The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review:
The Hot Topic:
What we can do about global warming”

Dec 15, 2008

David King, one of Britain’s best known scientists, and Gabrielle Walker, science editor for Nature and New Scientist, have published a new book The Hot Topic, on global warming.

The book briefly discusses the scientific evidence for global warming, from accurate temperature records for the last 350 years to annual rings in trees and corals and ice cores for earlier time periods.

The authors explain that the Earth is habitable, not just because of its distance from the Sun, but because of, in part, the greenhouse effect. Were it not for “greenhouse gases” in the Earth’s atmosphere, which allow sunlight in but prevent heat from escaping into space, Earth would be too cold to support life. They discuss the harmful effects caused when the levels of such gases in the atmosphere get too high.

King and Walker discuss the evidence for the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. They explain how scientists determined that human activity is to blame for this increase and why natural causes such as solar activity or decreases in aerosols like dust from volcanic activity cannot finally explain global warming.

They go through the effects global warming will have on climates around the world. Oceans can become more acidic, impacting sea life. Hurricanes will become stronger and last longer. Wet areas would experience flooding, while dry areas would have more droughts, causing deserts to spread. Rising sea levels will cause erosion and flooding in coastal areas, home to about half the world’s population. Deadly heat waves like the one in Europe in 2003 will become more frequent.

The authors estimate that what the world’s countries need to spend to curb global warming is less than what the world already spends on insurance.

Keeping in mind the safety problems with nuclear power, the geographic issues with wind power and the lack of research on solar power, the authors let us know other possibilities already exist, so that the world could go beyond the use of oil and coal.

And they discuss changes that could be made in the way energy, transport, agriculture and construction are carried out. Here is where the political and social problems become more apparent. For example, they point out what are alternatives in transportation without dealing with why such choices are missing in many parts of the world. They detail alternate energy sources. But they don’t explain why companies don’t base their decisions on what is best for the planet. Capitalists make decisions based on what makes the most profit.

King and Walker take on the arguments blaming such growing economies as those of China and India, pointing out that richer countries have been subcontracting their manufacturing to China and India for many years. In this fashion, less developed countries take the blame for both pollution and terrible working conditions, while the products and profits wind up in the richer countries. King and Walker place clear responsibility on the industrialized countries for having brought the world to this stage of global warming, but here again, they don’t explain why these countries – imperialist countries – act this way.

Overall, King and Walker discuss the problem of global warming from a scientific standpoint. Unfortunately, the logic of capitalism places profit above protection of the environment, despite the dire consequences global warming portends. The underlying problem remains that those in control – the capitalists and their tame politicians – decide policies while the vast majority of the world’s people suffer the consequences.