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67 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six steps to some surprises, 19 Aug 2007
This review is from: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Paperback)
It's hard to understand how there could be any climate change "sceptics" remaining. Perhaps they have failed to comprehend the long view of what the circumstances are. What does an increase in global temperatures really mean? Mark Lynas has culled the massive number of reports on the topic and here woven them into a comprehensive picture of likely futures for this planet. In this effective work, he lines out what the changes in our biosphere are likely to be over the next decades. It's a chilling account and one that should be in the hands of every industrialist, policy-maker and tax-paying consumer.

Using the data supplied by his extensive resources, Lynas depicts global and regional changes in environment due to increase over time. His temperature range selection is driven by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC's reports indicate a six degree Celsius increase over the next century. Integrating the scientific research on the biosphere, IPCC is able to review existing and past conditions and those likely to ensue in the future. Lynas synthesizes the reports to present a picture of conditions likely with each degree of heat will lead to over time. The first degree is typified by examples of drought. The Great Plains of the US trans-Mississippi is already showing signs of that dry-out. The author explains that drought in one place may be off-set by rainstorms elsewhere. Heat over land desiccates, but heat over water increases evaporation leading to greater precipitation. Even with but a single step up in temperature, the rains may be intense in some locales. This seems to be occurring already, with ravaging storms displacing many refugees. Katrina is almost certainly an example of the new environment.

As he progresses through the impact of biosphere heating, he reminds the reader that the social costs will only grow higher. If the North Atlantic Current is flooded by fresh water runoff from North America and Greenland, northern Europe may be facing a cold snap. The cooling will be brief, however, as dry conditions will move into Europe from Africa. The moving warm air will be accompanied by the Mediterranean population fleeing dried-out farms and depleted fisheries. While there remains doubt about how long it might take to shut down the Gulf Stream, the drought conditions are inevitable if the rate of heating continues unabated. Millions of people will be displaced, but whether they will find refuge is problematic. As Lynas points out, the forces and numbers involved here are so staggering that it's difficult for all of us to conceive of them in our minds. Katrina emptied an entire city, but those people were absorbed into other areas. The idea of whole nations on the move is beyond imagining. Yet that is the very prospect we, and our children will be facing.

The point of this book is that during the ensuing decades, we are all, every culture, religion, social group and government, facing a planetary disruption of unpredictable severity. That's a difficult concept to grasp, but the challenge is there and clearly present. Attempts to deny it may give us superficial comfort, but, as Lynas points out, similar crises have occurred in the past. Our civilisations weren't there to experience them and we have few precedents to draw on for planning corrective action. He describes those ancient events with clarity and concern, but leaves to the reader how the conditions might affect their daily lives. It's not an easy task, but obviously must be undertaken.

If there's a serious flaw in this book - and there isn't - the major one is the failure to assess cascade effects through time. Explaining conditions by steps of temperature is a useful and needed exercise. What's lacking is some effort to deal with the population displacement and the results of that movement. While it would necessarily be in the realm of speculation, the questions should have been raised, or where they are noted, been offered with greater clarity. Lynas' own use of language, however, is severe enough. Tackling the social questions more thoroughly might exhaust his lexicon. The human issue is, to us, the big one, but the next step in his analysis might also have prompted some actions we might consider. Several recent books, most notably George Monbiot's "Heat" address this question squarely. Perhaps it's best for readers to seriously consider investing in both. But you must also consider how many copies to purchase. Both these books need to be widely read and acted on. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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