet?
Well, David Suzuki and Ian Hanington? What is to be done? Whom do you vote for?
It’s as if we were on a runaway train. The First Class passengers are feasting and celebrating, and there’s a mad engine driver at the controls. How do we stop the train before it reaches the bridge that isn’t there?
Is revolt our only hope? If so, what form should it take? Marches? Petitions? Civil disobedience? Getting arrested as you sit in front of the machines?
David Suzuki and Ian Hanington have done a thorough job of offering solutions; Hanington’s Afterword begins the process of suggesing some of the next steps.
[David Suzuki photo by Shannon Mendes.]
John Gellard spent his childhood in England and Trinidad, donated his adolescence to an English boarding school, earned an MA in Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, and taught English and Drama in London, Ontario, for seven years. In 1973, he arrived in the West Kootenay where he felled and peeled pine logs on his “wild land” property and built a log cabin. Gravitating to the city, he taught drama for thirty years at Vancouver Technical Secondary School and Kitsilano Secondary. He still helps run writing workshops for students, notably (since 1993) an annual overnight retreat on Gambier Island. His articles have appeared in the Globe and Mail and the Watershed Sentinel. He takes an active interest in environmental issues and travels extensively in B.C. He lives among friends in Kitsilano and on Hornby Island, has two grown sons, and retired from teaching English and Writing at Kitsilano Secondary School after being named Canada’s “Best High School Teacher” in a Maclean’s poll in August 2005.
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