Darren Johnson heeds the warnings of an environmentalist
'The industrialised countries caused the problem but we are suffering the consequences. We are on the front line of climate change through no fault of our own, and it is only fair that people in industrialised nations and industries take responsibility for the actions they are causing," an official from the Environment Ministry of Tuvalu tells Mark Lynas as he describes their island becoming slowly uninhabitable due to the effects of rising sea levels. Lynas has visited flooded villages in Monmouth, dried up rivers in China, melting ice sheets in Alaska and submerging islands in the pacific, and can give us a highly engaging account of the environmental and human impact of global warming. The book reads as a kind of ecological travelogue Bill Bryson goes green. Like Bryson, Lynas succeeds in combining snapshots of people's lives and fascinating anecdotes with just the right amount of scientific and historical data to keep us interested. I warmed to the tone of the book immediately. Even today, knowing all we know about the consequences of climate change, it is still perceived as a relatively abstract issue and remains low on most people's lists of concerns. This book helps bring the impact and the reality of global warming to life in all its devastating forms, both in outlining the scale of the problem and in describing the effect on people's lives.
We hear from the restaurant owner in Monmouth whose business has been wrecked by three years' worth of floods in a row. We hear from islanders in the Pacific atoll of Tuvalu, as they contemplate the evacuation of their soon to be uninhabitable island. We hear from Alaskan Eskimos some looking forward to the economic benefits that further oil exploration is said to bring, but others desperately fearful of the impact that melting ice sheets are having on the ecosystem and culture of the region. Lynas demonstrates the connections between these events and the reader is left to draw interesting parallels between the ways different communities are affected.
It was certainly time for a new approach to ecological writing. Too many green books have bombarded us with so much technical information that those of us without a science degree switch off. Others have gone for a kind of newagey spiritual feel that is also an instant turnoff for many of us. Lynas falls into neither trap and gives us a thoughtprovoking and highly personal account. He finishes his travels at the 2002 international summit in Bonn, watching the United States trying its very best to wreck the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. He succeeds in capturing the frustrations, the anxieties and the eventual optimism that the talks process brings. The book then concludes with Lynas's fivepoint personal manifesto to tackle climate change, and by this stage I was certainly ready for a bit of inspiring polemic about how we deal with this problem.
If I have one complaint it is that the picture Lynas paints is generally rather a passive one. Everywhere, people are victims of climate change, but not until we get to the final chapter do we read about those fighting the vested interests and campaigning for concerted action to combat climate change. I suppose I shouldn't really be encouraging Lynas to take even more international flights: he is already painfully aware of aviation's contribution to global warming. However, if he were to do a followup it would be fascinating to see him visit different activist groups around the world and examine how each is facing up to the challenge of changing public policy and shaping political priorities in response to the threats posed by climate change.
Of course, not everyone needs to worry about global warming. As one Pacific islander tells Lynas when he takes a visit to Tuvalu's main church: "Only the Creator can flood the world. God promised Noah there would be no more flood.... I believe in God. I don't believe in scientists."
For those of us who aren't in the business of waiting for a superior being to come along and bail us all out, Mark Lynas provides a rallying call as to why we must get serious about tackling the manmade disaster of global warming. Even if you have never read another green book in your life this one is highly recommended.
High Tide is available from Amazon (UK)