The National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central examines the many causes of climate change, from industrial manufacturing and agricultural practices to fossil fuel extraction, economic demand for electric power, and the yearning of people all over the world to live in comfort.
Vigilant in his precision, open-mindedness, and candor, Vollmann takes on global warming, elucidating the science used to measure the impact of carbon-based fuels and nuclear energy on the atmosphere and Earth, and analyzing the 'ideologies,' or assertions, that keep the energy industries churning, no matter the consequences. Vollmann provides an extensive, richly sourced 'primer' of mind-seizing quantifications about greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, transportation, power plants, and manufacturing, vividly conveyed information matched by arresting enumerations of negligence and malfeasance ... His poignant conversations with nuclear refugees, unnerving visits to contaminated towns, telling photographs, and stubborn attempts to measure radiation all attest to the terror, sorrow, and eerie normalization of this ongoing disaster. Vollmann’s careful descriptions, touching humility, molten irony, and rueful wit, combined with his addressing readers in 'the hot dark future,' make this compendium of statistics, oral history, and reportage elucidating, compelling, and profoundly disquieting.
It is a 600-page amalgam of scientific history, cultural criticism, mathematical experiments, risk-benefit analyses of energy production and consumption, and diaristic meanderings through radiation-festooned landscapes after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. The effect is bewildering ... There are swifter, simpler, more efficient ways to learn about how human impact on the planet has set us striding into a 'hot, dark future.' But No Immediate Dange'—written as calculated denial becomes policy—takes a tack that feels appropriate. It is overwhelming. It drowns us in calculations, facts, images, stories. It embodies the confusion of our current moment, the insidiousness of disbelief, and the mania-inducing reality that our greatest threat is the hardest to act upon. It is a feverish, sprawling archive of who we are, and what we’ve wrought.
So is this the book on climate change we’ve all been waiting for? Maybe not. Carbon Ideologies, Vollmann’s two-volume exploration of the energy sources we use and the mess we are in, is prodigiously reported but sprawling and undisciplined ... Vollmann’s many fans are drawn to his literary hoarder aesthetic, and they will not be disappointed ... He has stacked his reporting high, giving us interview after interview with local people in places ravaged by our need for power and by our wastefulness ... We hear them at great length, but with little interpretation or analysis ... the biggest problem with this monumental work: not its length, or the way it might test your tolerance for sarcasm, but the author’s tendency to assume the absolute worst consequences of climate change ... Vollmann...gives short shrift to renewable energy sources like solar power that can help to provide a pathway to a less damaged future ... Reading these two books did have an effect on me ... I do feel worse about myself. Maybe that’s what the work was for.