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Mark Lynas

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Note: This post was originally written in Swedish, so if you prefer to read the original text, you can take  a look here. This is a translation I made because I realised I quite liked the post and wanted to have it on my personal website as well.

Some people read books in order to relax for a while, to lose themselves in another word or to experience suspense their ordinary lives rarely offers. I don’t. Instead, I read mostly to find new, creative and stimulating ideas and concepts, which is why I have derived so much pleasure from reading science fiction in the past. Occasionally, I come across books that contain something I have never ever experienced before, which is what I want to discuss in this post about unique reading experiences.

In the above introduction, “unique” means that no reading, before or after, can be sorted into the same category. Thus, it isn’t a question of varying degrees of a given quality (“This author’s language is ten times as good as any other I’ve read!”), but rather a question of a fundamentally different experience (“This author uses a language that affects me in a completely different way than any other I’ve read!”). The reason why I say “experience” and not “book” is that sometimes an author is unique in a special way, but that his or her books are quite similar. For instance, it would be sad to disqualify Thomas Pynchon from the list below simply because one of his other books is similar to Gravity’s Rainbow.

In creating this list, I went through all the books I’ve read the last ten years or so, and I only came up with three experiences I consider completely unique.

Daniel KeyesFlowers For Algernon is the only book I’ve read that has moved me emotionally as an adult (I cried when finishing the last chapter and had to take a really long walk afterwards). I’m usually too distanced from books to really feel with the characters, but in this book I did so wholeheartedly. It might be because the themes and questions raised in this novel lie very close to my heart and have done so for at least ten years (for those of you not familiar with the book, the main theme is that of ignorance is bliss or Plato’s allegory of the cave).

Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow I can’t really find a suitable way to use “is the only book I’ve read that” with, but it’s still unique in so many ways that it merits a place on the list. The feeling of following the authors wildly bizarre language and hopelessly confusing narrative is wholly unique and no other author I’ve read (not even other post modernists) comes close.

Mark LynasSix Degrees is not only the best non-fiction book I’ve read, it’s also the only book that has radically changed my way of viewing the world in which we live in. Sure, I was intellectually aware of the fact that the Earth’s climate was not in good shape, but this book highlighted the issue to such an extent that it has stays with me every day. No other book has ever accomplished such a thing.

In concluding this article, I’d like to ask you what unique reading experience you have to share with us? What made the experience unique? Do you think you are alone in thinking the experience unique, or is the book unique in a more objective way? Remember that unique isn’t the same thing as good; if you can put “This book is the only one that…” at the beginning of the sentence, you’re on the right track!

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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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