Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists are Fueling the Climate Crisis—and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster by Ross Gelbspan. Basic Books, New York City, 2004. Hardback $22.00. Read an excerpt and visit Ross Gelbspan's website.
This is a huge subject, a long title, and a weighty book—yet it is only 200 short pages long, and easy reading. Right away I knew the author was a journalist. Journalists tend to write the best books, and Ross Gelbspan has been a reporter and editor for decades, specializing in reporting environmental news. He is also a Pulitzer prize-winning writer.
I had read about most of the environmental facts reported in this book; the natural world particularly interests me. (I majored in ecology in the late 40’s.) But I had read about almost none of the backroom manipulation and corporate secret dealing that is described.
I "knew" that the energy industry had highjacked the U.S. Government, and still, to read the details of some of the behind-the-scenes corruption is to read about nothing less than a horrendous criminal conspiracy against the American people. It’s hard to even understand the motivation, but there it is, happening, and we have to educate ourselves and change the political picture. The time is NOW. Our very survival as a species is at stake.
We have to first educate ourselves about what is happening. People in the rest of the world have an understanding that we are on the edge of extinction, and everywhere they are doing something about it. Even the Chinese have greatly reduced their CO2 emissions at the same time as their industrial base is expanding...while we are continuing to raise ours. Saudi Arabia is doing better on energy sustainability than we are. The U.S. is purposefully committing a huge crime against all of humanity.
However, I believe that if the U.S. people knew the imminent danger, they would insist on change. This is exactly what the oil and coal industries fear, and so with their powerful crony, GW Bush, they are keeping this crucial information from the American public.
"It is an excruciating experience to watch the planet fall apart piece by piece in the face of persistent and pathological denial."
I have personally been feeling this way, and it is with great gratitude that I listen to Ross Gelbspan succinctly summarize the situation, and further, talk about alleviation. He says about this book
"It is a last-gasp attempt to break through the monstrous indifference of Americans to the fact that the planet is caving in around us."
But, Gelbspan goes on to say, his hope is to change the way we regard this threat of runaway climate change. He wants us to use this moment in history "as an unprecedented opportunity to use the climate crisis as the foundation for a common global project that would create the basis for a far wealthier, more equitable, and ultimately more peaceful world. A real solution to the climate crisis could, if properly structured, provide a liftoff toward a far more promising human future."
Gelbspan’s book is divided into 8 chapters, each one interspersed with a real global warming scenario, which he hopes will help us to understand the speed at which all this change is occurring.
Chapter 1, Not Just Another Issue, begins with a quote by Margaret Beckett, British Secretary of State for Environment, in April 2002:
"We’ve known for some time that we have to worry about the impacts of climate change on our children’s and grandchildren’s generations. But now we have to worry about ourselves as well."
The evidence is all around us in very noticeable ways. "It is apparent in the trickling meltwater from the glaciers in the Andes Mountains that will soon leave many people on Bolivia’s mountainside villages with no water to irrigate their crops and, after that, not even enough to drink." In fact, say scientists, at the accelerating rate at which they are melting, the world’s glaciers may be gone by 2030!
"It is visible in the rising waters of the Pacific Ocean that recently prompted the Prime Minister of New Zealand to offer a haven to the residents of the island nation of Tuvalu as it slowly goes under." They were being evacuated in 2003.
"It is evident in the floods that, in 2002, inundated whole cities in Germany, Russia, and the Czech Republic. It is underscored in the United States by the spread of West Nile virus to 42 states, and to 230 species of birds, insects, and animals—and in the record-setting 412 tornadoes that leveled whole towns during a 10-day span in May 2003. Its reality is visible from outer space, where satellites have detected an increase in the radiation from greenhouse gases."
Civilization begins and ends with climate, and the global dimensions of the amazingly rapid rate of change require us to quickly make massive changes if we want to slow it down. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population; it contributes 25% of the greenhouse emissions. Scientists say that we must cut our use of coal and oil by 70% in just a few years. Despite the propaganda of the Bush Administration, the science is unambiguous.
In 2002, a study by many of the climate researchers published in the journal Science called for a Manhattan-type crash project to develop renewable energy sources—wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel.
In 2001, a report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the climate is changing far more rapidly than scientists had previously projected.
More than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries participated in the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history. They reported that storms, floods, and droughts will intensify because humanity’s burning of coal and oil is driving up temperatures much more rapidly than scientists had anticipated just six years earlier.
In the fall of 2003, both climate change and financial change began to coalesce in a large way:
- The entire ecosystem of the North Sea was found to be in a state of collapse because of rising water temperatures.
- For the first time in recorded history, the world consumed more grain than it produced for four years in a row. The reason: rising temperatures and falling water tables.
- The German government declared that the goals of the Kyoto Protocol need to be increased by a factor of four to avoid "catastrophic" changes. Otherwise, the climate will change at a rate not seen in the last million years.
- The summer heat wave in Europe killed 35,000. This was not due only to the high daytime temperatures. Six years earlier, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had predicted that this could happen when they found that as earth’s temperature has been rising, the nighttime lows have been rising twice as fast—thus not giving heat-stressed life sufficient recovery time.
- The biggest ice sheet in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf collapsed from warming surface waters. It was 3000 years old, 80 feet thick, and 150 square miles. As it broke, a massive freshwater lake held back by the ice drained away.
- Scientists reported that the pH level of the world’s oceans has changed more in the last 100 years than it had in the previous 10,000 years, primarily because of the fallout from coal and oil burning. The oceans are becoming acidified.
- An 18-month drought in Australia had cut farm incomes in half—and left many scientists speculating that the prolonged drought may have become a permanent condition in one of the country’s richest farm areas.
- Bankers, pension fund managers, and Wall Street advisors issued a "call to action" about impending climate-driven upheavals in the world’s financial markets. At the meeting, the Treasurer of the State of California, Philip Angelides, declared, "In global warming, we are facing an enormous risk to the U.S. economy and to retirement funds—that Wall Street has so far chosen to ignore."
- Swiss Reinsurance, one of the world’s largest insurers, said that they would drop insurance from companies which were not moving very aggressively to reduce their carbon emissions.
- In the face of all this, ExxonMobil announced proudly that they expected a 50% increase in carbon emissions by 2020, because of rising energy demands.
Also in 2003, many segments of American society proceeded to work on this problem on their own. The majority of states, over 100 cities, "green" campuses, and some businesses and local districts have been instituting measures to slow carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, they are totally outmatched by the enormity of big coal and big oil. In fact, currently the Federal Government is suing the State of California over its air quality standards because they interfere with the auto industry—which has not made gas mileage more efficient in the 60 years that I’ve been driving. In many vehicles, it is now less efficient.
As Gelbspan points out, we have two choices (besides blindly jumping off the cliff, like lemmings). We can regress into a primitive lifestyle—or we can mount a global project to replace every oil-burning furnace, every coal-fired generating plant, and every gasoline-burning car with noncarbon and renewable energy sources.
"A properly framed plan to rewire the globe with solar energy, hydrogen fuel cells, wind farms, and other sources of clean energy would do much more than stave off the most disruptive manifestations of climate change. A global transition to renewable energy could create huge numbers of new jobs, especially in developing countries. It could turn dependent and impoverished countries into robust trading partners. It could significantly expand the overall wealth in the global economy. It could provide many of the earth’s most deprived inhabitants with a sense of personal future and individual purpose."
"It could be the prompt that reverses the kind of exaggerated nationalism that threatens to re-tribalize humanity. It could be the springboard that propels us forward into a much more co-operative and coordinated community."
"It could begin to put people in charge of governments, and governments in charge of corporations. It could establish equity as a universal human value and resuscitate participatory democracy as a governing operating principle that reorganizes our relationships to each other, to other nations, to the global economy, and most fundamentally, to the planet on which we all depend."
It is apparent that life as we know it will not continue long into the future. Says Gelbspan,
"We will either see the fabric of civilization unravel under the onslaught of an increasingly unstable climate—or else we will use the construction of a new global energy infrastructure to begin to forge a new set of global relationships."
"If we are lucky, and visionary, these new relationships will be based far less on what divides us as a species, and far more on what unites us. Embedded in the gathering fury of nature is a hidden gift—an opportunity to begin to redeem an increasingly fragmented world."
"The alternative is a certain and rapid descent into climate hell."
2012 can indeed herald in a new world. Let us use our creativity, our minds, and love, our hearts, to build it. It is time to completely embrace a world where we work together, for ourselves and for the planet.
In this book, Boiling Point, Ross Gelbspan gives an eloquent and long-overdue wake-up call to Americans. It should be required reading for all of us.
Gelbspan’s call to action is published by Basic Books. Very appropriate. There is no more basic problem right now than climate change. It is inexorable, and it is how we handle it that will determine our survival as a species. I have a new book, Collision, by Jared Diamond, which discusses the collapse of civilizations. The historical record shows that those collapses are due to earth and climate changes, and that the viability of the civilization depends on how they handle the changes. I will review this book in the future.
It IS true that the history of earth’s climate changes have been marked by large swings, and periods of great instability. This is part of nature. However, climate scientists now agree that human activities have a great influence on the increase in global warming at this time. If we change our habits—in a big way, and NOW—we can slow down global warming. We can at least give ourselves time to prepare for a drastically new way of living with the earth.
Back in 1995, and before, scientists were predicting what is now occurring. Even with the vastly less computer capability of that time, they are finding that computer models of prediction are matching the facts very closely.
The evidence has been piling up. By 2003, even the most conservative scientists were adamant about the fact that humans, primarily through their burning of fossil fuels, are heating the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide in the air is a heat-trapper. In the last few years, it has suddenly gone up 30%, to a level not seen for 420,000 years. A substantial portion of the heat has been absorbed by the earth’s oceans. But I’ve been reading lately that the carbon-absorbing ability of earth’s eco-system is running out. What then? Will our atmosphere become like that of Venus, poisonus to life?
GW Bush talks about pre-emptive strikes on other nations. What we really need is a pre-emptive strike on global warming—to reduce its impact and its destructive possibilities.
Some snapshots of global warming:
- All over the world, species are traveling towards the poles in an effort to maintain temperature stability.
- Warming is accelerating the migration of species around the globe, and changing the timing of the seasons. Some species breed as much as 24 days earlier.
- Animals have shifted north an average of four miles per decade during the twentieth century.
- Animals are migrating, hatching eggs, and bearing young five days earlier than at the turn of the twentieth century. This was a surprise to the scientists, given the small temperature rise to date.
- Says Bill McKibben, "By accident, we are changing the rhythms of nature by which we have lived our lives and planted our crops and written our poetry for 10,000 years."
- Habitats are changing very rapidly. Much of the spruce and fir forests of New England and New York State may be wiped out if we don’t reduce the rate of global warming.
Global warming is very real, much of it is manmade, and it is happening very fast. WE CAN SLOW IT DOWN!
Chairman of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), Rajendra Pachauri, said in February, "We are risking the ability of the human race to survive." This was the conclusion of the panel of 2000 scientists who have been studying climate change throughout the world.
"With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it," said Senator James Inhofe (R—OK).
Nothing has more alienated the Bush Administration from the rest of the world than its dismissal of the import of climate change, even before the Iraq War. Bush broke with our traditional allies in favor of the domestic allies of coal and oil industries.
Says Gelbspan, "Today the White House has become the East Coast branch office of Exxonmobile and Peabody Coal, and climate change has become the preeminent case study of the contamination of our political system by money."
In other countries, the major political discussion is about how to change national energy diets without wrecking national economies.
The U.S. even refuses to recognize the weak Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by other nations. If we met 10 times the Kyoto requirements, we could not prevent global warming. There is a lag effect of 50-100 years in the carbon dioxide effect. However, Kyoto is a global start. And yet in the U.S. Kyoto is outside the realm of the politically possible. What to do? How to break through our huge national blanket of denial in time to prepare for a different way of life, which could at least have a chance to be sustainable?
Insurance companies are paying attention. "Man-made climate change will bring us increasingly extreme natural events and consequently increasingly large catastrophic losses," an official of Munich Re, perhaps the world’s largest reinsurance company in the field of natural disaster mitigation, said recently. Swiss Re expects losses to reach $150 billion/year within this decade.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair regards climate change as "the single biggest long-term problem of any kind" facing his country. His government’s top scientist, Sir David King, calls climate change "the biggest danger humanity has faced in 5,000 years of civilization."
Truly confronting global climate change requires us to think globally, and to respect both the parameters of nature and the value and creative spirit of human beings.
Once we begin to understand that global climate change is global, that it is happening, and that it does have inevitable consequences, we can draw on our courage and inventiveness to face it. I believe this is possible. I have two dramatic examples in my life.
One was when our family was in the hospital with my dying father. We would all take turns being with him, except for my mother. She simply did not want to face what was happening. Finally the doctor came out to the waiting room and made it very clear to her that her husband was dying. She got it. She marched right in to his room, and comforted him until the end.
The other example is our entry into WWII. The American people were very isolationist before the war. However, once we were in it, the nation mobilized like magic to defeat the Axis. When I hear people talk about how we couldn’t give up this or that, or change our way of life, I know it’s not true. We changed then, all of us, all at once, in every detail of life, more than the current generation could imagine.
In fact, our climate crisis means completely reforming the huge industrialization which we set in motion then.
If we can open our eyes to understand the enormous challenge now facing us, we can rise to it.
There will be a massive discontinuity. What can we do? Ross has far-reaching suggestions and visions of new possibilities which can redeem our futures.
He closes by saying, "The ultimate hope is that—especially given the centrality of energy to our modern lives—a meaningful solution to this climate crisis could potentially be the beginning of a much larger transformation of our social and economic dynamics.’
"It is just possible that the act of rewiring the planet could begin to point us toward that optimal calibration of competition and cooperation that would maximize our energy and creativity and productivity while, at the same time, substantially extending the baseline conditions for peace—peace among people, and peace among people and nature."
In fact, rewiring the planet’s energy systems sounds like a much easier place to begin reform than rewiring the planet’s morals!
Ross Gelbspan eloquently reports on the most vital issue of our time. book is full of facts and figures, and yet every paragraph is fascinating. This is a brilliant book—essential reading for all Americans.
From Maya del Mar’s Daykeeper Journal.
World-renowned astrologer Maya del Mar wote for Celestine Vision, the Mountain Astrologer, and for her own web-based magazine, Daykeeper Journal. She combined 30 years of astrological work with keen intuitive skills and a lifetime of teaching and counseling experience to provide her readers and clients with insightful and humanistic astrological guidance.
Maya del Mar passed away on November 26, 2006, however her daughter, Susan Pomery, continues to operate the Daykeeper Journal website in partnership with some very talented astrologers who are carrying on Maya's work.
If you'd like to contact them, please use this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more of Maya's articles reprinted here at Satya Center in the Maya del Mar Archive.