Atmosphere of Hope: The Search for Solutions to the Climate Crisis by Tim Flannery

A roller-coaster ride…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Atmosphere of HopeIn December this year, the next United Nations Climate Change Conference will convene in Paris to make decisions on how to cap carbon emissions at a level that will ensure that global temperatures will rise by no more than 2° Celcius compared to pre-industrial levels. This book is a summary of where we are now and an action plan for the future.

The book is heavily polemical, very much Tim Flannery’s personal attempt to influence the decision makers. As a scientist and leading environmentalist of long-standing, Flannery is Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, a member of the Australian Independent Climate Council and chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council; so he’s certainly qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject.

This was a bit of a roller-coaster read for me, both in terms of style and content. In the introduction, Flannery lays out his stall. Taking as his starting point his own earlier book The Weather Makers, he sets out to show how things have developed over the decade since, where his opinions have changed over the years, and what he now thinks are the best ways forward if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. At this stage, I was concerned I might find the book unreadable. His style is abrasive, self-aggrandizing and arrogant and much of the introduction and early chapters read like a piece of self-advertisement. He mentions his previous book umpteen times, dismissing anyone who has criticised any aspect of it over the years, and spends far too long justifying his then conclusions. In fact, at times there is a sense almost of paranoia – as if he is the victim of a conspiracy of vested interests trying to discredit his work. He is vitriolic about the Abbott government in Australia – still in power when he was writing but now gone. Of course, as the cliché goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…

Hard to believe people are still building them...
Hard to believe people are still building them…

However, having vented his spleen, Flannery then settles down into a series of well-written chapters where he lays out the current situation very clearly. He starts with a bleak picture of what may happen if temperatures are not contained to the 2°C target – to the Arctic and Antarctic, to forests, wildlife and oceans, and not least to humanity in those parts of the world most sensitive to rising temperatures. It’s all stuff we’ve heard before, but brought up to date with the latest science. Flannery assumes throughout that by this time only those with vested interests in the carbon industries are still denying the link between man’s activities and climate change, and so is dismissive and even occasionally virulent about deniers. There is throughout a feeling of urgency – no time left to waste preaching to the unconverted, let’s just ignore them and get on with what needs to be done. Fine by me, but this is not a book to win over waverers with charm.

The next few chapters take us through individual aspects of energy production, starting with the dirty ones and moving on to the clean. This was the part of the book that gave me a sense of hope – assuming Flannery’s figures are correct, and I see no reason to doubt them, then fossil fuels seem to be losing their overwhelming attractiveness as renewables become both more efficient and cheaper due to economies of scale. We’re nowhere near out of the woods, but Flannery made me feel as if perhaps we’ve spotted the path.

North Western Glacier Alaska - 1940 and 2005
North Western Glacier Alaska – 1940 and 2005

In the final section, Flannery discusses how he believes we should proceed. His position is that, even in the unlikely (but not impossible) event that we reduce fossil fuel use to zero over the next few decades, we will still have the problem of existing CO2 in the atmosphere to deal with. He discusses the difficulties of the task and goes into some detail on some of the schemes that have been put forward. To my unscientific mind, lots of these sound like pie-in-the-sky schemes, or actually poison-in-the-sky, to be more accurate. Flannery himself isn’t keen on the kind of geo-engineering scheme that suggests pumping other stuff, like sulphur, into the atmosphere in order to induce cooling, on the grounds that firstly, we can’t foresee all the possible implications and secondly, the underlying problem of too much carbon still remains.

Hope - Harnessing solar power in Spain
Hope – Harnessing solar power in Spain

He suggests what he calls a ‘third way’ – a mixture of preparing for climate change by making necessary adaptations at a local level while attempting to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by a variety of schemes, from massive seaweed farms to storing carbon in rocks and plastics, that he feels could be effective without the risks of geo-engineering. To be honest, much of this sounded impractical and a bit like wishful thinking to me, but hey! Most of it was well over my head scientifically and he’s an expert, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s always been my opinion that it will have to be the scientists who solve this problem in the end, and the role of governments and the people should be to give them the finances and resources they need, while trying to stop any of them accidentally blowing up the galaxy in their enthusiasm.

Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery

However, after cheering me up in the earlier chapters, I’m afraid this final section plunged me back into gloom – the sheer scale of the task and the short-termism of so many governments make it all seem pretty overwhelming. I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps Flannery had done this deliberately, so that no-one would be approaching the Paris Conference feeling over-confident. Overall well worth reading – a good introduction for anyone new to the subject and a thorough update for those with a little more knowledge. Let’s hope the politicians attending the Conference will pay attention to the science more than the politics for once… the world will be watching. Won’t we?

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

25 thoughts on “Atmosphere of Hope: The Search for Solutions to the Climate Crisis by Tim Flannery

  1. Great review, FF, as always! I’m not sure this one would make my reading list (I gravitate to lighter fare, I confess), but it does sound interesting. Sadly, it’s the politicians who’ll be making the decisions rather than the scientists!

    • Thanks, Debbie! 🙂 I try to read an environmental book roughly once a year or so just to keep up – but it’s definitely more duty than pleasure! Yes, I’m kinda hoping the politicians might all have teenage kids who make them feel guilty about our generation destroying the world…

  2. Climate change is a big subject in Australia. It sounds as if the style of writing is unlikely to win anyone over, as an abrasive and arrogant voice will put people off listening to the message, whatever it may be. I have a funny comment on a not very funny subject though, an elderly relative told me last week she doesn’t like our new Prime Minister because he “believes in climate change.” I agree with you, let’s give more money to the scientists to solve the problem.

    • Yes, he really put me off in the early part of the book – he obivously fell out with Tony Abbott big style (I can never think of him without remembering that brilliant ‘I will not take lesson from this man!’ speech that whatsername did!). Haha! Yes, it’s almost like fairies – you either believe or you don’t! I must say he did cheer me up with how far we’ve got with renewables – I didn’t know it had grown as much as it has…

  3. Great review, but not one for me. I don’t need convincing, and I’m getting progressively more tired of people, however expert, who think that the way to get others to share their views is with harangues and insults.

    • I like to read one every year or so just to get an update on where we are now, but they’re not usually as abrasive in style as this one. But it’s definitely aimed at the Paris Conference so it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of that…

  4. I don’t have any thoughts to bring to this post. I did visit 3-mile Island (after it was declared safe) with a group of seniors. I don’t have any thoughts about that either. I can offer the thought that humans really need to take care of this planet.

  5. Great review. I’m glad to know there is a path and the situation isn’t hopeless. I have one question. (And please forgive my American ignorance.) But what does “stall” mean in this sentence: “In the introduction, Flannery lays out his stall”?

    • Thanks, L. Marie! I was pleased with what he said about renewables – I hadn’t realised that they’d advanced so much over the last few years. How interesting – I didn’t realise that was a British saying! A stall is what we call a table in a market, so ‘laying out your stall’ means telling what line you’re going to be trying to ‘sell’ to your readers. So in this case in the introduction he explained that he was going to be trying to persuade us of his ideas about a ‘third way’ to deal with the problem. 🙂

  6. I wonder if this guy is so mad simply BECAUSE people are still denying climate change. In the U.S., scientists seen similarly done with arguing about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. It pretty much took the pope saying climate change is a thing for many Americans to get on board, and the pope’s words left a number of Republicans scrambling to say climate change is fake without looking like a pope hater.

    • I think Tony Abbott kicked him out of his job, which seems to have upset him a bit! Yes, it’s odd that America is so resistant to the idea. Apart from it and Australia, I think most countries have accepted the scientific evidence now – even China! But Flannery suggests there’s loads of work going on in renewables in the US too, even despite the ongoing arguments.

  7. Hum-ness. I do think I might move to Hope, in Spain. That looks like a splendid place to live, the sudden. But it does look too hot, too, which might be a bit uncomfortable.

    Tim looks sweet in his picture, but I know he’s not!

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