As tens of thousands of Mississippi Delta residents set up retaining walls, dig moats, pile sand bags and evacuate, and as the spillways open and small towns and farmlands in the deep south flood, all in advance of the Mississippi’s extraordinarily high cresting later this week, acolytes of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may be experiencing yet another grim “I told you so”moment. Epic tsunamis (just had one), tornadoes (just had them) and floods (here it comes) are highlights of Gore’s forecast of dire weather caused by global warming.
Fact check: Although climate scientists agree that global warming will increase the intensity of tsunamis and of tornado and flood seasons, the recent tsunami in Japan was not the kind caused by global warming, and scientists don’t yet have proof that climate change brought about these particular tornadoes or this particular flood. But awfully inconvenient weather does seem to be upon us. Using compact florescent bulbs and buying food locally and all the other small things we do to help feels more and more right but also less and less important. A binding international emissions treaty would be significant, but after the meeting of 17 countries (including the top two polluters, China and the United States) on energy and climate in Brussels last month, European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said such a signed treaty is “not doable” this year.
One of the books published last month to celebrate Earth Day, the paperback of Jeff Goodell’s How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate (Mariner, $14.95), may lower your blood pressure. This is not a “how to” book; it’s a terrific narrative of Goodell’s reporting on scientists who are devising ways to cool the planet through geoengineering. After writing Big Coal: the Dirty Secret behind America’s Energy Future, his book about the environmental price of burning coal for energy, Goodell came to believe that humans are not going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, so he turned his attention to the work of top environmentally-minded geoengineers. One of these scientists, David Keith, is designing and building huge machines that can suck CO2 out of the air. Another, Stephen Salter, is pursuing ways to shoot particles into the atmosphere as a way of deflecting sunlight. None of the scientific gambits in the book is without risk, but Goodell makes a good case that the benefits of these strategies may soon enough outweigh the risks.
From its first sentence (“I grew up in California, where human ingenuity is a force of nature”) through its final paragraph, about the quality of adult life Goodell is now able to imagine for his three young children, How to Cool the Planet informs, connects and entertains. It’s a fact-packed reminder that humans can be brilliant as well as greedy — and that even almost unimaginable feats are doable.
This post was originally published by the Progressive Book Club.