Although many studies of climate change and its impact have been published, few count the human cost. Mark Lynas makes up for that oversight in this vividly presented account. As a journalist, he's unconstrained by the limitations of long-term data sets, political reaction to his personal findings or peer group pressure. He travels the globe, even to the point of last minute flight bookings, to observe conditions. His approach is to confront people and ask about their experiences with changing weather over the years. The method is direct, straightforward and revealing. What it demonstrates is more than startling, it's devastating.
While the scientists debate the temperature rise rate or the intensity of this or that storm, around the planet people are living through the conditions of warming climate. Tuvalu residents, on their miniscule island chain in mid-Pacific, are watching the land wash away. It isn't just that melting ice caps are raising sea levels and ruining crops. There are more frequent and more devastating storms occuring. In China, land is also moving, but the reason is the opposite - the rains have ceased and the land is dried and blowing away in fierce desert winds. The account of a lone woman, the last survivor of a village overwhelmed by drought, is more poignant [to me] than anything found in fiction. And the number of such stories is growing.
If a most gripping part of this book must be chosen, it is Lynas' tour of Peru and the Cordillera Blanca glaciers. His father, a geologist, had visited the area three decades before, camera in hand. Huge glaciers, akin to frozen waterfalls, fill the images. With those photos in his knapsack, Lynas trudges up the slopes, racked by Alititude Sickness, to record any changes. His expression at the sight cannot be repeated here, a signal of his shock - and ours at his comparative photographs. The glaciers are gone! Lynas takes us through a litany of rivers of ice that are withdrawing from long established limits. The withdrawal has a dual results - not enough snow is feeding their growth, and the meltwater is no longer available to nourish human populations. He asks: what will the citizens of Lima do when there is no more water to drink? Lynas avoids prediction of furture El Ninos' impact on these conditions. He's hardly blameable for that. Some observations on North America's depletion of the Ogalalla Aquifer, only partly attributable to overuse of fossil fuels, however, would have been useful.
It is fossil fuel consumption that stands charged, indeed declared guilty by Lynas, as the culprit in these events. The tumultuous clouds of auto exhausts are the major source of gases rising into our atmosphere, choking off proper heat exchange mechanisms. The contributions of the oil industry to politicians short circuits any political action to curb these emmissions. Hence, Tuvalu is being swept away, China is choking with dust and Lima, Peru will soon be seeking homes for its million citizens. But the United States, the world's greatest and most persistent polluter, decrys or subverts all efforts to quell the output of their millions of vehicles, while assiduously searching for more to burn.
Lynas is unequivical in his denunciations. At the same time, he invokes response from his readers to take action. Pollution increases can be curbed, he argues in his conclusion. It is you who must take the first steps. America, he stresses, must follow the lead of the European Union. Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is the first step - a committment to stop, then reduce emissions. "Contraction and convergence" policies must be implemented as a means of reducing emissions with a minimal impact on economies. The quest for new supplies of fossil fuels must cease and the funds used to promote alternative energy sources. Individual actions, amazingly easy small steps, must be taken and imparting to others the need follow your example spreads the message. "Don't be scared to speak out!", he warns. Who should read his warning message? Anyone who breathes - and wishes to continue breathing. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]