Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Category: environment

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

‘With Knowledge comes thought and with thought comes power’

Alexander Von Humboldt

This a wonderful book about one of the most greatest polymaths and inter-disciplinarians of all time. Alexander von Humboldt is a forgotten hero of science, an exceptional man, a restless explorer, “a man who sought to see and understand everything”, a passionate scientist who could speak to the soul of people.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described him as ‘one of those wonders of the world, like Aristotle, like Julius Caesar… who appear from time to time, as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind’, and Simon Bolivar said that Humboldt ‘has done more good for America than all her conquerors’. His name lingers everywhere, there is the Humboldt current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru, there is the Humboldt penguin, the Humboldt’s lily, Lilium humboldtii, a perennial herb that is native to California. There are mountains, parks, and rivers named after him.

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Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen & the Story of a Bet

“My role is that of a witness, not a preacher”, says Dr James Hansen, one the world’s leading scientist on climate issues. A witness, as defined by the writer Robert Pool, is “someone who believes he has information so important that he cannot keep silent.”

In his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, James Hansen, often called the father of global warming, talks about the science and the mechanisms that drive global warming in a way that makes it relatively easy for readers to understand.

“Politicians are happy if scientists provide information and then go away and shut up”, he writes. But science and policy cannot be divorced. ” Policy decisions on climate change are “being deliberated every day by those without full of the science, and often with intentional misinformation spawned by special interests.” “This book” says Hansen, “was written to help rectify this situation. Citizens with a special interest – in their loved ones – need to become familiar with the science, exercise their democratic rights, and pay attention to politicians’ decisions Otherwise, it seems, short-term special interests will hold sway in capitals around the world – and we are running out of time.”

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The Sahara Forest Project – Too good to be true?

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The Politics of Climate Change by Antony Giddens

The sociologist Antony Giddens published his book ‘The Politics of Climate Change’  almost a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which almost brought down the world’s financial system. With the financial crisis still unfolding, climate change seemed a less immediate and alarming issue. But that does not mean the problem is going away, we will now to turn our attention on the urgency to mobilise the international attention and take action.

This is the central paradox of climate change politics, argues Giddens. Politicians and citizens cannot grasp the significance of climate change because it is too abstract, and not visible in the course of day-to-day life. Waiting until the effects of climate change become visible and acute, in order to take action, will be too late. He christened it Giddens paradox.

2Anthony Giddens treats climate change as a political problem, and despite being a strong advocate of markets, he recognises the important role that states have to play in adaptation to climate change as ‘an ensuring state’ whose primary role is to help energise a diversity of groups operating in a bottom-up fashion.’ An ‘ensuring state’ acts as a facilitator, an enabler, rather than as a top-down agency. That prerequisites the return of planning, a word that came under shadow in the post-war period because it was associated with strong central direction by the state, the very basis of the economy in the Soviet-type societies.

‘There has now to be a return to greater state interventionism’, says Giddens, ‘a conclusion that is reinforced by the failure of deregulation.’ Many economists, such as Sir Nicholas Stern, have described climate change as an example of market failure. Unregulated markets have no long-term perspective, they have created externalities that their indirect effects have an impact on the consumption and production opportunities of others, while the price of the products does not take those externalities into account. They have overproduced CO2, and the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases from human activity has been identified as a major cause of global warming.

The privatization and the liberation of energy markets opened up sectors to ‘competition so that markers could do their work in encouraging efficiency and finding appropriate prices for energy goods’, but did little to encourage investments in energy infrastructure, since energy companies became focused on paring back their operating costs.

Nowadays, however, the world system and the world economy are changing fundamentally. The changes in the energy market create new threats and challenges, and thus the calls for a new energy paradigm for the 21st century. A proactive energy policy that revolves around three core principles:

  1. Transparency, cooperation and integration
  2. Deconstructing energy independence /Return to protection of national energy
  3. Energy efficiency and integration of energy policy with climate change policy.

Developed nations need to start taking action now. Technological innovations are essential to empower human societies to adjust to climate change but much more must be done to reduce emissions. Policies that will enable the radical restructuring of energy and transport and production systems could do their bit to address climate change.

The Politics of Climate Change, By Anthony Giddens, Polity Press, 256pp, Published 20 March 2009

Image Credit:  NASA

Image Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulca

Connecting climate change to human population and the status of women

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