No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies

Prolific writer and journalist William T. Vollmann (Imperial) tackles carbon-based energy, nuclear power and climate change in the exhaustively researched and mostly mesmerizing No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies.

The hefty 600-page book is the first in a two-part series. No Immediate Danger begins with an exploration of what Vollmann calls the ideology of carbon-based fuels and derivatives--the belief systems that drive fossil fuel extraction and consumption. He examines the rate of climate change and each industry's respective contribution. He also investigates agricultural practices around the globe, meticulously detailing how carbon in the ground gets released into the atmosphere, along with other greenhouse gases like methane. The second half of No Immediate Danger pivots to Japan, where, with the same zany and manic determination, Vollmann delves into the tsunami-induced nuclear meltdown and fallout at Fukushima.

An experiential journalist with a breakneck literary style, Vollmann combines intelligence and wit in a sardonic voice that doggedly pursues truth, above all else. He writes in the second person, addressing future generations who will have to deal with ecological catastrophe: "This book may help you in the hot dark future to understand why." He doesn't belittle working-class communities built around fossil fuels, nor those in the developing world seeking more energy for a higher quality of life. He does criticize politicians and industry talking heads. While his writing can be erratic--his footnotes are self-referential, and the last 100 pages of "Definitions, Units and Conversions" are insanely complicated--Vollmann transforms journalistic work into art. Fatalistic but not without hope, No Immediate Danger is a blistering jeremiad of grave environmental concern. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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