Monday, 3 September 2007

Mark Lynas' Six Degrees - a book review

Mark Lynas’ ‘Six Degrees’ takes the reader on a voyage through a warming planet. Likening it to Dante’s Inferno, he guides us through the circles of hell. This very readable and well written book is the result of many hours of reading scholarly articles and researching climate models to condense this huge bulk of information. Essential Lynas, has undertaken a crash-PhD course on the current state of climate knowledge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change temperature estimates are worrying and scary but in an a academic, distant way, what Lynas does is chart what each degree of warming actually means for the planet and what the effects are likely to be.

One degree of warming sees some low lying islands drowned, more powerful hurricanes, and extreme threats to the Great Barrier Reef; two degrees sees the extinction of the polar bear, deadly heat waves across much of Europe, and very serious water problems for those regions dependent upon snow pack for water supply. Lynas and many commentators believe two degrees is very serious but also adaptable. Looking above two degrees the situation gets terrifying as runaway warming feedback loops kick in. The Amazon could burn, releasing vast amounts of CO2 causing further warming; leading to a melting of the Arctic tundra released more methane; potentially seeing the release of undersea methane hydrates, he writes "With all the remaining forests burning, and the corpses of people, livestock and wildlife piling up on every continent," the apocalypse will have arrived”.

The book could easily descend into a fatalistic call-to apathy. The subject matter is terrifying (I wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading) but this isn’t fiction. Unlike Dante who was guided by a poet, Lynas is guided by a huge number of scientists and most prominently the IPCC which predicts we could see a six degree world. Lynas however is optimistic and believes we can avoid the worst if we take urgent action because after all ‘Getting depressed about the situation now is like sitting inert in your living room and watching the kitchen catch fire.’

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