Saturday, August 7, 2004

Review: The Boiling Point by Ross Gelbspan

Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis--And What We Can Do to Avert DisasterThe Boiling Point by Ross Gelbspan

At this point I haven't (yet) read this book. Instead I am working from this review

The end of the world is here (Aug. 5, 2004;; Katharine Mieszkowski)

The review reads as if the book is a dire warning like Silent Spring. For example, we have this quote from the book:

"The continuing indifference by the United States to atmospheric warming -- since this country generates one-fourth of the world's emissions with 5 percent of its people -- will almost guarantee more anti-U.S. attacks from people whose crops are destroyed by weather extremes, whose populations are afflicted by epidemics of infectious disease, and whose borders are overrun by environmental refugees."

This statistic relates to the oft-quoted ratio:

  • The U.S. has 5 percent (or so) of the worlds people.
  • The U.S. uses 25% of the worlds resource production.

Obviously if the environment is "bad" now, then what will it be like as India and China proceed further with their modernization efforts? Obviously a "modernized" society is one with huge resource needs, from energy to steel to food to cotton and every other raw material. The production, transportation and use of each of these raw materials has significant side effects in the world ecological situation. In the past India and China were having resource use rates typical of third-world countries, but as they modernize their resource use rates certainly will rise, and their huge population's will inundate (so the theory goes) the ecological capacity of the planet.

Much of the world talks of his discussion of the "global warming" problem. Examples given are:

  • In Scotland, hundreds of thousands of arctic seabirds are no longer having babies. Their prime food supply, sandeels, have moved north due to changes in sea temperature. (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
  • The residents of Tuvalu (famous for the ".tv" toplevel domain name) are likely to be abandoning their country soon. It is a low-lying island in the southern pacific, and soon to be inundated by rising sea levels. New Zealand has offered the Tuvalans refuge.
  • Wildlife around the world are "on the move", with one butterfly species having moved its "range" 60 miles north for cooler climes.
  • The spread of diseases like West Nile virus, malaria, Dengue and yellow fever are happening as their insect carriers expand their "range".

Gelbspan also spends some time discussing the news media, political leadership in the U.S. and the environmental organizations who are supposed to be leading the "fight". All are found to be lacking. The news media is obviously failing to inform the public about the real dangers, and instead is cooperating with the disinformation that global warming is still unproven. When a politician says an issue requires "more study" that's double-speak for them saying they want to bury the idea and hope the population will lose interest over time. The Bush Administration (President Enron, Vice President Halliburton, National Security Directory Chevron and the others) are especially egregious, as they have been instituting policies that would roll back decades of "progress" on environmental issues. About the environmental groups, he finds that they spend too much time inside the beltway fighting petty legislative battles.

This is an illustrative point:

"People are made to feel guilty if they own a gas guzzler or live in a poorly insulated home. In fact, people should be outraged that the government does not require automakers to sell them cars that run on clean fuels, that building codes do not reduce heating and cooling energy requirements by 70 percent, and that government energy policies do not mandate home-based or regional sources of clean electricity."

Okay, so he's putting "us" in a victim role in which we have no power of choice. The big corporations and governments decide for us the products we are allowed to buy, the policies under which our houses are built, and so forth, that's what he's saying. Is that the truth?

In a way this point is largely true. Who is it that decides what size vehicles to sell, or what fuel they run on? Why, it's the car companies. But how do they make their decisions? Why, it's by what we as individuals purchase. We individuals have a lot of power, the power of our pocketbooks. This is the flaw of Gelbspan's point, namely it is the continued purchase of SUV's which cause them to be the most produced vehicles. The same goes true for all other products from the lack of organic food, to the lack of organically produced cotton, to the relative paucity of recycling and the products of recycled materials. The issue lies as much with us, individuals, and I do mean you, the one reading this article, as much as the governments and corporations that are supposedly in charge of our lives.

We are not at the mercy of those powerful institutions. They exist merely because we individuals have caused them to exist, by buying products from one company or another, by voting for one politician or another, by sending tax money, etc. These signals are taken by those in positions of influence as saying that we, the people, wish to choose a specific style of living that is not sustainable ecologically, economically or politically. If we used our money and our voting power differently, it would send a different signal to those in power, or perhaps put others in power.

Yes, there are positions of power. Yes, the corporations and governments decide a lot of things. Those decisions are made by people, however, people who hold the positions of power. All it would take for the direction to change is for the holders of those positions of power to change their decisions.

An example is Gelbspan's plan for solving the worlds ecological crisis, as described in the review. Gelbspan would end all subsidies for fossil fuels, put the money instead into subsidising "clean" energy resources, and mandate a sweeping swath of changes worldwide in how we go about producing goods, services, where we get the energy resources, and more. The coal miners would have to be "bought out" and retrained for something else. Otherwise we are doomed to utter catastrophe, with a dead planet as our reward.

Dire warnings indeed.

Again, obviously, he is seeing the government as the only possible decision maker. What, I ask, would lead to take those actions? Government nor Industry are likely to take those actions right now. The review doesn't tell how he plans to have that scenario come about, but to put a guess on it, a requirement would be "consciousness raising". In other words, making it clear somehow that a problem exists and drastic changes are required to solve the problem. Unfortunately the problem is very complex and hard to see because it is made of little changes happening here and there.

It's obvious to me that, if the people truly wanted change in environmental policy, changes in the types of products we have available to purchase, then change would happen. The trick is the phrase "truly wanted", for that has to be followed through by dedicated action and choices.

Obviously there are lots of roadblocks in front of us. In the U.S. the whole shape of everything revolves around individual ownership of automobiles, fueled by fossil fuels. We have roads everywhere, that impede individuals ability to walk and cover the land with asphalt so that water and air are robbed from the plants and creatures that live in the earth. Further there is a massive disinformation campaign misleading the population into thinking everything is okay. These are simply roadblocks, and they are hardly insurmountable.

If we want clean vehicles, various types of electric driven vehicles exist today. Or you can build your own. It simply takes dedication and perseverance to find the vehicles, or to build your own. The same goes for the food you eat, the clothing you wear, the recycling you do or do not do, the presence of recycled materials in the products you buy. All of these are available today, and it is simply your choice. Every choice you make, and again I am speaking to you that is reading this article right now, every choice you make leads in some direction. If you choose to go along with the environmentally unsustainable products and services in the world, then you are voting for the continuation of those products and policies that support the products. If you choose environmentally sustainable products and services, then you are voting for and feeding the companies or other organizations that produce those products and services.

The choice is up to you my friend.