Book Review: Carbon Neutral by 2020
CARBON NEUTRAL BY 2020: HOW NEW ZEALANDERS CAN TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE, edited by Niki Harré and Quentin D. Atkinson (Craig Potton Publishing, $34.99)
Whatever your opinion on the science of climate change, the issue has never been more visible in political and social life than it is now. But despite the ‘greening’ of politics worldwide, decisive action still seems distant. New Zealanders are exposed to the swirl of finger-pointing, jargon, smokescreens and doomsday predictions that surrounds the issue globally, and the sense of helplessness it brings is amplified by our status as a small, isolated nation. Even if we do something, what difference can we make? What will it cost us to act, and will it be worthwhile? And, crucially, once we decide to jump in, where on earth do we start?
The classic activists’ mantra says ‘think globally, act locally’, and underneath its 21st-century trappings, that’s the fundamental message coming from the recently-released Carbon Neutral by 2020. Editors Niki Harré and Quentin Atkinson have corralled contributions by a wide variety of specialists and academics into a volume aimed at providing positive ideas and suggestions for a carbon-neutral society by the year 2020. There is a bit of everything here, from transport to deep organics, ethical investing and the role of computers in fighting climate change. There’s one particularly good early chapter on carbon-neutral living by Brenda and Robert Vale; another later essay looks at ‘computing away CO2’ through telecommuting, digitally controlled transport and a host of other wizardry. On the other end of the technological spectrum, Brendan Hoare and Keith Thomas’ arguments for ‘deep organics’ provide an intriguing view of a future where farming is integrated into natural ecosystems and cities sprout with fresh produce grown where concrete driveways once stood.
Some of the best chapters are more obviously aimed at niche audiences, but even if you’re years away from owning a home, it’s worth taking a look at Jette and Niel de Jong’s standout chapter on ‘a new paradigm for home renovation’, setting out a variety of suggestions for building carbon neutrality into the national obsession with property. Also in this category is Robert Vale and Maggie Lawton’s essay on carbon-neutral malls, David Trubridge’s blueprint for sustainable design, and Rodger Spiller’s description of sustainable investment. The editors’ introduction provides an interesting overview of New Zealand’s situation, and a discussion of the psychological dimensions of climate change.
Solid essays on carbon neutrality and the law, sustainable businesses, green activism, transport and the ethical dimensions of carbon neutrality round out the rest of the volume. It’s clearly not meant as a one-size-fits-all handbook, but rather a useful grab-bag of practical ideas for building a greener society. Professionals in planning, design and a host of other disciplines will find plenty that’s useful here, but general readers wanting an upbeat, thought-provoking look at climate change should get a lot out of this too. Author royalties go to local projects to shrink the book’s own carbon footprint, although the publishers are candid about saying they ‘have a long way to go’ towards carbon neutrality themselves. Go buy it anyway and plant some trees later on.