About a year ago, I was tasked with writing a book review for Trim Tab, Cascadia Green Building Council’s e-zine. It was interesting to revisit this a year later, and while it was excruciatingly difficult to write knowing that my colleagues and peers eyes would be on it, the process was worthwhile.
Here it is, for your reading pleasure:
While lobbyists wined and dined delegates during recent conversations in Copenhagen, Al Gore reminds us that the future of the climate crisis is in our collective hands by offering us his newest book, Our Choice: A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis. That Gore opens with Kurt Vonnegut is a welcome beginning, providing a sense that we should prepare to digest a raw and spirited truth. The message Gore sends on the wings of Vonnegut’s cynicism is that:
Despair serves no purpose when reality still offers hope. Despair is simply another form of denial, and it invites inaction. We don’t have time for despair. The solutions are available to us! We need to make our choice to act now.
As one that is more naturally drawn to Vonnegut’s penetrating, somewhat dark view of humanity, it is this kind of needed hope that I, and likely many of us, need in these troubling times.
It’s clear, too, that Mr. Gore has responded to the criticism of “An Inconvenient Truth” as being short on solutions by providing us with this incredibly applicable guide. In doing so, he provides us with the needed framework to move from a fossil-fuel based economy to one that transitions towards the goal of “350 parts-per-million”, the upper limit for safe atmospheric carbon concentration that NASA scientist James Hansen identified.
Gore began his task by gathering leading experts from around the world for 30 intensive “Solution Summits”. The culmination of these lengthy conversations provides this books’ blueprint, with practical and well-developed results.
First, Gore examines energy sources; concentrated solar thermal (CST) power and photovoltaic (PV) power are logically explained and evaluated. Wind harvesting, geothermal energy, and biomass are all well analyzed versus the backdrop of our present coal-hungry, fossil fuel based addiction. No mention was made of using solar thermal technologies to heat water for residential applications, though, which is definitely an oversight.
Still, Gore makes up for it by providing an updated view on smart grid technologies, including modernizing our present grids, storage opportunities, and progress in the development of batteries. He also does a great job of insisting that energy efficiency is the needed first step in solving our climate crisis, affirming that it is also the most cost-effective and most quickly implemented option we possess.
The easy-to-grasp arc mapping our current crisis and the science behind it, an overview of the options we can presently rely on, to the very real political obstacles we face, forms a logical pathway to help us create a future positive outcome.
First and foremost is our need for a paradigm shift in both the way we think about this crisis, and in our consumptive behavior. This thinking reminded me of Thomas Princen’s The Logic of Sufficiency, in which the idea of sufficiency (not meant to infer “doing without”, but rather doing well) claims that a society cannot operate as if “there’s never enough and never too much”.
Gore provides a great anecdote, too, retelling the story of constructing medieval cathedrals. He describes how our ancestors had the ability to think long term, knowing that these projects would take a century to complete. The message, of course, is that we do possess the ability to act now to affect change for a future we, ourselves, will not fully experience.
Touching on everything from how a simple turbine works to carbon capture and sequestration, from deforestation and agriculture to carbon offset programs, this textbook-like compilation provides the layman and expert alike a thorough and comprehensive reference guide.
Presented in book form that feels like a power point presentation (no need to reinvent the wheel, right?), the graphics are at times beautiful and stark in depicting the grandness of our planet and its life, to downright pedestrian while visually describing the “urbanization and growth of megacities” and other robust ideas that require a simpler translation.
This elegantly allows for the accessibility an effort like this – saving the world, that is – needs. And while humanity may not yet be fully prepared to enact these remedies in order to survive, hopefully we at least die trying.