Review: The Hot Topic

As promised, here is my review of The Hot Topic. My apologies for the delay. I had to read the book twice to make sure that I digest its essence.

first, allow me to share my personal context on the global warming
issue. I have never read any non-fiction book on global warming prior
to The Hot Topic. Ironically, the only book I’ve read about global
warming is the controversial novel, The State of Fear by Michael Crichton.
However, after reading Crichton’s novel, my curiosity peaked. Crichton
raised my awareness on the very issue that he tried to debunk. Since
then I’ve devoted some of my time looking at the spectrum of debates on
global warming. I’ve read countless news articles on the Web, watched
debates, documentaries, and interviews, and skimmed the IPCC Reports.
In short, I did my best to understand this issue from an environmental,
technological, geopolitical, economics, and even religious and
spiritual perspectives, all the while sharing my explorations on my
blog (hint: search this blog for “global warming” or “climate change“; see also my bookmarks on global-warming and climate-change).

my curiosity to understand global warming, along the way I also learned
that there is a massive disinformation effort to cause confusion on the
issue, not to mention ignorance, delusion, denial, and outright
hysteria brought about by doomsday scenarios perpetrated by movies and
mainstream media. This is not surprising. I find it kind of funny. I
find it kind of sad. Our competing values, political ideologies,
self-interests, and psycho-social stages of development put our
collective in a state of cognitive dissonance causing leaders and
policymakers to delay or sabotage appropriate actions based on the best
scientific information we’ve got. From this perspective, we really are
living in a “Mad World.”

Now on to the book review…

The Hot Topic – How to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights On is one of the latest books on global warming. In fact, as of this writing it’s not yet released in the U.S. (April 2008 is the scheduled release).
Fortunately, I’m in Ireland right now so I was able to pick up a copy.
One of the reasons I decided to read the book was that it was highly recommended by Chris Mooney (one of the ScienceBloggers I regularly read). The other reason is that the authors of the book, Dr. Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King,
are both scientists with impeccable credentials. They are both experts
on climate science. In fact, Sir David King is one of the central
figures on the subject of climate change. He served as Chief Scientific
Adviser in the U.K. and was very influential in making the U.K. a
leader on climate change policies. So I thought, why not get first-hand
information on climate change from those people who understand it
rather than depend on the interpretation of journalists and politicians
who have an “axe to grind”? A no-brainer.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I (The Problem)
explained global warming issue in plain and easy-to-understand
language. It addressed the common myths, misconceptions, and areas of
contention among climate scientists. It presented uncontested evidences
as well as the unknowns in the current state of climate science. But
the general conclusion is this:

“Human activity is to
blame for the rise in temperature over recent decades, and will be
responsible for more changes in the future. There are plenty of areas
for debate in the global warming story but this is not one of them. If
anybody tells you differently they either have a vested interest in
ignoring the scientific arguments or they are fools.” (p. 37)

note that this conclusion is not based on the “consensus” of
scientists. This is what the available scientific evidence suggests. So
from the perspective of climate science, Al Gore’s presentation on the
movie An Inconvenient Truth
is spot on. Whether we agree with Gore’s environmental ideology or not,
there’s no denying that Gore had done his homework on the climate
change issue. Gore’s passion is backed by solid science. The man
deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, and our collective intellectual respect.

That said, thanks to the progress of climate science in recent years, the book presented an even more alarming scenario.

evidence suggests that the world will experience significant and
potentially highly dangerous changes in climate change over the next
few decades no matter what we do now.

“That’s because
the ocean has a built-in lag. It takes time to heat up…. The same
principle applies to global warming, but on a longer timescale: because
the oceans gradually soak up the heat generated by the extra greenhouse
gases, the full effect won’t be felt for decades to centuries.” (p. 53)

that’s the bad news. Not to mention other climate wildcards that could
possibly be triggered by various feedbacks and unknowns that scientists
were unable to take into consideration into global climate models (GCMs).

short, the latest scientific findings and evidence not only solidify
the global warming problem and put to rest the argument that humanity’s
addiction to fossil fuels is not to blame, but they also show that
previous studies and reports (such as the IPCC) proved to be
conservative. Global warming has arrived on our doorstep. From the
perspective of climate science, humanity ought to take Samuel L.
Jackson’s advice. “Hold onto your butts.”

But fear not. All
hope is not lost. Our generation can still curb the effects of global
warming provided that we act now, and fast. However, a big part of the
moral responsibility and leadership rest on the shoulders of developed

“The climate change that is already in the
pipeline will hit hardest those countries that are least equipped to
deal with it — and that have been least responsible for releasing the
emissions that caused the problem in the first place. Because of this,
we believe that developed countries have a moral responsibility to help
the developing world cope with the coming damage.” (p. 70)

generation is the last to have the chance of averting the worst of
these scenarios. All we need is the right combination of new
technologies, and economic, political, and social will.” (p. 86)

So that’s the problem in a nutshell. Very gloomy, but still hopeful.

As a technology junkie, Part II (Technological Solutions)
is what I enjoyed reading the most. Personally, I’m tired of all the
lemon-eating debates on global warming. I already understand that the
problem is real and we’re a big contributor to it. What I’m really
interested in is how we’re gonna pull together to adapt and avoid the
catastrophic effects of droughts, rising sea levels, pollution,
environmental degradation, with or without the fear of climate change.
I believe that accelerating technology will be our “easy” collective
salvation from this mess. The bigger issue is our collective political
and social will to take action. Technology is rapidly accelerating,
but politics, coupled with self-interests and warring ideologies,
hinder economic solutions and the technological acceleration.

However, in order to take action, it is imperative that we know what to shoot for. And here’s what the authors said.

very serious problem, which few people appear yet to have noticed, is
that it’s now almost certainly impossible to restrict warming to 2°C.
If we had started two decades ago we would have had a good chance. But
now, that target looks increasingly out of range.” (p. 95)

Therefore, according to the authors, climate change policies should be updated and it should include adaptations,
along with cutting CO2 emissions and technological solutions (i.e.
renewable energy sources). When it comes to thresholds, the authors
strongly suggest to update the current policies with 450 ppm CO2eq as the magic number.

believe the only choice we have is to keep greenhouse gases at the
lowest level we can possible get to. In other words, we have to go for
450 ppm CO2eq. This is the number to look for in every policy
statement, and every climate agreement. Note that this number is lower
than many climate policies that were set in motion in the past decade —
including that of the UK. The reason for this is that the latest
science tells us that our earlier estimates were too optimistic.” (p.

With the target greenhouse emissions threshold in mind,
the authors broke down the solutions into manageable chunks, called ”
wedges.” And therein lies the good news. We can still curb greenhouse
gases with technologies that are *already* available (i.e. hydroenergy,
geothermal, bioenergy, nuclear power, wind energy, solar energy, carbon
capture and storage, and nuclear fusion). No need to wait for
breakthrough technologies such as fusion or solar-powered generators. (Note: See this extract from the book for a more detailed explanation of the “wedges” strategy for reducing future greenhouse emissions.)

in the topic of automobiles, although the authors favored all-electric
vehicles, I find it lacking that they didn’t mention Tesla Motors — the company making waves with its fully electric Tesla Roadster. There was also no mention of Zero Pollution Motors’ Air Car.
Also, die-hard environmentalists would very likely object to the
inclusion of nuclear energy as part of the solution. But here’s what
the authors have to say about their stance on nuclear power.

your gut instinct is to react against nuclear power, do consider the
arguments here very carefully. Individual and community support will be
vital for new nuclear power stations to go ahead, and the problem of
climate change will require us all to make some very hard choices.
…nuclear power is one of the very few low-carbon technologies that
are already on hand, and although it is not necessarily and ideal way
to make energy, the dangers of climate change are certainly far worse.”
(p. 143)

And finally, in Part III (Political Solutions)
the authors discussed the economic and political aspects of climate
change, as well as our individual responsibilities and roles on how to
put pressure from below to ensure that our politicians are taking the
right actions. In this section, the authors took the readers around the
world to show that most of the developed nations (i.e. European
Union–UK, France, Germany, Russian Federation, Canada, Japan) and
rapidly developing nations (i.e. China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico,
India) have already committed to reducing their greenhouse emissions.
However —

“Though the rest of the world is not sitting on
its hands, the new global treaty will have little chance of success
until and unless the U.S. takes a position of responsibility and global
leadership on the issue of climate change.” (p. 217)

At this
point in the book, as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (per head
of the population), no wonder the U.S. (specifically the GW Bush
administration) had been criticized not only for its lack of political
will, but also for its apparent attempts at suppressing climate
scientists and undermining post-Kyoto treaties (i.e. putting pressure
on Australia not to ratify, disinformation campaigns against climate
change, and business ties of key government officials with fossil fuel
industries). As an American citizen, I find this both shameful and
disturbing. Thankfully, with the current popularity of the Democratic
candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and even the more open
attitude of Republican candidate John McCain, the result of the 2008
U.S. Presidential election would almost certainly turn the tide in
favor of a much more progressive stance on climate change. And that is
something to hope for.

In conclusion, this book had masterfully
condensed all the information I’ve gathered on global warming so far.
At the same time, it raised my awareness on the technological,
economic, and political solutions and that are *already* on their way.
But most importantly, it put the global warming problem, not in a
doomsday, but in a rather more selfless and long view perspective.

we do today to reduce emissions will matter for our children’s
generation and beyond, but not for our own. The problem of climate
change is one of legacy.” (p. 54)

Don’t get lost in the
avalanche of information, misinformation, and lemon-eating debates on
the internet and mainstream media. Read The Hot Topic, and then proceed from there. The book delivers on its promise: “Everything you
need to know about the challenge of climate change without the spin.”
Whether you’re skeptical of global warming or not, you owe it to
yourself to understand the science, the technologies, the economics,
and the politics of this very important issue of our time.

See extracts from the book, The Hot Topic, at

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