Book Review: The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth-Tim Flannery. Reviewed By: Thomas Riggins (7/7)Read Now
Part 7 - Conclusion
One of the biggest problems facing the Biden administration is that of global warming and what to do about it. The Trump administration rejected the international agreement to try and remedy the problem (the Paris agreement) and a new international agreement must be reached. Paris is not, as it stands, adequate to do the job that must be done. Flannery, with respect to the earlier Kyoto agreement writes, "If we are to stabilize our climate, Kyoto's target [a CO2 emissions cut of 5.2%] needs to be strengthened twelve times over: Cuts of 70 percent by 2050 are required to keep atmospheric CO2 at double the pre industrial level."
In order to save the planet, as we know it, environmentalists will have to fight powerful international cartels that profit from the use of fossil fuels. The energy lobby in the U.S. worked full time with the previous administrations to lie about, and distort the scientific. evidence of, global warming.
These forces, and the politicians that front for them, have known for 50 years that their activities were killing the planet but the profits they were making were more important to them than the future existence of life on Earth. Recent actions by president Biden to increase oil and gas production shows that the US continues to ignore the warnings of science.
Flannery pointed out that ever since 1977 when the New York Times ran a story ["Scientists Fear Heavy Use of Coal May Bring Adverse Shift in Climate"] there has been a battle plan in effect to suppress as much as possible the scientific evidence of global warming.
The actions of previous administrations were a kind of culmination of these anti- scientific doings. The Bush administration, for example, suppressed or actually changed the wording and conclusions of scientific reports from NASA, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency [read Destruction Agency under Bush], and the National Academy of Sciences, among others. Even lobbyists for the energy companies were amazed by the zeal of that administration to further their interests at the expense of the planet, one of whom remarked that it may be a long time before the energy sector has another President Bush "or Atilla the Hun."
They didn't have to wait very long-- they got Trump. Biden however, talks the talk of climate change but doesn't walk the walk. It may be an illusion to support Democrats over Republicans in elections and expect any real change in policies. We may need an independent movement of a Left United Front to bring this about, but so far we only see de facto "support the Democrats" as the answer.
You know something is wrong when your allies think of you as Atilla the Hun. The truth is that Bush, as well as his successors, and the Republicans generally spent their time in office (with the connivance of conservative and centrist Democrats) in acting in ways detrimental to 99% of the people of the earth and to enrich the upper 1%. But that 1% will suffer too if the atmosphere gives out.
So, what is to be done? We have to hurry, and Flannery saw the two great problems as 1) how to decarbonize the transportation system, and 2) how to decarbonize the electricity grid. We should concentrate our efforts first on the electricity grid (to get rid of coal) and then tackle the transportation system to get rid of oil and gas. It may seem that we will never get rid of these three fuels but we must or we will literally be committing suicide. Our civilization is analogous to those people who smoke three packs a day-- they know what is going to happen to their lungs and would be simply insane not to quit.
Flannery discussed several ways the power grid could be weaned from carbon. We could produce power by nuclear, hydrothermal, hydrogen, wind, solar (and also tidal action) methods and thus eliminate the need for coal, oil and natural gas. The risks of nuclear power make it the least desirable. I don't think we should be playing with it-- we don't know what to do with radioactive waste and when I read that the EPA plans to monitor waste dumps for 10,000 years, and will make rule changes after that period to cover the dumps for 1,000,000 years I think: Let's get real! The EPA is not going to be around for 10,000 years!
One thing Flannery pointed out is that wind and solar energy can be produced locally and even by individuals and their families thus making for a decentralized system. If we go for nuclear or hydrogen power cells then "the big power corporations" will likely be in charge and survive. I think they should, if they survive, be placed under state control and treated as public utilities which should not be privately held for profit making. Socialist policies are always the best options.
After dealing with the power grid, Flannery turned his attention to the transportation system. We will naturally have to develop alternatives to carbon based fuel-- and ethanol is not the answer. It is not cost effective, takes up too much land, and damages the food supply by taking food crops out of production in order to grow the crops to make ethanol. Rather we will have to use electric calls, hybrids, mincats [CAT stands for compressed air technology], hydrogen based fuel cells, and other non polluting methods to apply to transportation, as well as beef up our systems of public transportation.
One thing we can be sure of is that time is running out. I think anyone interested in the problems of climate change and global warming should read Flannery's book. It was written before the global collapse of monopoly capitalism (2008+) and how the ongoing crisis will affect our ability to save the planet remains to be seen.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.