'The Carbon Almanac: It's Not Too Late' Is the Climate Crisis Book We Need Now

Seth Godin calls it "the most important project in my career."

The Carbon Almanac

The Carbon Almanac

  • Title: The Carbon Almanac: It's Not Too Late
  • Author: The Carbon Almanac Network; Edited by Seth Godin
  • Topic(s): Nonfiction
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publish Date: July 12, 2022
  • Page Count: 352

For some time I have been thinking that we need a sort of encyclopedia of carbon. Two years ago I started assigning research topics to my students at Toronto Metropolitan University: big topics like the impact of greenhouse gases; little topics like patio heaters and pets. I wanted there to be a place where anyone could find information on anything related to carbon—big or small. I started it here and wrote about it on Treehugger.

The Carbon Almanac

Lloyd Alter

It's now moot. Author, thinker, and canoeist Seth Godin has coordinated "The Carbon Almanac," what he calls the most important project of his career. Where I imagined an encyclopedia, he has produced a whole Earth catalog: "A book of facts about climate change. Containing tables, infographics, maps, definitions, history, quotations, and resources. We are a collective of artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, and humans who believe it's not too late to stop climate change." 

It's marvelous, with sections explaining "climate change for rookies," what's true in the face of so much confusion and misdirection, the impacts of climate change, solutions, who has to fix it, and who is leading the way.

It's vast, covering hundreds of topics from my bête noir, patio heaters, to how roundabouts help lower emissions. At last, someone is recognizing the rise of e-bikes, even if the very next page is titled "electric vehicles," ignoring e-bikes.

It's easy to read, and written for a general audience.

It's often hilarious, filled with cartoons and fun graphics.

It's a great teaching tool, with a free kids version.

It's got great online support, with bios of all the writers, footnotes, and sources to every article that is easy to find by a code number on each article.

It's wildly inconsistent, with some important topics getting a paragraph or two, and others getting pages. There are sections that are way too short: mass transit gets about 30 words; bicycles get zero.

It's often infuriating, starting with the very first sentence in Godin's forward: "This is a book about energy." No, it's not. It's about carbon and as I keep trying to say, one of our most important messages is that energy is not carbon. Then there are the four horsemen of the carbon apocalypse, coal, combustion, cows, and concrete. I love alliteration, as my editor will attest as she rolls her eyes, but coal and combustion are the same horsemen. A good idea though; try consumption and convenience.

It's sometimes just wrong, such as two pages about using ammonia as a carbon-neutral fuel, with a little box on "producing ammonia" that grossly oversimplifies and confuses with references that are sketchy or old. On a related topic, urea. It goes on about its use in trucks and cars—that "bluetec" system you see on Mercedes diesel, the quantity of which is barely a rounding error compared to its use as fertilizer.

For building materials that sequester carbon, it includes bricks, concrete, carpet tiles, and 3D-printed wood. Really? And that is one of the few pages on buildings and construction. The document is shockingly deficient in the role of cities, urban design, density, and built form. There is one weak page on zero-emission homes and a couple of mentions of embodied carbon.

greenhouse gases by sector
The overly complicated chart.

Our World in Data

On the other hand ...

It's often wonderful with essays such as "The Tyranny of Convenience," a subject dear to my heart, and my favorite, a two-pager on "why are greenhouse emissions numbers so confusing?" It shows two graphs we have displayed on Treehugger many times, one overly complex and the other too simplistic.

The author writes: 

"The first chart attributes the greenhouse gas emissions by sector and drills it down further to the final energy consumer. Breaking down the data in such a way can provide a clearer picture of emissions by industry. The second chart uses more generic labeling that leaves it unclear whether it's attributed to the consumer of the energy or the producer of it. Follow the chain long enough and you'll end up with the top oil companies- which produce huge amounts of the carbon that is released, but don't actually use most of it. They sell it."

I quoted those paragraphs in full because I believe they are the only ones in the book that addresses the question of production versus consumption, or the question of scope, which doesn't even show up in the index. These are fundamentally critical issues that deserved better.

However, even after all these complaints, I have to conclude:

It's urgent. As Godin notes in the foreword, the problem is too urgent to hang around and wait for every single story. He wrote, "We can't waste a moment arguing about the size of our problem or mourning what used to be. Instead, we can lean into hope and connection."

It's optimistic. "The hope that comes from realizing that it's not too late."

It's brilliant. Who cares if there are a few complaints, get them out the door. As Godin concludes, "If not now, when?" It is the book we need. Now. 

The Treehugger Reading List

Are you looking to learn more about sustainable living or climate change? Do you want an engrossing read about nature or design? Here's a running list of books our staff has reviewed and loved.