Archive for the 'environment' category

Around the Web: Some readings on Climate Change, Canada and COP21

Nov 29 2015 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

I think this post might signal the birth of a new all-consuming blogging obsession -- climate change in general and specifically how the realities of climate change play out in the Canadian context, especially as it relates to public policy.

With the COP21 climate talks coming up in Paris, this seems like as good a time as any to focus more carefully and closely on what is probably the most defining issue of our times.

Not that this is the first time I've blogged about climate change. I've kept track of the issues fairly closely over the years and that has spilled into the blog, mostly in the form of the occasional book review such as:

And even a post on Climate Change Fiction, which has turned out to be one of my most popular ever. Not to mention that items on climate change have turned up in my Around the Web posts a number of times such as here and here.

And of course, one of the driving forces for my Canadian War on Science mega-obsession series of posts was the Harper government's shameful record on climate change.

Needless to say, my purpose here isn't to cheer on the Trudeau government in whatever it decides to do, though obviously they will very likely do better than the previous government. Holding them to account to failures and bad decisions and perhaps pointing the way to better policies is just as much my mission here.

So here goes. A fairly selective series of readings about climate change, Canada and COP21. With more to come.

As usual, if I've made any errors of if I'm missing anything significant, please let me know in the comments.

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The Canadian War on Science: Science, the Environment and Public Health in the 2015 Canadian Federal Election

It has begun.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an election for October 19, 2015, kicking off a marathon 11 week election campaign. The longest campaign since the 1870s, believe it or not.

My patient readers may have noticed that over the last few years I've posted quite a bit about how science has fared under the current government. Readers will have gathered that I'm not too pleased about that state of affairs. This election signals an opportunity to (hopefully) change direction; if it's not completely possible to undo all the damage that Harper has done, we can at least hope to stop the bleeding and maybe fix up as much of the destruction as possible.

My small part in all this will be to help the Canadian electorate follow how science, the environment and public health is being discussed both leading up to the election and during the election itself. No doubt many others will also be doing similar things, and I'll be happy to point to them here, but I'll be dedicating myself to this task over the coming weeks.

My methodology will be similar to the one I've employed before when tracking current issues on this blog. A master post with a rough chronology of what I've found, updated periodically as the story develops.

I'll be flagging issues mostly concerned with science/engineering/technology research funding, the state of government science and scientists and all issues related to the environment. I'll also be flagging stuff on public health issues. Here I'll be concentrating on issues around public health research funding and policies rather than the funding and structure of our public healthcare system. While that's an interesting area, I've always treated it as out-of-scope for my list-making and will continue to do so. The line between the structure and funding of the healthcare system and how evidence is used in constructing public health policy can be a bit fuzzy sometimes, so I may end up erring on the side of including edge cases rather than excluding them.

As mentioned, I do plan to update this post periodically, probably about once per week during the campaign.

Most of the items I plan to collect here -- and I'm not attempting to be complete, only broadly representative of what's been published -- will be from during the campaign itself. I will however include some from before the campaign starts as well as probably some from after the election itself. For example, the initial post here will by necessity not have much from during the campaign itself.

I will also be posting some of the items here in my Tracking the Canadian War on Science tumblr blog, especially as they apply to the broader issues at play. In fact, those items here will probably be posted on the tumblr first.

As a reminder, my master War on Science chronology post is here: The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment. The relevant blog posts here on this blog can be found here.

 

General

 

Campaigns, Debates, etc.

 

Only the Green Party seems to have released a real election platform document that I could find. I'll keep a lookout for those as the campaign rolls on. If I've missed one of the other party's platform document, please let me know. I've included some summaries I've found elsewhere for the others.

The Platforms

 

The Campaign

 

With any luck, the Conservatives will lose the coming election handily and I can re-orient my weird list-making mania towards something more enjoyable.

This list is just a start towards documenting the election conversation about science-related topics. As usual, if I've missed anything important or if I've made any errors, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. If you don't want to use my work email, you can reach me at dupuisj at gmail dot com.

 

2015.08.10. Updates up to August 9th. Some retrospective ones added.
2015.08.17. Updates to August 16th. I'm only covering the Linda McQuaig/"Leave the oilsands in the ground" issue fairly lightly. It's important, but the volume of commentary risks overwhelming everything else. Separate list post maybe? I'm considering it.
2015.08.24. Updates to August 23rd.
2015.09.04. Updates to September 4th.
2015.09.20. Updates to September 19th. Added a few stragglers too. I also split out some of the "General" items into a new category devoted science-themed debates as well as to various anti-Harper campaigns or movements.
2015.10.07. Updates to October 7th. Added a few more stragglers. I also added the YouTube recordings of the two science debates, the French one in Sherbrooke and the English one in Victoria. These are well worth watching.

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Reading Diary: Love in the Time of Climate Change by Brian Adams

May 19 2015 Published by under book review, environment, reading diary, Uncategorized

A bit unusually for me, I'm reviewing a novel as part of my Reading Diary series. Usually the closest I'll get to a novel is a fictionalized science graphic novel of some sort, kind of like the Survive! series or Lauren Ispsum.

But no, this ain't one of those. It's a good old fashioned novel.

OK, it's a climate change fiction novel that's kind of like an Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell romantic comedy but starring Seth Rogan and Jennifer Lawrence. Set on a community college campus, it has a bit of a feel of The Absent-Minded Professor or even The Nutty Professor for the cli-fi set.

So what have we got? Basically, our hero Casey, is a professor at a small community college and not only is he obsessed with The Issue to the point where he calls his affliction OCD for Obsessive Climate Disorder, but he's also socially awkward, nerdy, immature and extremely lovelorn. And a pothead.

The novel is about his adventures during the fall 2012 term during which he is teaching a climate change course as well as getting more than slightly obsessed with a breathtakingly beautify school teacher named Samantha who is taking his class for professional development credits.

We get to learn about the dangers of climate change and the folly of the political/denialist set through Casey's classroom activities and through his advising of the campus anti-climate change club. These parts are very effective as we see issues such as fossil fuel divestment campaigns not just through a theoretical lens but also through the eyes of people learning about the issues and trying to make things better.

Casey's obsession with his student Samantha is a bit jarring at times, in a way that a post-adolescent frat boy crush is a bit embarrassing in a grown man. And it's never completely clear to me what she sees in him. Beautiful woman falls for goofy yet charming loser because of the power of his obsessions seems more like a teen-aged fantasy scenario rather than a fully-realized adult story. At times Samantha seems more like a prop than anything, a way for Casey to establish his "good guy" credibility by the constant obsessing over how he can't approach her while she's still a student. No surprising spoiler here, but it all turns out OK in the end for Casey and Samantha.

All that being said, the Casey/Samantha relationship isn't a deal-breaker for me. It did provide some nice comic relief what with Casey's constant romantic pratfalls and it seemed less jarring as I got further into the book.

This is a charming little book, a bit silly but entertaining in its goofiness. A recommended light read that many public libraries might find useful to add to their collections and even perhaps some academic libraries with leisure reading collections.

Adams, Brian. Love in the Time of Climate Change. : Green Writers Press, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0996087209

(Review copy provided by author.)

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Reading Diary: Graphic novel catchup: Laika, Neurocomic, In Real Life and The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

Here's a bunch of graphic novels I've read in the last while that are well worth your time reading and acquiring for your library!

Abadzis, Nick. Laika. New York: First Second, 2007. 208pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596431010

Laika by Nick Abadzis in a fantastic graphic novel recounting the life of the first dog in space, the Russian dog Laika. The book goes into quite a bit of social and political history of the Soviet union in the 1950s, giving a good sense of how totalitarian states sometimes make decisions. We also get an illuminating look into the lives of people around Laika as her fateful one-way journey approaches. I really like the way Abadzis mixes the biographical with the fictionalized to give a sense of history.

In particular, keeping too close to known details and personages might have bled a bit of the drama from the tale. At the same time, inventing too many characters or events would have done a disservice to how amazing the truth is. Great book, great art, highly recommended for all audiences. This would be a great book for any school library, elementary, middle or high school. Academic libraries that collect graphic novels on science should acquire this.

 


Doctorow, Cory and Jen Wang. In Real Life. New York: First Second, 2014. 192pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596436589

Cory Doctorow's story Anda's Game has been adapted before, but this expanded version by Jen Wang is much longer and more engaging than what I've seen done before. In Real Life is the story of a young gamer, Anda, and her introduction to some of the harsher realities of life through a massively multiplayer game. She discovers that the economics aren't so simple -- she might work hard to earn the "gold" she needs to succeed but those with ready cash can exploit sweat shop "gold farmers" in China and pay real life money for game gold. Which is cheating, in a way, but also emblematic of how the off-line world works. Entrenched, wealth interests have an advantage.

And of course, Anda being an idealistic girl wants to help out one such gold farmer, a boy in China who is being exploited by the people who run the gold farms. Action and adventure ensure, In Real Life is a fast-paced tale with a lot to recommend it. Wang's adaptation is solid and her art is both joyful and fun yet still able to convey the grittier parts of the story. If they book has a flaw, it's that it seems a little too pat and simplistic for this young western girl to save the poor developing world boy. The simplification of the world that needs to happen for this to happen weakens a book aimed at an older teen audience who could probably handle a bit more complexity.

Overall, I would recommend this book for any young adult. Any public, high school or middle school library would do well to acquire this book.

 

Klein, Grady and Yoram Bauman. The Cartoon Guide to Climate Change. Washington: Island Press, 2014. 216pp. ISBN-13: 978-1610914383

The best part of Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman's The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change is the way is very clearly and concisely lays out the the current scientific understanding of climate change, presenting all the evidence in a clear and understandable way. From a brief introduction to earth science through the geological history of earth, the carbon cycle and some basic information on energy all the way to a solid introduction to climate science, Klein and Bauman cover all the basics. They also present one of the best explanations I've seen of the predictions of climate science in terms of extreme weather, water issues as well as implications for life on earth. Taking the long view, they also address what the implications are in a 100 year time frame and touch on what uncertainty means in the context of climate science.

Perhaps a bit weaker is the last section of the book, on actions we can take to combat climate change. They tend to focus on techno fixes that promise major fixes while only changing our lifestyles very little. The case they make that we can use the tools of capitalism and merely tweak our current system and still major changes in our carbon footprint isn't very convincing. Both Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed and Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything both make more convincing cases that we'll need more structural changes to deal with reducing our carbon output.

All that being said, this book is still worthwhile as an introduction and perhaps a gift to the climate skeptic in your circle. Bauman's narrative is clear and yet lively and amusing and Klein's art fits perfectly with the slightly zany tone. I'd recommend it to high school libraries and academic libraries that collect science or climate themed graphic novels or popular science.

 

Ros, Hanna and Matteo Farinella. Neurocomic. London: Nobrow, 2014. 144pp. ISBN-13: 978-1907704703

A book project supported by the Wellcome Trust, Hanna Ros and Matteo Farinella's Neurocomic is a bizarre and phantasmagorical visual journey through the world of neuroscience. The narrative is a bit strained at times, but the scientific material they do cover is solid and well presented. The art is a perfect compliment to the dreamy tale of exploration and neuroscience. Recommended, especially for an undergraduate audience.

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Reading Diary: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein

We live in a k-cup culture. Focused on the near term but willfully blind to the longer term implications of our daily decisions.

Just before the holidays I was watching the CBC TV show Power and Politics and they were discussing a bunch of "Top 5s" in an end-of year story. You know the type, the Top 5 this's and that's from the previous year, 2014, as well as a couple looking ahead to 2015. With a federal election scheduled in 2015, were the top 5 election issues that Canada that Canadians should keep on their radar in the coming year?

  1. Economy/Jobs
  2. Leadership/Ethics
  3. Energy/Climate Change
  4. Security/Defence
  5. Surplus Spending

Wow, I was really glad to see Energy and Climate change on the list, looking forward to a substantive discussion of how the onrushing reality of climate change would shape the issues discussed during the election campaign. Especially how the Canadian government's energy policies shackle us to the big energy companies, selling our economic and environmental heritage to rapacious resource developers? After all, this is the CBC, right? Right? Bastion of honest political discourse and certainly not beholden to government dictate.

Well, what ensued was pretty disappointing. The discussion didn't revolve around how the discussion of real issues should shape the election campaign or how climate change is the most important issue of our day. No, it was mostly about how political partisanship and spin and point-making around pipeline projects would distort the campaign. Never once did the idea that we really need to leave all that oil in the ground come up at all. In other words, the issues are important in the way they allow the parties to attack each other but not as issues in and of themselves.

My only thought? We're doomed. I was disappointed not only in the commentators and the CBC but in the crushing shallowness of the entirety of Canadian political culture.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked…We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it. We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place.”
James Box

We're fucked.

And if we want to have any chance of unfucking ourselves in the near future we all need to wake up and realize that everything has to change in our politics and our culture. And no matter how much the science seems to tell us to change, we can't seem to wrap our collective heads around the political and social imperative to change.

Which brings me to Naomi Klein's strident manifesto, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Which isn't so much a science book as a pay-attention-to-science book.

The core idea of Klein's book is that nothing is going to save us from the climate crisis unless we start to take seriously the idea that the only way we're going to be able to take the climate crisis seriously and leave all that oil in the ground is to essentially change everything about the relationship between our society and the environment, every single aspect of the way we live and the way we govern ourselves. A pretty tall order, and Klein is pretty persuasive in making her case.

This Changes Everything is a wide-ranging book that covers a lot of ground in quite a bit of detail, all the way from education to explication to advocacy and a call to action. It's long and detailed, Klein is not afraid to go into specifics to make her case either that action is needed or what kind of action is needed. It's a political tract as much as an environmental one, which is partly why the book is quite lengthy. She just needs all that space to talk about what she wants to talk about.

Beginning with the realities of globalization, the ground Klein covers includes everything from the shady political and economic elite driving so much energy policy to the very real dangers of fracking, from the failure of well-intentioned, top-down "green" campaigns to the reality of greenwashing, from the insanity of climate engineering to fossil fuel resistance campaigns, from the role of trade deals to the role of indigenous peoples in blockading resource development, from taxing the rich and making polluters pay to divestment campaigns, from the ineffectiveness of government environmental policies all the way to a clarion call for a fundamental shift in our values that will drive an economic and social revolution in the way we relate to the natural world.

This thing, the threat of human-caused global warming, forces us to change everything or face the consequences. In other words, we must pay attention to science. We need more pay-attention-to-science books, documentaries, web sites, podcasts, YouTube channels. Everything.

This is a wonderful book, not without its faults (a bit wordy and repetitive at times, for example, not to mention perhaps a whiff of "ends justify the means" in the final sections on climate advocacy), but one I would recommend without hesitation to anyone interested in the future of our planet. Buy this book, read it, give your copy to your local conservative politician. Buy another copy and make sure all the young people in your social circle read it too. Buy yet another copy and donate it to your local public library.

This Changes Everything belongs in the collection of pretty well every public and academic library. Probably most high school libraries could benefit from it as well. If it was shorter and perhaps less strident, it would be fantastic for one-book-one-campus programs.

(Review copy provided by publisher.)

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014. 566pp. ISBN-13: 978-0307401991

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Reading Diary: Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science by Michael Riordan

The default mode, politically-speaking, for most scientists seems to be professionally neutral. In other words, most scientists would tend to see their personal political beliefs as more or less completely separate from their work as scientists. Even for politically sensitive topics like climate change, the tendency is to focus on the the best available evidence rather than commenting more directly on the potential policy implications of that evidence. Only by maintaining that politcal neutrality with scientists will be able to maintain their surface veneer of objectivity. If you're too political, maybe the public will stop believing that your evidence is disinterested.

Of course, how well is that working for you, scientists of the world? Especially with regard to those politically sensitive topics such as climate change? Maybe not so well as we would all hope.

But maybe there is another way, a way to use that evidence to be bolder and more engaged directly with the social and political implications of evidence? To forge a science in the public interest. Perhaps there's a risk involved, but maybe it's worth it.

Or at least that's the main thrust of the provocative new book by Michael Riordan, Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science.

In his book Riordan takes a look at the lives and political and scientific work of a group of active scientists who are also active politically, or at least active promoting science in the public interest. Through their case studies he tackles very serious questions such as the relationship of science and society, the purpose of scientific research and mostly the very human aspects of the scientific enterprise that skew and bias the how science works, how evidence is constructed, what counts as evidence and importantly, what science gets done and who decides. At the core, Riordan is a science skeptic, leery of the undue influence that government and industry science have on our lives.

But.

And it's a big but.

Where once a healthy skepticism of science was a progressive impulse, more recently a radical, dangerous and insanely unhealthy skepticism of science has become very much a fact on the conservative side of the ledger. Which is the balance that Riordan is striving for in his book: the need to really understand the biases and unspoken politics of science -- the relationship between nature, power and science -- but at the same time we need to respect and understand the process of science. Scientific consensus has a value in helping us understand the world. In particular for many environmental issues such as climate change and resource exploitation, scientific evidence is the best bet we have to help us understand the past, present and future of our fragile planet. Riordan sees a need to be honest with ourselves about what science is good for. We need to have an honest perspective about the place of humankind in nature. We need a science in the public interest.

And over all, I have to say that Riordan does a very good job of finding that balance.

Here's a quick recap of the case studies he describes, 1 per chapter:

  • Henry Lickers on Canadian First Nations environmental issues.
  • Ann Clarke on post-oil farming.
  • Craig Holdredge and Curt Meine on keep humanity's place in nature in perspective.
  • Asociación Pro-Búsqueda and others on using DNA find disappeared children in El Salvador.
  • David Lyon on government surveillance and threats to our privacy in the online world.
  • Bruce Levine questioning the chemical basis for psychiatric treatments.
  • John Smol speaking truth to the power of the Canadian government about the tar sands.
  • Tony Ingraffea on speaking the truth about fracking
  • Diane Orihel rallying to save the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area from Canadian government budget cuts.

Each and every one of these chapters tells an inspiring story. Probably the most inspiring and wrenching one concerns the efforts of El Salvador's Pro-Búsqueda and others to untangle the chaos brought on by so many kidnapped children who were forcibly adopted into families not their own. It's the longest and most involved chapter but it is well worth the time to explore.

From a Canadian perspective, the two of the final chapters were the most relevant and the ones that provoked silent cheers while reading. Both John Smol and Diane Orihel are heroes of Canadian science for standing up to a furiously anti-science government which would prefer that inconvenient scientific facts just not exist. And what better way to make those facts go away than to muzzle scientists and shut down research labs. Both their stories are wonderful to read. Orihel in particular, only a PhD student and still stubbornly rallying the public and taking on the Canadian government is beyond inspirational.

Overall a very fine book. I would have appreciated an index and perhaps a list of additional readings at the end. As well, the chapter titles could be more descriptive and at least from a reviewer's perspective having the profiled individual's name and cause front and centre a little bit more in each chapter heading would have been nice. But these are quibbles.

I would recommend this book to any library that collects about science and society or science policy. This book would also be appropriate for any public library and perhaps even high school libraries where young minds could be inspired to be fearless, speak truth to power and change the world.

(Review copy provided by the publisher.)

Riordan, Michael. Bold Scientists: Dispatches From The Battle For Honest Science. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2014. 256 pp. ISBN 9781771131247.

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Books I'd Like to Read: Making the world a better place

Sep 16 2014 Published by under acad lib future, environment, Politics, science books

It's been quite a long while since I've done a "books I'd like to read" post, that's for sure. This fall seems to be have a particularly exciting list of books so I thought I'd pull some of them together (as well as some older books) here for all our enjoyment. These are all books I don't own yet, so they are not part of my towering to-read list. Yet.

I'm on sabbatical this academic year so I am trying to read and review books more diligently, aiming for about one per week. Maybe some of these will appear reviewed on the blog in the not too distant future.

Enjoy!

 

WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design by Mara Grunbaum

Mara Grunbaum is a very smart, very funny science writer who celebrates the best—or, really, the worst—of Evolution’s blunders. Here are more than 100 outlandish mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, birds, and other creatures whose very existence leaves us shaking our heads and muttering WTF?! Ms. Grunbaum’s especially brilliant stroke is to personify Evolution as a well-meaning but somewhat oblivious experimenter whose conversations with a skeptical narrator are hilarious.

 
 

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

In sharply argued, fast-moving chapters, Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free takes on the state of copyright and creative success in the digital age. Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? This is a book about the pitfalls and the opportunities that creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today — about how the old models have failed or found new footing, and about what might soon replace them. An essential read for anyone with a stake in the future of the arts, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free offers a vivid guide to the ways creativity and the Internet interact today, and to what might be coming next.

 
 

Bold Scientists: Dispatches from the Battle for Honest Science by Michael Riordon

Michael Riordon asks deep questions of bold scientists who defy the status quo including: an Indigenous biologist who integrates traditional knowledge and a trickster’s wit; an engineering professor who exposes the myths and dangers of fracking; a forensic geneticist who traces children stolen by the military in El Salvador; a sociologist who investigates the lure and threat of mass surveillance; a radical psychologist who confronts psychiatry’s dangerous power; and a young marine biologist who risks her career to defend science and democracy.

 
 

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.

 
 

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman

Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global phenomenon just as some of its members were turning to political protest and dangerous disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the battles over WikiLeaks, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that the tricky story of her inside–outside status as Anon confidante, interpreter, and erstwhile mouthpiece forms one of the themes of this witty and entirely engrossing book.

 
 

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef.

 
 

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking) by Christian Rudder

In this daring and original book, Rudder explains how Facebook "likes" can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person’s sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot. He charts the rise and fall of America’s most reviled word through Google Search and examines the new dynamics of collaborative rage on Twitter. He shows how people express themselves, both privately and publicly. What is the least Asian thing you can say? Do people bathe more in Vermont or New Jersey? What do black women think about Simon & Garfunkel? (Hint: they don’t think about Simon & Garfunkel.) Rudder also traces human migration over time, showing how groups of people move from certain small towns to the same big cities across the globe. And he grapples with the challenge of maintaining privacy in a world where these explorations are possible.

 
 

The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World by William D. Nordhaus

Bringing together all the important issues surrounding the climate debate, Nordhaus describes the science, economics, and politics involved—and the steps necessary to reduce the perils of global warming. Using language accessible to any concerned citizen and taking care to present different points of view fairly, he discusses the problem from start to finish: from the beginning, where warming originates in our personal energy use, to the end, where societies employ regulations or taxes or subsidies to slow the emissions of gases responsible for climate change.

 
 

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall

Most of us recognize that climate change is real, and yet we do nothing to stop it. What is this psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not? George Marshall’s search for the answers brings him face to face with Nobel Prize-winning psychologists and the activists of the Texas Tea Party; the world’s leading climate scientists and the people who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. What he discovered is that our values, assumptions, and prejudices can take on lives of their own, gaining authority as they are shared, dividing people in their wake.

 
 

The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

In their new book, Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan provide a vivid record of the events, conflicts, and social movements shaping our society today. They give voice to ordinary people standing up to corporate and government power across the country and around the world. Their writing and daily work at the grassroots public TV/radio news hour Democracy Now!, carried on more than a thousand stations globally and at democracynow.org, casts in stark relief the stories of the silenced majority. These stories are set against the backdrop of the mainstream media’s abject failure, with its small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, attempting to explain the world to us and getting it so wrong.

 
 

What else should I be reading?

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Reading Diary: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni

Aug 28 2014 Published by under book review, environment, reading diary, science books

"Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked...We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it. We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place."
- James Box

The climate crisis is serious, no doubt about it. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth from nearly a decade ago was a kind of rallying cry for the reality-based community but it appears that we might need another rallying cry as Gore's seems to have gone largely unheeded by major policy-developers the world over (mostly).

What could be that new rallying cry? I'd love to see Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science be that book. In other words, Climate Changed just might be important in a way that graphic novels very rarely are, books that can become part of the public conversation about social and economic issues on a large scale. In that sense, perhaps the only graphic novel to compare to Climate Changed is perhaps Art Spiegelman's Maus, though obviously in a completely different way.

[V]oluntary sacrifices are particularly difficult to make without an assurance that other people will follow suit or that the sacrifices serve some purpose. It's not possible to break away from the fundamental pillars of our civilization if the rest of society stays put. Changing all by yourself does nothing. (259)

How can a society structured politically and economically to produce more and consume more, whose development is dependent on fanning the desire to possess reconcile itself to a culture of sobriety and collective responsibility. How can a system dedicated to letting individuals freely maximize their personal advantages be compatible with any sort of self-restraint and material moderation. In the end, the freedom touted by a free-market model has become a symbol of rugged individualism. It is the freedom not to be held accountable. The rejection of all constraint. Of any limits. The rejection of a collective responsibility. As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, "You know, there is no society." Increase taxes to ensure future public services? Increase contributions to help poorer populations? Reduce consumption to preserve the planet? The exact opposite of the cynical message that is repeasted to us daily. Climate change is also a symptom of a breakdown of solidarity, a sign of collective selfishness. Ironic hedonists, trained by the free downloads. Reckless and thoughtless consumerism. The rise in global warming reflects the rise of our desires. And of our indifference to the threat the world is facing. The rise of insignificance. And because we are innocent and heartless...because we think the climate crisis is only out there someplace else...but because it is inside us...we've created a monster. (288-294)

- Philippe Squarzoni, Climate Changed

The format is quite interesting. Basically, it's the story of the author making some travel choices about his work as a writer/illustrator and how he's going to approach the book on climate change that he's struggling. At the beginning he's lamenting that he really doesn't know what he's talking about. And how he solves his problems dealing with the book -- the one we're reading, of course -- is to start talking to experts, a whole bunch of them. And as he educates himself, he educates us too. The book is basically the story of all the various conversations he had researching the book. A bit odd, in that the book itself ends up relying rather a lot on illustrated talking heads coolly and calmly discussing very distressing facts. But it works. The talking heads are talking about very important issues. Step by step, conversation by conversation, we're riveted.

At the same time, the imagery that Squarzoni uses to accompany a lot of the damning explication of just how fucked we are is spare and beautiful line drawings of nature on the one hand. To contrast, he'll also use looming symbols of our overindulgence that will dominate pages, like SUVs or sports cars or fast food. The art is a perfect accompaniment for a book that is very dry and intellectual and yet very emotional and hard.

We live in a world of fictions. A fable, disconnected from reality. The material prosperity we've enjoyed over the last two centuries has been dependent on abundant and cheap energy, the accumulation of consumer goods and the destruction of nature. Whether we like it or not, our way of life and CO2 emmissions are inextricably linked. Whether we like it or not, there are greenhouse gas emmissions in every part of our lives, from our food, our homes, our pastimes. All our activities are part of the climate crisis, all our wants, every product we purchase, the way we eat, get around, keep warm. Eradicating so much CO2 from our way of life won't be easy. What do we cut out first. (215-217)

Devoured in advance by multinational corporations, the renewable energy sector exposes the true nature of "green capitalism," less concerned about climate change than about comfortable financial niches. This little game of "green capitalism" looks on to change the means of energy production, not question the overall issue itself. The thing we need to question is consumption. Why does our society need so much energy? Without profound changes in our way of life, wind turbines will remain an alibi for not changing the underlying issues. And we forge ahead. For how much longer. (334-335)

Whatever alternative energy sources or technologies are being considered, there are no replacements for oil, coal, and natural gas that would allow us to maintain our current level of energy consumption. (363)

- Philippe Squarzoni, Climate Changed

Squarzoni makes sure to go through the science very carefully, sketching out the realities of human-caused climate change. It talks about the numbers, the trends, the cold hard facts. But mostly Squarzoni very clearly and carefully reasons with himself about the consequences of climate change, the challenges of slowing it down and adapting to what is inevitable. Basically, that personal choice, greed and inertia and capitalism and rampant consumption are the problem and that "solutions" like the three Rs and renewables are not the answer. The tone is very quiet, maybe sad even, elegiac and tired, not really frustrated but heart sick and defeated.

And although he can really come to no answer for his own life, like us he's confused about what any one person can accomplish, he does frame the problem for society as a whole very clearly: how do we reconcile the climate crisis with a globalized hype-capitalist consumer economy that runs on carbon?

"If you stand to lose everything, then even a low probability event is high-risk. That's why people fund armies—just in case they get invaded. We need to invest in decarbonizing our energy system. We've got to keep this fucking carbon in the ground." - James Box

Ably translated from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger, Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed is the kind of book that can make a difference, that can help us keep all that fucking carbon in the ground. If you've never bought any of the graphic novels I've recommended, pick this one. Read it, buy it for your library, buy another copy and donate it to your library, give it to all your friends, talk about it, blog about it, do what it takes. If you're a Canadian, give it to your local Conservative MP. Australians, well, you know you're just starting on your road to getting fucked, so maybe send a copy to your local Conservative as well.

Naomi Klein's forthcoming book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, looks to be a book that will take up the challenge and advance the what-do-we-need-to-do-as-a-society debate even further. It will certainly help frame climate advocacy towards a lower-carbon future in a new way, perhaps controversially but I think very usefully. Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein's The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change also looks interesting.

Squarzoni, Philippe. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2014. 480pp. ISBN-13: 978-1419712555.

Other science graphic novels and illustrated books I have reviewed:

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Climate change fiction is the hottest thing in the book world!

Aug 13 2014 Published by under environment, science books, science fiction

Sorry about that, but posts and articles about climate change fiction seem especially prone to bad puns...

In any case, climate change fiction (or "cli-fi" to use the rather ugly short form) is fiction -- either speculative or realistic -- that takes as it's basis the fact that the earth's climate is changing and jumps off from there.

It's actually been around for quite a long time in various guises, even before it became obvious that anthropogenic global warming was an issue, with JG Ballard's The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World being perhaps the earliest modern examples. Not surprisingly, the last 20 or 30 years has seen a bunch of climate change novels being published with a number of particularly notable ones in the last 5 years or so.

Mostly, I think, with the hope that by dramatizing the effects of climate change that it will seem more real and that the general public will therefore be more likely to for one, believe that it's real and for another, actually want to do something about it, individually and collectively. Similarly by making scientists seem more human somehow the ideas that they are trying to communicate will seem more real and more urgent. On the other hand, the whole movement may mostly be preaching to the converted.

Recently there's been a number of articles, websites and blog posts analyzing climate change fiction. See so many of them is what's inspired me to gather those articles as well as many of the books they mention

Below I'll list a bunch of the most interesting looking ones chronologically and leave it up to my readers to figure out which ones to pursue in more depth. After the list I'm also going to list the posts, articles and sites that I used in my research. Danny Bloom has done a lot of work in this area and his material has been invaluable.

I've read a few of the books on the list but not many. So in a sense, this is very much a list for my own use over the next year or so.

Enjoy!

The Books

 
 

The Resources

 

These list obviously only scratch the surface. If anyone has any particular recommendations that I don't mention here, please feel free to include them in comments.

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Crowdfunding Basic Science: Support the Experimental Lakes Area, the world's leading freshwater research facility

Jun 04 2014 Published by under Canada, Canadian war on science, environment, Politics

There are two very strong competing emotions at work here in this post: delight versus depression.

Depression that the government-funded research landscape here in Canada can sink so low that the premier freshwater research facility likely in the world is reduced to putting its hand out and asking for spare change just to fund its core research program.

But there's also a kind of delight in acknowledging that we've reached a place in the evolution of open public science that regular people like you and I can participate directly in making sure important research happens and continues to happen.

Thus we come to the happy and sad case of the Experimental Lakes Area and their current Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign: World's Leading Freshwater Research Facility, the ELA, Needs YOUR Support!

Here's their story:

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is a freshwater research facility in Northwestern Ontario, Canada that has operated as a government research program for over 45 years. After the Canadian Government announced that it would no longer fund the ELA program, operations were transferred to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in April 2014. IISD now needs additional funding to expand ELA’s vital legacy of research so that it can continue to find effective solutions to environmental problems affecting fresh water.

We can thank the ELA for many of the improvements we have seen in recent years to the quality of the water we use daily. ELA’s whole-lake research findings have been instrumental in the phase-out of harmful phosphorus additives in cleaning products, tightening air pollution standards in response to acid rain threats, and proposed installation of scrubbers inside industrial smokestacks to reduce mercury levels found in the fish we eat.

The ELA features a collection of 58 small lakes, as well as a facility with accommodations and laboratories. Since its establishment in 1968, ELA has become one of the world’s most influential freshwater research facilities. In part, this is because of the globally unique ability at ELA to undertake whole-ecosystem experiments.

There is nowhere else in the world that has the same potential to conduct this type of research and make such a positive impact on our world’s freshwater supplies.

What We Need

Now we need your support.

As IISD takes over the Experimental Lakes Area, initial funding has been secured to manage the facilities and conduct a minimum amount of research, and for this we are grateful. It is our goal, however, to rebuild the program to its former status and to help it expand and thrive. We are also striving to reduce the ELA’s reliance on government support so that it may never again be shuttered because of changes in policy. This will help us understand and address global freshwater challenges and communicate what we have learned to improve understanding, education and decision making.

Your generous donations will help us create and benefit from numerous educational and training opportunities for university students at the ELA.

The ELA offers great potential for the scientists and researchers of tomorrow to garner hands-on research experience and gain practice in driving and conducting research projects. In turn, the facility benefits immensely from the hard work and research generated by summer students.

As part of the new era for ELA that IISD is ushering in, we plan to expand its role to include training, workshops and field courses that will educate and benefit local communities, as well as the greater scientific community.

Charitable tax receipts can be issued for donations over $25 (minus the fair market value of the perk).

If you wish to donate without receiving a perk, please consider donating through Canada Helps: https://www.canadahelps.org/services/wa/dnm/en/#/page/2824

So join me in supporting the ELA and sponsor a fish or a plankton count, get a tweet or a t-shirt or a magnet or a postcard or even borrow a scientist or visit the IISD's Winnipeg office. Or just donate some money for a good cause.

As of the evening of June 3rd, they are $13,555 of their $25,000 goal. More than half way with 10 days to go. Let's help hit that target and more.

Some additional background:

The good news is that the ELA is getting its 2014 research season under way as we can see from a couple of recent media reports such as Research returns to Experimental Lakes Area and Experiments resume Monday at Experimental Lakes Area.

Let's keep the good news coming.

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