Archive for May 10th, 2010

Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis by Al Gore. Rodale, 2009.

I checked Al Gore’s latest book out of the library, but quickly decided I would like to have my own copy. It would be possible to sit down and read the book cover to cover. The writing is clear and well-organized, and addresses the reader in a confidential manner, as if you were sitting with Al, talking things over. Yet every page of the book is full of information. Because of this latter factor, it is a great book to have on your shelf so that you can pick it up and read a bit about whatever issue might be concerning you at the moment.

The book features great photographs from around the world that illustrate the text, and includes relevant quotes from many sources. In his introduction, Gore repeats the African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Of the climate crisis, he notes we have far to go…and need to go quickly. The latest scientific studies repeatedly show that earlier projections of the worst-case outcome have understated how serious this crisis is and how rapidly it is growing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after 20 years of detailed study, now says that the evidence is unequivocal.

The book is divided into 6 sections. After an introductory review of our situation, Gore looks at sources of energy: where our energy comes from and where it goes. Solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration and nuclear power are examined. Living systems, including forests, soil and population comprise the next section. How we use energy, and the obstacles we need to overcome to change the way we act follow. The concluding chapters are headed Going Far Quickly.

One of the sections I found particularly interesting was the chapter on population. Any plan to solve the climate crisis must deal with the challenge of stabilizing global population as quickly as is feasible. The world’s effort to stabilize the growth of population is a success story, but one that is not being acted out fast enough. In the last quarter-century, demographers and social scientists have made great strides in understanding the complexities of population growth and stabilization and there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of population growth. World population is expected to stabilize at slightly more than 9 billion people by 2050.

The United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo in 1994, observed that the dynamic at work in any national population is a complex system that shifts over time from a pattern characterized by high death rates, high birth rates, and large families, to a a new equilibrium pattern characterized by low death rates, low birth rates and small families. The four factors that bring about a shift from the first pattern to the second are these:

  • The widespread education of girls.
  • The social and political empowerment of women to participate in the decisions of their families, communities and nations.
  • High child-survival rates, leading parents to feel confident that most or all of their children will survive into adulthood.
  • The ability of women to determine the number and spacing of their children.

If you look at the UN TFR (total fertility ranking), the top 10 countries are a who’s who of some of the poorest countries in the world and places  where women have few options.  Afghanistan is third, with an average of 7.07 births per woman.  In Canada, the birth rate is 1.53 births per woman.

Of course, population is just one aspect of a complex issue, and Gore offers useful information in many areas in an accessible form. Highly recommended.

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