Book: Atmosphere of Hope


Tim Flannery looks on the bright side. Bill Condie reviews his latest book on climate change. 


NON FICTION
Atmosphere of hope: Searching for solutions to the climate crisis
By Tim Flannery

Text Publishing (2015)

Hope doesn’t often get a look-in during the debate on climate change. The data of rising temperatures, acidification of the oceans and changing rainfall patterns are more usually associated with gloom as is the apparent inability of governments to act on these concerns. Meanwhile, the rancorous chorus of scepticism and denial make any hope of a solution seem remote indeed.

But into this debate, 10 years after the publication of his international bestseller The Weather Makers, steps Tim Flannery with a message of genuine optimism, as he outlines the exciting technologies and approaches to dealing with climate change that are already available or soon may be.

He looks at the means to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere directly by changing the energy components we use. He assesses the uncertain future for the oil, gas and coal industries, which have experienced massive changes over the past decade, and, he suggests, face further sharp declines. He looks at alternatives such as solar and wind. Chanelling Elon Musk he reminds us that the Sun radiates more energy in a few hours than the planet uses in a year, and like Musk says the future depends on efficient batteries.

He discusses the pros and cons of nuclear power and radical geoengineering solutions, such as pumping sulfur into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. He describes these schemes, with their potential to go horribly wrong, as fighting poison with poison.

The most exciting technologies, Flannery says, are those he describes as “third way” solutions – neither emission reduction plans nor geoengineering mega projects. Instead these third way projects work with the Earth to enhance and restore natural processes that balance greenhouse gasses – “processes that are as old as life itself”.

They include the various means of atmospheric carbon capture – seaweed farming, CO2 snow production in Antarctica, the absorption of CO2 by the “enhanced weathering” of silicate rocks and the manufacture of carbon-rich biochar and its use in reafforestation projects.

He also considers less radical engineering solutions such as painting cities white to reflect the Sun’s rays.

But, writes Flannery, the greatest technologies might still be ahead of us as the challenges of dealing with climate change engage and define generations of thinkers, scientists and engineers.

“It is possible the next generation will astonish us with the solutions that we discover to safeguard our planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren,” he writes.

Time is running out, but a catastrophe is not inevitable.

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Bill Condie is head of publishing at The Royal Institution of Australia and former publisher of Cosmos.
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