The Carbon Cycle – Book Review

I heard on the news this morning that the Met Office now believes that climate change is likely to be a factor in the extreme weather that has hit much of the country this winter.

Chief scientist Dame Julia Slingo said the variable UK climate meant there was “no definitive answer” to what caused the storms. “But all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change,” she added.

Whether that climate change is caused by man-made pollution is another matter, but it would appear that there is much evidence to suggest it is. In fact there is so much evidence that links carbon emissions with climate change we would be foolish to ignore it.

I’ve taken some comfort in the past from scientists like David Bellamy who say that climate change is cyclical and attempts to fight it is purile – I’ve even supported him on anti-windfarm marches, but the amount of scientific evidence that is available now to suggest that mankind is exacerbating the problems, along with the melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, has made me think again.

I should point out that I’m no climate scientist – I’m no scientist at all, but I am concerned at the evidence I’ve seen in other countries of the effect of climate change. In the Himalayan countries for example, glaciers are shrinking fast and the amount of water that will be available in years to come is diminishing. Water will become a prime commodity in some countries in years to come, while here in the UK there is so much of it at the moment that people are being flooded out of their homes every time there is a big storm. Climate change is creating very different problems in different parts of the world, and no-one is immune.

A few weeks ago I was attracted to a book by its title – The Carbon Cycle. At first I though it was a treatise on the latest all-carbon road bike, but it wasn’t. It was about a 4553 mile bike ride from Texas to Alaska by a Cumbrian-based ‘outdoor philosopher’ by the name of Kate Rawles. And the purpose of that journey was to discover, at first hand, the effects of climate change on the various populations she met along the way.

Author and outdoor philosopher Kate Rawles

Author and outdoor philosopher Kate Rawles

Kate chose to ride up through the US and Canada for very good reasons. The President at the time of her adventure was Bush, a climate change denier and leader of an administration that was completely in thrall to the oil industry. And this was a country with 5% of the world’s population but which produces 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, Kate realised that “cycling in the USA offered fantastic opportunities for a random sampling of what citizens of one of the most oil-hungry, oil-dependent countries on earth thought about the climate consequences of this particular addiction – and the implications of trying to give it up.”

It’s safe to say she experienced all kinds of responses to her simple questions on climate change; from outright denial from those involved in the oil industry to the shoulder shrugging of the religious right – Jesus will return and save us all!

In Wyoming she was warned to keep her voice down – this was the state of Vice President Cheney, and apparently he didn’t take kindly to anyone who rocked the oil boat that had made him a multi-millionaire.

But it wasn’t all dark denial – many Americans were convinced that climate change was happening, that it was wholly or partly caused by man’s activities, and were trying to do something about it, in their own lives and in their communities.

All of this constantly challenged Kate’s own assumptions and ideas about climate change, and where better to sort out the morass of information, ideas and thoughts than on a bike on a long journey, where space and time allowed the mind to provide some kind of sensible pattern to it all.

At the end of her journey Kate came to a conclusion that is very familiar to me – a tune that I’ve been singing for a long number of years now. In the West we desperately need to reconnect with nature. This is how Kate defines it;

“Our ordinary lives, by and large, reinforce our feelings of disconnection rather than confront it. We don’t witness the impacts of our lifestyles on natural systems and other species, and we don’t feel part of the ecosystems we’re damaging. We spend more and more time with computers and televisions and less and less time ‘in’ nature, around other species, aware of the ‘vividness and vibrancy’ of life. Our political leaders and powerful elites are often even more disconnected than we are, isolated from the feedback we badly need to receive and from the kinds of relationships with nature that might inspire its protection.”

This disconnection is of course only one part of what is a huge problem. We have become very comfortable with our Western lifestyle and we’re not keen to give it up. We hear of the Indians and the Chinese building huge numbers of coal-fired power stations so we shrug our shoulders and say “what’s the point in doing anything”. Even outdoor lovers (including me) complain about renewable energy because wind turbines spoil our views, while our Westminster Government chops and changes its environmental policies to suit whatever political wind is blowing the strongest.

I’m not sure if we can halt, or slow down, or eliminate climate change. The pessimist in me says mankind is simply too greedy, too self-centred to care. The optimist in me agrees with Kate Rawles – the fight against climate change is not necessarily about giving things up, it’s about finding ways to do things better. We must “step back from our ordinary lives and ask what really makes us happy. And then throw all our ingenuity, creativity, intelligence and passion into coming up with single planet answers.”

I would go as far as to say that The Carbon Cycle is a book every outdoor enthusiast should read. We have to make ourselves aware of the problems and risks of climate change and ask ourselves what kind of world do we want our children and grandchildren to live in. For a very readable and hugely enjoyable account of a great bike adventure The Carbon Cycle is a great book. But read it and go beyond the adventure – like me, you might just begin to question your own motives and lifestyle choices.

The Carbon Cycle, by Kate Rawles, is published by Two Ravens Press and costs £11.99



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