Review of ‘The Climate Book’ by Greta Thunberg

Waiting for some other person, or some other time, is no longer an option.

‘The Climate Book’ really is the one-stop shop for all climate issues. There are contributions from over 100 global experts in their fields, some of which are summaries of their own books, but which address the latest position on the climate crisis and what needs to be done to avert the worst of the climate disasters. My fear in listing some of these climate leaders is that the list needs to include everyone. Reducing the list, or offering a preference for some articles over others would only indicate my own European and Northern hemisphere bias. Thunberg sets out her aim for the book- that the knowledge from the range of experts will help each reader on their own journey of climate education, ‘The idea behind this book, is that, taken together, their knowledge in their respective areas of expertise will lead you to a point where you can start to connect the dots yourself.’

There may not be a representative voice for every reader in this collection, but that is precisely Thunberg’s point- that we can all be our own representation.

Waiting for some other person, or some other time, is no longer an option.

How it is structured

The book is helpfully colour coded throughout, with Thunberg’s own words contained as introductions to the main chapter headings, before she gives way to the scientists and experts.

Thunberg breaks down the climate issues into a holistic chronological approach, outlining for a general audience the basics of how climate works, before moving on to how our planet is changing. Thunberg then focuses on how the changing planet affects us, outlines what we as a species have done about this impact, and then concludes with a strong message on what needs to be done now. The climate stripes, pioneered by Ed Hawkins, are used at the start of each chapter, as a visual representation of our progress and an alignment of what stage we are at now.

‘The climate and ecological crisis is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.’

The opening chapters to ‘The Climate Book’ are deliberately stark and blunt, as Thunberg is famous for ‘telling it as it is’- indeed, this is the charge that gives to her readers. She states, ‘When it comes to the climate and ecological crisis, we have solid unequivocal scientific evidence of the need for change…That ship has sailed. The science is as solid as it gets.’ She then suggests that what is needed is for scientists to speak a different language, ‘What largely remain is tactics. How to package, frame and convey the information. How disruptive do scientists dare to be?’

Thunberg’s comments in this book are stylistically unique. She lays out the facts and then offers simple choices. She dismisses despair and ‘doomerism’ and instead focuses on the positives of action. ‘And there is no time for despair; it is never too late to start saving as much as we can possibly save.’ She reminds us that the debt we owe to the past is also owed to the future, but that we should be grateful that we are alive now, so that we can be part of the greatest movement for change in humanity’s history. ‘We have the unfathomably great opportunity to be alive at the most decisive time in the history of humanity. The time has come for us to tell this story, and perhaps even change the ending. Together, we can still avoid the worst consequences.’

What about COP27?

There will be some who will claim that the timing of the book release by Thunberg is no accident though. That, with COP27 starting barely a week after the publication date, that she is trying to switch the spotlight onto her views. More cynical observers may categorise this as simply good marketing. As Thunberg resolutely and regularly advocates the listening to climate scientists and has done since she started her climate protests in 2018, it would seem churlish to argue genuinely that the timing of the book release is just self-serving for Thunberg. She makes the relevant case that ‘the EU will not update its climate targets in time for COP27’ and points out that when the media focus during COP fades, then urgency is lost and that ‘this is exactly how you create a catastrophe.’

On the other hand, do we really need another book telling us that time to act on the climate is running out and that time for climate action must now happen. Some readers may feel that there are few new messages in this book and that climate books by themselves will not be the tipping point for climate action. Thunberg acknowledges this claim head on, ‘There is nothing new about this…All the words that we say have been spoken by others. All our speeches, books and articles follow in the footsteps of those who pioneered the climate and environmental movement.’

In recent times though, we have seen an upsurge in non-violent political protest, which has been both applauded and criticised for not winning over any new followers, as some are ‘put off’ by the more direct action from protesters. Thunberg demonstrates in the book that, ‘Social norms can easily be changed’, which is a hopeful outlook on the necessary speed that is needed from an active society. Thunberg argues that ‘We need a whole new way of thinking’ as a main priority to wake people up from a deeply flawed system.

Yet, the climate clock is only getting louder and louder, as the sands of time disappear and the window narrows for options, leaving only the truly desperate measures left available. ‘All geoengineering schemes are attempts to manipulate the Earth with the same domineering mindset that got us into the climate crisis in the first place.’ Niclas Hällström, Jennie C Stephens and Isak Stoddard

 Thunberg argues that this collision course of time and action must be met bravely and advocates for systemic change, ‘Our safety as a species is on a collision course with our current system.’

An unprecedented time

Perhaps this book comes at the perfect time then, to remind us that not everyone needs to be convinced of the need for climate action, nor perhaps that everyone could be convinced of the need. Instead of wasting time trying to win over the remaining ‘dismissives’ and ‘delayers’, perhaps an awakening and activation of social behaviour is what we need. Thunberg herself comments that ‘We as individuals should use our voices, and whatever platforms we have, to become activists and communicate the urgency of the situation to those around us. We should all become active citizens and hold the people in power accountable for their actions and inactions.’ Thunberg also reminds us of the stark warning from the IPCC that ‘limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.’

The idea of better climate communication, especially in the face of an unwilling media and fossil fuel interests, is a solution that is returned to many times in the ‘The Climate Book’. There is perhaps quite a shocking statement from George Monbiot that, ‘If you were to ask me which industry is most responsible for the destruction of life on Earth, I would say the media.’ Thunberg is typically blunter, ‘We have been lied to.’ Although this is more in reference to the fossil fuel industry which knew about the impact of their actions, but which choose short-term capitalistic growth, over planetary interests.

‘This is not the ‘new normal’- this is only the very beginning of a changing climate’

‘The Climate Book’ focuses heavily on the science. There are over 80 articles from leading scientists, experts and community leaders, with most articles being a manageable 3 or 4 pages only. Almost every page and article has a quotable message that sums up a narrative that has been allowed to continue for too long.

Thunberg herself comments, ‘We are all in the same storm, but we are definitely not in the same boat.’ She continues, ‘But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilizing. It is breaking down.’

This is supported by the argument from Dr Friederike Otto, who has a similar blunt style to that of Thunberg. ‘Today, those of us who are not completely delusional have realized that climate change is not something happening somewhere else, at some point in the future, but a phenomenon that is killing people here and now.’

As you would expect, there are repeated messages in the book: humanity’s reliance and dependence on fossil fuels has to stop, holistic solutions are best, and the evidence that humanity can change quickly in the face of global emergencies.

 ‘We need to take immediate action. First and foremost, we must immediately and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.’ Jennifer L. Soong

‘We must immediately stop extracting fossil fuel from reserves in the Arctic’ Örjan Gustafsson

‘The climate crisis is upon us, powered by our addiction to fossil fuels.’ Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

‘And still, instead of taking steps to overcome our fossil fuel dependency, we are deepening it,’ Thunberg

The other repeated message in the book, is that holistic solutions are needed to face a multi-faceted problem of the climate crisis- that there is no one silver bullet that can be used quickly to solve and perhaps absolve governments and companies from years of inaction. Margaret Atwood argues that, ‘The climate crisis is multidimensional; any solution to it will have to be multidimensional as well.’ On the other hand, Naomi Klein believes that this transformational approach has yet to be attempted, ‘Holistic transformations, on the other hand, have never been tried in the face of the climate crisis.’

The equality of climate justice and the acceptance that ‘loss and damages’ is a requirement and not just a political phrase is argued strongly. As Saleemul Huq says ‘Loss and damages’ is also a diplomatically negotiated euphemism for something we’re not allowed to talk about: ’liability and compensation.’ Finally, the principle that the polluter must pay echoes throughout the text and is given space and time by Thunberg.

What we can learn from recent global emergencies such as COVID, is that humanity has demonstrably acted in self-preservation before, be that during world wars, managing the hole in the ozone, or in the face of global pandemics. As Seth Klein argues convincingly in the book, better communication can lead to better outcomes. ‘In frequency and tone, in words and in action, emergencies need to look and sound and feel like emergencies. The Second World War leaders we remember best were outstanding communicators who were forthright with the public about the gravity of the crisis yet still managed to impart hope.’

Winning slowly is the same thing as losing.’- Alex Steffen

Thunberg concludes ‘The Climate Book’ by heading straight into the imagery and language of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, both the original and the remake. The iconic 1951 film concludes with the words, ‘this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.’ The remake in 2008, uses similar language about the human species reaching their adaption point. ‘You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment.’

Thunberg finishes using a similar metaphor to that of film fiction, ‘There is still time to undo our mistakes, to step back from the edge of the cliff and choose a new path, a sustainable path, a just path. A path which leads to a future for everyone. And no matter how dark things may become, giving up will never be an option. Because every fraction of a degree and every tonne of carbon dioxide will always matter. It will never be too late for us to save as much as we can possibly save.’

Correctly, the final word should not go to Thunberg, indeed she advocates against that herself.

George Monbiot calls up the cultural imagery and reference to the public awareness, boosted by Rachel Carson when he states,‘We can replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.’

Perhaps what is required, expected and demanded of each individual now, is that they renew their view of the relationship with nature and realise that there is no planet B and that our environment is worth fighting for.

‘Do not gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ -Dylan Thomas


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