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Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis Paperback – October 11, 2016
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Thoughtful, candid andyesultimately upbeat, Atmosphere of Hope could not be more timely. It is just the book the world needs right now.”Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
The book does a remarkably good job of arguing that there is still hope for averting catastrophic climate change . . . [Flannery] fully acknowledges the steep challenges and serious obstacles we face. So when he affirms that a path to averting catastrophic climate change remains in place, we know the conclusion is not reached capriciously . . . Flannery’s exploration of the climate change problem is comprehensive. He covers everything from the underlying basic science to the nitty-gritty details of prospective solutions. The book is at its best when laying out the latter . . . What Flannery providesa convincing defense for the position that a path to averting catastrophic climate change still existsis invaluable.”Los Angeles Review of Books
In his new book, Atmosphere of Hope, best-selling Australian author Tim Flannery counsels cautious optimism by showing how the millions of small actions taken by individuals are driving down oil consumption and points out how new Third Way’ carbon-capture technologies promise to reduce emissions and create massive economic opportunities.”National Geographic
An informative tour of promising multipronged approaches to one of humanity’s biggest challenges. Flannery’s solution-focused quest is especially timely.”Booklist
Flannery argues for renewed optimism in human capabilities to reverse the destabilizing effects of climate change. For years, the author has been in the forefront of spreading the warning of climate change’s dire consequences to a broad audience . . . A sharp summary of energy potentialities, where the good and the bad reside in human hands, hearts, and minds.”Kirkus Reviews
Certain people rise above the crowd. They choose to use their extraordinary talent and intelligence to make a difference. Scientist, scholar and activist Tim Flannery is one of those rare people . . . Atmosphere of Hope is a brilliant examination of where we are with climate change and where we might be able to go.”National Observer (Vancouver)
Praise for The Weather Makers:
An authoritative, scientifically accurate book on global warming that sparkles with life, clarity and intelligence.”Washington Post
At last, here is a clear and readable account of one of the most important but controversial issues facing everyone in the world today. If you are not already addicted to Tim Flannery's writing, discover him now.”Jared Diamond, author of The World Until Yesterday and Guns, Germs & Steel
Flannery . . . is without question an extraordinary scientist. . .. A passionate explication of human influence on climate change and a call to action. . . . A tour de force.”Science Magazine
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The book is heavily polemical, very much Tim Flannery's personal attempt to influence the decision makers. As a scientist and leading environmentalist of long-standing, Flannery is Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, a member of the Australian Independent Climate Council and chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council; so he's certainly qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject.
This was a bit of a roller-coaster read for me, both in terms of style and content. In the introduction, Flannery lays out his stall. Taking as his starting point his own earlier book The Weather Makers, he sets out to show how things have developed over the decade since, where his opinions have changed over the years, and what he now thinks are the best ways forward if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. At this stage, I was concerned I might find the book unreadable. His style is abrasive, self-aggrandizing and arrogant and much of the introduction and early chapters read like a piece of self-advertisement. He mentions his previous book umpteen times, dismissing anyone who has criticised any aspect of it over the years, and spends far too long justifying his then conclusions. In fact, at times there is a sense almost of paranoia – as if he is the victim of a conspiracy of vested interests trying to discredit his work. He is vitriolic about the Abbott government in Australia – still in power when he was writing but now gone. Of course, as the cliché goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you...
However, having vented his spleen, Flannery then settles down into a series of well-written chapters where he lays out the current situation very clearly. He starts with a bleak picture of what may happen if temperatures are not contained to the 2°C target – to the Arctic and Antarctic, to forests, wildlife and oceans, and not least to humanity in those parts of the world most sensitive to rising temperatures. It's all stuff we've heard before, but brought up to date with the latest science. Flannery assumes throughout that by this time only those with vested interests in the carbon industries are still denying the link between man's activities and climate change, and so is dismissive and even occasionally virulent about deniers. There is throughout a feeling of urgency – no time left to waste preaching to the unconverted, let's just ignore them and get on with what needs to be done. Fine by me, but this is not a book to win over waverers with charm.
The next few chapters take us through individual aspects of energy production, starting with the dirty ones and moving on to the clean. This was the part of the book that gave me a sense of hope – assuming Flannery's figures are correct, and I see no reason to doubt them, then fossil fuels seem to be losing their overwhelming attractiveness as renewables become both more efficient and cheaper due to economies of scale. We're nowhere near out of the woods, but Flannery made me feel as if perhaps we've spotted the path.
In the final section, Flannery discusses how he believes we should proceed. His position is that, even in the unlikely (but not impossible) event that we reduce fossil fuel use to zero over the next few decades, we will still have the problem of existing CO2 in the atmosphere to deal with. He discusses the difficulties of the task and goes into some detail on some of the schemes that have been put forward. To my unscientific mind, lots of these sound like pie-in-the-sky schemes, or actually poison-in-the-sky, to be more accurate. Flannery himself isn't keen on the kind of geo-engineering scheme that suggests pumping other stuff, like sulphur, into the atmosphere in order to induce cooling, on the grounds that firstly, we can't foresee all the possible implications and secondly, the underlying problem of too much carbon still remains.
He suggests what he calls a 'third way' – a mixture of preparing for climate change by making necessary adaptations at a local level while attempting to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by a variety of schemes, from massive seaweed farms to storing carbon in rocks and plastics, that he feels could be effective without the risks of geo-engineering. To be honest, much of this sounded impractical and a bit like wishful thinking to me, but hey! Most of it was well over my head scientifically and he's an expert, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It's always been my opinion that it will have to be the scientists who solve this problem in the end, and the role of governments and the people should be to give them the finances and resources they need, while trying to stop any of them accidentally blowing up the galaxy in their enthusiasm.
However, after cheering me up in the earlier chapters, I'm afraid this final section plunged me back into gloom – the sheer scale of the task and the short-termism of so many governments make it all seem pretty overwhelming. I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps Flannery had done this deliberately, so that no-one would be approaching the Paris Conference feeling over-confident. Overall well worth reading – a good introduction for anyone new to the subject and a thorough update for those with a little more knowledge. Let's hope the politicians attending the Conference will pay attention to the science more than the politics for once... the world will be watching. Won't we?
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.
Flannery is a judge on the Virgin Earth Challenge panel, so he sees a constant flow of ideas and proposals. They all seem to require a complete change of modus operandi, like all the cement produced worldwide seeded with biochar to make it carbon negative. At 80% of global production, we could sequester one gigatonne. Negative carbon plastics could sequester another gigatonne, but only if we made all plastics this way and quintupled production. Now consider we need to sequester 18 gigatonnes per year just reduce atmospheric CO2 by one part per million. We’re currently pushing the rate up from 400ppm.
And this is just CO2 in the atmosphere.
Atmosphere of Hope is a quick read, a compendium of bite-sized facts and figures, detailing the situation in mid 2015. The sections on remediation are interesting and the concepts innovative, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling that two wrongs don’t make a right. Pumping metallic microparticles into the stratosphere is almost certainly the wrong way to fix the mess.
In They Might Be Giants, Holmes explains we weren’t booted from the Garden of Eden; we never left. But we are guests here, and extremely rude ones. First thing we have to do is stop insulting the hostess and wrecking the house. Until we do that, all the convoluted remediation schemes will just continue to be hope.