If the news has taught us anything... • 16 April 2007 • The SnowBlog

If the news has taught us anything...

I was a sixth-former around the time Pres. Reagan was facing down the 'evil empire' of the Soviets by ramping up US spending on the military... to the point where it was doubtful that the combined might of the entire rest of the world could have given the States a bloody nose, never mind the cash-strapped commies. It was a strange global crisis, as global crises go, whereby the main threat seemed to be of nuclear war, but the threat of nuclear war was also somehow our best defence. Neither side could hope to preserve more than a tiny fraction of their populations whether they started the war or went second. Yet somehow being able to destroy each other twenty times over was more of a deterrent than nineteen or eighteen times. From what I can tell, more money was spent on 'defence' during the Cold War than on anything else humans have ever done. Even then our leaders knew that the Soviets weren't especially keen on taking over the world. And they consistently fibbed to us when they said the Soviets had more firepower. One thing they didn't do, though, was ignore the problem. Now can anyone name another global crisis that's threatening us today? Anyone who said 'terrorism' loses a point. (I mean, deaths from tobacco are 5700 times higher than deaths from terrorism and yet tobacco still isn't dangerous enough to be a global crisis in most people's eyes.) No, let's try climate change.


Facing extinction?

So the last two times I've been in bookshops, I've looked at the selection of books on global warming. I was particularly interested to see if there was an accessible but definitive-looking reference on the subject. You know the kind of thing: chunky, lots of pictures - you can find one on almost any subject. Just glancing at my shelf, I can see the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language sitting there. That's the sort of thing I was looking for on global warming. I know climate-change science is updated constantly, but then so is research on genetics, following the human genome project, but you can still find fabulously illustrated undergrad texts on molecular genetics. For goodness sake, the laidback folks at The Idler somehow manage to put out a couple of hundred pages of colourful and diligently illustrated confection every few months without once leaving their hammocks. And yet the only visually-interesting, comprehensive round-up of climate change I could find was The Sceptical Environmentalist. That's the book that says 'there are more reasons for optimism than pessimism' and it aims to counter 'the more alarmist accounts favoured by campaign groups and the media'. But of those more alarmist accounts, I could find very little. Just like the only new documentary I've seen on TV about man-made climate change said there wasn't any. (But you can bet your bum that's not what climate scientists are saying.) rough.jpg The best book I could find was the The Rough Guide to Climate Change, which was a strange thing. Just the encyclopedic reference I was looking for, but crammed into b-format, with murky monochrome pictures, and orange the only other colour. I'm sure the fine folks at Rough Guide have spent a lot of money extending their brand to include publications other than travel guides, but in my obliviousness to these things, I was still surprised that the closest thing I could find to a colour encyclopedia of climate change was disguised as a portable travel guide. Apologies to the Rough Guide folks (should they read this) because it looks like a great book, but I wish there was a full-colour, A4-ish version of it, with mention of the Rough Guide imprint limited to spines and prelim pages. It's a great imprint, but I think it's overstretched here: 'We were right about backpackers' hostels in Bangkok, now see what we have to say about non-mesocyclonic tornadoes and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation.' There's also the pretty and informative Atlas of Climate Change, but that really is an atlas: most pages are a map of the world with various information overlaid; (IMO) it's not a round-up or an introductory text.

Under threat?

So where are the rest of the books then? If climate change was a disease, GMTV would never talk about anything else and Heat would be telling us what steps celebs are taking to avoid catching it. If it were a military threat, trillions of dollars would now be committed to combating it and associated legislation aimed at curtailing our civil rights would already be law. If the transformation of TV and print news over the last few decades has taught us anything it's that most people aren't interested in news that's flat, boring and has no pictures. I hope there are some lustrous and enchanting works coming soon. I hope the dumbed-down staff of Horizon are planning an unassailable and impressive series of climate change documentaries, written with crystalline clarity and unimpeachable research, complete with a definitive companion volume at a keen price. After all, Al Gore can't do everything. American Republicans managed to convince voters he'd claimed to have invented the Internet; they'd have a field-day if he looked like becoming the man who saved the human race. And I'm sure Albert Arnold Gore Jr. can't be the only one capable of assembling some agreeable words and pictures on the subject. Come on chaps (of both genders), let's get publishing. There's a planet to save.


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