In this incredibly important book Naomi Klein encapsulates the real problems that “ordinary people”, OP, have when it comes to correcting the Earth’s run-away climate change through adjusting the way that we choose to live our lives. The politicians and high level governmental administrators are too easily blackmailed and/or persuaded by the threat of decisions made in the boardrooms of giant corporate businesses. When many, if not most, of these companies have economic power much greater than the smaller sovereign countries then arguments about “keeping the lights on” tomorrow in the so-called developed countries are going to carry a lot of weight. So using fossil fuels, from whatever source (oil, coal or gas), is the quicker and simpler solution to making chemical and electrical energy for the numerous gadgets and vehicles that make life easier for the “ordinary folks”; and for chemical and oil industries provides a cheaper, more profitable quick-fix. When arguments about fracking, tar sands, and shale oil are put to governments by those major companies, then the balance between losing at the ballot box with expensive energy (through the development of alternative energy technology) compared to the cheaper quick-fix available (through finding more fossil fuels) is easily tipped towards carbon rich sources. The practical problems about providing energy on the large scale needed seem to be well out of the realm of OP so they have to rely on “them that know about it”. After all OP mainly just want the lights to stay on, the washer to wash, the TV to work and convenient transport. The discussions in Naomi Klein’s book illustrate this well but she is at pains to provide ideas about economic and political pressures that can and have been applied by OP and groups of OP in different parts of the world in order to change things.
Readers discover through the book that many oil companies have “looked into” the development of alternative energy technologies, even invested large amounts of finance and resources into its R and D, but decided to come back to it later – probably much later, when there is no more carbon-rich fossil fuel to be found. It is confirmed over and again in Naomi Klein’s book that the company’s bottom line is still the most important criterion behind a giant corporation’s decisions. If an awkward decision can be shelved for someone else in the distant future to make then of course that is what will happen. It cannot be denied that many of the people running these large organisations are intelligent, well-educated and well informed and will know the risks and the gamble they are taking about the future world that will be left to our (and their!) children and grandchildren. Either they are gambling that a solution to global warming will be found at some time in the future or they don’t believe it exists as threat to life on Earth. It still seems like they are putting their company’s short term gains before the probable “pain”, such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, drought and disease, that future generations of OP and the more privileged are likely to suffer!
I have seen arguments put by climate change deniers that the Earth’s atmosphere had very much more CO2 in it following the Ordovician period, something of the order of 15 times our present levels. And so, the reasoning goes, “life” has obviously survived for the past 450 million years because here we are – living it and complaining about it! However, it wasn’t until the end of this period of geological time that the first simple land plants, moss-like bryophytes, began to creep from the oceans and rivers onto the land. It was well into the later Silurian then Devonian periods before more upright plants and eventually tree-sized flora began to spread. Only then did the oxygen level, about 15%, in the atmosphere begin to approach the more “normal” level of around 20% we have in modern times. Not until the Carboniferous period around 350 million years ago did extensive forests of trees appear and the number of land animals was still restricted to primitive arthropods, some four limbed fish and later salamander-like amphibians. The plentiful CO2 in the atmosphere was therefore being converted by the rapidly spreading plants to the oxygen needed by the evolving land animals. All of that atmospheric carbon was, and has been since, safely locked away in the plant life. When it eventually became fossilised as coal, oil and “natural gas” it was also safely stored and buried for many millions of years. Oxygen levels were at an all-time high at the end of the Carboniferous period (290 million years ago) and CO2 was still dropping to around 3 times more recent levels. Eventually, many millions of years later a flexible balance between oxygen and CO2 has existed, allowing Earth’s flora and fauna to jog along in reasonable harmony together.
Why then, is it so difficult for some people to understand that, when the Industrial Revolution was born, around 1760, the human species also forged the key to unlocking all of those millions of tons of locked away carbon dioxide (and a few other greenhouse gases, such as methane in the tundra). We have continued for over 250 years to release more and more greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. The result of this, as many teachers of the simplest science show their pupils, and all gardeners and horticulturists know, is that the environment covered by the greenhouse “barrier” gets warmer. We are told that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is a limit that must not be exceeded in the next decade or so, but it looks very much as though the powers-that-be are still prepared to gamble that a future generation will be able to “put things right”. So they have to answer the question is it worth the risk? The risk to the health and well-being of our future generations, leaving aside the effects on wildlife and the environment. There was similar procrastination about CFCs (fridges) and the ozone layer; and then with sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide (petrol exhaust) and acid rain, but over time there was international agreement to legislate and do something about each threat to the atmosphere, as it would affect humans. There is a risk that our children and grandchildren may not have the resources required at some time in the future to make a suitable skeleton key that will unlock the impending catastrophic padlock which will soon imprison our wonderful planet. It seems to me that gambling on correcting things later for the sake of immediate profit is too big a chance to take.