"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban: a video, a recollection, three singles and a trilogy (book reviews)

Update May 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8IBnfkcrsM

Update Dec. 30, 2011: coverage from Radio Ecoshock of Durban climate change conference:
"Diplomats from all over the world are returning home after a hard-won agreement in Durban, South Africa. They agreed to do nothing to save our climate from disaster." - Alex Smith http://www.ecoshock.info/2011/12/climate-down-in-durban.html
In another podcast, here's an interview about Durban, with Australian Senator Milne, on Dr. Helen Caldicott's fine show If You Love This Planethttp://ifyoulovethisplanet.org/?p=5371

Related posts labeled Climate Change.
see also Occupy
and Democracy in the cloud labels at bottom.
Follow the money, and the people, and they--and many other subjects--all take turns in a sad ballet of greed, exploitation, ignorance, spirituality and valor.

Update Jan. 10, 2011

And so on to Cancun, and more of the same. Between Copenhagan and Cancun, devastating floods in Pakistan (unprecedented, huge) and Australia (Queensland's worst disaster in history)... and how much more? And the diplomats are really helpless in the face of the real world powers (See Carbon War, reviewed below).


Update: Well, I'm trying not to be discouraged. Archbishop Tutu gave a wonderful speech, as did a lot of other people, covered on Free Speech TV but probably nowhere else. Many truths are being told, but apparently all out on the street, between arrests... who knows what's really going on inside. Carbon Club all over again? But something's different now; The People everywhere are more aware (well, the climate refugees could hardly help knowing what's going on) and demonstrating. Will push have to come to shove, to get anywhere?

Watching the news on the climate change summit in Copenhagen, and seeing Al Gore talk about his new book on Free Speech TV (he's still optimistic that something can be done - says we have enough solutions to solve three climate crises, and all we need to do is manage one), and getting over a cold, I've been indulging in a stroll down memory lane. (Here's a link to where you can view Gore's talk - well worth a little time on a winter day: http://www.freespeech.org/video/keynote-al-gore-our-choice )
Seems like the destruction of my world (or at least of the part of it that I, as a puny human, can live in and relate to emotionally) has been an important component of my worldview all my life.

I read Our Plundered Planet by Fairfield Osborn on the recommendation of my conservation-savvy elders when I was a kid (just looked it up on Wikipedia and see it came out in 1948; isn't "Fairfield Osborn" a wonderfully midcentury name for a writer?), and that made a big impression on me, while in the background of my life, all around me, the beautiful orchards and grasslands of the world I knew and loved were torn up and burned and cleared so ticky tacky houses could be built, year after year.

At about that time, I decided that it was all over, and nothing that's happened since then has changed my mind. But some people don't know how to give up, and I guess that's what keeps me going. It's the "never give up, never surrender" spirit of the plucky souls of that stirring film classic, Galaxy Quest. That feckless crew made it through somehow, prevailing against a really seriously grooming-challenged alien race - so if real humans are anything like those fictional heroes, maybe we can get through this too. I just hope that if we do, we'll come out better at the other end.

For the latest news, I like New Scientist .

And I've been remembering some very good books about the current crisis. Maybe what they have in common is that they don't simply offer valuable info on the subject, they also entertain, with great writing and fascinating subject matter.

First there was Al Gore's brave Earth in the Balance, in which (among other things) he challenges established religion to think again about what the Bible means when it says to be "stewards" of our world, and do something about it. A nakedly sincere yet politically astute (even as it's risk-taking) position to take. Even though I don't buy the Bible as any kind of guide to behavior (except for a few bits here and there; you can probably guess which ones), I admire and respect Gore's interpretation of that part of it. He followed up later with his slide show and documentary An Inconvenient Truth of course and that created a movement that still goes on. For a constantly thwarted and undermined and betrayed leader, he still leads very well. Never give up, never surrender, eh? Here's the wikipedia for the book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_in_the_Balance 

This is what I wrote-- in (can you believe it's been this long and the world is still just beginning to address the issue?) 1992 -- for School Library Journal, recommending the book to teens and adults. Funny, those teens would be their thirties now. Maybe my review helped steer one or two of them toward work they're doing now; that was my hope at the time.

Too often, environmental challenges are presented in such a way that the more one learns, the more hopeless it all seems. Earth in the Balance does not shrink from the magnitude and painfulness of the conflicts teens will soon inherit, but it also gives encouragement, offering the possibility of resolution.

A passionate yet clearheaded exposition of a worldwide crisis is the starting point of this courageous book. Retracing his own journey, Gore leads readers toward a greater understanding of humanity, and toward thinking beyond currently perceived limitations. With often stunning insight, he looks at how "dysfunctional civilization," political realities, and religious traditions have helped to shape the current global ecological situation.

This breadth of perspective should speak to a diversity of readers, while the final section, outlining a plausible plan of action, can capture the imaginations of practical as well as idealistic readers. The book may seem daunting to some, but its three-part, fifteen-chapter structure, which allows readers to browse at will, should make it accessible enough to most readers.

I remember when Gore went to the big global summit in Rio during the Reagan era -- taking it upon himself personally to represent the people of the US there because Reagan & Co were not doing it. Not the only time in Gore's career that the media said he was committing political suicide. At Rio, he was going there in defiance of those in power (and doing something portrayed by the media as "radical"). I remember thinking at the time that it was a tragedy that someone like Gore couldn't be in the White House instead of the likes of Reagan, and assuming that such a dream would never be possible in this benighted country.

Then I was over the moon when Gore was picked as a Vice Presidential candidate for the 1992 election and it occurred to me that he might actually be president, and in a position to do something, in eight more years. We all know how that turned out. So-called "greens" who never bothered to read Gore's book voted against him, making the election very close. (I know they meant well, but really! That smarmy, self-serving little... over Gore, who went to Rio and put his life on the line?) Still, more people than not did choose him as president...  but then in a bold and completely sociopathic (okay, so corporations are by nature sociopathic) move to preserve their oil empire, the Bush & Co international crime syndicate, together with a big group of quislings in the judiciary, news media, and politics (and enabled by a shocked, confused, and essentially just plain stupid electorate who didn't even know when they'd just been screwed) staged a coup to keep that from happening, and it was another eight years before we the people could regroup again.

So here we are at Copenhagen. Yet another chance for the world to agree on something. Meanwhile, Gore keeps busy! http://www.climateprotect.org/ 

For really great background on who that gang of pirates is, and what that coup was all about, Jeremy Leggett (click for interview) had an insider's seat at important events, and names names. He's especially credible as an advocate because he started out as a scientist working for the oil industry, and ended up working for Greenpeace. He's written more since The Carbon War (reviewed below) too. Here's his page in Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jeremy-K.-Leggett/e/B001ITYAJO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

In The Carbon War, he makes it very clear how we got into this mess and who's responsible and what their motives were.
The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era by Jeremy Leggett. (published in 2001 in the US; earlier in UK)
(my review for SLJ for Adult/High School readers): 

As a young geologist and as a professor at the Royal School of Mines in England, the author found the hunt for petroleum deposits "a great romance." But, like many scientists in the 1980s, he became convinced by growing evidence that global warming posed a serious danger. Conscience-stricken at the part he had played in bringing about this situation, he moved "from one of the most conservative universities in the world to one of the most radical environmental groups," and began a new career as scientific advisor to Greenpeace.

Participating in history-making conferences such as those in Rio and Kyoto, Leggett witnessed the key events and international politics at the end of the 20th century that kept the US on the oil track. In vivid detail, his account reveals the people and politics of what he calls the "Carbon Club"-the coalition of industrial and regional interests that sought to confuse the issue and, through various manipulations, derailed an effective movement to address the problem.

Leggett argues that only a rapid conversion to solar power can change the dangerous course energy production is following now, but is encouraged by recent signs of a growing understanding of the problem, and by developing cracks in the cohesiveness of the Carbon Club itself.

For most teens, this clearly written, fact-packed, and passionate book will be a demanding read, but it offers a wealth of information for those interested in understanding the workings of the real world, and its thorough index will make it an excellent resource for research on global warming and the history of the issue.
A minor note: in my haste to submit that review by the deadline I made one of my typically dyslexic mistakes: I'd transposed some letters and wrote "Tokyo" rather than "Kyoto". I knew the difference - I'd even been to both cities. Quickly I noticed and asked my review committee head to fix it. She said she did, but it still appeared wrong in the magazine. I asked if she could at least make sure the magazine got it right in the electronic version and she said she would, "but I wouldn't worry about it. Nobody will remember about the Kyoto conference - it was a long time ago." Last time I looked at an online source, it still hadn't been corrected. Not that it matters. Kyoto is so far behind what's really needed, sometimes I think we might was well forget it, at this point.

Finally, in my personal trilogy of nonfiction views of the subject, this one also made a big impression on me when it came out; here's my recommendation in SLJ for teens and adults:

This is an eye-opening examination of some of "the first whispers of the hurricane of future climate change which is now bearing down on us." 

In a series of vivid travel narratives, Lynas shows the human side of global warming, taking readers to Britain, North and South America, China, and the South Pacific. He introduces them to folks whose houses and roads are falling crazily through melting permafrost, who are going hungry because fishing lakes have disappeared, and who are becoming refugees because their grasslands have turned to desert.

In the Andes, he finds glaciers that entire cities depend on for their water supply rapidly disappearing. In the South Pacific, he finds an island paradise in the process of being lost as rising high tides render the nation increasingly uninhabitable. The author clearly explains why these are not isolated incidents, but interrelated parts of a worldwide set of phenomena that soon will affect us all.

As an Englishman, the author acknowledges American concerns but nails our wasteful lifestyle and our "confusion of politics and corporate self-interest." He urges that it's still possible to make a difference, and lists organizations and Web sites to contact, and suggests a number of things anyone can do to help.

And the trilogy...
And now for a real treat, there's Kim Stanley Robinson's wonderful "Science in the Capital" trilogy. It's near-future science fiction, but if you aren't a science fiction reader don't dismiss it out of hand - it's not the rocket-ship type of thing, it's a near-future-thriller, fiction about science and scientists. Robinson has a wonderful way of getting inside his characters' heads and revels in the creativity of science and scientific collaboration. I love this stuff. The trilogy starts with Forty Signs of Rain. (Here's my review for SLJ, recommending the book to older teens and adults):

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (2004)
This is an elegantly crafted and beguiling novel set in the very near future. Anna Quibler is a technocrat at the National Science Foundation while her husband, Charlie, takes care of their toddler and telecommutes as a legislative consultant to a senator. Their family life is a delight to observe, as are the interactions of the scientists at the NSF and related organizations.

When a Buddhist delegation, whose country is being flooded because of climate change, opens an embassy near the NSF, the Quiblers befriend them and teach them to work the US system of politics and grants. The Buddhists, in turn, affect the scientists in delightful and unexpectedly significant ways. The characters all share information and theories, appreciating the threat that global warming poses, but they just can't seem to awaken a sense of urgency in the politicians who could do something about it. (Robinson's characterizations of politicians are barbed, and often hilarious.)

As the scientists focus on the minutiae of their lives, the specter of global warming looms over all, inexorably causing a change here, a change there, until all the imbalances combine to bring about a brilliantly visualized catastrophe that readers will not soon forget. Even as he outlines frighteningly plausible scenarios backed up by undeniable facts, the author charms with domesticity and humor.

This beautifully paced novel stands on its own, but it is the first of a trilogy. As readers wait impatiently for the next volume, they will probably find themselves paying closer attention to science, to politics, and to the weather.–
The next entry in the trilogy is Fifty Degrees Below, and the saga concludes with Sixty Days and Counting. Each takes on a different manifestation of climate change and how we deal with it, told through the lives of these wonderful characters, in a (thinking person's) thriller format. I can't say enough about this author or this wonderful set of books. I am REALLY a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson!

Update Oct. 2011: A Change of Climate, a new play, recently premiered at our local science museum. Take a look: http://fred.tonge.us/Fred.Tonge.US/Plays_files/ChangeOfClimate.pdf

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