Atmosphere of Hope – Tim Flannery

It looks as though I was born just at the right time – lived my life when the living was, relatively speaking, easy – at least for those of us lucky enough not to be a citizen of a third world country. My generation missed the most traumatic events of the last century, saw the Cold War off without nuclear catastrophe, then ushered in the digital age – for better or worse. That being said, we also did just enough to bugger up our planet for the generations that follow. But then, we will be gone before the real crunch hits. Our ineptitude and our belief in deforestation, dirty coal and petrol guzzling machines is now certainly starting to make our atmosphere an unhappy place. And it’s already paying us back for that. Those who come after us will need to clean up our mess if humanity is to survive in a manner we’ve grown accustomed to on our planet. Or find a way to cope with a very altered environment. They’ll be able to do that, won’t they?

Will those gifted scientists, following the not so gifted ones who were like a wrecking ball for the Earth over the last five decades or so, be able to find a way to suck all that deleterious CO2 out of the sky? Will they find somewhere safe then to put it all – or perhaps even make something useful to humankind out of it?

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Tim Flannery thinks that those brainiacs who are working on it now and down the track; the politicians in charge presently and into the future; as well as a more environmentally savvy general populace will have the combined nous to do this. Fingers crossed. There is much to be optimistic about, as reflected in ‘Atmosphere of Hope’. In general, though, it does make for some pretty depressing reading. Everything will have to go exactly right. At least, since the tome was written, there has been the hoped for positive outcomes from Paris. The two world leaders who were road-blocking progress for all they were worth – our own head-in-the-sand man Abbott and his mate, Canada’s Harper, have both been consigned to the dustbin of history. In Trudeau and Turnbull we at least have guys who think that the science has got it right.

Yes, Flannery reports, this science is on the march, starting to grapple and make some headway with the solutions required. And the greed of the vested interests in the ways of the past? Well, it is now being shown as what it truly has been all along – profit at all costs to benefit a small minority to the detriment of the masses. Despite this, it will still be touch and go.

I must admit, reading this, some of that aforementioned science had me glassy eyed with the plethora of figures Flannery used to make his various cases. He did his best to put it all in layman’s terms, but my difficulties with it didn’t detract from the impact his writings had on this reader. Some sections I truly found engrossing reading, such as the chapter entitled ‘The Great Disconnect’, discussing the gap between where the politicians are at as compared to those endeavouring to save us all. It is narrowing, but there’s still work to be done. And what’s to be done includes this – and it’s sobering. ‘The latest research…(has) found that more than 80 percent of known coal reserves, 33 percent of oil and 50 percent of gas must stay in the ground if we are to remain within budget.’ to get the emissions down to the Paris limits. Can you see the multi-nationals out there, plundering the Earth’s resources, laying down and taking that? Well, it’ll have to happen.

Geo-engineering seems to be the great hope – but it comes at a ginormous cost in monetary terms – and maybe also in the experimentation to get it right. It seems there are plenty of theories around to cool the planet by this means – from space sunshades to all buildings having white roofs. These range from sensible, no-brainer actions to those worthy of Dr Strangelove. Flannery examines the more plausible of these, declares some to be viable – but the cost, the cost. ‘Drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is, at the moment, an extraordinarily complex process involving mind-blowing quantum mechanics.’ But the Aussie climatologist is hoping that where there’s a will, there is also a way. He takes us through some models for this.

Yep, it seems, there is hope. It’s all not lost – but sadly he has given up on the Great Barrier Reef. He reckons it is gone for all money. As for many of the species we share this planet with, mega-numbers are on a quick path to extinction in the wild. They’ll find it impossible to adapt to the changes besetting them in the time they have left. We are already seeing it – think polar bears, orangutans, frogs. The list is long and salutary.

Yes, I am glad I read this book. I feel more informed and even a little more optimistic than beforehand. I have a fair grasp on the challenges ahead thanks to Tim F. I know the planet will survive the onslaught we have made on its checks and balances – and hopefully humankind will too, in one form or another.

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