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  May/June 2001 Issue
 
Features: 100 Years of Sierra Club Outings:
Happy Trails
280 Boots and 14,000 Feet
Mountain Memories
First on Top
Learning to Walk in the Wilderness
 
Energy Features:
Snake Oil for Fossil Fools
A Modest Proposal to Stop Global Warming
 
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Mixed Media
 
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MIXED MEDIA

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Books

Tropical Times

Greenhouse: The 200-Year History of Global Warming by Gale E. Christianson (Greystone Books, $19.95)

The sudden detection of a continent-size hole in the ozone layer-which shields the world against dangerous ultraviolet radiation-threw scientists into a panic in 1985. The Reagan administration's solution was to suggest that we need only wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen. That president's cluelessness is, unfortunately, a typical reaction to the problem of human-induced environmental degradation, says Gale Christianson, historian and author of biographies of Isaac Newton and Edwin Hubble.

Ozone depletion is only the latest event in the 200-year history of human alteration of the atmosphere. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Christianson writes, the effects of fuel combustion were so great we managed to alter genetic structures. In pre-revolution times the English moth Biston belularia had natural camouflage of irregular black spots on its light gray wings and body. During the 1860s, however, a scientist noted that the insect had evolved to solid black to conceal itself in a landscape darkened by the 50 tons of soot that fell yearly on Manchester. He named the new creature, appropriately, Biston carbonia.

Deftly blending such intriguing stories from history and science, Christianson shows how carbon dioxide, the devil child of progress, became the main culprit in the unfolding drama of global warming. Tracing the 30 percent increase in CO2 in the last 150 years, he leaves no doubt about the causes of rising temperatures and the catastrophes they have already brought on: proliferation of disease-carrying insects, flooding of populated areas by rising seas, scarcity of potable water, severe weather patterns, and species extinction.

Some progress is being made, however. A number of industry giants, including Whirlpool, 3M, Toyota, Sunoco, and Lockheed Martin have acknowledged the problem, joining the Pew Center for Global Climate Change in declaring their agreement with scientific findings and insisting that action must be taken.

And, although CO2 continues to waft into the atmosphere, Christianson says, past successes do give hope. After all, in today's clearer air around Manchester, the dark moths quietly morphed back into light ones.--Reviewed by Rebecca Shotwell

Beating the Heat: Why and How We Must Combat Global Warming by John J. Berger (Berkeley Hills Books, $10)

Half the glacial ice in the Alps has melted in the past century, the sea has risen half a foot, and the temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula has gone up three degrees since the 1940s. Global warming, the cause of these dramatic changes, may also have stirred up increasingly violent weather: more extreme El Niño cycles in the Pacific and a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic. Along with these meteorological outbursts comes a quiet hazard: the migration of malarial and other disease-carrying insects to areas once too cold for infestation.

Ignoring all this, we turn up the heat, burning enough fuel to generate 22 tons of global warming gases per person per year, says John J. Berger, environmental consultant and author of Charging Ahead: The Business of Renewable Energy and What It Means for America. One cause of the denial, he says, is that "the coal and oil industries and some of their largest customers are conducting a sophisticated multimillion-dollar campaign to convince the public that climate change is not a serious threat."

Berger shatters various myths, such as the one that reduced fuel consumption would ruin the economy. Not so, he says, citing a Department of Energy study that shows that paring energy use to 1990's level would cause no economic loss and a Tellus Institute report that devising technology to cut emissions by just 15 percent would actually create 800,000 new jobs by 2010.

Berger's clear presentation of the evidence of the causes of global warming is balanced with a concise, practical account of what we must do to slow it down. This includes solutions, both personal and political, with 17 energy-saving tips and a resource list to help crank up the campaign for a rational energy policy.--Reviewed by Bob Schildgen

NEW FROM SIERRA CLUB BOOKS

  • A Feathered Family: Nature Notes From a Woodland Studio by Linda Johns. A bird rescuer and artist's affectionate stories of the birds she lives among.
  • The Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Transformation on Wild Water by Richard Bangs. A famed adventurer tells of his daring expedition on Ethiopia's Tekeze River. Now in paperback.
  • The Stations of Still Creek by Barbara J. Scot. Set in the forests around Mt. Hood, a moving reflection on personal crisis and nature's healing power. Now in paperback.
  • Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (415) 977-5600, through our Web site, or by writing the store at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.


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