Canadian Geographic: July/August issue

Here’s a book review I did for the July/August 2011 issue of Canadian Geographic (original links).

In the Oct or Dec issue, there’ll be an extensive review of the impacts of mining on First Nations communities across Canada.

Briefly Noted

First Principles for a Post-Apocalyptic World

By Marq De Villiers
McClelland & Stewart
405 pp.,

You can sum up the message of Our Way Out in two simple words: don’t panic. The latest offering from Nova Scotia-based Marq De Villiers, the author of Sahara: A Natural History and Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, concedes that global warming is real, that our oil is running out, that we waste more energy than we consume, that farms are little more than industrial factories and that the world’s burgeoning population has resulted in more than a billion people living in mega-slums the size of small countries. But De Villiers eschews the alarmist rhetoric of some environmentalists, insisting that it’s not too late and that there are workable solutions to these problems. If there weren’t, he’d be hunkering down somewhere remote “behind a don’t-messwith- me razor wire keep-out fence, shotgun on hand to keep the ravening hordes at bay.”

De Villiers is a pragmatist. He recognizes that there is no one silver bullet, that all these issues are interconnected. The climate crisis is an industrial and energy crisis, for example, that is based on population numbers. Likewise, oil prices are linked to food production and, in turn, the population issue. Accord – ingly, De Villiers emphasizes the need to tackle all these issues simultaneously, not with a silver bullet but with silver buckshot. He recognizes that changing how we live and think will be a massive and disruptive undertaking and estimates that roughly $45 trillion must be invested by 2050 just to wean the world off oil and cut our emissions to safe levels. This will dictate many lifestyle changes, such as becoming less reliant on cars for short trips and buying locally grown produce. But De Villiers argues that we have the tools to fix the problems and goes on to examine the benefits of wind farms and urban agriculture, of regulating the global birth rate and of using methods such as carbon capture and storage to limit the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and buy ourselves time to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Our Way Out is a refreshingly candid and optimistic overview of the mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves. De Villiers systematically addresses the changes we must make to face the challenges of global warming, energy, overpopulation, food and politics without shying away from the harsh consequences of what will happen if we don’t. His way out may not be easy, but it may be the only one we have.

Marc Ellison