I hesitated to do this review, as it seems way late for such an effort. After all, this book has been reviewed by almost everyone with an ecological conscience and literary bent. Al Gore’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize has brought a lot of attention to the movie as well as the book, and vice verse. But finally having acquired and read it, I find there are a few points that from my point of view, may not have previously been covered. So here goes.
The first thing that grabbed me was the heft of the book. It’s a paper-back, 7.5” X 9”, with several strategically impressive fold-outs to make specific points more visible. It makes great use of color in the same effort.
One of the main themes of the book is a vigorous documentation of the collision between nature and culture — the transforming relationship between humans and earth — that has happened in the recent past —manifesting itself as carbon induced global warming.
Much eco-literature tends to fail in expressing global warming cause and effects, so often confusing symptoms of over-population with over-population itself. Gore doesn’t fall into this trap, and correctly, about a quarter of the way through the book, identifies population explosion as the first of three causes of global warming. He quotes the following startling statistic: It took more than 10,000 generations for human population levels to reach two billion, but it will reach nine billion in the space of one lifetime — ours! He should be commended for his recognition and acknowledgement of the implications of this fact.
Having said this, I have to say also that I was mildly disappointed that from that point on, even though it remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it only deserved sidelong glances. I suppose this may unfortunately, be for very good reason.
It is perhaps a hard enough sell, as Gore executes so magnificently, to convince people that global warming is really happening, that it is tragedy sneaking up on us at an incredibly alarming rate — only recently recognized, and that we should embrace green living immediately if we are to avert calamity. To try to convince us simultaneously that the transition to green living would at least be possible — if we actually did something about implementing an effective population policy to help reduce future demand for energy and dwindling resources — might be an impossible hurdle to overcome.
The second cause of global warming, according to Gore, is the side effects of the explosion of scientific and technological knowledge. There has been a tendency toward less than wise pursuit of age-old habits with powerful new tools that magnify the detrimental consequences to the ecosphere.
A few examples:
Incredible advances in the efficiency of harvesting fish from the sea is responding to huge demand for seafood, and in the process, depleting many fish stocks and tearing up habitat that might sustain replenishment. We are able with our great new irrigation technology to deplete stocks of water from aquifers in a few short years. CIties that once took months or years to destroy in war now require only minutes to render dead and uninhabitable forever through nuclear weapons. Mining efforts that once required years to tunnel out ore are now reduced in a few months to whole mountains torn down and pulverized. Forests are now routinely reduced to barren ground by machines that render whole trees as fodder for the paper and building industries. And so forth.
The third cause of our inability to stop global warming is our penchant for ineffective thinking — our acceptance of gradual change without alarm. Gore uses the example of a frog put into a pot of cool water that is gradually heated. The frog will not be alarmed, but will sit in the pot until it is either dead from boiling or is rescued. Alternatively, if the water is already very hot, it will immediately jump out. It needs a jolt to raise the alarm, as we humans often need to get us to initiate self-preserving action.
Gore describes two cultures that have evolved: the scientific culture that makes subspecialties of ever finer areas of inquiry. (Will Rogers (?) once said, “They’re learning more and more about less and less. Pretty soon they’re going to know everything there is to know about nothing.”) The second culture is a public that has a difficult time knowing which esoteric information is correct or whom to believe is telling it straight. Pseudo scientists have a field day putting out non-peer-reviewed assertions that favor whatever agenda they’re being paid to promote. The public is all too often duped into accepting this hype over real science.
There are those who have an agenda for spreading information designed to confuse and lead to inaction — paralysis for getting anything done that would lead in a direction other than the status quo. Gore quotes Upton Sinclair. ”It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Sometimes, there is outright denial in our thinking. Gore quotes Mark Twain: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” “ Despair ain’t a tire in the trunk,” is another quote that Gore uses to define extremes of thought that lead to inaction. He advocates a middle ground that leads to corrective action.
There is the false belief that we must choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We can have both, according to Gore. All we have to do is turn green. The last part of the book is a guide for individuals and groups to follow to greener pastures. It is a fairly comprehensive summary on how to save energy and offers many internet references for more details. Subjects include home, transportation, purchasing, conserving, etc. But again, I was disappointed by no mention of reducing population to help reduce demand and therefore, reduce greenhouse gas production.
One of the most interesting suggestions is a cap and trade system at the individual service level. Details are sketchy but it would apparently work like this: All goods and services would be assigned a carbon footprint index, that is, a number (a price) that would indicate how much carbon on average it adds to the atmosphere. Those who are efficient enough to provide a good or service that beats the “price” would be able to sell the difference between their “price” and the “standard price” to someone who, for whatever reason, can not meet the efficiency standard. This system will add dollar costs to inefficiency and dollar profits for efficiently providing the good or service.
It’s not easy to see the full scope of ramifications such a program would have if layered over our market based economy, but it’s hard to see why it shouldn’t be tried, at least in a pilot program.
So would I recommend this book? Certainly. Me and the Nobel Prize Committee! LOL. Four and one half stars! I have to hold back a half star due to Gore’s omission of the most effective and only real method of carbon reduction likely to work: a drastic slow-down in population growth. He gets the 4.75 stars because even with adequate population reduction, we will need this understanding of the carbon/atmospheric relationship and will need to implement Gore’s recommendations on maintaining a healthy planet.
© 2008 R. Leland Wald.rip