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.
Personal anecdotes and choice quotations from technical manuals and poets pepper a heavy stew of unit conversions and historical statistics ... the book is a performance of the vexations involved in trying to understand our energy reality. The human account of what happened at Fukushima, the interviews with refugees and the excursions through abandoned cities, demands scientific context. And so Vollmann annotates his reportage with monotonous radiation readings. These readings in turn require their own context, which is complicated by debates over the efficacy of various units and devices of measurement. No wonder we throw up our hands and dream of Mars ... Carbon Ideologies’s hybrid genre—oral history, scientific précis, journalism, essay—lends it an interesting place in recent writing on climate change. Its emphasis on ideology rather than impact provides a nice contrast to reporting like Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) ... consciousness, Carbon Ideologies shows, is utterly dependent on conditions. The vicious circle of matter and idea continues. Vollmann doesn’t seek to break it. His talent is to make us see it, to follow its pattern of thought, and to locate its roots in the everyday striving of ordinary people.