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How the West Was Warmed: Responding to Climate Change in the Rockies Paperback – November 1, 2009
In a remarkable reexamination of past and present behavior, author and editor Beth Conover compiled a collection of essays from journalists, policy makers, environmentalists and business executives offering a brutally candid assessment of climate change in the western United States...Conover offers an alternative to the mainstream scientific (yawn) books and offers readers hope and humor, insights and inspiration...one of the most engrossing takes on climate change. --The Camera by Bette Erickson on January 24, 2010
If the words "climate change" and "global warming" make you want to yawn, this extremely readable collection of essays might give you a fresh new perspective. --The Pueblo Chieftain by Mary Jean Porter
From the Back Cover
Melting glaciers. Pine beetle infestation. Drought. Carbon footprints. Green jobs and promises of a new energy economy. . . . When the venerable Aspen Skiing Company starts talking about the death of snow, even the most determined deniers start to wonder, what is going on? This enlightening collection of essays develops a portrait of the wide range of responses to climate change in the Rocky Mountain West. For more than two decades, this region has been a leader in addressing climate change, and today it is a hub of solutions to this pressing global issue.Written by more than forty veteran journalists, scientists, businesspersons, and policy makers, these essays show us how climate change has and continues to affect the ways in which we live, work, and play. An alternative to the many dry scientific books and how-to greening manuals about global warming, How The West Was Warmed provides insight, hope, and a little dose of humor to inspire all Americans as we face the future.
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My main reaction to reading these 39 pieces was wondering why the news media aren't doing a better job of connecting cause and effect when it comes to the issue of global warming. And then I read Jason Salzman's savvy essay, "Journalism and the Scientific Consensus On Global Warming," which raises some troubling questions about the mettle of reporters today.
Dumpster diving, climate tourism, raising urban chickens, climate change and religion, the future of water resources in the Rocky Mountains, "green" construction, natural gas, solar power, wind, the massive pine beetle kill and many more topics are among the smorgasbord of topics. Easy solutions are non-existent. Throughout, the writing is brisk and to-the-point as a variety of experts examine the pros and cons of various alternatives to coal and oil. There are big-picture views of energy consumption and many essays that bring this complex issue down to a personal, tangible level.
Among many thoughtful essays, I found James R. Udall ("The Big Bonfire--What Colorado Can Learn from the Samso Experiment") and Todd Neff ("Getting the Fear") particularly inspiring. Writes Neff: "We as westerners, as Americans, must achieve greatness in the coming years, leading a mass transition to energy systems based on lower- rather than higher-density inputs (civilization has always climbed the energy-density ladder, from wood to coil to oil and gas to nuclear), a feat unprecedented in human history. We will have to adjust in many ways, from practicing conservation to the point it feels like rationing to paying for higher prices for everything involving energy, which is everything. A new energy infrastructure will cost trillions of dollars. Adding to our burden is generational injustice: we must atone not only for our own energy irresponsibility, but for the unwitting combustive transgressions of centuries of forebears burning lumps of coal, lightning kerosene lamps, driving big stupid cars with tailfins. We have every reason to fear the consequences of our profligacy, of our continued disregard for the planet's carrying capacity."
These essays might focus on "responding to climate change in the Rockies" but the lessons and ideas--and ways to think about this global problem--should be read by all.
This is a lovely bed-side book, since the variety of short essays is easy to sample from, easy and accessible to read, but full of thoughtful observations that you may find yourself reflecting on over the next few days and gently influencing your own behavior and plans. Here are a few samples to give you a feel for some of the variety in the book:
In journalist John Daley's essay, he interweaves a story of a 14-hour train trip with his young daughter across the western plains and foothills of Colorado's high country and the eastern deserts and ranges of Utah, with his reflections on why the important stories of global warming don't get the coverage and the emphasis they warrant by journalists. I was half bemused and half saddened by his contrasting the in-depth coverage of the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson with the glancing coverage of recent studies about what will happen if we continue our current rates of carbon emission, such as a study by MIT finding that we could see a temperature hike of 10 degrees for the planet, or a study this year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which "predicted dust bowl-like conditions in the Southwest and elsewhere, which would be 'largely irreversible' for a thousand years". Daley discusses some of the national influences that have led to the lack of strong science coverage. For example, CNN let their entire science, technology, and environment team go at a time when there was a severe recession in an election year (thus business and political reporters were insured their jobs). Daley suggests that we see the need to change the journalism world as an opportunity. He makes several suggestions, such as creating a nonprofit organization to fund, promote and practice environmental journalism. I enjoyed the gentle touch of this essay, it left me feeling more informed and interested in supporting change, but with a surprising optimism about what thoughtful people can do and have the will to do given our love for our children and for the beautiful world we live in and would like to leave for them.
Urban planning consultants Jocelyn Hittle and Ken Snyder's essay focuses on how community planners can encourage a reduction in the the number of miles American's drive their cars for commuting and other daily needs and activities. There are stories about several American cities that have made good efforts and also a nice little comparison of two cities in Europe which tried to increase bicycle ridership versus car use. The more successful city of Houten in the Netherlands had a clever strategy of restricting car travel to a ring road and then making sixteen "car-tight" internal sectors, that is, the sector was only accessible by car via one entrance from the ring road. Bicyclists are not allowed on the ring road, but bicycles and pedestrians have priority over cars in the interior roads of the city where most of the housing faces. Houten managed to increase city bicycle usage to 70 percent (in the Netherlands the average use is already 30 percent). Hittle and Snyder have pointers to urban planning tools available, discuss some of the other community planning issues, and give an estimate of what opportunities are available for change if we put thought into community and urban design policy.
Diane Carmen wrote a lively and humorous piece on her attempts to be a good eco-consumer by driving a Prius, and otherwise attempting to buy things made of recycled, organic, or local manufacture in a complex world economy with only partial information. One of the funnest parts of the story is her loving description of her cheapskate Dad who had various strategies for not spending money. I came out of reading this article reminded of the old story of a shopper who claims to have "saved a lot of money" by buying a lot on sale. The eco-equivalent of this, is to be smug that we are helping the environment by buying environmentally friendly items, when a better option might be not to buy so much.
The collection of essays in How the West Was Warmed was put together by one of my modern day heroes, Beth Conover. She is one of those inspiring people who manage to be pleasant and nice while changing the world. She was lucky (or the city of Denver was lucky) that she was able to get into a partnership with one of our country's new-style "green" mayors, John Hickenlooper. (Didn't you absolutely love it that it was our cities and our mayors that led our country in honoring the Kyoto protocol?). As a consultant to the mayor, Beth Conover was the architect of "Greenprint Denver", which created major changes in the way the city of Denver uses energy, builds public buildings, and otherwise behaves in a "substainable" way. Books on climate change can be dry or feel overpowering. Conover has managed to collect in this book a wide variety of essays, which are informative, thoughtful and motivating, while maintaining a bit of humor, humanity, inspiration, or sweetness so the reading is a pleasure.