The Climate Book. 2022. Published by Allen Lane, and imprint of Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-242-54747-2; 9 780241547472 £25 pp 446.
Any gardener will know that Thunberg brings to mind a bright orange flower of a climbing plant with a dark centre called a Black-eyed Susan, so my impression of this book is already coloured by Greta’s book, which is mostly blue not green for an ecologist. Television viewers will have been prepped by Attenborough in ‘The Blue Planet’ where his ecological outlook is also blue, not green.
The cover is clever is as it shows the average temperature of the earth from 1634 to 2020 going from blue (cold) to red (warming). You can download your own country cover from www.showyourstripes.com.
It is a heavyweight book, almost encyclopaedic, multi-authored and ‘created by’ Greta Thunberg. It is arranged in five sections: How the Climate Works, How our Planet is Changing, How it Affects us, What We’ve Done about it and What We Must Do Now. Each section has an introductory section by Greta who sets the scene and crystallises the subject in her own inimical way, quite succinctly, stating the obvious cumulative facts (that people tend to gloss over) and in some cases, showing how ‘This is exactly how you create a catastrophe’ .
The publishers have gathered together about 90 scientists, professors, activists, students to write 500-1000 word pieces on familiar topics, and there are 13 topics on which Greta has had her introductory say. These authors are all at universities, think tanks, action labs, climate labs, sustainability labs, carbon labs (sorry, being like Greta here, listing issues), all of whom are ‘on side’ with the travails of climate change. I don’t think their collective works will sort the world out, but their knowledge will help our understanding of what needs to be done. There is NOTHING by Attenborough, NOTHING by Lomberg to put statistics in perspective and NOTHING by Prince Charles as was.
As far as I can detect there are no articles in the book from any government agency around the world about how things are being sorted; none of the bodies that have been accused of ‘blah, blah, blah’ have had their say. So we know what is wrong, but we need another book on how to fix it.
Several of the authors are well known such a Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the ‘Sixth Extinction’, who writes a perfect resume of the effect of man on the environment through time. There are also vignettes of the parlous state of insects by Dave Goulson and Jason Hickell on his ‘Degrowth’ theory.
George Monbiot (who uniquely has a two slots in the book – seems Greta is a fan of Monbiot as she quotes him) has a chapter on the media as being the ‘most responsible for the destruction of life on earth’ (mindful that he writes for The Guardian!) rather than big industry. He also has a pop at BBC Channel 4 and Attenborough for not mentioning the fuel industry in his presenting of ‘The Truth about Climate Change’ programme. Monbiot’s other contribution (with Rebecca Wrigley) is on Rewilding, and he is on a popular (hopeful) winner when he says ‘We can replace our silent spring with a raucous summer’.
Lord Stern (of The Stern Report (2006) has his precautionary, reserved and caveated say by letting us know that ‘biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change’ has been excluded from the economic considerations up until now. Thanks for telling us that, we kind of knew. And that we are now on ’catch-up’ because ‘the economic analysis of climate change has failed on three levels’ first, not realising the true scale of the losses (hello – wildlife disappearing – the Anthopocene!!), second, not understanding the power of alternative energy, and third, ‘discriminating against future generations based on their date of birth’. I think we all knew what he has to say.
Such a collective book of words on the Climate Change has not been done before, and is probably all you need to know about the subject. To be sure it will be essential reading for all ecologists. It can be dipped into to research a subject (but sometimes the 500 word résumés are too brief) and the book is let down by a poor index, that does not bring up major issues that are in the book (e.g. Acidification or Drax or Degrowth). It is better to pan through the contributors for interesting topics to investigate. Perhaps when the living world has collapsed it will be an excellent book explaining how it all went wrong.
JF’s Notes on Greta’s introductions to each subject
There is a recurring truth running through each section that Greta writes about, and that is about the Global North, where all the wealth is, and which prevails and seeks to direct the poorer Global South, she writes ‘the suffering of the many that have paid for the benefits of the few’.
Having read all the chapter sections written by Greta here is a rundown of her pronouncements- for, in her own words, everything is black and white. She is fond of compartmentalising and listing facts and figures, and I like that, so here goes. She is also well informed of her brief, and often quotes from book content.
- The richest 1% of the world’s pop are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the people who make up the poorest half of the humanity.
- There are 7.9 billion of us on Earth and we are in a sustainability crisis. As she reminds us in Sweden (her home country) ‘koka soppa pa en spik’ meaning ‘we have to make do with what we have’.
- On heat related deaths : 37% are caused by Climate Change, and roughly 10 million die from air pollution each year (Note to Greta’s Editor: this pops up at least twice).
- On rising sea levels -‘the snowball is in motion’ Scary information: At last Ice Age the sea levels rose by 120m as a result of a 5°C warming. There is enough ice on earth to raise sea levels by 65m….that keeping to 1.5°C will still release one third of the ice mass.
- Every second an area the size of a football field of forest is cut down.
- We use around 100 million barrels of oil every day
- 8m tonnes of plastics are dumped in out oceans each year.
- On renewables she is horrified that burning timber is regarded as (eco-friendly) ‘renewables’ which she says has been adopted by governments as a loophole which allows emission calculations to exclude CO2 from timber-burning factors.
- On creative accounting: Drax Power station is the largest producer of CO2 in the UK, yet its burning of timber is not part of the emissions calculations. She visited Drax and was told that it receives four ship’s worth of pellet a week and seven trains a day of wood, not coal.
- She highlights this blind spot on renewables in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which is the loophole used by governments.
- To exemplify her cause, she quotes the International Monetary Fund who says that governments subsidise the burning of coal, oil and fossil gas by the tune of $11m a minute.
- She has the latest 2021 formula for creating a catastrophe: loss of Amazon rainforest + the CAP now out of reach of the Paris Agreement + the US auctioning off 90m acre area of the Gulf of Mexico for oil exploration + China opening more coal power stations, and + the EU not updating climate targets = a catastrophe.
- After all of this she says ‘There is still time for us to avoid the worst outcomes.’
And her take on lifestyles:
- Veganism is a privilege mainly available to the affluent of the Global North
The book is printed on certified FSC paper as you might expect. There are a few colour DPS spreads, some of which have been shown on BBC television recently, bubbling methane in the sea, collapsing permafrost, large thunderstorms…flooding, deserts, industrialisation. References are hived off somewhere else at www.theclimatebook.org/. At the end of the book there are comprehensive lists of What needs to be done and What society can do and What an Individual can do. As you might imagine, plant trees (not plantations), rewild nature, restore nature, make ecocide a crime, write new laws, rethink transportation, invest in wind and solar, face the emergency, educate ourselves.
We have been told that the beginning of the climate change started in the Bronze Age when China started using coal, so we have come a long way in the worlds destruction in a very short time. Time will tell if climate change will slow or stop. The world according to Greta is that it will do neither. This is a great book, a last milestone on the way to destruction. Every school should have a copy.