Review | The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success

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This is a most useful primer on climate change and its consequences for the slow-learners amongst us.  Climate change is real and man-made and its consequences are no longer impending but are so very much in effect as to constitute the new normal: ‘…the reality we are heading toward is an increasingly harsh one of heat waves, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, rising sea levels, species extinctions, acidifying oceans, and mass migrations of people fleeing devastated areas.’  This litany of disasters, both natural and human, has become all too familiar.  We hear it, or its like, virtually daily on our television news – to the unfortunate extent that we tend to become inured to the dire warnings of the climate activists.

Hence, the particular virtue of the present book – that which makes it so valuable – is that it is not just one more off-putting advocacy-driven screed.  This is no lawyer’s brief, devoted to clever arguments drawing solely on the evidence on one side.  Rather, it is the dispassionate work of a scientist: ‘…the ideal scientific model is to apply critical skepticism to positions one currently accepts, an open mind to positions one currently rejects, and a willingness to change one’s mind after an unbiased assessment of previously unconsidered evidence and arguments.’  Upfront, the author acknowledges that he has done precisely that over his decades of research into sustainable energy.

One early belief of his was in the profitability of energy efficiency.  He shared the commonly held view of climate activists that the higher up-front costs of such technological innovations as energy-efficient vehicles, home furnaces and industrial equipment would be compensated by lower energy bills over time.  But, as he puts it, evidence from leading researchers ‘kept poking holes in this assumption.’  Eventually, his own research – he is a professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University and an expert consultant for the Canadian government at international conferences – demonstrated to his satisfaction that energy efficiency investments are far less advantageous than assumed.  Similarly, he once assumed that we were rapidly exhausting our fossil fuel reserves (‘Peak Oil’); again, contrary evidence undermined that assumption.  He remains ready to be re-convinced.

Both confessions serve to stage-set the argumentative thrust of this book:  to examine, by way of demonstrable evidence and logical argument, assumptions commonly-held by either the nay-sayers to climate change or by the doom-proclaimers of the climate extremists.  Chapter-by-chapter, Jaccard examines and dismantles fervently expressed beliefs by both sides.  Witness such chapter titles as: ‘Climate Scientists are Conspirators,’ ‘Peak Oil Will Get Us First Anyway,’ or ‘We Can Be Carbon Neutral.’  Throughout, the evidence is marshalled; graphs and charts abound.

Jaccard is not just a dismantler of myths, shooting down the self-deluded fantasists.  His objective, rather, is to demonstrate that we are not hopeless in the face of the factual and political complexity of climate change, by showing us how to identify the absolutely essential actions (decarbonizing electricity production and transport) and how to avoid ineffective efforts by focusing on the policies that are truly transforming (the regulations that phase out coal plants and gasoline-fueled vehicles).  Thus, rather than our feeling paralyzed, Jaccard shows that a few key changes to our lifestyles will effectively reduce harmful emissions.  And, as the book’s title would indicate, the path to these goals lies through our ability, collectively, to identify climate-sincere politicians, those truly committed to effecting the needed governmental legislation and action.

Jaccard’s path to climate success is threefold:  first, countries, led by the industrial democracies, must apply domestic regulations and/or carbon pricing to decarbonize electricity production and transportation and work with other countries to globalize this effort; secondly, countries must apply carbon tariffs on imports from countries not fully complying with this global carbon-reduction effort; and, thirdly, leading countries must assist the poorer countries in adopting carbon-reduction policies.  Simple, effective, and oh so logical (are you slow-learners paying attention?).

One troubling caveat.  In the very first pages, the author illustrates his concept of ‘group cognitive bias’ (or ‘The Art of Deluding Ourselves and Others’) by citing the second President Bush’s arguments for the Iraq War, particularly Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.  He claims that, this time around, ‘it was the US government and most of its citizens who were delusional.’   Hardly.  This is the portal to a PC echo chamber, not to the facts as established by multiple independent investigations such as those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the non-partisan Silbermann-Robb Commission (to cite but two).  Indeed, little that the author says on this is accurate, but I trust that he remains open to changing his mind.

Mark Jaccard The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths That Hinder Progress (Cambridge University Press, 2020), pp. xiv, 292  ISBN: 9781108742665  Ppk $19.95 (available February 2020)


A review copy of this book was received from the publisher. 

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About the author
G.T. Dempsey
G.T. Dempsey is a Research Associate in the history of Late Antiquity at the University of California at Davis and, as a retired American career diplomat, he is also a commentator on American foreign policy.