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Mark Lynas – Six Degrees

Title: Six Degrees
Author: Mark Lynas
Year: 2007

Some people don’t want to read about doom and destruction, because they think the world is bad as it is and don’t want to add further to the misery. But what if the doom and destruction is imminent and real? Mark Lynas takes us on a journey through a world of one to six degrees of global warning, which was the forecast temperature rise during the twenty first century due primarily to emissions of greenhouse gases. It is a meta analysis of a huge number of reports, papers and analyses made by climatologists to assess the effect on various parts of the world if average temperatures rise by a certain degree. Lynas has compiled these into a comprehensive guide to a future on a hotter planet. And it isn’t pretty.

To start with, this might be one of the most expertly written non-fiction books I’ve ever read. The only blemish I can find is that he runs out of synonyms for “scorched” a couple of times, but apart from that, the text is flawless. He is exceedingly good at introducing new sections and chapters, drawing on a wide variety of subjects to weave the real world to extrapolated future scenarios. He seldom dwells too long on a specific subject, never becomes too scientific and rarely over-simplifies too much. The eight chapters (one introduction, one chapter for each degree and a concluding chapter) are well balanced and manage to summarise an enormous amount of scientific data without being boring. If people like me are the target group, Six Degrees is spot on.

What about the content, then? Well, if you are well versed in climatology and recent developments, I suppose that there is little here in the way of new information (even for laymen like myself, some parts will be familiar), although it might not have been compiled in this way before. And that is the point. Lynas shows what consequences we will face in the future if we continue down the path of accelerated emissions. In short, Lynas says that it is politically reasonable and technically feasible to avoid global warming of more than two degrees, which would make the first two chapters of his book come true. Two degrees may not sound like much, but it would be enough to eventually melt all ice on Greenland, make every summer in the Mediterranean as hot as the one in 2003 (when 30 000 people died). melt a large part of the glaciers capping the world’s mountain ranges and thus endangering the survival of major world cities that rely on melt-water-fed rivers, as well as the eventual extinction of one third of all species as their natural habitats disappear faster than they can adapt.

As I’ve already said, Lynas has sorted his analysis into one chapter for each degree, because it’s difficult to predict how quickly a certain warming effect will arise. However, according to Lynas, we have at most ten years (counting from 2007, when Six Degrees was published) to cap emissions of greenhouse gasses, then the output needs to drop steadily to sustainable levels. This seems impossible, but the author still manages to light a candle in the gloom to lead the way. He points out a number of ways the Earth (and humanity) could be saved, even though all of them require serious effort.

Six Degrees has made me think a lot. It has made clear what was earlier only hinted at now occasionally in the press. Unfortunately, it seems I cannot do much to help. As an engineer, I could help develop the necessary technology, as a politician, I could try to push for reform, but as a future teacher, I will only be able to educate people. When they have finished their education and can start changing the world, it will probably be way too late. So for now, reading books like these and trying to spread the word is as far as I seem likely to go. Thus, I encourage everyone to read this book. I don’t care if you don’t like to read about doom and destruction, this is your doom and your children’s destruction we are talking about. If you’re standing on a road with the glaring lights of an oncoming truck looming in front of you, the best response is not to shut your eyes (or pretend that the danger isn’t there), but study the truck and see if there is anything you can do to avoid being hit.

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  1. Martin Ackerfors’s avatar

    Jag gillade också Six Degrees på ungefär samma grunder som du. Den är väldigt tankeväckande och, till en början åtminstone, fruktansvärt nedslående. Man får förstås inte låta sig avskräckas av det, de allra flesta behöver läsa den och behöver börja tänka i de banorna och sedan, för att låna din metafor, göra vad man kan för att ge traktorn punktering.

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  2. Kalle’s avatar

    You finally read it? Good for you! :)

    Reply

    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      Yes, I’m glad I read it, even though it’m mostly bad news (of course, it wasn’t the case that the environment was in better shape before I read the book, but it feels like thta). Extremely well-written book about something everybody should know more about.

      By the way, I’d like to ask you if there is any convenient way of catching up on what’s happened since the book’s publication? It’s difficult for me to know where to turn, but you probably know already.

      Reply

      1. Kalle’s avatar

        Well, sure, it’s kind of a bummer. Sad to say, in the climate change business, “good news” is a very rare beast, indeed. Almost all the research carried out since the publication of Lynas’ book serves to make the picture even grimmer, even darker, even more urgent.

        Not only do the forecasts grow steadily worse with the accumulation of new data; but the emission curves of the industrialized countries show no sign of dipping or even slowing their climb. In the light of this, the newly announced (and absurdly insufficient) European goal of 50% emission reduction before 2050 seems laughable, a political shadow-figure — but of course, the laughter sticks in one’s throat, as one realizes the terrible cost in human life that will follow from the West’s inevitable failure to stop the coming crisis.

        I wish I could give you some good, up-to-date summaries of the research, but I’ve been kinda out of the loop, myself. However, there are some good blogs whose writers diligently cover the issue. See, for instance:

        http://www.effektmagasin.se/
        http://www.arbetaren.se/klimatblogg/

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        1. Olle Linge’s avatar

          Thank you! I thought Lynas made a good attempt at sounding positive, but I think the done in the book is deliberately more positive than what he really felt when he wrote it. What I mean is that I didn’t expect good news.

          On a side note, this is part of the reason we’re doomed.

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        2. Sjaax’s avatar

          Since the start of the Industrial Revolution temperature increased by about 0.7° C. What about the climatological disasters during that time? Almost a full grade warming took place. Even worse is the situation if we count from the Little Ice Age. Or are the last centuries an exception in the trend of disasters?

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          1. Olle Linge’s avatar

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here, but the climate is of course affected all the time, by natural processes as well as by human activity. Since this is very far from my field indeed and not something I’ve spent much time on studying, I have no idea about the effects on the climate over the past centuries. However, using your figure of 0.7 degrees of global warming since the late 1700s is, I think, a pace which is on a quite different scale than up to six degrees in only half that time and I don’t think it could be compared to what Mark Lynas is envisioning here (most changes in the below-one-degree world aren’t abrupt and similar things are probably taking place all the time and have always done so).

            So, if your questions weren’t rhetorical, by all means, please answer them yourself, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to.

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