Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Our Choice

Our Choice is the second book by Al Gore, which follows on from An Inconvient Truth. As explained in my book review of An Inconvient Truth, his first book identifies the problem and provides some of the evidence used by scientists to prove that global climate change is happening. The purpose of his second book is to offer the solutions and actions he thinks are needed to solve this global problem.
From the very beginning of the book Gore presents his view that "It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will." and, if I am being honest, I don't know if I totally agree with this. Although, I think we have many of the tools and much of the knowlegde needed to start to try and solve the issue of global climate change, I am not 100% sure we know enough about past climates or have the technology and knowledge of resources to continue to lead our current lifestyles, without harming the environment any further. For example, the use of oil for energy could start to be replaced with wind and solar energy and a new technology being developed which uses photosynthetic cyanobacteria that secrete alkanes ( a post on this will appear soon!) but, oil has many uses and, at present, I don't feel confident that we can replace all of its uses with renewable and sustainable resources. However, I greatly agree with his comment about the need for collective will, if we are going to take steps towards solving this problem. Global Climate Change, as quite clearly reflected in its name, is a global issue and so it has to be solved by a global community, who can see the need to do so and want to make a difference, if attempts to remedy the situation are to have the desired effect.

As a whole, the book provides a very detailed anaylisis of several of the alternative energy generation/sourcing methods including solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and biofuels amongst others. The idea of the use of carbon capture and sequestration is also put forward which is something that I knew little about before reading this. The extensive descriptions of the oppurtunties to incoroparate  renewables in the world's energy mix is aided by, like the rest of the book, thought provoking images, illustrations that guide you to understanding and graphs which help to present the key statistics in a reader friendly format. One of the things that I liked most about the book was that, due to chapters on topics like, forests, soil, population, the media and lots more, Gore was able put forth the links between every aspect of our life (and practically the entire AS syllabus plus much more!) to our energy consumption and, ultimately, global climate change and how changes to society, economy and politics needs to occur if we are to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

Politics is, more so than in his first book, mentioned throughout but I personally think that, to an extent, it improves the book and the readers general understanding of this complex issue. Whether we like it or not, politics does and will continue to play a crucial, and perhaps even dictatorial, role in energy usage and consumption across the globe. Does this, therefore, mean that we need politicians to take the first step towards going 'green' before the rest of us will follow? Well, I think that to a certain extent, yes. I believe that an united effort is required if we are to make a difference and the easiest way to provoke this would be through the introduction of policies, incentives to go green and changes to the sources of energy we produce and consume. However, it is one thing changing our lifestyles but sustaining a new 'greener' one is something totally different and for us to do so, I think that we have to want to change and not do so just because we are made to.

One factor that Al Gore seems to greatly believe influences people and their attitude to Global Climate Change is the media and I personally have never really thought of their role much before in relation to this topic. There are some rather interesting ads included in the book which were published by an environmental group, called ICE, which were created by the fossil fuel industry and they all refer back to the idea of the planet warming up. On reflection, I think that this is part of the problem. Many seem to take the term global warming on face value only thus believing that it means that the area where they live will warm up. This is not always the case because the term was designed to represent the fact that the average global temperature is warming. This mis-interpretation has led to many believing that it isn't happening and thereby made it possible for the media to further fuel this belief - which is possibly responsible for a lack of change to our lifestyles. 

So, finally, what excatly did Al Gore think needs to be done to solve the problem of Global Climate Change - a problem that he believes is the cause of much misery and suffering and has been long neglected. In the last chapter of the book, Gore presents two scenairos, in the form of questions, of which one he believes will occur in the future. In the first scenairo, he believes that the new generation will look back on the past and ask what were we thinking? Didn't we hear the warnings from scientists and did we just not care? Or, on the other hand, he believes they will ask how we found the courage to rise up and solve a crisis so many said was impossible to solve? He has picked the two extremes here and clearly it is the second scenairo he hopes occurs. He admits to reach this, though, it will be hard and many things will need to occur for it to happen. Firstly he thinks that governments need shift their priorities to creating the foundations of a new low-carbon economy and the public need to gain a better understanding of the problems we could face if we continued our current lifestyles. Secondly he believes that the support of corporations is crucial, along with the establishment of an effective global carbon cap and trade scheme and a price on pollution which would help make renewables a more finanically viable option. Gore seems to be very anti-nuclear (this book was written a few years ago and so this opinion was not influenced by recent events) and instead suggests an increase in the use of renewables, especially geothermal in the areas that are capable of doing so, across the globe, accompanied by new transmission methods so that this renewable energy can be transported to other countries. Painting all roofs white, to increase albedo, and changing road systems with a reduction in traffic lights, to reduce exhaust emissions, were two other ideas he puts forward in his book. He also believes that changes to farming patterns, energy usage in the developing world and development of infrastructure need to change. He has many, many more ideas, all of which he thinks have to occur global scale and be initiated by our generation. I would be interested to know how much you would be willing to change your lifestyles to make them more environmentally friendly and to reduce your carbon footprint. I would also quite like to know what excatly Al Gore, himself, does to make his life as environmentally friendly as possible and whether or not his chosen methods of doing so are applicable for the general public as it is so easy to say what needs to be done much actually doing it is not as easy as it seems. 2009 was the year he stated that the turning point, which would lead to the above starting to occur, would fall in. It is now 2011 and so I wonder what he thinks about what the global community has, or hasn't, achieved and whether or not his solutions to Global Climate Change has changed..........

Overall, the book, which I must warn you is quite wordy compared to the first one, is well worth reading if you can find the time. It is full of statistics, interesting facts, good case studies and a wide range of topics and, like the first one, is very thought provoking. I learnt quite a bit from reading this book as it mentions things that I either didn't know a lot about or hadn't really thought about in relation to Global Climate Change.

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