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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Mark Schapiro, Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of a Disrupted Global Economy

Welcome Mark Schapiro (Univ Berkeley) (Twitter) and Host Steve Horn (DeSmogBlog) (Twitter)

Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of a Disrupted Global Economy

One thing is for certain about climate change, to borrow the words of the title of the new book written by author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein: it changes everything. Just about a month before her book came out though, so too did another one singing a similar tune: Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy, authored by investigative journalist Mark Schapiro.

Schapiro’s book takes the reader on a journey to the front lines of anthropogenic climate disruption, from a court house in Europe to the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and from deep within the forests of Brazil to the farmlands of California. The thread that ties all of these seemingly disparate locales together is climate change caused by carbon emissions, which Schapiro uses as shorthand for all five of the different types of greenhouses gases.

Another thread tying these places together is the storytelling device Schapiro utilizes, gaining access to both people on the ground literally on the front lines facing the impacts of climate disruption, but also to the power brokers making policy decisions on said impacts.

“Climate change is the single most effective eye-opener to how globally connected we all are,” he explains in the book’s early pages. “[T]he corrosive effects of climate change unite us across national frontiers, as does the fight to slow the change down.”

In a nutshell, the book presents many examples of what is known in climate policy wonk circles as the “social cost of carbon.” A sign of the controversial-nature of this metric, in a recent court filing in an ongoing federal case the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality argued against including climate change as part of the environmental review process for the federal agencies it oversees.

This discussion of real life socio-economic costs makes talking about climate change much more interesting and also tangible, which Schapiro brings alive in a vivid way in his book.

“However you count, it’s a lot of money, enormous costs that are uncounted by those who create them,” writes Schapiro in the book’s introduction. “They’re off the official books because we, the public, pay for them. The emitters of greenhouse gases get a free ride.”

This is called “asymmetric risk” in the world of high finance — the bread and butter of the world of private equity, for example — and is known as “risky business” to some financial elites. Right now the world’s poor pay the highest price, particularly those living off the land in a place like Amazonia in Brazil, one of the places Carbon Shock brings readers to.

As the book also makes clear, a global industry is on the rise: carbon markets and offsets markets, often cheered for and ushered in by mainstream environmentalists. Carbon Shock assesses the costs and consequences of this ever-growing market (China will soon become a participant, a true game-changer) in a sober way; and puts a human face on them from both a policymaker’s perspective, but also giving a voice to the voiceless. The book also holds those calling for forest offsets to account by explaining who stands to gain and lose from such a proposition.

Schapiro also breaks a taboo by grappling with the climate change costs of the global aviation industry. He does so by introducing readers to a fascinating legal battle that took place a few years ago in Europe, which he attended. On this issue, as with so many other issues including global climate negotiations at the United Nations, the U.S. aviation industry has served as a formidable opponent of regulating the industry.

All in all, the book is a fascinating, vitally important 188-page read. I read it in just two sittings. Schapiro is a skillful writer and storyteller, leaving readers with plenty of investigative details while concurrently depicting the human and ecological consequences of the ever-burgeoning quagmire that is climate disruption.

Published just weeks before next Tuesday’s United Nations meeting in New York City, and the year before the UN will discuss a major new protocol proposal in Paris, the book’s release could not be more timely.


 [As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

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