Published by Black Inc 2022
Joelle Gergis is an award-winning climate scientist and a lead author for the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
However, this book is not in any sense solely a dispassionate scientific treatise, although it does contain much scientific detail relating to the issue of climate change, most of which is derived from the Sixth Assessment Report.
The report is the outcome of hours and hours of work by 234 expert climate scientists from sixty-six countries. Every part is fully peer reviewed and checked and checked again. Much of the work is voluntary.
Although the sub-title mentions that the book presents a case for hope, by well past the halfway point I was feeling no sense of hope, but plenty of despair and some degree of hopelessness.
The book is arranged in three parts titled ‘The Head’, ‘The Heart’ and ‘The whole’.
The Head is very much a summation of the findings of the sixth report, and it paints a bleak, if not depressing picture of the potential catastrophe facing humanity unless swift and effective action is taken to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The author points out that the planet has previously undergone periods of naturally caused warming and cooling, but that such changes were over very long periods. She comments that:
It took the planet about 5000 years to warm around 5 degrees Celsius recovering from the height of the last ice age; that’s a rate of 1 degree Celsius warming every 100 years.
We know that the planet is warming, but just how quickly and dramatically things are changing is stunning the scientific community.
The most confronting thing about the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report is that the situation is now so bad that you don’t have to dig too deeply to get a sense of the true scale and magnitude of the problem.
….it is likely that the Earth will experience sharp regional transitions even under moderate levels of warming, with the collapse of some vulnerable ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest and tropical coral reefs occurring over human timescales of years and decades. In Australia, we have seen al least 50 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef die off since 2016.
As I absorbed all the distressing detail about how we humans had caused such potential devastation I felt some anger about how this was allowed to happen, and by the fact that effective action is still not being taken to address the issue.
A friend of mine recently received an email which said as follow:
There has been a lot of rubbish put forward since the eighties about global warming, which morphed into climate change when conditions didn’t suit the narrative.
Geology Professor Ian Plimer has written several books on the real climate changes over millions of years. We are paying a huge price, both economically and socially for the renewable solutions which are being foisted on us.
If you were to read “Green Murder “, you might see another side to the story….
This attitude needs to be called out for the intellectual stupidity that it is. Relying upon the opinion of this geology professor on the issue of climate change is akin to someone who has received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer from several neurologists and then seeks a more comforting opinion from a local chiropractor.
Whilst it is possible to excuse some people with such attitudes on the basis of ignorance, those who cannot be excused are those in positions of authority, such as politicians and business leaders, who have failed, and continue to fail to act despite being fully aware of the serious nature of the problem. Even with the recent change of our Federal Government insufficient action is being taken. Gergis says:
….the truth is simply this: we must leave fossil fuels in the ground to stabilise the Earth’s climate.
Despite this the Albanese government continues to encourage and subsidise coal and gas mining.
In The Heart Gergis outlines how climate change has and will continue to damage and destroy nature and how it will affect humanity:
Globally, between 800 million and 3 billion people are projected to experience chronic water scarcity due to drought associated with 2 degrees C of warming, with this number increasing to around 4 billion with 4 degrees C of warming.
Whilst this book contains much rigorous science, where it is unusual for a book written by a scientist, is that the author often details how the climate change consequences have affected her at a personal level, including a deepening of her depression, and becoming burnt out. She says:
It’s three a.m. and I’m awake-again. Since working on the IPCC report, my work as a climate scientist now keeps me up at night. I keep having dreams of being inundated. Huge, monstrous waves bearing down on me in slow motion.
For my taste, I found the introspection somewhat overdone, but others will no doubt disagree. In some ways an excess of personal emotion can weaken an otherwise strong argument based on the facts. And in this book, there are facts aplenty.
The final part is titled The Whole and here is where we are given some glimmers of hope, although at no stage is it suggested that all of the consequences of climate change can be avoided. Gergis makes it clear that many of the changes are now irreversible but that the extent of the changes which will occur depends upon what action is now taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions saying:
The most important message here is that the risk of climate change increases with higher levels of warming. Right now, things are still in our hands, but the longer we delay, we run the risk of crossing critical tipping points that could see the world radically transformed in just a handful of decades.
Gergis finds some light in the darkness in the outcome of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in late 2021. Although the outcome of that meeting was far from perfect, she acknowledges that:
…..human history is an endless tug of war for social justice: a struggle between those wanting to maintain the status quo that protects the interests of a few, and others who fight for equality for all.
She notes that Australia played a disappointing role at COP26 and only reluctantly agreed to a 2050 net zero emissions target and that the powerful fossil fuel lobby is shamelessly doing its best to protect its own interests and to block effective efforts to address climate change.
In Chapter 11 Gergis suggests that art in all its forms and the role of creatives can play a crucial role in changing views and forcing social change. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether the role of art is a little overstated.
The author claims that the renewable energy transition is certain but that the restoration of the world’s ecosystems is going to be more difficult. She suggests that we already have the technology to drastically reduce emissions but that the main obstacle is lack of political will. She dismisses the idea that carbon capture and storage will be part of the solution. It is unproven technology and would have the effect of prolonging the use of fossil fuels.
The book media release says:
This book is a climate scientist’s guide to rekindling hope, and a call to action to restore our relationship with ourselves, each other, and our planet.
By its end the book does offer some hope, although hope that is heavily qualified and limited.
This is an uncomfortable book to read but I strongly recommend it, particularly to those who still harbour some doubt about the seriousness of the climate change crisis and especially to those such as the email correspondent mentioned above who think there is no issue to even be concerned about.
Retired Barrister, Gloucester resident, and author of ‘Nine Lives for Our Planet. Personal stories of nine inspiring women who cherish Earth.’ and ‘The Town That Said NO to AGL. How Gloucester Was Saved from Coal Seam Gas’. John is also the president of the Gloucester Environment Group.