Environmental journalist Schapiro (Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, 2007) investigates the costs of our greenhouse-gas binge from new economic angles and new axes of geopolitical power.
“We can no longer rely on past events to predict future probabilities,” writes the author. “The ground is shifting beneath our feet.” Schapiro explores the many costs of climate change: heat waves, lower rainfall in dry areas, torrential rain in wet areas, floods, refugees, public health impacts as diseases once limited to the tropics move north and south. “Follow all those many circuits of production, follow the trails of greenhouse gasses rising into the atmosphere, and you will ultimately land upon each of us,” he writes, “making our choices about what we consume and from where.” This is not breaking new ground, but Schapiro is particularly sharp in pointing to the elephant in the room, and not just because it is producing a great deal of methane. The costs of climate change are borne by the commons in the form of such practices as federally guaranteed insurance coverage, but most egregiously, the “emitters of greenhouses gases get a free ride [in the U.S.]....This is known as asymmetric risk, a fine term of the financial arts that means that the public bears the risks while fossil fuels users earn the profits.” Schapiro covers a good number of projects to cut down on emissions (such as buying forests to sequester carbon dioxide, then selling that use to polluters), though we will all have to pay for pulling in the greenhouse reins, especially through the use of taxes as punitive disincentives to fossil fuel abuse and as a way to fund research into alternative energy sources.
In this finely tuned study, Schapiro has some good news: Even the most fitful international negotiations admit that greenhouse gases come with a cost that must be paid.