Thursday, 14 October 2010

Six Degrees by Mark Lynas

(Warning - depressing book review)

Six Degrees outlines degree by degree what would happen in a climate changed world. So Chapter One outlines the effects of a one degree rise in the average global temperature, including the loss of the Gulf Stream, which currently maintains the climate in UK and northern Europe at a much warmer temperature than otherwise would be the case given our latitude. So paradoxically northern Europe stands to become colder in the first stages as climate change really takes hold. Chapter by chapter the effects are spelled out, the Amazonian forest would be history once the temperature has risen by 4 degrees and once we reach a global average temperature 6 degrees higher than todays, we face outright catastrophe with mass extinctions not only of animals and plants but of uhuman populations too.

The book uses evidence from paleontology from the prehistoric times of greatest global warming to project possible future scenarios. However we are risking temperature rises that are beyond what the world has known, ever. Previous global warming incidents also took place over longer time periods enabling the life forms that were around at the time much more time to adapt to the new climate and survive. This time the temperature is rising much quicker and there is less time to adapt.

There is probably some natural element to the current rise in global temperatures (the climate has, after all, changed throughout the history of the earth) but the evidence points squarely to most of it being due to human activities. Reading articles such as Arctic Ice in Death Spiral by Stephen Leahy makes you wonder how far we already are on the path to irreversible climate change.

Unfortunately most of us are probably too wedded to our comfortable convenient lifestyles and governments see no votes in compulsory reductions of standard of living.  So whether we can actually cut back on emissions in time to avert catastrophe is probably a rhetorical question to which the answer is sadly no. I'm very glad I don't have children, because I would fear their future so very much. I would like to be optimistic, but somehow I really don't see it after reading this book. I also envisage this review getting as few comments as did my review of Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe).

15 comments:

Howard BME said...

I haven’t read this book, but I’m currently reading Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer, which takes on the same theme from more of a geopolitical perspective. In particular, the global food supply is likely to be affected sooner rather than later, and to differing degrees in different places, leading to conflicts between countries as they all attempt to feed their populations. Gwynne Dyer’s talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, in which he essentially summarised the thesis of this book, was one of the more depressing hours that I spent in August!

Rabbits' Guy said...

The whole subject, and especially the descriptions and discussions, are so depressing or dramatic and overwhelming for me. My mind is numb and does not know what to think or do.

I don't believ anyone can see that far ahead - who, 100 years ago, could have described most human life today?

Crafty Green Poet said...

Howard, I've not read Climate Wars, I'll look for it.

Rabbits' Guy - you're right there are always pitfalls with predicting what will happen in the future. However it is useful to think about what might happen.

Kelly said...

As horrifying as these types of books can be, it is very important that people read them so that everyone can at least understand the consequences of their actions. I have discussed some of the topics with a few scientist friends and there are not a lot of positive outlooks going on these days. Even if everyone dialed their technology use back 200 years it would still not be enough to undo what has been done. I have even heard some theories that the population is 5 or 6 generations above the capacity of the planet to support the numbers. The last 2 generations have really made things tight on the resources because of the 3rd world life expectancy picking up around 30 years so consumption by humans is so high that there is no way to keep up.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Kelly I totally agree, that's why i review books like this....

Angela Recada said...

I am so grateful to you, that you post about subjects like this. I have actually heard people on the US news who are looking forward to the Arctic ice disappearing, because of all the shipping and oil drilling opportunities that will result. These bastards can't think beyond their own pockets.

I have two children, and I, too, think that we are beyond the point where we could reverse the damage we have done to the planet, if enough of us even wanted to. It makes me very sad for my children.

It's difficult for me to be eloquent about this subject anymore. I get so angry, I am often rendered speechless.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think you are absolutely right here Juliet - nobody is really all that interested and nobody really cares all that much about cutting emissions. There is also a lot of mondy involved - the rich get richer and nothing happens.

Lucy said...

I just reread your review of Elizabeth Kolbert's book more carefully. I'm not sure book reviews are such easy things to make comments on, so try not to assume that camment silence always equals apathy! However, there is an element of despair which makes many of us shrug and turn away; 'the best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity'.

Did you catch 'Costing the Earth' on R4 this week, about how some activists, including victims of hurricane Katrina, are suing the oil companies and others for their part in the climate change which destroyed their homes and other things? It was interesting, but always one is faced with the fact of our own complicity in the matter.

I too feel glad of having no children, which permits more easily of despair and apathy, perhaps. Yet I think we have to stay as aware as we can and do whatever we can just for its own sake, and for that of our spiritual and moral integrity, even if it won't fix a hopeless situation or change the world. People like you do more than you know to keep our consciousness awake.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Angela - I too know people who are looking forward to the Arctic Sea ice disappearing and yes it is difficult to be eloquent

Weaver - you're totally right, so much of it is about money

Lucy - I agree with what you say about being difficult to comment on book reviews, but in general, my book reviews here get a good number of comments. I didn't catch Costing the Earth, no, it sounds interesting. I think childlessness perhaps does allow for more despair, but I know a lot of people with children who claim to be too busy to care. That's a major issue too, as is the money that Weaver mentions, and you're so right, we all need to be aware and to try our best, which is why i write this blog.

Selma said...

I think it is crucial to talk about these subjects because what if the world does warm by six degrees? What then? To think that everything we love about the natural world - all my birds and flowers - wouldn't survive; makes me want to start crying and never stop.

Talking about it scares me. Not talking about it scares me more. Thank you, Juliet, for raising the tough issues.

Catherine said...

Some time back I watched a BBC documentary series Earth: The Power of the Planet. In the episode on Oceans, the really scary part was the suggestion that if the oceans warm too much, the currents that circulate water from the bottom and move the surface water down will stop.
This will result in an explosive increase in organisms that release sulphurous gases, while killing off the ones that produce oxygen. There was good scientific evidence to support the theory.
It could result in basically all life on earth dying out in a very short time as the atmosphere becomes unbreathable. You can probably get this on DVD, if you want to watch something depressing (or your library may have it for borrowing). I've just checked our library catalogue and there is also a book that has been made of the series

P. M. Doolan said...

I am reading Fraser and Rimas' Empires of Food at the moement, which tackles the subject from the point of view of food security, how vital that is and haw catastrophic the road ahead seem to be. One my blog I reviewed James Lovelock's terrifying vision of our future: http://www.pauldoolan.com/search/label/James%20Lovelock
But, that said, while we prepare for the worst we need to have the humility to admit that we don't know what the furture holds - that is a characteristic of the future. A future laready known is not a future. Which means, having children or not having children is neither here nor there. The next generation might be the happiest ever to have existed, even if catastrophe hits - we simply don't know. And, if their is a solution to high carbon energy it might come from the head of a child who has yet to be born or who is in diapers right now.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Selma - it would be terrifying if the world did warm by 6 degrees, you're right

Catherine - I've not seen that series, I'll look out for it, thanks

PM Doolan - no wecan't see into the future with any real accuracy. But if the world heats up by 6 degrees we would lose so much it would be unimaginable. And we need the solutions now to stop us sliding into unstroppable warming.

I usually try to be more optimistic than I am in this review, but the book is terrifying reading and could probe to be prophetic, of course we don't know but that is scant reason to choose not to act now given that the signs are so very clear.

Gabrielle Bryden said...

I must have a look at this book. It is good to be aware of this potentially catastophic issue and to take the action possible for individuals. I do not think we should be blankly pessimistic however and if we all develop a 'learned helplessness' attitude then noone will bother trying to do anything (we'll all just give up). I don't believe people will significantly change their lifestyles (unless forced) but there is the possibility of alternative solutions, not yet developed - of that I have some degree of optimism, eg., something mechanical that takes the carbon out of the air (the stuff of science fiction maybe, but you never know). Thanks for the review.g

Deb G said...

This is a book I've meant to read for awhile. I know it's going to make my heart hurt...I already think we've gone too far.