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The Suicidal Planet: How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe Hardcover – April 17, 2007
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Despite its off-putting title, this book presents a clear-eyed and well-documented overview of global warming, and an optimistic but practical plan for avoiding the worst of the damage. Drawing on scientific consensus, Hillman, Fawcett and Rajan describe the havoc global warming will likely wreak in 20 to 100 years if we do not act : a rise in infectious diseases and outbreaks of desert across the American plains and western Europe, as many as 150 million environmental refugees and possibly 95% species extinction. Their conclusion: to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide to a safe level, U.S. citizens will have to cut their carbon emissions by 80% by 2030. With governments and individuals in a "near-universal state of denial" on the topic, the authors propose what they consider the only realistic and fair solution. Each person on earth would be given an equal, tradable "carbon allowance" that would steadily shrink over time, they suggest, to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide in check to avert unacceptable climate change. Environmental activists may already be familiar with these ideas, but this comprehensive, concise and beautifully organized overview of an undeniably important issue make it a must-read for anyone even slightly concerned about our future on this planet. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hillman, a British architect and environmental public policies expert, and Fawcett, of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, (coauthors of How We Can Save the Planet, 2004), with input from climate-change scholar Sudhir Chella Rajan, attempt to persuade readers that the dangers of global warming mitigate all current efforts to curb the growing catastrophe. In stark prose heavily dependent on statistics and figures, they posit that little in current plans to decrease global warming is effective. They express particular concern over America's car culture and fossil-fuel dependence, and focus on a carbon allowance card system, a solution Hillman and Fawcett have studied in depth. As this card would require national registration and tracking by the federal government, it seems unlikely that Americans would find the solution acceptable, but perhaps the alarm this suggestion arouses will induce more interest in increased fuel efficiency. Clearly a lot of work went into the crafting of this book's arguments and the gathering of its wealth of information, however off-putting the perspective and conclusion may be for some readers. Colleen Mondor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
The book is divided into three parts. The first part describes the problem. Many of us know and understand the problem, but the book goes beyond simply explaining the problem to discuss the potential growth in energy use and the public's current response. The second part discusses current strategies to ameliorate climate change and explains why those strategies (including technological innovation and carbon sequestration) are inadequate to solve the problem. The third part recommends a two-step solution. The first step is contraction and convergence, in which countries move toward a common per capita emission of green house gases. The second step is personal carbon allowances. The authors make a good case that contraction and convergence can break the international stalemate on Kyoto, and that contraction and convergence, and personal carbon allowances, amnount to the fair and equitable way to save the planet. There is also a section on how we could live within the carbon allowance.
The authors' conclusion is that we will get climate by negligence or climate by choice -- and climate by negligence is unaccepable.
I came away convinced we can solve the problems associated with global warming, except for reducing air travel which seems like it might be one of our biigest obstacles.Aside from air travel limitations, we could end up with more community and a more egalitarian world.
At the personal level, everyone would get a fixed carbon allowance for a fixed time period. If they used less then their allowance during that period, they could automatically sell the unused part on a computerized market to someone who needed more. Both seller and buyer would have strong incentives to reduce their carbon emissions, as the seller would profit by doing so, while the buyer would suffer less of a penalty. Moreover the sellers would tend to be poorer, and the buyers richer, hence the majority of citizens would become powerfully invested in the campaign to slow, and eventually reverse, global warming.
Carbon taxes, by contrast, often face strong popular resistance due to their perceived inequity. But the authors should consider that an equitable carbon tax would be a sales tax on the transactions of the computerized market. The revenues could then be used help needy individuals and small businesses to reduce their carbon emissions. In addition, small businesses could be included in the computerized market based on the number of full time employees or something similar.
These concepts have been developed in Europe, especially Britain, where two of the authors work as researchers. Europe has moved ahead of the US on environmental issues over the last couple of decades, also on some social justice and equity issues. However the authors go to far in regard to equity with the contraction and convergence scheme. Contraction means an international treaty that sets a binding schedule for the global reduction in carbon emissions to a `safe' level over the next few decades. Fantastic if you can get agreement and can come up with a reliable enforcement mechanism.
Convergence means that at the end of the contraction, the citizens of each country or negotiating regions will have the same average per capita carbon emissions as every other country. This would be a powerful way to enlist the enthusiasm of the poorer countries, as they would actually be allowed to increase their per capita carbon emissions until they matched the reduction in carbon emission of the rich countries.
The problem with this convergence scheme is that it ignores the population explosion. Many scholars of global resources consider the current world population to be far in excess of a sustainable population, that an orderly to reduction to one or two billion will be necessary, or we will experience severe "ecological overshoot and collapse". Already many resources are severely depleted, even renewable ones like forests and fisheries. Water wars are forecast and oil wars are already occurring.
World oil production is stagnating now and within a decade it will be in serious decline, past `peak oil', with the global economy not far behind. The authors make a big point in chapter 3 "Eyes Wide Shut" that most people are barely at the awareness stage, far short of action, in dealing with global warming. Yet the authors themselves show little awareness of the severity and consequences of these resource issues. They appear to be unaware, for example, that certain estimates of oil `reserves' are many times in excess of what experienced oil geologists consider to be economically recoverable, even with improved technology.
The imminent decline of oil will shift the economic focus to coal, which may hold out for a few more decades before it too goes into decline, despite current claims that coal `reserves' will last hundreds of years. This will become the major political/economic battle of the coming generation: Take global warming seriously or burn ever more coal in a futile effort to maintain our non-negotiable life styles.
Equity means nothing if human civilization collapses or extreme poverty for all, so the current notion of convergence must be replaced a technique that reduces both carbon emissions and population. Of necessity the carbon reduction part must focus on the first world, while the population reduction part must focus on the third world. However the goal is the same: average equal carbon emissions per capita between all regions of the world.
But to get there the incentives must change. A good way would be to set a per capita target for carbon emissions based on population. Let T = target for a safe level of global carbon emissions / target for a sustainable level of world population. Then T becomes the per capita target for each country or region, to be reached however they so choose.
When people think of radical population reduction, they often think of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But, given a little time, there is a perfectly benign way. To be sure it would require a major cultural shift in some regions, with an extensive media campaign and leadership from all major sectors, including religion. But it is possible. If all women, on the average, have only one child, and that child, on the average is born in the mother's mid thirties, then the population will be reduced by a factor of 4 in 80 to 100 years. Thus both family size and spacing are the key here. When there is a will there is a way.
The Suicidal Planet is an easy read for those seeking a quick overview of practical ways to slow down global warming. But it has a few limitations, so readers should take it as a provocative starting point for an even deeper dialogue.