Two Great Canadians

It’s a rare day when you find a book about climate change written by a Canadian. The authors are American, mostly. Some are British or Australian. And that’s a real shame, because there’s a lot going on in Canadian politics about climate change – but you can’t read about it anywhere. The newspapers don’t report it (I hadn’t even heard of Bill C311 until I went to PowerShift). The government website certainly doesn’t report it. Currently, my only source of Canada-specific climate news is the One Blue Marble blog. We’re going into Copenhagen as the least committed and least cooperative developed nation in the world. And most Canadians don’t even know it.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read Keeping Our Cool by Andrew Weaver, a top Canadian climate modeler. He is a professor at the University of Victoria, the chief editor for the Journal of Climate, a lead author for the IPCC, and the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis. Certainly some impressive credentials. I sort of dream of doing my Master’s under him.

The book was very well-rounded for climate literature. It covered basic scientific processes (with lots of fancy graphs), the history of climate science, and policy alternatives. But my favourite chapters had to do with the media and politics – purely because they were Canada-specific.

I know all about George Bush’s inaction on climate change. But until I read Andrew Weaver’s book, I didn’t see just how blatantly Stephen Harper was carrying on the torch. I’ve read Boykoff and Boykoff’s study, which surveys American newspaper articles. But I was less aware of how the Canadian media reported climate change, apart from my local newspaper and news channel (and Rick Mercer, of course).

It was so refreshing to have a sense of what was going on at home for once, after wasting so much time trying to figure it out for myself.

My only complaint was that the book was poorly organized. It constantly switched back and forth from scientific explanations, to Canadian news, to examples of vested skeptical interests, to Canadian politics. This was probably deliberate, so that the chapters wouldn’t get monotonous, but it makes it a lot harder to find what you’re looking for later (like while writing a book review!)

Another great Canadian, military expert and geopolitical analyst  Gwynne Dyer, wrote a very different book. It was probably  different to anything else I’ve read about climate change. It was  definitely a lot scarier.

Every alternate chapter of Climate Wars described a different  future scenario, exploring how climate change would affect  international relations. United States, 2029, where masses of  starving immigrants from the drought-stricken Mexico lead the  American government to close the southern border and arm it with barbed wire, machine guns, and land mines. Northern India, 2036, when water disputes with Pakistan lead to a nuclear conflict that destroys the Taj Mahal. China, 2042, when geoengineering gone wrong corresponds with a massive volcano, leading to a sudden (albeit temporary) drop in temperature. The Arctic, 2175, when the oceans begin to smell like rotten eggs – anyone familiar with previous mass extinctions will know why that’s not as trivial as it may sound.

Scary, scary stuff. And most of it within my lifetime. Military “scenarios” are not predictions or even projections. But they’re based on such projections, so they hold a frightening grain of plausibility.

When people claim that the consequences of turning away from fossil fuels will be worse than just letting climate change happen, tell them to read Climate Wars. It shows us just what’s at stake here.

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21 thoughts on “Two Great Canadians

  1. I second both recommendations. Climate Wars is one of three books I’d put on a shortlist introduction to the subject for non-scientists (the other two being What’s The Worst That Could Happen and Climate Cover-Up). For people interested in that title, I’d like to highlight (again) the audio version Dyer has up on his website.

    Our university’s office of sustainability (just started) has invited Dr. Weaver to speak as part of a fascinating series on the energy crisis (I found out about this from the first lecture, delivered tonight by a professor I work with, on the conflict between “growth” and “sustainability”). I intend to ask a few questions when he arrives next month; if you’ve got any I can pass them along.

    Speaking series like this have arguably been the best part of my university experience (we even had Gwynne Dyer speaking on climate six months before Climate Wars came out). When you’re studying, keep your eyes open for guest lectures like these.

    One more Canadian voice you might want to look at is Andrew Nikiforuk. He’s more Albertan-focused than nationwide, so it’s understandable if he’s less well-known, but he’s one of the best journalists on energy issues, especially, as of late, the tar sands and Canadian political issues. He also may be speaking near you soon.

  2. I just finished Climate Cover-Up and I agree that this book is a must-read to try to cut through the denial machine propaganda. I also suggest Moody’s book: The Republican War on Science.

    Climate Wars has been ordered and I await the mailman. :)

  3. On the purely scientific side, Shaun Lovejoy at McGill is doing some very cool stuff. The idea is to think about the atmosphere, or any other turbulent fluid, as consisting of eddies within eddies, down to the molecular scale (where it’s not a fluid any more, but rather individual molecules bumping into each other) and up to the planetary scale (where it’s behavior at the boundaries which matters, rather than the turbulence between them). This “multifractal” perspective lets you get away from the unpredictability of individual chaotic dynamics and focus on aspects which are predictable.

  4. Perhaps you know of Lydia Dotto (http://www.thegreatwarming.com/lydiadotto.html), a Canadian science journalist. I’ve heard her speak at MSC in Toronto while I was at YorkU, and bought her book “Storm warning”. Admittedly haven’t read the whole book yet, but her main message was very important, and I have often repeated it since: The whole discussion about climate change should better be framed in terms of risk, rather than in terms of uncertainty. The whatever-name-they-have-gotten tanks have rather succesfully set the frame as the latter (as they did with the tobacco story a few decades earlier).

  5. Hi Kate,

    Don’t know if you will get this “in time”, but there will likely be an archive…

    On “The Current” on CBC Radio One this morning (I think it is from 8:30am to 10:00am local across the country) there is a special on climate change in the run-up to Copenhagen. It’s hosted by David Suzuki. Andrew Weaver is most of the first half hour… I am listening to the last half hour, which is on geo-engineering with Ken Caldeira… Dan Whaley CEO of Climos on iron fertilization… and then an interesting discussion about research on deep under-surface microbial organisms (i.e. 4 km below ground) that consume CO2???…

    Just thought you’d like to know as I see you are a Weaver groupie! ;)

    One thing that surprised me is that when Weaver discussed what we “need” from a Copenhagen he mentioned targets for 50% global, 80% developed cuts by 2050. I haven’t read his book, but is he more aggressive in the book about the eventual cuts required?

  6. Kate wrote: “It’s a rare day when you find a book about climate change written by a Canadian.”

    Of course there’s always Dr. David Suzuki. He’s written several books on climate, including:

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Legacy/David-Suzuki/e/9781553655701/?itm=9&USRI=david+suzuki

    (That should read “An Elder’s Vision for our Future”.)

    And by the way he turns 75 in March. The 23rd, I believe… What’s special about that date? ;-)

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