Six Degrees, Mark Lynas

Where was I at the end of August 2005? I hadn’t realised that Katrina killed so many. Just the Introduction Chapter provided that snippet although the jury is still out on whether global warming was to blame. Either way the subtitled Our Future on a Hotter Planet tells us more of the same is coming and if we deal with it as badly as the US did in New Orleans, Gawd help us all.

Organised degree by degree, this book uses research from climate modelling and, more telling, what’s happened in the past to uncover what’s likely in store for us. Yes, the planet has visited these CO2 concentrations before and the results weren’t pretty, especially for those who flourish in gentler times. (Clue: that’s us.)

Its midpoint is Three Degrees, which seems guaranteed given the 400ppm CO2 now registering in the Arctic. I keep thinking I’d love to see all this but won’t live long enough. However, the scenario about flooding in Europe may be playing out on a smaller scale even now. We’ve just had a winter drought relieved by summer floods up and down the country. Doubtless it’s all “normal” really.

In the five years since publication (and probably seven since writing) matters have accelerated, so the book’s grim warnings may already be best case scenarios. One example is the thawing and release of Arctic methane, which only makes its way into the Four Degrees Chapter. Recent news suggests it should be in One Degree. To be fair, Lynas does point out that the thawing “is a real wild card”.

The gloomy prognoses continue up to a final chapter that lays out a timetable to avoid these temperature rises. The first goal is for peak emissions by 2015 to keep global CO2 at the above-mentioned 400ppm and so limit the rise to two degrees. We’re knocking on that door and will certainly head on to three degrees and the added danger of the first irreversible carbon feedback loop. Does anyone care? Lynas then treats denial.

Denial is so easy, especially with shifting baselines, especially with society driving it. That and people’s natural tendency to displace blame. Lynas asks if we are powerless pawns. Better though to ask if those who have unplugged from the matrix are powerless.

My take here is: probably. The tiny minority against the vast majority. But some of those minority will not sit back and do nothing. So the scene is set for conflict typical of those odds – guerrilla warfare or as the majority calls it, terrorism.

That’s my little aside but one provoked by the helplessness and anger that this book should provoke in others. It’s not one of these wishy-washy, market or techno-fix pills. It tells it like it is, from how it has been.

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