Book Review: ‘The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success’ By Mark Jaccard


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Today I will share my views about The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress by Mark Jaccard. This is a very interesting book. The moment you open this book, you will be drawn into reading it in full. Honestly speaking, I found it really hard to put this book down after having started it. The tone is neither overly passionate nor dull. The writer maintains a balanced tempo throughout the book, and except for few scattered passionate outbursts, he does not leave it. He talks to you slowly, allowing you sufficient time to absorb the knowledge that he is trying to impart. He ensures not to feed you too much information with each morsel, while at the same time makes sure that every page contains something new to learn. This book was an eye opener for me, and even though I took about three months reading it, I would not mind reading it again. It is because the book contains so much stuff which would stay relevant for years to come. This book does not aim at entertainment as it is addressing a very serious issue. At the same time, nowhere does it create any impression of a boring treatise. At one place the writer acknowledges that scientists are poor communicators and this has been one of the reasons behind the knowledge gap between (climate) science and general public. This book will certainly fill that gap, and considering the scarcity of texts aimed at general audience, it will remain a valuable source to refer to.

First the writer explains how myths come into being, and why it becomes difficult for people to change their minds. Then with the first chapter, he goes on to describe how myths are created and fed by people and institutions having vested interests or those trying to avoid inconvenience. He discusses the various myths at length, so that by the end of the chapter you begin to realise how serious the issue is, and how you are being manipulated all the time. Then from the next chapter onwards he discusses how myths are created and sustained in the context of climate change. Next comes the timeline of events, i.e., when and how did people start taking interest in climate change discussion, and what are the challenges faced by people and politicians who want to take meaningful action. He keeps returning to enumerate the various actions and steps that could be taken in order to address climate change.

I belong to the generation which has grown up hearing about climate change, ozone layer, greenhouse effect and global warming. And as I march forward towards the end of my life, there doesn’t seem to be any solution in sight to most of these problems. That implies that the next generation will also study these concepts in their school curriculum! This is indeed unfortunate.

At the same time, I cannot deny that certainly a lot of progress has been made. I am not talking about ozone. I am talking about general social awareness. Today nobody needs to be told what is carbon dioxide or global warming or climate change. Everybody seems to have a fairly good idea about the problem. The reasons behind this increased social awareness could be several. First, as I mentioned earlier, climate change is part of school curriculum for nearly three decades. Second, print and electronic media have played crucial role in spreading awareness about several aspects of climate system mainly through popular science articles, social awareness advertisements and campaigns, and documentaries. Third and most importantly, and unfortunately, effects of climate change are right in front of us for all to see — whether in form of floods, or droughts, or severe weather. Add to this the increased confidence of scientific community as a result of long observations, simulations and data analysis. They no longer talk in terms of probabilities and uncertainties; instead, they have a better understanding of the various interactions between different components of the climate system as well as their individual roles. Now we do not doubt, we do not question. There is a problem. And it demands action. Urgent action.

Now this leads to the obvious question — Now what? At the same time, there is a sense of panic and general chaos. So certain questions still remain, to be precise three questions. Question 1: What exactly does it all mean? So much information is thrown at public, which is left on its own to make sense out of it. Unfortunately, people and agencies with vested interests will go to any length to create and sustain doubt in the minds of general public. In a way, this question is no longer very serious one since, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, general audience has a fairly good sense of the climate change problem. It may not be familiar with all the scientific complexities of the issue, however, it need not be acquainted with them. This book gives a very basic outline of the climate change problem, which is necessary and sufficient for understanding the issues and concepts discussed in the book. Whenever any new idea or concept is introduced, all background information is also provided.

Question 2: OK, so there is a problem. But if it is such a big problem, why aren’t people doing something to solve it? I mean, the government, the various NGOs, the scientists — shouldn’t they be doing something? It is already 30 years that I have been listening about this noise, yet there is no resolution in sight. And it is here that the book begins its discussion, most of which I have already mentioned. It tells you the various obstacles that scientists, environmentalists and climate sincere politicians have to face in their efforts. The problem is much bigger and serious than it appears to us outsiders. Somewhere in the beginning of the book he mentions that several agencies would have to collaborate and work together to address this problem — scientists, politicians, environmentalists, psychologists, economists and so on. I didn’t give much thought to that sentence. But after going through 3/4 of the book, I was already appreciating the various bias and flaws in my own scientific reasoning, mainly because I tend to ignore the psychological (human behaviour) and economical factors. Let me give you one simple example. We assume that improving the efficiency of vehicles would reduce fuel consumption. Quite obvious. But do you account for the fact that with increased efficiency the users would be inclined to travel more often and to longer distances? With efficient production of light, price of electricity would come down, but at the same time, users would be inclined to use electricity more ‘generously’ for applications not thought of before — heating, decoration etc. Another example could be given of ‘go green’. It is a very noble thought, but do you consider the increased fuel consumption in transport by train or air during the shipment of these products from factories to consumers?

And finally, question 3: What can I do as an individual to make my contribution towards climate success. This is the core content of this book. From an economist point of view, the writer enumerates various methods and approaches one by one to deal with the climate change problem, along with their merits and drawbacks. As far as I could see it, the discussion is fairly unbiased and balanced. He does not hesitate in acknowledging the positive points, advantages and merits of various approaches, and points out their limitations only after he has first discussed their merits at length. Among the major ones are carbon tariffs, flexible regulations, offsets, and renewable energy. In his criticism, he focuses on specific aspects of those solutions. In final chapters, he enumerates various examples from different parts of the world e.g., Brazil, France, Canada, and California where different ways for decarbonization were employed with success. I must say that this discussion is exhaustive, and at one point you may feel overwhelmed with the information and discussion presented. However, the last chapter makes things easy for you by giving an overall summary of the various approaches for addressing the climate change problem. Note that this is not a summary of the whole book; for example, he does not go through the myths and their propagation all over again, nor does he debate all the possible solutions again. Instead, he gives only a summary of what the recommended approach towards climate success should look like. In fact, that is precisely what the reader wants to know at the end of the book.

There are only few typographical mistakes including punctuation marks but I would rather ignore them. The only drawback of the book is the digressions going too long. To drive home his point, the writer gives analogies from history, and explains how the case under discussion is similar to that analogy. This requires a digression while he explains all the aspects of the analogy. However, such narration becomes long to such an extent that after some time you get confused as to why you ended up discussing this topic and what has it to do with climate science. I do agree that the analogies were always very appropriate and the discussions were good. My concern is that the discussion and elaboration became much longer than were required. It is easy to sense that it was perfectly possible to cut down on the discussion without sacrificing the rigour. I am saying this regarding the analogy of smoking versus climate change risk, war in Middle East versus climate change myths, US presidential elections versus convincing people about the science of climate change.

Few cartoons are scattered throughout the book, some of them are very direct and apt. However, the captions to these cartoons were not required. For example, why to explicitly tell “Cartoon about carbon offsets by Jacob Fox” when it is obvious? Instead, just the artist’s signature or a label “copyright: Jacob Fox” would have been sufficient. Also, the book cover could have been made more catchy by including some graphics or figures.

Summary: You would not find very basic definitions and concepts of climate science here. Instead the writer prefers to answer the crucial questions that make the crux of the climate change debate. Yes, the content of the book is true to its title — it is indeed a guide for all concerned citizens to make their contribution to address climate change. The biggest positive point of the book is its focus. It aims at telling what can we as citizens do to help address climate change, and nowhere does it deviate from that focus.

Title: The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress
Author: Mark Jaccard
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Length: 296 pages
Price (Kindle): $5.36
Price (Paperback): $19.95
My rating: 4-star
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Source: Ucodesoft

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