Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Eaarth: the problem with climate change is the little things

I'm about to dive into the third part of Eaarth - Bill McKibben's appraisal of the current state of climate change, how the Earth has already changed, and how we might have to adapt and change our lifestyles in response. Part 3 is all about that issue, but before I go there I just wanted to note two thoughts that McKibben has repeatedly emphasised in the first half of his book.

1. Climate change has already happened

McKibben describes how almost all commentators on climate change talk about how we have to do something or else our children and our grandchildren will face the consequences of our inaction. It's a powerful emotional and moral argument, but McKibben says it's bullshit. The time for action was 20 years ago: we are the children and grandchildren who are facing the consequences of inaction.

2. Infrastructure is going to be a big problem

In Part 2 of Eaarth, McKibben describes the many ways in which our civilisation is butting up against our planet's limits. He wrote this in 2009/2010, and the recession is very much part of the landscape of the book. With limited money, decisions about how to prioritise spending are going to become more and more painful. We're not just talking about building a series of barriers to protect Venice or the Netherlands, or the repairs to New Orleans or the reconstruction of Haiti after it was hit by four hurricanes in a row. It's the little things: like flooding causes burst pipes and collapsed bridges, so a country's transport budget has to get split between emergency repairs and road maintenance. That if powerful storms hit with increasing regularity and force, and keep blowing the roof off your building, eventually your insurance premiums are going to go up.

This is a book filled with little details, human-level stories, and extracts from recent news articles that have pretty huge implications. I'm finding it fascinating

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