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Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness

Climate change is a nagging issue for many people because it is so big, diverse, and overwhelming, as big as the planet itself. So, how to explain climate change?

Sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and even anthropologists and economists have tackled the phenomenon of Climate Weltschmerz, meaning people experience angst as the enormity of climate change overrides sensibilities, and sanity, and sadly some go insane.

Not only that, but dishearteningly, it’s been reported that couples refrain from having children because of the overbearing threat of global warming spoiling a child’s transcendent (hopefully) future. Also, there are abundant reports throughout the world that the uncertainties surrounding climate change inhibit hopes, dreams, and wishes for a bright future, as tinges of impending darkness supplant fantasies of buoyant cheerfulness.

Well, relief can be found in Mark Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

He tackles the world’s biggest issue head-on, while implicitly making the assumption that “we still have time,” a subjective comfort factor. Of course, there are scientists that wonder if “we still have time,” but that’s for another time, another story, and certainly worth pondering.

Mark Jaccard, professor of Sustainable Energy at the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, offers relief for citizens that feel overwhelmed by the complexities and overarching enormities of global warming. After all, by all appearances, it’s way too big to wrap one’s arms around all by oneself. But, that does not inhibit professor Jaccard, who astutely separates myth from reality, a problem that’s found all over creation, making it so much easier to come to grips with one of the most complex existential threats of all time.

He not only takes a lot of the mystery out of the climate change imbroglio, but he also tackles the myths that drive, and divide, public discourse, while proffering novel answers for citizens that want to “make a difference.”

The Citizen’s Guide belongs on the bookshelves of people who (1) search for answers (2) want to separate truth from fiction, and (3) want to sleep nights without bolting up in the midst of the night, screaming!

Jaccard’s book is an antidote to the global warming heebie-jeebies, so, don’t jump off that steep ledge until first reading it. It’ll soothe rattled nerves. Bury your nose in his wonderful, easy-to-read, yet academically oriented book filled with everything you should know but don’t know about climate change, thereby, inspiring a great sense of even greater relief!

In professor Jaccard’s words: “Think strategically about how to apply one’s efforts to greatest effect. This book is for these people. Drawing on leading independent research, I provide guidance for citizens seeking to act more effectively as consumers, neighbors, investors, participants in social and conventional media, voters, and political and social activists.”(pg. 22)

Additionally and usefully, it’s nice to know some of the interesting facts about global warming such as when and how Jean-Baptiste Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, discovered the “atmosphere’s greenhouse effect” way back in the mid 19th century.

As follows, Jaccard does not miss a beat in providing the reader a self-educating manual of academic standing from A-to Z, as for example, the Irish scientist John Tyndall’s calculation in 1859 of the heat-absorptive properties of the greenhouse gases, these being (1) water vapor, (2) carbon dioxide, (3) nitrous oxide, (4) methane, and (5) ozone. Really! Most people only know about Carbon Dioxide (CO2) with little or no knowledge of other greenhouse gases.

Thus, assorted tidbits of critical knowledge scattered throughout the book give the reader a strong sense of understanding, smartness and swagger. For instance, global warming was intricately involved in the strengthening of Hurricane Katrina. Jaccard explains how that happened in easy to understand terms.

Indeed, the book covers the basics. After all, most people don’t even know what “albedo” means, which, by the way, is not surprising as it’s “shop talk” verbiage for science-heads. Still, it’s a must know term for climate activists.

He also goes behind the scenes to explain the towering immensity of dark money with consequential sneaky, underhanded gimmickry by the “denial camp,” and how they use “the honesty of scientists” to “confuse the public.” For example, scientists by training cannot be 100% certain about when and how events will transpire. By definition, science is all about probabilities, which creates openings for deniers to “cheery pick facts” to create doubt in the public mindset. Once their tactics are understood, it is much easier to combat their endless streams of blah, blah, blah!

And, Jaccard goes behind the scenes of international negotiations and climate change conferences among leading nations where he personally participated, providing a peek behind the curtain of intricacies of negotiation, including his personal involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”). Of interest: “In 1992, I (Jaccard) was appointed to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development as one of the six ‘foreign experts’ on its energy subgroup.” (pg. 69)

Jaccard’s chapter on “We Must Change Our Behavior” addresses both the simplicity as well as the complexities of “changing our behavior.” It is an eye-opener for uninitiated “Greenies” as well as those who feel they are experts, or so they think? Read the chapter… you’ll discover why an automobile is really a “PMD – Personal Mobility Device” which has direct bearing on how people do or don’t “change their behavior” to adapt to climate change.

More to the point “changing our behavior” really should focus on universals rather than individual behavior, as individual acts/behavior in the background serve as catalysts for change, to wit: “The next time someone tells you we must change behavior to reduce GHG emissions, ask them how they changed behavior to reduce emissions that were causing acid rain, smog, dispersion of lead, and destruction of the ozone layer. You will get a blank stare. No one changed behavior. Instead, we changed technologies, with considerable success. We did this with compulsory policies, especially regulations.” (pg. 154)

And, he puts some fire in the belly of conscientious activists by warning: “The fossil fuel industry and insincere politicians would like nothing better than to delay compulsory policies by claiming that we need behavioral change. We must not play into their hands…”

Unfortunately, when individuals are left to “change behavior” on their own to help lessen the carbon footprint, here’s what experience tells us: “With climate change, everyone has had the option over the last three decades of changing their behavior. We know the result. On average, we built larger houses and transported more goods and people – and even produced more emissions….” (pg. 156)

In point of fact, changing behavior is a “good news, but more likely bad news” story. The bad news is that unless ‘everybody lives like a monk’ to reduce the carbon footprint, those few that do ‘live like a monk’ encounter the bad news that the world’s energy system is still dominated 80% by fossil fuel usage, regardless of their individual heroics. Thus, it’s far better, and more rewarding for the individual, to focus attention/effort as an “activist pushing for a technological and regulatory change of 80% fossil fuel usage.” Otherwise, it’s not going away.

Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide is full of surprises in a balanced approach to the climate change issue. He looks at both sides while focusing on the necessity of getting off fossil fuels. Interestingly, back in 2012 Jaccard upstaged today’s Extinction Rebellion notoriety for rambunctiousness, as explained in his book: “So 13 of us blocked a coal train as a public wake-up action in May 2012. We were arrested and jailed for a few hours.” (pg. 263)

He discusses important issues that help citizens know how to achieve powerful activism, as well as personal peace of mind, including chapters on: (a) How Energy Efficiency is Profitable (b) How Renewables Have Won (c) We Must Abolish Capitalism – Fans of Naomi Klein will find this chapter intriguing, as Jaccard wrote a highly critical review of her wildly popular book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, and he closes with (d) The Simple Path to Success.

The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success is an excellent easy-to-read and politically balanced book (with one foot in the moderate camp). It also serves as an important fact-checking resource. And, as for relevancy and timeliness, it’s indispensable as a solid source. Don’t leave home without it.

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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