Regardless of what you think about climate change, there is no excuse for not going deep enough into this subject to gain an independent understanding of what’s really going on. Make a list of the questions you want answered, search for sources, and start reading. Don’t believe the first answers you find.
Some months ago I read Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present, and Future. Smil’s motivation to writing this book is that “most modern urbanites are thus disconnected not only from the ways we produce our food but also from the ways we build our machines and devices, and the growing mechanization of all productive activity means that only a very small share of the global population now engages in delivering civilization’s energy and the materials that comprise our modern world.”
This lack in understanding of how the world works leads many people to wishful thinking, to believe in simple, naive solution proposals that are not only impossible to implement but wouldn’t solve the main climate problems if they could be implemented.
Smil has written more than 50 books about energy, manufacturing, shipping, and agriculture. There are people like Bill Gates who strongly recommend his writings to get a better grasp of the evolution of our world. Other people don’t like Smile very much, arguing that his books are “statistics books” disguised as English prose. (I actually find this a praise rather than a critique.)
Another book I recently read is The Carbon Almanac. a book about the science, facts, scenarios, impacts, and possible solutions to climate change. I read it because climate change is one of the areas where I consider it important to know what’s happening and have an opinion of my own. Also, the Almanac is a project with 300+ professionals around the globe, led by Seth Godin, for whom I have great respect and admiration. It’s not be the book for more technically-mided people, but The Almanac is a book full of facts and data.
Bill Gates’ How to Avoid a Climate Disaster offers a down-to-earth approach on what to do about the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases that we add to the atmosphere every year. For example, he proposes what he calls The 5-Questions Framework for evaluating possible solutions:
- How much of the 51 Billions are we talking about? Think in carbon dioxide equivalents. Technologies that will never exceed 1% of reduction per year shouldn’t compete for the limited resources we have for getting to zero.
- What’s your plan for cement? Emissions come from five different activities. Making steel and cement accounts for around 10% of all emissions. You have to account for much more than electricity and cars.
- How much power are we talking about? If you don’t know how much power does it take to power a small city, you can’t know if an energy solution like panels can really solve the problem.
- How much space do you need? Power density. How much power you can get from different sources for a given amount of land (or water…).
- How much is it going to cost? Short-term, fossil fuel is the cheapest by far. Moving to less dirty technologies will cost something, but doesn’t have the negative effects of carbon-emitting technologies. The additional costs are called /Green Premiums/.
I started reading and dropped a book abouth the history of climate change because I wanted to understand better if the fluctuations in climate we see today have appeared in the past and can be considered part of nature’s normal cycle. The book focused on the history of the measurement of climate, and not on about climate itself.
I haven’t dug into the IPCC reports yet, but will. (IPCC is The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)