Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hope in Strange Places

I've been finding hope in strange places for a while now. This year my editor Kathy (praise her with great praise) assigned me four books to write for high school libraries. Thus began my "hippie books" as my daughter calls them, or my "green books" as I was inspired to call them when trying to pitch a new title to yet another press. (Word so far: nope. Back to the kayak and re-think that particular book proposal while commuting out to Flower Island and back."

Writing the hippie books, or the green books, meant reading a number of other books currently available in order to find quotes to include in the text. It's amazing the statements that will be accepted by my editor (praise her) when they're a quote from someone else. I can't tell oil company executives, "You should be ashamed." But I can sure quote someone else's book in which an expert does exactly that at a public hearing. And in the bibliography, I have to include books I used for reference and for quotes, even if the title is an inflammatory statement that I could never get into the text, as in Edwin Black's Internal Combustion: How Corporations And Governments Addicted The World To Oil And Derailed The Alternatives.

One of the books I read was a copy I picked up at Bolen Books. Hardcover. Don't boggle. Yes, I buy fewer than a dozen books a year, though I read between two and three hundred at the library. But after hearing podcasts of Gwynne Dyer talking on CBC Radio's program Ideas for three hours on his book Climate Wars, I had to have a print copy to flip through to get the exact quotes needed for my green book on Biofuels.

Now that I'm done with Climate Wars, I handed it on to my partner Bernie, who handed it on to John. And if you look on the Twitter for our shared blog you can see that now John believes we as a species are doomed. Doomed, I tells ya, he adds with a wry grin.

Is John falling into despair? Heaven forbid. This book gave me real hope. We'll have to get John the podcast of Ideas with the special guest James Lovelock. The line that opens that show is Lovelock saying, There's just no way that I can see more than twenty percent of us surviving at the end of the century.

That statement gave me even more hope.

To think that within ninety years, there may be as many as twenty percent surviving of the teeming billions of us now alive... wow. That's the best prognosis we've had in forty years. Anyone who doesn't think so just hasn't been paying attention. And with the news this month of the USA and Russia signing an agreement to reduce their nuclear arms stockpile by a third, well, I'm celebrating. There is real, honest hope to be had for the future. And my hope is restored by writing my green books, my small part in making accessible the knowledge needed for that future.


  1. John has the podcasts for Gwynne Dyers "Ideas" episodes (and you can find them here: ), and there is nothing wry about my grin. :)
    I don't consider an 80% die-off of the human race due to climate change to be anything but a horrible and unmitigated disaster. Especially if it's from something that is (or was, at any rate) entirely preventable.
    Would a large human die-off do wonders for the state of the planet? Yes, absolutely, but it's still a tragic way to initiate change.
    What scares me most is the notion in Dyer's book, backed now by many leading climatologists, is that many previous extinctions resulted from a rise in carbon in the atmosphere, which raised the temperature of the oceans, which made them unable to absorb as much C02, which resulted in the oceans being anoxic, which resulted in more hyrdogen sulphates being released into the oceans, which eventually overwhelmed the oxygen in the atmosphere. That's a near 100% human (and plant and animal) extinction event.
    And many climate scientists see this happening by 2100.
    But don't worry -- our current Environment Minister Jim Prentice says achieving the 80%lower emissions by 2050 is only an aspirational goal of the developed countries and that Canada will not need to change its policies to achieve that goal.
    So we're in good hands.

  2. Oh, I see I haven't made myself clear. I'm not in anyway disagreeing with you that an 80% die-off of the human race would be a horrible and unmitigated disaster, and an entirely preventable one.
    I'm saying that this is the first time in four decades that I've been able to hope that there will be as many as 20% of our current population living in 2100.
    I've been working on the assumption that 5% to 10% survival was about the best that could be expected, with the climate change initiated by humans causing a planet-wide extinction event. Until now, the most likely scenario for survival has been much worse than even that... perhaps two or three bunkers of people and some twenty to fifty thousand wretched people on the surface, living miserable lives that are nasty, brutish and short.
    I believe an all-out nuclear war is probable, and that it's very likely we'll see several limited nuclear wars. Even without extreme climate change or nuclear war, we're overdue for a planet-wide pandemic of one or more diseases that could eliminate nine out of every ten people... read Outbreak by Robert Preston.
    Maybe that puts my little sips of hope in perspective. I'm twenty years older than I ever thought I'd get to be.
    So if you see me singing a little ditty of hope for the future while I make raspberry jam, this is me not worrying about the pack of rascals in Ottawa who haven't got the guts to stand up in the House of Parliament and say "Just drive less. That's half of our emissions problem there."