The heat is on

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Jun 9 08:39:26 MDT 2000


The Heat is On
The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened Climate
By Ross Gelbspan

Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts, 1997; 278 pp.

Z Magazine Review by Genevieve Howe (www.zmag.org)

If you ever lie awake at night wondering how fast we're destroying the
planet, you have plenty to worry about. As long as you're up, don't miss
the chance to read The Heat is On. It will tell you in no uncertain terms
how little time we have left to halt our dependency on fossil fuels.

The book charts global warming's fatal course and tells us how we can-and
must-choose another path. Now. Not after we have found a cure for AIDS,
brought peace to the Middle East, or elected the next president, but now.
Yet, Ross Gelbspan does not forecast gloom and doom. Rather, he is
refreshingly, almost unbelievably, optimistic.

The cause of global warming is neither unknown nor complicated. It is
large-scale combustion of oil and coal. Gelbspan tells it like it is: "The
problem is not difficult to understand. Each year humans pump six billion
tons of heat-trapping carbon into the lower atmosphere, which is only
twelve miles high. Within a few decades the atmospheric levels of carbon
dioxide will double from preindustrial levels. The world's temperature
record is already bearing witness to global climate change. Since 1980 we
have seen the ten hottest years in recorded history. The five hottest
consecutive years on record began in 1991. The hottest year in the world's
recorded weather history was 1995. [That is now 1997.] The planet is
warming at a faster rate than at any time in the last ten thousand years."

Okay, so a section the size of Rhode Island broke off the Larsen ice shelf
in Antarctica, the weather has become erratic, and sea levels are rising.
Is this so terrible?

The journalist/author says the catalog of anticipated effects reads like
the "biblical apocalypse." We can look forward to: "…More extreme
temperatures, with hotter heat and colder cold, but also more intense rain
and snowstorms, extraordinarily destructive hurricanes, and protracted,
crop-destroying drought, particularly in the interior regions of
continents. Island nations and low-lying coastal regions everywhere might
disappear under rising seas. These ecological shifts would trigger
outbreaks of infectious diseases, as they have already begun to do." As if
this weren't enough, warming leads to more warming. Droughts can lead to
wildfires that burn vast areas of forest. The fires will not only add to
carbon dioxide emissions but also remove vegetation which absorbs carbon
dioxide.

The book is peppered with examples. Mosquitoes that used to survive only up
to 1,000 feet are spreading malaria and yellow fever at 2,000 feet. In
1994, floods that normally last for two to three days in Bangladesh, lasted
for two weeks and affected nearly ten million people. The same year, Great
Britain had its hottest summer since 1659 and its driest summer since 1721.
By March 1996, five successive years of floods, droughts, and pest attacks
had decimated more than 20 percent of Laos's rice paddies. The Canadian
Forest Service reports that nearly one fifth of the northern forest biomass
has been lost to fires and insects in the past 20 years. "Before 1970 the
forest had absorbed 118 million tons of carbon each year,…more than
counterbalancing Canadian fossil fuel emissions. But in the last decade
that balance has shifted, and the forest has released on average 57
millions tons of carbon each year."

Gelbspan anticipates a resurgence of "totalitarianism" and "martial rule"
in developing countries to control masses of refugees driven off land by
drought, flood, fire, famine, homelessness, disease, and economic
disruptions. "Long before sea levels rise by two to three feet over the
next century-and they are projected to continue to rise after that-the
flood of environmental refugees will likely have overwhelmed both our
compassion and our capacity to help."

The author claims that today, 25 million environmental refugees roam the
globe, more than those pushed out for political, economic, or religious
reasons. By 2010, he expects this number to grow tenfold to 200 million.

The Heat is On offers numerous examples of what we can expect to see by
2010 if current trends continue: "...Sub-Saharan Africa's already stressed
food production will decline by 20 percent-leaving more than 300 million
people in a state of permanent malnutrition... [In the case of India] even
a half-degree Celsius temperature rise will reduce the wheat crop at least
10 percent... More than half the population of the developing world could
be cutting down trees for fuel and firewood... Disease outbreaks, driven by
changing climate patterns, will parallel the spread of poverty and
displacement."

It will come as no surprise that the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund are not exactly helpful. While the Bank throws some money at renewable
energy projects, it spends billions of dollars on coal plant development in
India, China, and other countries. Yet, the intelligence community has
begun to act. A Scientific American article published after The Heat is On
revealed that the CIA is assessing the potential for destabilization due to
climate related disruptions.

The book offers sound evidence of the global economic tailspin we can
expect if we don't switch to renewable energy sources. In the 1980s,
insurance companies around the world paid out an average of $2 billion per
year in weather-related property damages. In the 1990s, they paid an
average of $12 billion. The failure of insurance companies would impact
businesses everywhere. We may not much like insurance companies, but
Gelbspan cites them as keen to jump on the bandwagon against the oil and
coal industries. Insurers have already formed an odd alliance with small
island nations, stretching from the Philippines to Jamaica, in fear of
being flooded out of existence by rising sea levels and ripped to shreds by
ever more severe hurricanes.

In spite of the hard facts, the trillion-dollar-a-year oil and coal
industries have been waging a ferociously well-funded campaign to discredit
global warming and to provide "greenhouse skeptics" for talk shows.
Remarkably, according to Gelbspan, this campaign is being carried out with
the help of about a half-dozen scientists.

Two Newsweek polls showed the effectiveness of the smear campaign. In 1991,
35 percent of the U.S. population believed that global warming was a
serious problem. In 1996, only 22 percent held this opinion. But, press
attention to the Kyoto conference of December 1997 pushed the believers
back up above 35 percent. Gelbspan cites a reporter from the German
newsmagazine, Der Spiegel: "It's only in America that there is a debate
over what's happening to the global climate. In all the European scientific
circles, there's no debate at all about what's happening."

Fortunately, says the optimistic Gelbspan, our destructive ways coincide
with the arrival of technology needed to beat our oil and coal habit. Solar
panels, fuel cells, hydrogen fuel, wind sources and other renewable forms
of energy have already been adequately developed to meet our energy needs.
Contrary to what smear campaigns would have us believe, new technologies
are practical, less capital intensive, more labor intensive, cheaper in the
long run, and reduce everyone's dependency on foreign companies and foreign
supplies of fuel. They will also help close the gap between rich and poor
nations.

The transition can, and must, be made within ten years. This writer
believes we can do it simply by stopping the $25 billion per year in U.S.
government subsidies to the oil, coal, and nuclear industries and applying
that money to incentives for establishing renewable energy sources.

Perhaps the most optimistic moment in the book is a quote from Ambassador
H.E. Tuiloma Neroni Slade of Samoa at the Rio conference: "...the strongest
human instinct is not greed-it is not sloth, it is not complacency-it is
survival...and we will not allow some to barter our homelands, our people
and our culture for short-term economic interest." Gelbspan convinces us
that if we could stop the deterioration of the ozone layer and if we could
shoot holes through the tobacco lobby's arguments, that we can smother the
oil and coal industries.

The Heat is On spells out the realities of global warming in eight chapters
addressing evidence of current problems, the campaign to discredit global
warming, the oil and coal buy-up of Congress, economic impacts of global
warming, post-Rio de Janeiro diplomatic angling, headline news from the
planet, the coming permanent state of emergency, and one possible course of
action. A 41-page appendix provides "A Scientific Critique of the
Greenhouse Skeptics."

A shortcoming of the book is its liberal use of the word "democracy."
Gelbspan doesn't define what he means by this term and makes the assumption
that "democracy" exists in the vast majority of countries around the world.
He also neglects to mention that the small portion of the world's
population living in North America uses a large portion of the world's
energy. This pattern of excessive, wasteful consumption in the North surely
plays a role in both the problem of and solutions to global warming. In
addition, the book leaves the reader wanting to know more about how we get
from here to there. How will we get the oil and coal industries to switch
to new technologies? How will this new technology be "transferred" from
developed to developing nations? How will the use of alternative energy
close the gap between rich and poor?

According to the author, most gaps in the hardback edition will be filled
by the updated, paperback version of The Heat is On, due out in September
from Perseus Books. It will contain more detailed, sophisticated solutions,
sounder economic analyses, and news from the Kyoto conference in December
1997. Best of all, it promises to offer even more good news than the
original version. In the past year, British Petroleum and Shell have broken
ranks with other oil companies, Sunoco and Texaco have admitted the climate
issue must be dealt with, Toyota announced plans to market a car that gets
100 miles per gallon, and Ford and Daimler-Benz will soon be selling fuel
cell cars. The coal industry, however, has not yet budged.

For more information contact: Ozone Action, 1636 Connecticut Ave., NW, Ste
300, Washington, DC 20009-1043, (202) 265-6738.


Louis Proyect

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