Too many months ago now, I was emailed the manuscript of a book called Cooling It: No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming by Gar Lipow, an occasional commenter at my own blog. I promised Gar I would read it, and then it languished on my desktop for months, silently mocking me.
In any case, I recently finished it and with his permission I thought I’d share my impressions.
For honesty’s sake I should say that I may be the worst possible person to review this book. I require almost no convincing of the book’s main arguments — that the means for saving the planet from climate change are well within our grasp, without massive reductions in our standard of living or pie-in-the-sky technological improvements.
That said, the book is an extremely detailed and thorough argument of just that. If you like tables of wonky data (and who doesn’t?) this is a great book for you. But even (maybe especially) the non-technical environmentalist could gain from reading it.
The central argument is that we, as an industrial society, naturally replace infrastructure as it ages. So the question is not a fictional “business as usual” versus having to rebuild everything from the ground up. Business as usual is rebuilding and replacing our infrastructure as it ages and becomes obsolete.
Lipow argues that the vast majority of our infrastructure needs to be replaced within 30 years, whether we like it or not. The question is how will it be replaced. Will we use the standard, inefficient, non-renewable junk, or will we act as if our species has a survival instinct?
Like one of my faves, Natural Capitalism, Cooling It has plenty of examples of technologies that can help us reduce our carbon emissions, and Lipow ably surveys various sectors of the American economy to demonstrate where the savings in energy and CO2 emissions can come from. In particular, I enjoyed the sections on agriculture and transportation — did anyone else know about this Cybertran thing? Why was I out of the loop?
Unlike Natural Capitalism, however, Cooling It stays almost entirely in the realm of the real — no carbon-fiber, fuel-cell cars here.
Lipow’s intention, and I believe he succeeded, was to show even with the most conservative possible assumptions (that is, the status quo), we have the means to be both prosperous and sustainable. It doesn’t come for free — nothing does — but it is eminently achievable.
This, I think, is the natural counterpart to Al Gore’s message that the climate crisis is a moral calling before anything else: having been given a moral command to save the planet, our objective now is to do so as quickly as possible. Lipow’s book made me more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time that we might actually be able to make it happen.
Now if someone would just publish it, the rest of you could read it too.