Behind the headlines: books on climate change

Last month, the world’s largest-ever climate demonstration took place in New York City. 300,000 people took to the streets to demand action on global warming as world leaders were gathering for UN climate talks. Despite the failure of the Kyoto protocol, nations will meet again in Paris next year to try and hammer out a new carbon-cutting agreement.

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With climate change on the front pages, and Naomi Klein’s new bookThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate climbing bestseller lists, there may be readers looking to get up to speed on the issues. For a scientist’s list of recommended books, check out the National Geographic ScienceBlogs website. For a few more suggestions, read on.

To date, most nations’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gases have heatbeen in the single digits. In 2006’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, George Monbiot argues that the richest countries would need to make cuts of 90 percent by 2030 to avoid a “critical threshold” of warming (2°C according to the United Nations). Beyond that, he says, the collapse of climate-regulating ecosystems such as the permafrost will cause warming to spiral out of control. Heat is a meticulously researched, sector-by-sector “thought experiment” in how cuts of this magnitude could be achieved. Monbiot paints a picture of a near-future where air travel and private automobiles are all but eliminated, fleets of trucks deliver goods to households, and solar energy flows from the Sahara.

A very different approach is found in the award-winning Why We Disagree About whywedisagreeClimate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity by Michael Hulme. A geographer, climate modeller, and contributor to the UN panel on climate change, Hulme’s view is that climate problems are too complex to be “solved” and must instead be lived with. He looks at the cultural as well as the scientific phenomenon and what it reveals about different ideas and beliefs about living in the world. Consciously non-alarmist in tone, Hulme has been praised for not over-simplifying the issues while making them accessible to a wide audience.

Canadian writers who’ve weighed in on climate change include the Globe and Mail’s hotairJeffrey Simpson and SFU professors Marc Jaccard and Nic Rivers. Their book, Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Challenge, calls for taxing to reduce emissions and placing a greater emphasis on sustainable development. In The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the geographyofhopeWorld We Need, Alberta journalist Chris Turner eloquently describes alternative energy projects already in existence: from adobe-style homes that stay cool in summer and warm in winter, to water-wheels creating hydro-electricity for Thai villagers, to Germany’s eco-friendly housing re-build. Turner’s book is an eye-opening and, yes, hopeful addition to the discussion that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.

by Haidee O’Brien, Librarian at Richmond Public Library

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