By Hans Baer & Merrill Singer
Left Coast Press, 2009
In the book, Global Warming and the Political Ecology of Health the authors lay out poignantly about the severe economic, social, political and health consequences that global warming will (is) having on all of us. As medical anthropologists, the authors attempt to move beyond simple explanations about adaptation to a more expansive view of fundamental changes that must occur for the planet to survive. They argue that world orders must change from primary capitalist systems to global democratic systems. They describe fundamental problems that even “green capitalism” fails to address in changing catastrophic forces of global warming.
This book examines in no nonsense the multitude of unfolding global problems from global warming. The authors detail the stages of global warming awareness, from open denial to waiting for undeniable proof, to minimalism, to awakening to the crisis, to panic (when it is too late to effectively intervene). The facts presented are compelling, especially that global CO2 is at its highest level in the last 600,000 years, and eleven of the last 12 years are the warmest on record ever recorded.
The authors do an equally good job of succintly reviewing the myriad of health and medical effects in Chapters 2-5. The fears of unknown consequences are real, including potential release of catastrophic levels of methane from the sea floor from rising ocean temperatures, extensive flooding of much of coastal areas worldwide (including the entire Eastern seaboard, severe drought in much of the world, scarcer water supplies, reduction of food stocks and plant/animal diversity, new diseases and more resistant microbes, more environmental catastrophes like earthquakes and tsunamis, and increased regional conflict.
The remainder of the book is a explanation for why the authors believe capitalism cannot solve global warming, but rather a new democratic, ecosocialist solution is required. The descriptions of the problems with capitalism are less novel than the assessment the authors do to examine ways to fix global consumption. They argue that reformist strategies- including technological fixes, alternative forms of energy, changes globally in mass transit, new forms of heating and cooling, more efficient buildings and homes, the redesign of cities, restoring degraded environments, protection of biodiversity and less reliance on airplanes- are necessary but not sufficient. Rather, they advocate for nonreformist reform that focuses on global social equality, democracy and environmental sustainability.
Political names aside, some of the proposed solutions seem eminently necessary, such as a 60% reduction in greenhouse emissions within 10 years and a 90% reduction within 20 years, transitioning to a zero wast economy, and seeking 10 star energy efficiency on new buildings. Other solutions are those of socialist reform, highly unlikely to see the light of day in the U.S. (and evidence seems sparse that the Government could accomplish either), such as putting all power industries and transportation industries under public control and an end to industrial farming.
This book forces the reader to confront the question of critical tipping points in global warming, and to answer what would “we” do and what should we do. By educating others about these questions, this book makes an important contribution.