When you ask a Canadian about climate change, most will acknowledge it and will agree that it is human-induced. However, when you ask a Canadian what we should or could do about it, many are lost. Indeed, most of us feel overwhelmed by anything that is a global phenomenon. Plastic pollution. Ocean acidification. Global forest deforestation. Global pandemics. COVID-19. We shut down. We curl up into a ball. We hide out and wish it away.
Climate isn’t weather—even though it instructs regional weather patterns. Climate is global. Planet-wide. It’s huge. Climate encompasses the forces of air, water and land. Over millennia climate has co-evolved with all life on the planet, from glaciation and forest evolution to stratospheric air currents and atmospheric rivers. Climate is a planetary phenomenon that sweeps heedlessly across geographic or political boundaries like an unruly child to the music of arcane non-linear feedback systems, fluid mechanics, and quantum uncertainties. Edward Lorenz had to devise a whole new science of thinking—chaos theory—to account for the chaotic patterns of climate. How do we even begin to understand how we are changing it, what the consequences are, and how we can help prevent the dire results (dire to us, that is)?
One way to start is to inform ourselves with reliable and accessible information. Far too many humans remain locked in a tiresome debate that climate change even exists or if it does that we are not a key player. The debate should be over. If it isn’t, we are simply hiding from the truth and delaying critical action. We have let ourselves be hoodwinked by those great deceivers: the fossil fuel industry.
I recently came across Martin J. Bush’s book, hot off the presses: “Climate Change and Renewable Energy: How to End the Climate Crisis” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). What struck me about Bush’s hefty 525-page book is how easy it is to read and understand. Well written and organized into a logical narrative of nine chapters, the book is extremely well-researched, topical and very current (with information to 2019). The book provides a comprehensive overview of global warming caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.
Bush acknowledges in his Preface that many excellent books have been written about global heating and climate change. What makes his book particularly inviting and meaningful for us now is how he links and interrelates climate change-related dimensions and concludes with a practical optimism based on real scenarios. Bush explains how “inexhaustible supplies of renewable energy can replace coal, oil and natural gas; how the transport sector will become electrified; and how all new buildings will soon be super energy-efficient and powered by electricity from renewable sources of energy.”
What I particularly liked about Martin’s book is that he discusses ways to address and avert the crisis. Bush is ideally suited to provide useful and workable solutions, having spent over thirty years as senior project scientist in the fields of renewable energy, natural resources management, disaster preparedness, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The book has already received much praise from scientists and science activists:
“A great resource for anyone looking to better understand the problem and help do something about it.”—Michael E. Mann, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State University
“An accessible and comprehensive guide to our greatest crisis, and some of the most important solutions. You will come away from this book knowing much of what you need to know.”—Bill McKibben, ecologist and environmental activist
The book contains nine chapters, in a compelling narrative of what, how, and why:
- Chapter 1—Planet in Peril—introduces the current state of the natural world in the context of climate change.
- Chapter 2—The Overheated Earth—describes the components and process of an overheating Earth and its consequences; this includes droughts and floods, food insecurity, thawing permafrost, and species migrations.
- Chapter 3—The Carbon Cycle—describes the carbon cycle and its role in climate.
- Chapter 4—Carbon Chaos—explores in-depth the history to current fossil fuel industry in relation to the carbon cycle and climate; Bush describes the health impacts of coal extraction and how the extraction of fossil fuel for petroleum products significantly impact the environment from offshore drilling, to fracking and pipelines.
- Chapter 5—Coming Clean—looks at more sustainable, climate-friendly ways to provide energy and power such as solar energy, wind power, Geothermal heat, hydraulic energy, and biofuels.
- Chapter 6—Getting Technical—looks more closely at how these more sustainable energy technologies are currently being used around the world, particularly in emerging economies.
- Chapter 7—Pricing Down Carbon—takes a closer look at carbon pricing in the US, Canada, and Europe and explores the feasibility of running an economy entirely without fossil fuels.
- Chapter 8—Denial and Deception—unravels in living garish colour the oil companies’ duplicity regarding the science of petroleum extraction with reference to climate change. Bush describes in detail the historic events that led to conspiracy theories and to ExxonMobil’s denial campaign (which included fake science reports and articles). Funded and orchestrated by the largest fossil fuel companies, the conspiracy aimed to undermine and contradict the scientific basis for global warming and to convince the world that climate science was defective, and highly uncertain. This included smear campaigns of leading climate scientists, disseminating fake science and sowing doubt at every level of society. The chapter reads like a who dunnit with climate change as the murder victim.
- Chapter 9—How to End the Climate Crisis—concludes with a summary of key ground roots movements and workable solutions to address and end the climate crisis.
The last two chapters—Chapters 8 and 9—warrant more detailed discussion here, given their importance to our perception and our actions to do with climate change. Perception, after all, is key in motivating action.
The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Campaign of Denial and Deception
In Chapter Eight, Bush exercises moral authority and an unflinching candidness to chronicle the insidious events that have led to the greatest and most damaging conspiracy humanity has faced to date: the denial of human-induced climate change.
As early as 1953, Canadian physicist Gilbert Plass warned that the spreading envelope of carbon dioxide emissions from oil and coal combustion would serve as “a great greenhouse” in a paper entitled: The carbon dioxide theory of climate change. This was followed in 1954 by Scripps oceanographer Charles Keeling’s measurements of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere. Throughout the 60s and 70s, balanced research continued to collaborate the truth of global warming. American scientist Roger Revelle summarized a key report for President Johnson in 1965. This was followed by other scientific results that corroborated Plass’s theory. More and more scientists were sounding the alarm. The important narrative was finally and irrevocably clarified in 1988 by James Hansen (Director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies) who testified before a Congressional hearing on climate with irrevocable findings on the veracity of global warming.
Meantime, Exxon chemical engineers, who had collaborated with university and government scientists in comprehensive scientific modeling of climate change (and knew very well that combustion of coal and hydrocarbon fuels were causing the global climate to heat up), embarked out of myopic self-interest on a campaign to manufacture doubt and denial. They and others, including conspiracy theorist and convicted fraudster Lyndon Larouche (of NAWAPA infamy) first denied the existence of climate change; then they moved to suggesting that the planet was warming due to natural conditions—not from the combustion of fossil fuels. When climate scientists resolutely proved this assertion false, the industry found a brilliant strategy: argue that the science was uncertain. And the campaign to manufacture uncertainty and doubt (MUD) began—and continues to this day.
Bush describes how in 1989, “in the pages of the Executive Intelligence Review, a publication of conspiracy theorist Lyndon Larouche, the greenhouse effect was described as a hoax—a flagrant lie repeated by President Donald Trump almost 40 years later.”
Lyndon LaRouche –conspiracy theorist and convicted fraudster–was also a principle proponent of the environmentally destructive NAWAPA plan, a mega-water project to dam and divert massive amounts of water from western Canada to the USA via a series of reservoirs, channels and pumps and promising to inundate the Rocky Mountain Trench and drown several cities in BC. The plan that went to Congress was scrapped in the 1970s due to environmental concerns but resurfaced in 1982 particularly by Parsons engineer Roland Kelley, who wrote a report called NAWAPA Plan Can Work.
LaRouche and his Political Action Committee revived interest in 2012 when they released their NAWAPA XXI special report, which contained a detailed plan for the revival of an updated and expanded version of NAWAPA. The LaRouche movement continues to promote this outlandish plan today with support from various American politicians and industrialists.
In his book Cadillac Desert, environmental writer Marc Reisner described the plan as one of “brutal magnificence” and “unprecedented destructiveness.” Historian Ted Steinberg suggested that NAWAPA summed up “the sheer arrogance and imperial ambitions of the modern hydraulic West.”
By the early 1990s the fossil fuel industry joined in a concerted effort to discredit climate science, lobby and bribe government officials, and create fake news. Bush details the decades of this shameful conduct from deplorable ad campaigns to cruel personal slandering of distinguished scientists and activists. It is still going on today. Bush describes the horrid harassment and attempts to discredit of Michael Mann (professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University) the originator of the critical hockey-stick climate graph in 1998. Bush also describes the insidious SLAPP lawsuits, used by energy companies to gag and disrupt environmental activism; something becoming more common today. He overviews the shameful attempt by ExxonMobil propagandists to inculcate school kids to perceive climate change as uncertain—when the science is irrefutable. Bush highlights the despicable deregulation and major dismantling of environmental protection from within the government by shady self-serving characters such as Philip A. Cooney of the George Bush administration or Scott Pruit of the Trump administration. And lastly, and perhaps the most heinous, is the “systematic erasure of scientific material related to climate change from online media” spearheaded by—who else?—Trump.
How You Can Help End the Climate Crisis—Get Informed!
Chapter Nine outlines “in realistic and practical terms what people can do to help set the world on a more sustainable development trajectory—a path that does not lead to uncontrollable global heating and disastrous climate change,” writes Bush.
A key challenge that remains lies with the need for population consensus. Thanks to the successful disinformation campaign launched by the fossil fuel industry and its allies, at least a third of the North American population remain uncertain about the veracity of climate change. Bush contends that this is mostly a funding problem: “at the moment, the scientists and engineers that speak about global warming are being outspent, outplayed, and outmuscled by the fossil fuel industries and petrochemical conglomerates.” He goes on to say, “every reputable scientist knows that the climate is changing and that the science is incontrovertible. But you wouldn’t believe it if you listen to many politicians in Canada, the US, and the UK. The best climate scientists should be on television almost every night and certainly every time a major climate report is issued by the peer-reviewed scientific journals and by the IPCC. This is not happening—and it’s leaving the field open for the charlatans and climate contrarians who exploit the media to convey their message.”
Bush concludes with a simple piece of wisdom: “They say that knowledge is power—just make sure your source of knowledge is not from someone who has one hand in an oil company’s pocket.”
Bush outlines a framework for climate action through an example of seven strategic objectives to achieve “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality by 2050.” Compatible with the 1.5°C goal proposed under the Paris Agreement, the European plan’s seven components become seven objectives (shown in Figure 9.5). Each of the seven strategies is meant to achieve:
- Zero emission buildings
- Fully electrified energy systems
- Clean and connected mobility
- Efficient circular economy of industry
- Smart and connected infrastructure
- Net carbon sink of land use
- Commitment by government to forceful and effective action
Bush then discusses the challenges, opportunities, stakeholders and agents of change that will determine success. Of course, he brings in the role of “in-street” agents of change from groups such as Extinction Rebellion to individuals such as Greta Thunberg.
“When communities organize and act,” writes Bush, “local governments pay attention and adjust to the new pressures. When local governments are innovative and effective, policymakers take notice. Everyone should be part of at least one local environmental organization. There are literally dozens of them in all cities, certainly in Europe and North America. Choose your area of concern and get involved.”
Bush adds that, while individual and community action is important, changes made by regional and national governments will have farther impacts. Here, again, the individual can exert their right as a citizen to vote.
Co-host Claudiu Murgan and I recently interviewed Martin J. Bush about his book on the Age of Water Podcast; we focused on solutions and the role of the individual in making a difference. The interview airs in August 2020.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.