Skip to main content

Seven Years to Save the Planet – Bill McGuire ***

There are a lot of ‘how to combat global warming’ books out there, so to be worth reading, a book needs a new twist, and it’s fair to say that Bill McGuire has achieved this. Seven Years is divided into five parts – Where are we now? What will climate change mean for my children and their children? What can I do? What should others be doing? and Is it already too late? In each section there are a series of mini-chapters, each with a question, a little commentary and the answer, from ‘Will the Arctic Ocean soon be ice free?’ to ‘What is my carbon footprint?’
Of the main sections, the first two are far and above the best. McGuire is director of the Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre, giving him ideal placement to be aware just what the threats are and their potential impact on our planet and our lives. He tells it straight, making it clear just how conservative the IPCC can be in its predictions, and how even relatively small changes can be enough to have a big impact for our children and our children’s children. This is scary stuff and deservedly so. We have a lot to do, and relatively little time to do it.
Where he is much weaker – and sadly, this is the bit we really need to hear – is on solutions. His ‘What can I do?’ section is full of the usual skim-the-surface changes we can make, adopting the standard knee-jerk solutions. About the only time he spots the dangers of over-simplification is when he mentions that Spanish tomatoes have less climate impact for UK buyers than the commercial home-grown greenhouse variety – but elsewhere his solutions are highly simplistic. On food, for instance, it’s organic, organic, organic – even though there are many circumstances where organic growing is worse for climate change (specific example, for instance, organic chickens, compared to conventional birds). Similarly, he emphasizes using the train for all long distance journeys, when coaches are greener, and a full car is also better than some diesel trains in the UK. He also pushes hybrid cars – fine for city dwellers like him, but there are much cleaner conventional small cars for country/motorway driving. Strangest of all he loves hydrogen cars, saying ‘Electric vehicles are becoming more attractive… but at the moment they are charged mainly with electricity generated by fossil fuels. Probably the best bet is renewably-generated hydrogen…’ But all hydrogen is, in effect, is an alternative to a battery. It’s used to store energy from electricity. And just like the electric cars, this electricity too would, for the moment, mainly come from fossil fuels. It doesn’t make sense.
In his urge to make us blame ourselves, he points out how we have stupidly not built lots more wind farms, the Severn barrage etc. – but nowhere does he point out that the biggest opposition to wind farms and the Severn barrage tends to come from green groups. He hasn’t bitten the bullet enough to tell people you’ve got to get over worrying about how pretty the country looks – this is about survival. He seems to think you can fix green issues but not deal with the politics. Oh, and he calls the G-Wiz cute. That’s really worrying.
All-in-all, then, half a great book, but in a book subtitled the questions… and answers, the answers don’t live up to the questions.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…

Bodyology - Mosaic Science ****

It's a good sign when you pick up a book intending to read one chapter and end up reading three. It's very moreish. This is because it's made up of short, self-contained articles, originally published on a website. Often an edited collection of articles by different authors suggests a boring read, but here the articles are good pieces of journalism with plenty to interest the reader.

The topics are all vaguely human body related, but thankfully not all medical (not my favourite subject) - so, for example, as well as stories of a person cured of Lyme disease by bee stings or a piece on miscarriages we get topics like the effects on the body of being struck by lightning or falling from a high place. Even some more explicitly health-related matters, such as the impact of losing your sense of smell, were engaging enough to get me past my medical squeamishness.

The only reason I can't give the collection five stars is because of one aspect of the writing style that runs throu…