Climate Crisis Book Reviews

Operation Noah board member, Nicky Bull, writes a short review of every book she reads. Here she shares her reviews of a number of books she has read in the last two years which we think will be of interest to Operation Noah supporters.

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Falter: Has the human game begun to play itself out? (Bill McKibben)

This is a fairly terrifying book as it tells it like it is with regard to the effect that we are having on the climate of our planet. What I wasn’t expecting was the inclusion of a section detailing what McKibben sees as the other major threat to the ‘human game’: the further development and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI). None of this makes for comfortable reading and yet there is an underlying hope that seeps through – a belief in the ability of humanity to make sufficient changes and turn things around if only we can keep alive a vision of what it really means to be human. The rapid growth in the use of sustainable and renewable energy, and the rousing of public opinion displayed in non-violent direct action are the two threads that give the author some optimism in what would otherwise be a bleak future.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference (Greta Thunberg)

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This slim volume, an easy read in a single sitting, contains the texts of Greta’s addresses given in the course of less than a year to some of the most powerful people in the world, as well as to mass gatherings of concerned citizens. This diminutive Swedish schoolgirl goes straight to the heart of the climate crisis and to the flawed economic systems that are reacting too little and too slowly in addressing the damage that we in the privileged and wealthy countries of the global north are inflicting on the planet that supports all life. She is saying what we should have been saying for decades.

Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change (Nathaniel Rich)

I have no reason to doubt the details in this book, charting the progress or otherwise of climate change awareness and action between 1979 and 1989 in the USA – and I suspect that there were similar scenarios being played out to at least some extent in other countries across the developed world, where we are all so dependent upon energy from fossil fuels. It is a salutary tale, and in many ways a deeply depressing read, but a really important one. However, the Afterword is crucial and does contain some tiny germs of hope, with its recognition that despite all the corporate lobbying, the activities of environmentalists, and the politics, this global existential problem is actually an issue of morality and of recognising our responsibility to our fellow human beings – and to those yet to be born. That the younger generation are doing much better at this is at least some cause for hope.

Say No to Plastic: 101 Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic (Harriet Dyer)

A really handy little guide that would be especially useful for anyone just beginning to look at how to reduce their use of plastic in response to concerns about the chemicals and particles it produces when degrading. It is now well known that these contaminate our oceans and that there is a huge volume of waste plastic being shipped across the globe where it potentially has even more damaging effects than it would in our own landfill sites. Only a small proportion is effectively recycled and we urgently need to reduce our use by finding, or reverting to, good sustainable alternatives. There are a few rather outlandish ideas – to make up the count? – but on the whole this little book contains sensible and practical advice.

On Fire (Naomi Klein)

In her most recent book Klein uses lectures and addresses that she has given since 2010 to chart the climate crisis and to reinforce her case that what is needed is a Green New Deal. Her arguments are very persuasive and I only briefly lost sympathy when she criticised Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth for its analysis that a major problem in tackling climate change is ‘human nature’. Klein prefers to see big corporations and governments as the problem – and she is not wrong to do so – but they are run by people and while their greed, power-hunger and desire to dominate are hugely problematical they are surely aspects of human nature, and perhaps an exaggeration of traits that many of us possess? However, both authors agree that part of what is needed is to recognise the ‘villains’ and to take action if climate catastrophe is to be averted.

Time To Act (Christian Climate Action)

This is a really good little book and would be a particularly good read for anyone who is unsure about exactly what Extinction Rebellion and their faith-based members stand for, and why they do what they do. But for someone who has followed XR’s story, both in the media and talking to friends who are involved, there was nevertheless a lot here that was new and interesting. The book is a compilation of contributions from a range of different people – some are sympathetic onlookers, some seasoned activists and a few are among the ‘arrestables’; these are testimonies of concern, compassion and hope and I highly recommend their stories.

The Case for the Green New Deal (Ann Pettifor)

I confess that much of the detail of this book went over my head – I can scarcely begin to understand the intricacies of high-level economics or global finance. However, the central message – which I heard direct from Pettifor at a talk last year – is that system change is possible and is absolutely necessary if the world is going to succeed in tackling climate change. As the book’s title suggests, Pettifor makes the case for the Green New Deal as being proposed in both the UK and the USA and there are a number of places in the text – written, of course, before this year’s pandemic began – where what she says comes across as prophetic.

The Future We Choose: Surviving the climate crisis (Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac)

I think this is a really important book. Co-authored by the former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was the driving force behind the Paris Agreement, it is in almost equal measure terrifying and hopeful. With a clear description of the probable consequences if we fail to reach net zero global carbon emissions by 2050, balanced by the possible scenario if we can succeed in reaching that goal, this book should surely be read by everyone in positions of influence and power in the world. The prospects are not great at present but the authors nevertheless champion optimism and action as the way forward – and they reiterate the message of Greta Thunberg and others, that everyone can make a difference.

Climate Chaos and the Global Green New Deal (Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin)

I have read a number of things about proposed ‘green deals’ but this book was the first to make it absolutely clear how vital it is that plans to tackle the climate crisis are global in scope and not restricted to the current major emitting nations. It is a relatively short book, and presented in a question-and-answer, conversational format that is accessible and not at all heavy going, despite the complicated issues discussed. The two extremely distinguished authors bring differing perspectives and are talking out of the US context but the overall conclusion is very plain, and urgent. While the prospects for global cooperation on anything might not have looked great a year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided some degree of optimism: it is all too easy to see how a failure to act, on the part of any nation, leaves the whole world vulnerable.

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