Guest essay by Eric Worrall
“Are we prepared to endure lives with less comfort?”: William T. Vollmann on climate change.
The famous novelist and journalist has a new two-volume tome on climate change.
By Eric Allen Been Apr 19, 2018, 8:40am EDT
“For a long time I was a climate change denier,” says author, journalist, and war correspondent William T. Vollmann. “I didn’t want to be stressed out by something that might someday affect people after I’m dead.”
And yet for Vollmann — a brilliant, idiosyncratic writer whom some have described as a plausible candidate for the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature — the reality of climate change has become a personal obsession. Last week, he released the first volume of a sprawling, two-volume polemic called Carbon Ideologies. Titled No Immediate Danger, it explores in more than 600 pages how our society is bound to the ideology of energy consumption. Addressed to humans living in a “hot dark future,” the book is highly technical, chock-full of tables, studies, and hundreds of Vollmann’s own photos.
Vollmann traveled the globe for years reporting for this project, going so far as to self-finance after his publisher’s patience wore thin. “I spent my own money,” he writes, “and occasionally other people’s, to hike up strip-mined mountains, sniff crude oil, and occasionally tan my face with gamma rays.”
There are things that that can be done and maybe won’t be done if somebody says, “Well, it’s going to cost too much money to make that change.” Then what do you say? Do you say, “Well, we’re going to make you do it at a loss”? Or do we say, “All right, we’re going to give you money to help you change”? I can’t pretend to have an answer about stuff like that. All I can do is say, well, there are lots and lots of problems.
It’s not just what some consumer does at home. It’s niggling little issues that add up. In Japan, roughly 50 percent or so of all the methane emissions — and that’s one of the three most dangerous greenhouse gases — are caused by rice growing. All this stuff that seems so innocuous. It seems to me that you have to drag people into some kind of regulatory hell, unfortunately. Maybe there’s a better way to do it, but I don’t see one.
Can you imagine what the world would be like with people like Vollmann in charge?
Vollmann is the real deal – according to the VOX article, at one point the police suspected him of being the Unabomber, because of the hardline anti-growth and anti-development themes of Vollmann’s writing.