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Global warming

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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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Title: Ultimatum
Author: Matthew Glass
Year: 2009

Very few books with speculative or fantastic elements can claim to be both thrilling and credible at the same time; sadly, the two seem to be mutually exclusive in some cases. Not so with Matthew Glass’ Ultimatum, though. Even though it’s set twenty-odd years into the future and incorporates an accelerated climate crisis, the book feels like it is one of many possible windows into the future. I don’t know if it is the most likely one, but the picture it paints is hauntingly realistic.

In 2030, a new American president gets the worst possible starts of any presidency; he learns that his predecessor has covered up data concerning global warming, which states that positive feedback loops (the simplest example being the ice caps melting, reducing the planets albedo, thus further increasing global warming, and so on) have had much quicker effects than anyone predicted. If humanity as we know it is to be saved, the president has to act now. In the process, he has to overcome two major obstacles; Chinese resistance to reform, as well as a drop in popularity at home as he tries to steer the world away from the precipice.

Although I have studied these issues superficially, I’m not qualified to say how credible this future scenario is, but as I already said above, it doesn’t feel like fiction. Matthew Glass has been involved with environmental issues for a long time and knows what it means to negotiate treaties like the Kyoto Protocol.

What is surprising and needs to be reiterated is that he manages to portray this future scenario in the most thrilling way. It’s not that the language is brilliant or the characters are outstanding (in fact, both these aspects are fairly mediocre), but rather that the story itself is so compelling I found it difficult to stop; this is one of the few books I read mostly because I wanted to know what happened on the next page. And that was true for almost every page.

Still, I hesitate to issue a general recommendation for this book. If you don’t like politics at all, don’t care about the environment and aren’t particularly into Sino-American relationships, this novel will prove to be very boring indeed. However, if you are, like I am, interested in all three (only one or two of the criteria is probably enough), this is a surprisingly good read and something you have to check out.

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