Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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19 Sep 2006

Book Review and Competition! – The Atlas of Climate Change.

atlas**Review of The Atlas of Climate Change – Mapping the world’s greatest challenge by Kirstin Dow and Thomas E Downing. Part of the Earthscan Atlas Series. 2006. Win a copy of this book – see below!**

Climate change and peak oil are two sides of the same coin, two faces of the same problem. Jeremy Leggett has referred to them as the two Great Oversights of our time. The true scale of the challenge facing us cannot be grasped without understanding both. Peak oil without climate change leads to the belief that our crisis is purely one of energy shortage, and that this can be got around by reaching for coal, coal-to-liquids, tar sands, and all the other most climatically destructive members of the fossil fuel family. Climate change without peak oil can end up arguing that business as usual is possible, that a centralised distribution economy can be kept going, just with gradual reductions in carbon emissions each year. A true sense of the scale of what we have to achieve can only emerge when we combine the two.

Once you start to explore climate change, the amount of information out there is staggering, often contradictory, and tends to involve a mind-melting array of graphs, charts and statistics. For those of us whose heads can only take a certain amount of such things, the temptation is to switch off, to assume that yes, it is happening, but as to how much and what its effects will be, we feel unequipped to have an informed opinion. ‘The Atlas of Climate Change’ is a wonderful tool to help clarify the mountains of data into something comprehensible.

It aims to demystify climate change, and does so through the use of very clear and helpful maps. In a very clear graphic style the scale and the nature of the problem becomes clear. It shows the warning signs of climate change unfolding around us, where the glaciers are in retreat, and what is happening to the poles. It then analyses what is driving this change, what the greenhouse effect is, and what we can learn from past climates. It also projects the spectrum of forecasts as to the future climate. These are all illustrated in clear graphic style, using maps that are very easy to read.

The book then takes the reader through the effects climate change will have on ecosystems, water supplies, food security, culture and the world’s cities (100 million people live less than 1 metre above sea level). Again, maps are skillfully used to convey the scale and the locations of the problem. The section called ‘Responding to Change’ looks at what is being done around the world to tackle climate change. One graphic in this particularly caught my attention. It compares what nations who signed the Kyoto Protocol agreed to do to what they have actually done.

The Eastern European nations are doing the best, but not from choice. They have all cut their emissions far more than they were meant too, but only because the transition from communist economies have been very hard work and not as successful as they might have liked. Among the worst offenders are Iceland (promised a 21% cut, actually increased emissions by 42.2%), Canada (promised a 6% cut, actually increased emissions by 57.5%) and New Zealand (promised to stabilise their emissions, actually increased them by 30.7%). Ireland doesn’t have much to be proud about either.

Later sections also show the pitiful amount of money world Governments have been throwing at the problem, a sliver on the pie chart of overseas development aid so small that it is almost invisible. The myth of carbon sequestration (or ‘bequestration’ as I heard someone call it recently) is explored, but it is the final section that gives some hope. It shows the cities around the world who are despairing of their national governments ever actually doing anything and so are acting on their own. Sobering though is the map showing the adaptability of various nations around the world. While most of Europe and the US are able direct resources investment in climate change adaptation, much of the world has a far lesser ability to respond.

This week the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research argued that rather than the UK Government’s target of 60% cuts in emissions by 2050, what is actually needed is a 90% cut. I would suggest that a 90% cut in carbon emissions, combined with the impacts of oil depletion, will result in a world so totally different from today that for most it is impossible to conceive. In my recent interview with Dennis Meadows, he makes the point that the changes in societ and industry that we have seen over the last 100 years will be as nothing to what we will see over the next 20. What this book doesn’t do is attempt to paint any kind of a picture as to how life might be if the necessary action is taken in time. Beyond the usual stuff about low energy lightbulbs and loft insulation, the authors don’t really go anywhere interesting.

I would argue that this will result in an intensely local world, with very little in the way of private transport, no aviation, much reduced imports (I was unaware until I read this book that international shipping is a much higher contributor to climate change than aviation), but that if sufficiently planned in advance, it could be a better place. The authors also fail to explore ways of locking up carbon such as moving agriculture to a more tree based model such as that proposed by permaculture, or even promising experimental approaches such as Eprida. Perhaps the role of this book is purely to explore the problem, but some kind of clear thinking about what might follow would have been useful.

‘The Atlas of Climate Change’ is an excellent book. For the longterm climate change reader, it synthesises things you already knew in a very clear and stylish way. For the novice, it does that most important of things, it takes what would otherwise be hard to digest statistics and information, and makes it clear and understandable. The graphic style is clear and easy to read. I certainly learnt a lot from it, its 100-odd pages contain a vast amount of information. If you want to get up to speed on the subject, this is probably the best place to start, alongside Mayer Hillman’s ‘How to Save the Planet’. Highly recommended.


Those kind folks at Earthscan Books have given **Transition Culture** two copies of ‘The Atlas of Climate Change’ to give away. To win a copy, email your reply to the following to robjhopkins (at) by **Friday 29th September**.

The most respected body in climate change research is the **Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC)**. The initials IPCC are also used by a number of other organisations, many of which are listed below.

a. Independent Pharmacy Care Centres
b. International Packet Communications Consortium
c. International Peace and Cooperation Centre
d. Imelda Pinkerton’s Chorus Choir
e. International Pentecostal Church of Christ
f. Inspired Peakists’ Collapse Club
g. Iran Petrochemical Commercial Company
h. International Police College of Canada
i. Irish Peatland Conservation Council
j. Infinity Property and Casualty Corporation.
k. Independent Police Complaints Commission
l. Investment Planning Counsel of Canada

But two of the above are not genuine organisations. Which are they?