21st century

Europe takes the lead as America fumbles, caught up in a resurgence of superstition and anti-scientific propaganda ginned out by the oil industry and its public relations machinery.

As the world’s most powerful economy and military superpower,  US directions in energy and environmental policy become the de facto policy for the world. This makes the massive media campaigns on under-educated Americans dangerous.

The so-called “war on coal” is one of these campaigns, and most people in Appalachia came to believe that Washington bureaucrats were trying to take away their jobs rather than protect the environment.

Coal mining, especially  in the US Appalachian region, continues to spark controversy over serious environmental impacts. A 2008 disaster at the Tennessee Valley Authority when a billion gallons of coal ash spills into a river shows how serious the waste products of coal combustion can be.  One waste product involved the outright toxic lies by the TVA over water sampling and assertions that coal ash was “mostly harmless.”

The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan demonstrates the dangers of blind faith in authority. Although some reactors are restarted, the triple meltdown  effectively ends the 60-year global experiment with nuclear power development.

Evidence of climate change becomes abundant. Erratic weather patterns and crumbling infrastructure signal the beginning of a new and difficult phase for human civilization.

Attempts at international agreements fail at Copenhagen in 2009 amid a strange American retreat into a spiral of climate change denial.    Meanwhile,  scientists began realizing that we have under estimated, rather than over estimated, the problem of climate change.

What if we decided to act? Imagine what the global goal of preventing more than a 2 degree C warming would mean. First, we’d have to limit CO2 to about 750 billion tons over the next 40 years, according to Stefan Ramstorf and others. If we took an equitable approach, we would give each person on earth a carbon budget of about 110 tons of fossil CO2.

But consider this: Americans are spending their carbon budget at the rate of 20 tons per year, while Europeans and the Chinese are spending it at the rate of 10 tons per year. Developing nations, where most of the world’s human population lives, are spending their per-capita carbon budget at the rate of only one ton per year.  The statistics raise interesting questions about the ability of the human species to save itself from itself.

The situation is dire. Although technically feasible, without question, human survival bey0nd a few more centuries will probably require a miraculous change in our capacity to share burdens and anticipate challenges on a global scale.


Essential Reading

Caldicott,  Helen. Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, New Press , 2006

Caldicott,  Helen. If You Love this Planet, Norton, 2009 (updated)

Marla Cone, Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning Of The Arctic, Grove Press, 2005

Devra Davis, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, Basic , 2007

Devra Davis, When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution, Basic Books, 2002

 Jared M. Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Penguin Press, 2005

Paul and Anne Erlich, Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, Island Press, 2008.

Ross Gelbspan, Boiling Point: How politicians, big oil and coal, journalists and activists have fueld the climate crisis — and what we can do to avert disaster, Basic Books, 2004

David Helvarg, Ocean and coastal conservation guide, Island Press, 2005

Wangari Maathai, The Green Belt Movement, Lantern books, 2004

Guha, Ramachandra, 2000 Environmentalism, A Global History New Delhi, Oxford U Press

Perlin, John, 1999, From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, Ann Arbor, Mich., AATEC Publications

Warren, Christopher, 2000, Brush with Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Clancy, Noreen, 2001, Our Future, Our Environment, Rand Institute