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Paul Brown, The Guardian’s environment correspondent until 2005, has compiled a book full of stunning photographs, alarming data and passionate quotes to illustrate the global warming crisis. The book’s publication is timely: according to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, EU countries are committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 5–8 percent by next year! With Europe experiencing record temperatures, violent storms, floods and wildfires, it’s getting easier to win over climate change sceptics; but, it should be noted, increased petrol taxes and graphic warnings on cigarette packages haven’t persuaded that many individuals to give up driving or smoking
Brown’s book presents beautiful and dramatic photos illustrating the problems of climate change, and images of the rapid retreat of glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro and the immediate danger confronting small island nations from rising sea levels are particularly poignant. But it’s also significant that the publication also introduces and describes possible solutions.
Current solution attempts, such as carbon credit trading, are really just license to pollute elsewhere. Nor is nuclear energy a carbon-friendly solution if one takes into account its entire life cycle; moreover, this option simply trades long-term environmental disaster for short-term global catastrophe. For the cost of an atomic plant, thousands of safe micro-hydro, solar, wind and insulation projects could be completed at a fraction of the cost. Consider also that standby lights on televisions in the United States—just TVs, just in the US—use up as much energy as one nuclear power plant produces in one year! Add to this video and DVD players, stereos and the rest of the world, and it’s clear that simply turning off standby lights can make an immediately significant short-term difference.
Instead of new sports stadiums or monuments to the past, governments should be investing in renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency and insulation. What use will a monument be if it’s underwater? Or a sports stadium that’s too hot to enjoy? Denmark, for example, now gets 20% of its energy from renewable resources. Germany has committed to bringing all its housing up to modern energy efficiency standards within 20 years. Mandatory procurement and new building standards can also make new technologies “normal” and less expensive; Spain passed legislation in 2005 requiring all new buildings to incorporate solar water heating systems. Ultimately, we cannot depend on governments or corporations to do the right thing. We can, however, make easy and inexpensive contributions to slowing climate change. Unplug appliances not in use, or use an extension cord with a master switch; buy appliances with an A/A+ energy rating; use energy-efficient light bulbs; use public transport, cycle orwalk and avoid cars and planes; insulate your home; get a free energy audit from a local NGO or project like Energy Brigades; buy organic and local; and vote! Organisations like the US-based League of Conservation Voters track politicians on their environmental records and issue report cards.
While Brown’s Global Warning isn’t a textual revelation, the effective use of comparative photographs should inspire some individuals to take actions. Most of the world has known about the grave nature of climate change for nearly two decades. We have no excuse to ignore it further.
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