Skip to main content

Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet – Mark Lynas ****

This is an important book. Books about the horrors of global warming are sometimes referred to as climate change pornography, because they titillate with the frisson of fear about what is going to happen to us – I don’t agree with this label, but if it existed, this would be hardcore.
Mark Lynas describes simply and graphically what would happen if the Earth went through one degree (Celsius) of warming, two degrees, three degrees and so on, through to six degrees. Basing all his predictions on different scientific studies, he explains ruthlessly what will happen to different parts of the world as ice melts, seas rise, temperatures climb and rainfall dries up in some places and becomes torrential elsewhere. This is important, because the temperature rises of themselves don’t sound particularly frightening. We are all familiar what happens when the temperature rises locally by a few degrees – it’s a nice sunny day. We have a lovely time. Yet if Lynas is right, with five degrees we will be looking at billions dying, and with six degrees we will be close to the end of humanity. This is because average temperature rise is only a limited reflection of the massive impact in different areas. Imagine, for instance, practically all of Africa being uninhabitable, with the population of the African countries all heading for a Europe already suffering badly from climate change as refugees.
I have seen it said by another writer on the topic, Fred Pearce, that unless a book tells you how to prevent climate change as well as what the impact will be, it isn’t doing its job. I think he’s wrong. There are plenty of books on making a difference – it’s essential we get more on the impact to drive it home. The only place Lynas is a little iffy is that he does stray into coping with the impact of climate change, basically saying that come 5 degrees or so, there’s no point going all survivalist, it will just get you killed. This is probably true, but overlooks the fact that we need to be able to deal with the lesser, temporary impact of existing climate change – for example, temporary flooding – which is why I think books like my own Global Warming Survival Kit are an important accompaniment to a book like this.
So if it’s so important (and even won the prestigious Royal Society prize for science writing), why only four stars? Because it isn’t the best of reads as a popular science book. Not because of the uncomfortable message, but the approach inevitably means a slightly repetitious format, and despite Lynas’ efforts to bring in some human interest by mentioning specific places he has visited, after a while, the onslaught of this drought and that flood and so on becomes a bit wearing and tempts you to skip. It’s still very important – just doesn’t quite hit the spot as a great popular science read.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…