Climaturity, Marc Cortez. Morro Bay, CA: Wise Media Group, 2022.
Summary: An argument for a more transparent and measured climate discussion, avoiding either scare tactics or denialism.
Marc Cortez has worked on various projects addressing climate change over several decades. But he writes critically about the way the climate discussion has unfolded. On one side are those saying we are in an existential crisis threatening life on the planet. On the other are the deniers that say the climate isn’t changing and carbon dioxide isn’t a problem.
Cortez stands in the middle, at least this is what he says. He acknowledges the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and temperature rise and that there appears to be a relation between the two but he argues that much of the climate discussion is driven by predictive or attributive models that are far from certain and that costly remedies are being recommended or even pushed through governing bodies. He calls much of this “psyence,” claiming it is more an effort to manipulate public opinion, and worse, scare a whole generation of children and young adults.
Part of his argument is that in reality, no one is acting as one would in a real emergency. Scientists and politicians continue to fly in large numbers in jets emitting great quantities of CO2. More significantly, our carbon reduction strategies only say how much less carbon we will emit, but does nothing with the excess already there, or the fact that we still are emitting amounts in excess of what are being absorbed. It’s like, he says, being told you are 50 pounds overweight and saying you won’t eat donuts. But that does not deal with the excess weight already there. And many of the “carbon zero” goals have no realistic plan for how states or countries will get there. He salutes Microsoft as a rare exception of a company with specific plans not only to get carbon zero but to remove the carbon they have emitted over the years the company has existed, going back to 1976.
He wants us to get realistic about renewables. They are like stopping eating donuts, but even then, require large amounts of carbon fuel in their manufacture, and, in the case of electric vehicles, in their re-charging in many cases. Much of our power grid, agriculture, and manufacturing, and many of our consumer goods depend on fossil fuels. We can’t just make them the bad guys. We all are the bad guys.
I question some of the arguments. Climate modelling has been predictive of regional changes that have proven accurate in many regions. He makes out that temperature rise hasn’t been such a bad thing over the last century and the rise of a degree or two may not be so bad. But warmer temperatures are resulting in ice melts, rising seas, coastal inundations and even the disappearance of island nations like Vanuatu and more severe weather events occurring with greater frequency. Modelling is iterative, subject to continuous improvement based on feedback, and an important resource for many regional planners to do what I think Cortez is recommending–taking realistic measures to mitigate effects of change that has, is, and likely will occur. If not racist, as Cortez contends, the impacts of climate change are at least unequal. Often, the impoverished suffer greater impacts for the actions of rich countries than those in the richer countries–and have less wherewithal to mitigate those impacts.
What separates Cortez from the deniers, although he seems to use many of their arguments, and many may draw comfort from what he says, is that he does take a hard look at what needs to be done. Very simply, he argues our major task is to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. He believes the most effective solutions begin, not with reducing emissions, which are often quite costly, comparatively speaking, but with those that focus on absorbing CO2 which in itself is a necessary component of life, absorbed by all sorts of vegetation. Many of these are relatively low cost for the amounts of carbon absorbed: peatland protection and rewetting, the protection and restoration of all sorts of forests, grasslands, coastal wetlands, and various agricultural methodologies. Making our cities walkable once again with good public transit are other relatively low cost steps. Yet this is not where much of our investment is going.
I do think he has a point in discussing the lack of efficacy and the real harm of our scare tactics. He actually agrees that individual decisions are important–the lifestyle changes people made at the outset of the pandemic resulted in at least an 11 percent reduction of CO2 emissions–now if we could make those lasting. Moving to plant-rich diets, even planting trees is important (our church sits on a former farm property with a lot of grassy area, which, thanks to a donation from an environmental group, has been planted with 100 trees).
Cortez calls for “climaturity.” For him, this means a more honest conversation about our models, our goals and how we will actually get there, and an end to the cheap shots at the fossil fuel industry that in reality we all depend upon. The capacity to feed 8 billion people resulted from an agricultural revolution made possible through petrochemicals. Renewables simply haven’t yet shown they ability to replace our fossil fuels. We should look more at increasing our capacity to absorb CO2.
What I question is whether Cortez will be one of those to lead us to that “climaturity.” His dismissiveness of climate scientists and groups like the IPCC will not draw those who shape climate policy to his “muddy middle.” And his snark and “it’s not so bad” attitude will not influence those who do not think there is a problem. And the citizenry in the middle? By and large, many of us already are taking a number of the personal steps he mentions from reducing our carbon footprints to planting trees. I much prefer what scientists like Katherine Hayhoe are doing in reaching across the divides and engaging with people around what they care about and want to preserve, and finding common ground for good environmental action.
There is one thing Cortez and Hayhoe agree on. We won’t get to productive discussion through manipulating guilt and fear. That, I think, is a good place to begin in the pursuit of climaturity.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.