It’s “Now or Never” to Avert Climate Catastrophe

Now or Never
Tim Flannery
Toronto ON: Harpercollins Canada 2009

In the 1970s, the environmental movement was regularly criticized for being too negative, and providing too little emphasis on positive solutions. Or, they were simply dismissed as “chicken little” radicals. These early criticisms ushered in several years of hushed tones and muted pessimism.

These days, as the world’s ecological and climate woes continue to worsen, there seems to be a little more straight talk from the green corner. The reason is hardly worth mentioning, but here goes. While ecological destruction throughout the world has been a slow-motion catastrophe, climate change seems to be on fast forward.

Along comes Tim Flannery in 2009, internationally acclaimed scientist and author of the wildly successful The Weather Makers, to shed all pretensions of massaging the message or softening the blow. His newest book, Now or Never, will frighten everyone who dares to read it – from hardened climate skeptics to true believers.

Yes, it’s that dire. For Flannery, we have already past the “tipping point” of climate consequences. Now we must act to avoid the “point of no return,” which would bring on a new “dark age” of full-scale climate catastrophe. Flannery is not concerned about living up to the billing of climate alarmist. As David Suzuki writes in the book’s foreword, it’s time to “take the gloves off and tell like it is.”

Flannery offers up a few chapters of possible solutions to avert our worst fate. But his suggestions skip past any notion of slow-moving societal change, and head straight to the large-scale, drastic efforts that would either capture carbon at the source or absorb excess carbon from the air.

To list a few “modest” proposals: massive, unprecedented reforestation efforts are needed in tropical regions; carbon capture and storage technologies must be developed fast to deal with surging coal industries throughout the developing world; and a revolution in holistic agriculture techniques is essential, not just to reduce carbon emissions, but to make farming a net carbon sink. (Flannery suggests using the process of pyrolysis to convert organic matter into fuel and charcoal. The latter could be plowed back into fields as inert stored carbon, improving crop yields and producing healthier, nutrient-rich soil.) But these solutions, and all others listed in the book, leave Flannery sounding rushed and frantic. It’s basically a frenzied appeal for emergency measures.

If a seasoned communicator like Tim Flannery decides to throw all positivity out the window, I’m inclined to take him at his word. And I’m not about to pathetically ask for a “brighter” assessment, when that would result in the same business-as-usual response to decades of concerted environmental activism. Yes – time for the gloves to come off indeed.

Now or Never is not fun. To be honest, the book is rather disturbing. But it is well worth your effort if it spurs you to action.

Bill McKibben, among others, offers a written response to Flannery at the end of the book. He uses the space to encourage readers to participate in the campaign. It’s a worldwide effort designed to convince world leaders that something substantial must be done to bring emissions down and keep them under 350 parts per million – the estimated safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is just one of many ways we can make a difference.

*This book review was written by Fraser Los, updated from its original version on

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