Bob McDonald will present his comprehensive book on green technology, The Future is Now: Solving the Climate Crisis with Today’s Technologies (Penguin Random House, 2022), at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts on Friday, August 18, 2023, 8:30 pm (writersfestival.ca). His reassuring message is that we have everything we need to stop using fossil fuels now without anything else being invented. So, what’s stopping us from shifting over from polluting carbon-based fuels to clean energy? To borrow an often-heard answer when describing enmeshed relationships, “It’s complicated”.
The Future is Now, which could be called The Future is Wow, advises that we work in partnership with big oil, versus attacking them. Geoff Dembecki’s book, The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change (Greystone, September 2022), written in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation, is an example of vilifying fuel companies wholesale.
In a new era of truth and reconciliation, peace and forgiveness, perhaps McDonald has found a solution to enlist big oil, which he points out can provide hydrogen and funding. Can we let go of the past to write a new contract for the benefit of all parties?
McDonald’s outstanding book steps readers through biotechnologies we’ve heard of, but also offers reasons why we haven’t adopted greener technology by now to his dismay. Surprisingly, what’s keeping us burning black fuels is due to the high cost of green energy. McDonald’s analysis, based on his nearly fifty years studying the climate change problem, is that there’s every reason to be hopeful. In his book, everything is good–biofuels, oil, gas, solar, nuclear energy, wind power, methane, hydrogen (as in the gas that blew up the Hindenburg), maybe not wood and coal, but wave power, hydro, and more, it’s all equally good.
All the available sources of fuel have something to contribute to keeping furnaces on, vehicles on the road, planes in the sky, and society progressing towards cleaner skies and purer water. McDonald is the antithesis of the recently retired host from the TV show, The Nature of Things, David (“Downer”) Suzuki’s message that we’re doomed–paraphrasing McDonald from an interview with this reviewer.
Bob goes on to say, “Even though [Suzuki’s] message is bleak, I respect him tremendously and we need him to point out the problems.” True; however, a solutions-based approach is what The Future Now provides readers.
Is hyperloop transportation of commuters going to be realized? What’s the future of self-driving cars? It’s all in “Chapter Thirteen: Energy Efficiency–The Invisible Power Plant.” The book provides a deeper understanding of green tech you’ve heard of, and innovations you probably haven’t, like small nuclear reactors, underwater balloons, dark energy, or complete flops, like wind–powered cars, space-based solar power or sunshades. The also-rans of green energy in “Chapter 14: A Great Idea But . . .” are laughable failures to launch.
The clarifications are helpful, for example, there’s a housing development on the Sunshine Coast where I live that boasts geothermal heating, as many new developments do everywhere. “Chapter 7: Geothermal heating” explains a type of geothermal heating that comes from volcanoes and drill holes in the Earth where the crust is thinner, which isn’t possible in many places on the planet, except where its tectonic plates are split and let lava spill out to the surface, or the Earth’s crust is thin enough to allow easier access to the drill down to hot rocks to a steady source of heat.
The more common type of geothermal heat for homes is the heat pumps, which is also an energy efficient system, where pipes filled with water are buried deep enough underground to keep the temperature of the water constant, but nowhere near a depth to run a power plant or turn water into hot springs like access to a volcano would.
For those of us who live on Canada’s Coastlines, like McDonald, Chapter Four: Ocean Wave and Chapter Five: Tidal Power describes how the oceans can provide us with endless energy. But even in less sunny parts of the country, Chapter One: Solar Power, has creative ideas for solar collection.
The only mode of transportation not included in McDonald’s compendium is for the sea. I’m not talking about yachts, as McDonald has several of his harrowing sailing tales and loves hoisting a mainsail. No, I’m talking about massive, polluting cruise ships, tankers that can cause environmental disasters (Exxon Valdez comes to mind), freighters, and even super ferries. McDonald lives on an island, somewhat dependent on an ageing carbon-based fuel-guzzling ferry system, or float planes, where there are views of town-sized freighters and cruise ships. However, he said that pollution caused by road vehicles is the most impactful. McDonald speaks passionately about his nearly fifty years of reporting and interviewing world experts on climate change:
I started reporting on climate change since my hair was black. I first did a documentary on climate change in 1975. We’ve had five ice ages with 10,000-year warm periods between them. It’s been 12,000 years since the last ice age so we are overdue for another one. But climatologists then said that greenhouse gases were counteracting the next ice age. I made the mistake thinking that we’d listen to the scientists who predicted that the ice would melt globally back then. My mistake was thinking things would change quicker than they have and we’re in the same place we were back then.
McDonald thinks we should be more solution-focused and inclusive instead of polarized–either evil oil “fat cats” or “tree-huggers”.
Let’s think positively about the future and what we can do and not why we can’t do it. Don’t make an enemy of the oil companies. They can give us hydrogen, so let’s work with them. They can still give us energy. Like your phone. When I was kid they were on the wall and we worked with them. How do we keep warm, keep our cars on the road and work together with oil companies? People are eco-weary, let’s not scare them anymore.
McDonald dazzles us with sexy green tech, but when will it happen? He answers, “. . .How change comes about; [is] a slow evolution of technology that improves on what was there before abandoning the old entirely and starting over with a new vision. And people love to embrace new technology.” Will the government have anything to do with society’s switch to green tech? McDonald’s response is:
Change does not come from the government. The cell phone was not developed by the government. Everyone who invests in green technology makes money. Everyone who owns an electric car because they go like hell. David Suzuki has been painting that picture for years that we’re going down the tubes, but we’re not. . . .We don’t hear about community success stories.
The last time that I read a book about the environment that was this fascinating was in 2008, when The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman was released. Weisman’s book is a fascinating nonfiction about millions of years from now and humans are extinct. Wild animals, plants and trees reclaim the Earth in beautiful ways.
Weisman’s book extrapolated a world without humans from actual places that had environmental disasters, that McDonald also refers to, like Chernobyl, and also how the Earth has the power to heal. McDonald observes how during the pandemic, pollution cleared as there were fewer cars on the road when people worked at home, and more wild animals ventured out of hiding with fewer of us encroaching on their space.
McDonald’s book is filled with delightful snippets of his encounters with nature’s forceful energy, such as on the sea or a chance encounter with a volcano. There are plenty of insightful quotes from world experts on bleeding-edge eco-technology, gripping historical events, clear explanations of complex scientific concepts, stunning photographs of alternative energy-gathering sources from around the globe you won’t see anywhere else, and helpful illustrations of basic scientific principles. You don’t have to be a science nerd to appreciate this book. If you’re pessimistic about what’s in store for us, The Future is Now is the antidepressant this reviewer prescribes.
The enigmatic McDonald is writing his seventh book–a memoir. Expect stories about his youth in Orillia Ontario, travels on his many, many motorbikes (twenty-one so far), and sailing trips.
About the Author
Bob McDonald has been the host of CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks since 1992. He is a regular science commentator on CBC’s News Network and a science correspondent for CBC TV’s The National. His book Measuring the Earth with a Stick was shortlisted for the Canadian Science Writers Association Book Award. He has been honoured with the 2001 Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; the 2002 Sandford Fleming Medal from The Royal Canadian Institute; and the 2005 McNeil Medal for the Public Awareness of Science from the Royal Society of Canada. In November 2011, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 2015, asteroid 332324 was officially named Bobmacdonald in his honour. He has a blog at www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks.
- Publisher : Viking (Sept. 27 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0735241945
- ISBN-13 : 978-0735241947
Cathalynn Labonté-Smith grew up in Southwestern Alberta and moved to Vancouver, BC, to complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After graduation, she worked as a freelance journalist until present. She became a technical writer, earning a Certificate in Technical Writing from Simon Fraser University. She later went to UBC to complete a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and taught English, journalism, and other subjects at Vancouver high schools. She currently lives in Gibsons, where she is the president and founder of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society, and North Vancouver, BC. Her new book, Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue (Caitlin Press) is a British Columbia bestseller.