Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

Carbon Shock: Running the Greenhouse Gauntlet in An Age of Limits by Nathan Gabel (BOOK REVIEW)


In a world where people intensely burn coal, fly thousands of planes across thousands of miles daily, and drive more and more cars on highways of shockingly excessive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, the future of the environment and the human race are anything but certain. In this new compelling and eye-opening book Carbon Shock: A Tale Of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy (Chelsea Green: 2014), author Mark Schapiro goes into incredible detail in an unceasingly direct, in-your-face style. What’s perhaps even more unsettling than the overwhelming amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions is the fact that humans have absolutely no historical data off of to try to solve this global catastrophe because we’ve spawned it rather recently. Schapiro’s words say it all as they read hauntingly off the page – “We can no longer rely on past events to predict future probabilities [when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions]. The ground is shifting beneath our feet.”

Schapiro begins his explanation of the intemperate greenhouse gas emissions quite simply, relating the nearly century-and-a-half-old worldwide phenomenon to his quaint plane ride from San Francisco to Siberia. “One of the tricky things about airplanes is that their pollution comes from everywhere and nowhere. Planes in the air make no distinction about national borders.” Schapiro goes on to explain how his plane and thousands of others relate to a heated debate happening between all of Europe and the United States on whether to make people accountable for emissions they create or not – that is, to make people pay in some way for the harm to the environment they have caused, regardless of whether it was direct and/or intentional or passive and/or unintentional.

Of course, planes aren’t the only major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and Schapiro is quite aware of that. Climate change is his main concern, and greenhouse gases are largely to blame. Schapiro moves far beyond aviation polluting the air to discuss the wide array of costs due to climate change, such as flooding in wet areas, little to no rain in dry areas, refugees, heatwaves, and many other truly horrific situations that were much less prominent and problematic mere decades ago. What’s even more alarming is that carbon emissions come from things some people wouldn’t have even considered – yes, even the food we eat and the practices we use to make it are a large part of the gargantuan giant that is climate change. “[Expensive food] is the price we all pay for the impacts of climate change, both at the grocery store and in our support to the nation’s crop insurance system, at this stage the major buffer for the consequences of climate change in the nation’s fields.”

Obviously, this issue is going to be a dramatically large one to tackle effectively, but Schapiro keeps hope alive that we can. We’ve done and continue to do massive damage to our environment every single day, and it’s not like we can just shut down every factory, halt every flight, or afford to buy cars that run on electricity and only emit water vapor into the atmosphere. However, Schapiro does do a good job of coming up with a few practical solutions that would greatly mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions, although they would be a bit challenging to implement with great success. His suggestions range from small-scale to worldwide, a predominant one being the idea to buy sections of forest and sequester them for their carbon dioxide to sell the use of them to potential polluters. It seems a bit odd at first thought to purposely section off parts of forests to use exclusively for pollution, but perhaps that would be a better alternative than people polluting whatever they have, wherever they want in massive amounts that would be difficult to determine.

While the issue of greenhouse gas emissions is definitely a global calamity, Schapiro’s take made me think about what we can do at home here in Vermont. We are fortunate enough to live in one of the greenest states, but we still produce our fair share of carbon emissions. As it would happen, Vermont is one of the few states that bans fracking, which is one giant step in the right direction, but that doesn’t eliminate the demand for natural gas or the highly destructive means of gathering it. A couple of common environmental impacts due to fracking aside from contributing to greenhouse gas emissions are using billions of gallons of water and contaminating drinking water due to “fracking fluid” (the nasty mix of chemicals that results from fracking) leaking into public sources of water, such as wells.

Yet, even with this step in the right direction and much of the United States knowing us as the “green” state, Vermont is far from perfect. Three large sources of carbon emissions in Vermont include landfills, power plants, and the major college of the state – that’s right, the University of Vermont. All of these facilities have attempted to reduce their carbon footprints, and some have further plans to do so even more, but at the rate they’re all moving, the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 75 percent by the year 2050 won’t be met. Furthermore, the addition of the new F-35 fighter jets to the Vermont Air National Guard base, expected to arrive by 2020, is causing quite an uproar across the state. While some people are in support of them and don’t think they’ll create any more major environmental problems, others disagree. It’s a debate that still needs solid facts to be worked out, and hopefully we’ll get there soon.

In the mean time, what can we do as individuals in the grand scheme of this international pandemic? You may not think one person is capable of changing the world, but you’d be surprised just how much you can reduce your own carbon footprint by changing simple things in your daily routine. Some of these things include taking shorter showers, shutting off the lights when you’re not in a room, carpooling to work or using public transportation, and setting up recycling and composting in your home. We’re pretty privileged being college students in America – be conscious of those who are less fortunate by not wasting these resources arbitrarily.

You may have heard this same environmental spiel a thousand times before, but these are the kinds of decisions that are going to make a difference. I’ve studied this topic many times throughout my time here at Saint Michael’s College, so I can attest that this issue is certainly not a hoax or something to brush off. Hearing about climate change and readingCarbon Shock may not be what you want to do, but when the future of life on Earth is hanging in the balance, something needs to be done. While it may be true that there are no hard-and-fast solutions to fix the damage that humans have already done and continue to do every day to the planet, Schapiro made one thing about climate change abundantly clear – climate change has become an international matter of high importance, and it’s agreed that greenhouse gases create a cost to the global community that has to be paid for one way or another in order to secure Earth’s future.

Read more revolutionary writing at Chelsea Green Publishing.

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2014 by in Arts.

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