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:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Drive a Nuclear Reactor - Colin Tucker ****

How To Drive A Nuclear Reactor does exactly what it says on the tin. The book is a general overview of nuclear reactors. From the basic principles that make them work through to what buttons to press in what order (and of course how and why they can go wrong).Nuclear power could be a good step on the path to a greener energy future, but there is a lot of understandable fear. This book can give some idea of what an incredible feat of both science and engineering one of these machines is and, hopefully, make anyone reading it feel far more comfortable about them.The book presents information about everything, almost down to the literal nuts and bolts, giving you a near complete understanding of how a nuclear works. From putting in the fuel to getting out the power and down from the control panel to the construction material. Everything you could ever want to know is here. By the end you'll likely feel ready to walk into a control room and get started (do not try doing this, nuclear …

Meteorite - Tim Gregory ****

There have been many books on astronomy, ranging from exploring individual aspects of the solar system, such as the Sun or Mars, through to studies of the most distant depths of the universe, but there has been relatively little on the only astronomical objects that we're able to touch (other than the Earth itself) - meteorites.

In Meteorite, Tim Gregory fills in many details of the nature of these rocks from outer space, from how they formed in the first place to the range of types and origins that are possible. Most come from the debris of the forming solar system left in the asteroid belt, but some were smashed off the Moon or Mars by an incoming impactor.

Although the main focus is the meteorites themselves (if there's any doubt, we are talking about the solid remains that fall to Earth when a meteor - a shooting star - in part survives the journey through the atmosphere), Gregory also fills us in on the contribution that meteorites have made to the Earth, whether it be brin…

Being Mortal - Atul Gawande ****

I heard recently that the local geriatric ward puts a photograph of the patient in his or her prime by each bed. The aim is to help staff to treat their patients as individuals, but it makes me uneasy. Do these people only matter because of what they were, not what they are? Because once they stood proud and handsome in their uniform, or looked lovely on their wedding day?

Professor Atul Gawande has the problem surgically excised and laid out for inspection in one of his unflinching but compassionate case studies:

‘What bothered Shelley was how little curiosity the staff members seemed to have about what Lou cared about in his life and what he had been forced to forfeit... They might have called the service they provided assisted living, but no-one seemed to think it was their job to actually assist him with living – to figure out how to sustain the connection and joys that most mattered to him.’

Gawande is an eminent surgeon. As a young resident he displayed little overt emotion when hi…