Book Review: The Carbon Killers

Tony Brewer, our Secretary, read The Carbon Killers (written and published by Hal Wackman) earlier this year and thought it interesting and relevant enough to share his thoughts:

The Carbon Killers is, in fact, two stories that alternate through the book. The first, set in the mid-2020s, describes the efforts of Margaret Chen, a Chinese-American woman who works as the US President’s Special Advisor on Climate Change, to persuade other governments to introduce an international carbon tax, intended to combat climate change by taxing the burning of fossil fuels. Many are sympathetic but some, including Russia, India and Brazil, are strongly opposed. In addition, a group of hugely rich and powerful individuals who are benefiting from the energy industries are determined to halt this initiative and will stop at nothing to kill it off. Margaret survives a frightening variety of threats & scrapes during her mission.

The second story, set in the 2040s when a carbon tax has been implemented but before average temperatures have started to fall, describes the impact of climate change, especially on poorer countries. This time Margaret is involved in a project to resettle a large number of Kenyan ‘climate refugees’ in the US mid-West.

According to his biography, the author, Hal Wackman, has worked throughout the world as an engineering economist with the World Bank, so he knows what he is writing about and has probably visited most of the places mentioned. He has also probably participated in the sorts of presidential briefings, inter-governmental negotiations and UN-sponsored conferences that he describes. 

In my opinion the stories exhibit three different writing styles: ‘guidebook excess’ – how could one not want to visit Kiwayu Island, Ipanema Beach, or Sydney given his glowing descriptions; ‘management boilerplate’ such as found every week in the factual articles published by The Economist; & ‘original Wackman’, as found in the creative sections of the book. There is no discussion of whether the evident change in the climate is man-made or whether taxing carbon is the right or only solution. In a nod to current fashions there are several rather clunky references to the power of feminism and the joys of Lesbian sex.

This is not the finest literature ever written. But as a contribution to our understanding of climate change, by giving personal reality to what is otherwise a rather arcane and scientific debate, it is definitely worth reading. COP 26 – the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference – will take place in Glasgow in November so this book has current relevance.