Book Reviewer
Lloyd Alter is managing editor of environmental news site TreeHugger. He has been an architect, developer, inventor, prefab promoter, and writes for the website Planet Green. Lloyd also teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Bill Gates’s climate fixes don’t add up

While Microsoft’s co-founder should have a head for numbers, his latest book fails on climate math

Once the world’s richest man, leading the world’s biggest tech company, Bill Gates spends most of his time and money at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dealing with health, gender equality and education. Now he has turned his roving eye to the climate crisis with his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Gates is a philanthropist now, but he still has a head for numbers.

However, numbers are the biggest problem with this book, starting with the first sentence: “There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The other is zero.” Fifty-one billion was the number of tonnes of CO2 from human activity added to the atmosphere in 2019; zero emissions are what Gates says we have to aim for to avoid the worst effects of climate change. But Gates says we still need concrete, fertilizer and natural-gas power plants (others think there are solutions for all three of these, but that’s another story), so he calls for “near net-zero,” where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere with carbon-capture devices, by reducing carbon in production processes, or through some form of offsetting.

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When the carbon bubble bursts

Author Jeff Rubin says Canada’s future in a post-oil world is in water and agriculture.

Poor Jeff Rubin. As chief economist at CIBC World Markets, he predicted in 2008 that oil would be $200 a barrel and gas would be $10 a gallon by 2012. In 2012, he explained that the troubled economy did his prediction in. “What happened to my forecast for $200 oil? Quite simply, the end of growth,” he wrote at the time.

Now it’s 2015. Gasoline is even cheaper and the low price of oil is actually encouraging economic growth, at least in some places. As Physicist Niels Bohr noted, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

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For the love of cows

They're not against eating meat, but the authors of the new book Cowed argue there are sound reasons for eating less beef.

It’s that time of year when many of us like to fire up the barbecue and toss some steaks or burgers on the grill. So many of us, in fact, that the average American male eats 39 kilograms of beef each year. (Women, by the way, consume about half that much).

That’s a lot of meat.

In Cowed, Denis Hayes, a prominent environmentalist who coordinated the first Earth Day in 1970, along with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes, an environmental lawyer, tell the story of that meat.

It’s not a horror story like so many anti-meat books, designed to scare you into vegetarianism. Both Mr. and Mrs. are rather fond of cows. Their aim, instead, is to convince the reader to eat less red meat and pay more for it. They take us on a generally pleasant tour of the cow scene, laying out their goals in the introduction:

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Book review: Carbon Black

In the self-published novel Carbon Black, GHG markets and regulations are backdrops to a thrilling work of fiction.

It’s two weeks to deadline. Corporate Knights’ editor-in-chief Tyler Hamilton pings me, asking what book I’m planning to review. I ponder as I pace the modernist concrete block and plywood room that is my office. I have no idea. He pings me again. “How about reviewing a fictional, self-published book, just for a change? Carbon Black, by Declan Milling.”

OMG. Fiction. I don’t do fiction. Self-published. Kindle. About The Most Boring Subject In The World, carbon trading. Just kill me now. But then I look, and it is only 306 pages and costs all of $3.71. And I think, I’m man enough for this. I hit the Amazon one-touch order button, open my Retina-screened sepia toned iPad and start reading. It’s not that bad. Short, declarative Hemingwayish sentences. Cardboard characters, albeit FSC-certified cardboard. Perhaps it’s a candidate for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

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It’s a jungle out there

Paul Barrett delivers a thrilling tale of trickery in the Amazon.

This is exciting. Why read dry business books when you can pick up the equiva­lent of an unputdownable John Grisham-style thrill read? Even better when the story is real, as in the $10-billion legal battle over oil spills in the rainforest of Amazonian Ecuador.

Law of the Jungle is Paul Barrett’s telling tale of young lawyer Steven Donziger and his “obsessive crusade – waged at any cost” to bring an oil giant to justice for environ­mental crimes that go back decades. The giant in focus is Texaco (now part of Chev­ron), which drilled the rainforest and left 400,000 barrels of oil in toxic ponds, poi­soning rivers and the people who lived on them. (Chevron maintains it met all clean­up obligations and that Ecuador released it of liability in 1998).

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A pivotal moment for business

New book puts climate, resource scarcity and transparency under spotlight.

Andrew Winston's The Big Pivot is most definitely a business book, "intended to be relatively short, but still provide a solid roadmap to a new way of operating.” In a sense, it's pre-condensed. The book is an operating manual for adaptation to three mega-trends that the author says every business must face: climate change, resource constraints (and costs) and technology-driven demands for transparency – or "hotter, scarcer and more open."

As for the title, Winston explains it this way: “If you believe that these pressures are real, then what has until now been called green business, or sustainability, cannot be a side department or a niche conversation in commerce.” Indeed, he continues, “we must pivot – sometimes painfully, always purposefully, so that solving the world's biggest challenges profitably becomes the core pursuit of business."

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Waking the frog

Tom Rand says becoming amphibian soup is not a climate fait accompli.

In his new book, Waking the Frog, Tom Rand tackles the question of why we, like the metaphorical frog in the boiling pot, are just sitting and doing nothing while the carbon count rises and the climate gets more disruptive.

Rand makes clear he doesn’t think we have to boil to death. “The good news is that we can solve the climate problem,” he writes. “The capital we need sits in our pension funds and money markets, the policy tools to unlock it are well understood and emerging innovations are fully capable of powering our civilization.”

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Scrap culture

The secret world of recycled stuff

Every Jewish family that's been in North America since before WWII has the scrap business in its genes. A hundred years ago, 25 per cent of New York's Jews were in scrap. My dad's first job for the in-law's family business was racing for the car batteries of dead cars, the most valuable component being the easily removed lead inside. He followed scrap from Toronto to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Chicago (where I was born) and back.

Reading Adam Minter's book Junkyard Planet reminded me of the many stories I’ve heard about the business, about the menches and the schlemiels who were part of it. Minter, who is Shanghai columnist for Bloomberg World View, traces how what was a Jewish business has become a Chinese one, as China developed a voracious appetite for scrap that gets melted down and returned to us in the form of new products. As an author and a grandchild of the scrap business, Minter is in an extraordinary position. His knowledge and background gives him entrée into a very secretive world. He understands what he is looking at and as a skilled writer does a great job of sharing what he sees.

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Embracing work with purpose

Is Aaron Hurst’s The Purpose Economy a true reflection of reality?

Are we at the tipping point of a new economy? Aaron Hurst thinks so. He is the founder of the Taproot Foundation and is launching Imperative, a platform "for you to discover, connect and act on what gives you purpose." In his new book The Purpose Economy, Hurst defines what he thinks will replace the industrial and information economies of the last century.

"A Purpose Economy is based on empowering people to have rich and fulfilling careers by creating meaningful value for themselves and others; it creates purpose for its employees and customers – through serving those in need, enabling self-expression, and building community."

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A world without waste

The Upcycle is good enough to eat, and that's the point it wants to make.

A decade ago, William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote Cradle to Cradle, a book that environmentalist David Suzuki called “groundbreaking” and a “Bible for the Second Industrial Revolution.” Since then it has become an industry, with a certification system and an independent Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. The premise was straightforward:

“Human beings don't have a pollution problem, they have a design problem. If humans were to devise products, tools, furniture, homes, factories, and cities more intelligently from the start, they wouldn't even need to think in terms of waste, or contamination, or scarcity. Good design would allow for abundance, endless reuse and pleasure.”

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