Thread of optimism weaves tales of climate heroes

Book Review: Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet

Rod Taylor, Odyssey Books, 284 pages

The assault to the environment currently underway by global warming continues to have noticeable impact on Los Angeles, where I live, in which blazes surrounding the city — and threatening the safe functioning of civilization — have become a terrifyingly regular occurrence.

Fire season — once relegated to October and prompted by changes in temperature and fire-fueling Santa Ana winds — has expanded in Southern California as the climate becomes dryer and hotter for longer periods throughout the year. The local air during fire season often becomes so despicably dirty from the blazes that my family and I must remain insulated indoors, without neighborhood strolls or games at the park, as the rolling hills surrounding our home are scorched in flames.

Even as I write this review, in mid-January of 2021, the temperature today is 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30.5 Celsius), not quite cozy winter weather, even for us sun-loving beachgoers. Tomorrow the temperature is expected to drop to 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16.6 Celsius), closer to the cooler weather locals considered ‘typical’ for this time of year about a decade ago. Next week, the temperatures are expected to return again to the ‘80s and more in line with the endless summer that is becoming the ‘new normal’ in these parts — and with the heat more winds and fire dangers. Thus, fire season in Los Angeles has become a recurring nightmare, an inferno nowadays seemingly always on the horizon and ready to engulf my neighbors, loved ones and me. Worst part is, there doesn’t seem to be an iota of serious public discussion how we might prevent it. It as if we’re too busy either fighting these un-natural disasters or recovering between them to act meaningfully to change our ways to minimize them all together.

So, when I heard about Rod Taylor’s book, Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet, challenging the norms of destruction that have become all-too-common around climate change, I became interested. After all, fire is something Australians and Angelinos have in common: The conflagrations making headlines in California in recent years have only been overshadowed by the Black Summer of 2019-2020 in Australia. Those wildfires, also exacerbated by climate change, burned 24 million hectares of land, destroyed 3,000 building and homes, and killed nearly three billion animals.

The profiles of the ten climate heroes Taylor highlights are as varied, unique, and complex as the factors contributing to climate change, which makes for interesting reading. Those profiled include environmental advocates Charlie Prell, Kate Auty and Simon Sheikh; solar pioneer, Andrew Blakers; maggot farmer, Olympia Yarger; ‘thoughtful salesman,’ Leonard Cohen; politician, Susan Jeanes; video-game creator, Inez Harker-Schuch; ‘lady with a laser,’ Monica Oliphant; and the science communication leader, Siwan Lovett. While the backgrounds of these individuals differ, all have had life experiences that inspire their fascinating work toward a better, smarter and more sustainable future. Thank goodness for people like them, too, because the pangs of unfettered economic development and environmental catastrophe are not only being felt in Australia or California, but worldwide, as Taylor clearly references in his text:

  • “From 1979 to 2017, sea ice has declined by 5.14 percent every decade…”
  • “Populations of wild animals have more than halved since 1970, while the human population has more than doubled 3.7 to 7.7 billion. More than a million species are at risk of extinction…”
  • “We’ve spent the past 25 years saying we have ten years to fix the problem while we’ve frittered away our free time converting a difficult problem into an almost impossible one…”

The efforts undertaken by those profiled in Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet focuses on short-term and long-term solutions. These include expanding environmental education, better utilizing research and developing technologies, and leveraging business opportunities to make them sustainable and lucrative. Even solar, Taylor notes, has become more efficient and profitable as an energy source than coal.

The discussion the author provides is insightful, and the comments of those interviewed is refreshing. Still, widespread buy-in will be necessary to organize the kind of collective civic, economic, and scientific action to thwart our species’ greatest threat, us. With less cynicism, Taylor lays out this dire message in an upbeat fashion. For the sake of our species’ survival, success — and yes, even our spiritual fulfillment — we must evolve from the planet’s greatest polluters to its greatest stewards.

It is, indeed, our only hope. After all, as Taylor indicates, “no country will ever go to war over solar. It’s almost totally benign. This is one of the very few technologies that can’t be used for military applications.”

Imagine: Technology that has a tremendous impact on the longevity of human beings and the health of the environment, and it does not even run the risk of destroying us.

Radical idea.

Ryan Hyatt, Jan. 18, 2021

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