A Climate of Hope
Ten years after his internationally bestselling The Weather Makers, acclaimed Australian scientist and author Tim Flannery argues that Earth’s climate system is approaching a crisis. Catastrophe is not inevitable, but the clock is ticking. His latest book Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis provides both an update of where we are today and an analysis of some of the innovations emerging right now offering possibilities for mitigating the effects of climate change.
Most of the climate science Flannery wrote about a decade ago in The Weather Makers has "stood the test of time”. His latest book follows on from The Weather Makers "bringing news of tools in the making" and sharing new radical geo-engineering technologies. He, along with other world recognised scientists, agree there is not one or even a few answers but many varying solutions working together that will offer opportunities to deal effectively with climate change. We are now on the cusp of realising so many of the ‘new breed and third way’ technological innovations that hope is, indeed, in the air.
Author and scientist Peter Doherty and Flannery are united in the belief that the challenges around mitigating climate change are now more urgent than ever. There is also an urgent need to address the massive issues we face in a political climate of little leadership on this issue and its many potential consequences. Both authors are urging what we have known for some time - the need to enact and enforce rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions is critical, while at the same time we must ensure ensure major investment in research and development in technological innovations.
Flannery advocates a “third way” that is currently neglected in political momentum and public debate. It involves capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it or using it to create things we need. According to Flannery, there are ways of drawing down atmospheric carbon. The two major ways are: using the photosynthetic ability of plants to capture CO2 and chemical methods. Using plants extracts needed energy source from the sun, a free commodity. Another biological approach is converting plant matter into biochar, a process that yields valuable chemicals and fuels while at the same time the carbon content is stabilised for storage.
The application of some of the innovations that draw CO₂ out of the air and sea could happen in the near future at a rate never before achieved. Radical geoengineering proposals offer the most hopeful solutions for the future. Just as solar has been reducing its costs and increasing its applications, so will these new technologies. The key message from both authors is emphasised repeatedly. However, these innovations need major support from government, market capital and investment in research and development. If governments, cities and local networks pursue appropriate investments in new technologies, Flannery argues that the third way could draw four gigatons of carbon out of the air each year (that’s 40 percent of current emissions by 2050).
While Flannery focuses on science and technology to bring solutions, Doherty offers a historical and practical discussion of the nature of modern science and evidence-based knowledge as a way in assisting decision makers on topics such as climate change in his book The Knowledge Wars. Encouraging evidence-based politics and policies will bring around positive and long-lasting change, especially where climate change is concerned, according to Doherty. Doherty clearly aims to arm those who might find themselves arguing with climate change deniers or those who disagree with the IPCC’s position on climate change.
No doubt, Doherty and Flannery are on the same page. “As scientists, we need to advocate louder to push the global community into action on climate change. Leading with evidenced-based science, which has served the world so well over history is the only way to counter empty, dogma based pronouncements from politicians and possible future leaders,” says Doherty.
The Knowledge Wars is a critical read in today’s environment of uncertain political campaigns in the US and Australia. Doherty’s main message to the politicians and the general public is clear. We can’t predict the future, but we can use science and intelligent conjecture to lead us towards smart decisions that will affect our futures and that of the planet. Doherty is hopeful when he points out that traditional conservatives have often been environmentalists. The first national parks in the United States were set up and protected by Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.
Hope isn't a word that often comes to mind amid the current lack of political leadership on climate change but that's the term both Doherty and Flannery use to sum up their latest assessment of our climate future.
Tim Flannery (Australian) is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. His books include The Future Eaters, The Weather Makers and Here on Earth. In 2011 he became Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner and in 2013 he founded and now heads the Australian Climate Council.
Peter Doherty (Australian) received the Novel Prize in Medicine in 1996 for his discovering the role of T cells in the immune system. He was named Australian of the Year in 1997. Doherty is currently based between St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne.