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You don’t need to be a scientist to enjoy hard-hitting climate book

December 2011

The images on a CBC TV report last month were as disturbing as they were dramatic.

Historic buildings in downtown Dawson City are in danger of collapsing because concrete foundations are sinking. Highways in the Far North are buckling, turning into roller-coasters. The cause in both cases: the permafrost that lies beneath the top layer of soil is thawing and huge investments are needed to repair foundations and restore highways. The root cause: global warming.

Why should Montrealers care? If, as predicted, up to 60 per cent of the Earth’s permafrost thaws by 2200, the release of carbon from defrosted plant matter will be equivalent to half the amount of carbon released since the dawn of the industrial age.

That will hike even further the mean temperature rise here and around the world that threatens civilization as we know it by unleashing drought and famine, unprecedented wildfires, rising sea levels and massive flooding.

How the world is, and, more importantly, is not tackling global warming and climate change is tracked in Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change (Knopf Canada, 325 pages, $29.95), the superb new book by Montrealer William Marsden, The Gazette’s award-winning investigative journalist. It reads like an unfolding mystery, strewn with the corpses and sick bodies of our threatened civilization.

Marsden is nothing if not thorough and hands-on. He made his reputation as a crack journalist who, through relentless research and meticulous reporting, finds the smoking gun. As in Stupid to the Last Drop, his award-winning book on the tarsands, Marsden’s target is not administrative abuse, political corruption or organized crime. He lays bare the self-interest of nations and the “grow the economy whatever the environmental cost” strategy of most industrialized nations, including Canada, and the booming economies of such catch-up nations as China, India and Brazil.

The ultimate argument, says William Marsden, is that the power of the fossil-fuel lobbies ensures that even the most timid restrictions will never get congressional approval.

Their leaders refused to limit carbon dioxide emissions to correct a problem created by the G20 power block. Their ultimate argument, as Marsden notes, is that whatever U.S. negotiators may agree to, the mighty power of the fossil-fuel lobbies ensures that even the most timid restrictions will never get congressional approval.

This book is an exciting and highly descriptive trip, and you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy the ride. Marsden takes the reader to environmental meetings where he explains the challenges facing the world as he sketches the intrigue, secrecy, and competing self-interests that dominate these talks. He explains every concept and the logic behind various economic groups and why the powerful ones balk at making necessary sacrifices.

We join Marsden in Copenhagen to learn how the Danes, who early on faced with courage the limits of fossil-fueled economies and became a profitable world leader in harnessing wind power.

Marsden flies to the High Arctic to join glaciologists in their research on the melting polar ice cap, and how it threatens to raise sea levels and threaten the physical existence of nations even as it unleashes a new crop of mercury and other noxious chemicals into the ecosystem.

In Cancun, Marsden writes, “the science was relegated to the status of a trade show. … The delegates were playing the maracas while the world burned.” The end result: no concrete action to reverse the increasing amount of carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect, which warms the Earth to catastrophic degrees.

As another meeting began in Durban, South Africa, last month to renew the Kyoto Protocol—it set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emission an average five per cent against 1990 levels from 2008-2012—reports were circulating that Canada was preparing to pull out of the consortium. Canada did so in spite of a Chinese offer to cut emissions.

Marsden is not optimistic about leadership from the Harper Tories, saying in an interview: “We are saddled with a majority government that shows absolutely no sign of wanting to deal with climate change. They just view it as an inconvenience.”



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