Six Degrees Paperback – Apr 4 2007
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Praise for 'High Tide': 'If you are among those who think climate change is an uncertain, remote issue over which scientists are unsure, politicians talk endlessly to little effect, and mere individuals have no power at all, this book may be for you.' Guardian 'There will be many more books like 'High Tide', but this will be remembered as the first!it'll be the one with the original vision!Not unworthy of comparison with Orwell and certainly the breaker of new ground.' Independent 'Mark Lynas!has time-travelled into our terrifying collective future!Go with him on this breathtaking, beautifully told journey!I promise that you will come back!determined to alter the course of history.' Naomi Klein, author of 'No Logo' 'Clear, lucid and informative.' New Statesman 'A thoroughly engaging and well-researched book.' Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Mark Lynas is an activist, journalist and traveller. He was editor of the website www.oneworld.net and has made many appearances in the press and TV as a commentator on environmental issues. He also throws custard pies at lunatics who pronounce global warming a fantasy. He is the author of 'High Tide: News from a Warming World'. He lives in Oxford.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
In the United States, fluid inclusion data from ice core are commonly used, but I suspect the data are very unreliable. Researchers at UofT never used secondary inclusions (bubbles on healed fractures) for sphalerite geothermometry, and never even bothered with calcite fluid inclusions, assuming them worthless because of the weakness of calcite. Strictly speaking, determining whether an inclusion is primary is not possible. It is possible, however, to determine whether an inclusion is secondary, but not the other way around. Many secondary inclusions are unrecognised until set in context where they cannot fit thermodynamically and then they are discarded.
Ice is an open system simply because it expands as it freezes. Think of it this way. Ice will vacuum ambient air into its structure as it crystallizes. The trapped gasses then reorganise into bubbles. Moreover, the transition from firn to ice can take hundreds to thousands of years on any particular glacier. In the top transparent to translucent tens of metres, the firn freezes and thaws an unknowable number of times before conditions obtain to freeze it for the long term as crystalline ice.
The isotopes used for temperature determinations are heavy isotopes of oxygen and carbon; in a closed system, they proxy for temperature. In an open system, the light isotopes differentially leave the system and the heavies concentrate. In the ice core scientific papers I have from Lonnie T.Read more ›
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Denialism invites devastation on a scale last seen during the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction event, and business or politics as usual will impose surrogate suicide on our children and grandchildren. Degree by degree "Six Degrees" explains the mechanisms behind global warming and the direct consequences of our actions (or inactions). From sophisticated and increasingly refined computer models, to the latest geological and paleontological evidence, Lynas compellingly argues that anthropomorphic climate change is a new and unprecedented challenge verging on calamity, not a routine and recurrent phenomenon due to cyclical natural causes.
From bleached and dying tropical coral reefs to polar bears that will melt into history along with the glaciers and ice flows they called home, the future is dire unless immediate, but achievable steps are taken. Some species may survive by migrating, but most will have nowhere to migrate to. Small changes result in sizeable impacts - a mere 3° C increase will turn the American Midwest, the world's breadbasket, and the Amazon Basin which supplies 20% of earth's fresh water, into arid wasteland.
Deluge or desertification will erase entire countries from the map and displace massive populations, as former citizens become stateless refugees. New York, London, Bombay, and Shanghai could be lost to the sea. Unless we redesign our energy extravagant carbon culture in less than a decade, reversion to pre-industrial civilization, or even a second stone age, may be our inevitable legacy.
At 1° C the American West, from California to the Great Plains could suffer a mega-drought lasting decades or centuries - devastating agriculture and evicting inhabitants on a scale far larger then the 1930s dustbowl. Overexploited aquifers will fail as powerful dust and sandstorms engulf entire states. Although more southerly parts of the United States are expected to get wetter as the North American monsoon intensifies, residents may not welcome an influx of several million eco-refugees. Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia will face similar challenges.
Plus 2° C will bring thirst to parched cities across China. Facing a chronic shortage of water, China won't struggle to develop a more affluent lifestyle; it will fight to feed itself. Warmer seas will continue - less efficiency - to absorb additional greenhouse gas emissions, radically altering the interlocking and exquisitely balanced ecosystems that cover 70 % of the globe. At least half the carbon dioxide released by airliners, air conditioners, or anything else ends up in the sea - a naturally alkaline environment that allows diverse and vital organisms to build calcium carbonate shells.
Human activities have already reduced oceanic alkalinity by 0.1 pH units. In less than 100 years the pH of the oceans could drop by half a unit from its natural 8.2 to about 7.7 - a change that will severely impact plankton - the foundation of coastal or deep water food chains. Although individually tiny (only a few thousandths of a millimeter across), photosynthesizing plankton like coccolithopores are arguably the most important plant resource on earth. They comprise at least half the biosphere's entire primary production - equivalent to all land plants combined. When scientists simulated anticipated future pH levels by pumping dissolved carbon dioxide into a Norwegian fjord, they watched in dismay as coccolithopore structures corroded and then disintegrated altogether.
Gourmets will morn the loss of mussels, scallops and oysters, shellfish vitally important as economic resources and constituents of coastal ecosystems worldwide, as they loose their ability to build strong shells by the century's end - and will dissolve altogether if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reach 1,800 ppm. Gastric distress of a different sort will follow as fisheries collapse and dependent populations face famine. Walk on a coral reef in 2090 and it could crumble beneath your feet. The haphazard experiment we are conducting on the world's oceans is insanely irresponsible.
Europe will experience temperatures endemic to North Africa today by 2040 and the consequent death toll during searing summer heat waves may reach into the hundreds of thousands. Mediterranean sunburn will take on an entirely new connotation in a 2° C world.
Adding 3° C will see a return to Pliocene norms (5.3 to 1.8 MYA) - when the Transantarctic Mountains were covered with beech trees, admittedly stunted by harsh conditions, but thriving. Pine trees will return to regions hundreds of miles north of today's artic tree line, and global sea levels will rise 25 meters (27.34 yards). Other harbingers include a persistent super El Nino, desiccation of the Amazon and Australia, hyper-hurricanes (Houston, we have a problem), an ice-free arctic, dry Indus and Colorado rivers, and the inundation of New York City.
Growing food in this hotspot habitat will prove increasingly problematic since rice, wheat, and maize yields decline by 10% for every 1° C temperature increase over 30° C. Over 40° C yields are reduced to zero. Starvation will replace obesity as an epidemic, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be our only alternative.
An additional 4° C will see the end of the Nile and Egyptian civilization; although Alexandria will be flooded as Antarctic ice melts raise global sea levels by 50 meters (164.1 feet). If both major Antarctic ice sheets destabilize sea levels could rise by a meter or so every 20 years - far outside humanity's adaptive capacity. Global warming of this magnitude would eventually denude the entire planet of ice for the first time in nearly 40 million years.
With 5° C of global warming a new planet, unrecognizable and indifferent to the needs of humanity arrives. Rain forests have burned up and rapidly rising sea levels, after inundating coastal cities, are beginning to penetrate far inland into continental interiors. Humanity will be confined to precarious habitability zones delineated by the twin scourges of drought and flood. At the highest latitudes Siberian, Canadian, and Alaskan rivers will experience dramatically increased flows due to torrential rain. A resurgent East Asian monsoon will dump nearly a third more water in the Yangtze, nearly 20% more in the Huang He (Yellow River), and the United Kingdom will experience severe winter flooding as reset Atlantic weather patterns lash Britain, Scotland and Ireland with Noachian (for lack of a better term) ferocity.
Globally, our planet will reprise conditions last experienced during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). Nearly every academic PETM study published in recent years notes that this epoch presages what anthropogenic global warming might have in store. Although the total carbon dioxide input into the atmosphere 55 MYA exceeded our best efforts to date - with carbon dioxide levels of more than 1,000 ppm persisting into the early Eocene - the rate of greenhouse gas addition is actually faster in the early Anthropocene (today) than during the PETM event.
Disruption on this scale could unleash massive amounts of methane hydrates (methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), resulting in runaway global warming. Humans would watch powerlessly as their planet began to emulate Venus. How likely is this scenario? A recent study by methane hydrate experts, Bruce Buffet and David Archer, suggests that the store of hydrates on the ocean floor would decrease by 85% in response to just three degrees of warming - although they don't say how long this shift might take. Is that shiny new SUV or humongous Hummer really worth the risk to your children and grandchildren?
In some ways, a return to Eocene norms seems Edenic. Lush forests grew at the poles, temperate zones became subtropical, and fascinating species spread across the globe - but the PETM took place over approximately 10,000 years, giving plants and animals time to migrate and adapt to new circumstances. We don't have 100 centuries - only decades - a pace of warming far too rapid for meaningful adaptation by natural ecosystems or human civilization. Humanity will become an endangered species.
Channeling Dante as our guide to a 6° C increase is warranted as earth descends into the Sixth Circle of Hell. Welcome to 'Cretaceous Park' (144 - 65 MYA) without the tourist attractions as a best-case scenario, or the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction event (251 MYA, also known as the Great Dying) - when life itself nearly died - as the worst-case outcome. Peter Ward's superb Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future (reviewed separately, an excellent companion book) documents how rampant greenhouse warming triggered anoxic oceans to release massive amounts of poisonous hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg gas) into the atmosphere. Oxygen levels plunged to 15% (contemporary levels are 21%) and many organisms (terrestrial and oceanic) literally suffocated.
Lynas points out that we can still choose our future - but unless we act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within just a few years our destiny will be chosen, and earthly inferno will become inevitable as carbon cycle feedbacks and climate forcings kick in one after another. We have the technology, but do we have the collective will?
"Six Degrees" is a tour de force that deserves to be widely read and acted upon. Until politicians act, take action. Lynas has also published The Carbon Calculator, which outlines easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint, before we become just another failed species marked by fossilized tracks on the margins of a long evaporated lake.
Other excellent books on global warming include Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce, and Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert.
I was torn between assigning this book four stars or five. While there's nothing about this book I don't like, I didn't want to be influenced by my own conviction of the overriding importance of this topic for all of us, and have tried to grade the book purely on the basis of my reaction to it as a book.
But the topic is urgent and important, and Mark Lynas has treated it effectively and with authority. His approach was to review all the published scientific literature he could find on climate modeling and paleoclimatology. His sources therefore consist exclusively of peer-reviewed scientific papers: no pop-science books, interviews, or mass-market magazine articles. He created a database of articles and organized them into categories according to the amount of warming they discussed: 1 degree Celsius, 2 degrees Celsius, and so on up to 6 degrees.
The book builds up a picture of the heating Earth, each chapter notching the average temperature one degree higher. At 1 degree, for example, Lynas discusses the likely desertification of the American West. The great plains ranging east of the Rockies north to Saskatchewan are actually an ancient dune-field covered with a thin layer of soil held in place by plants. Climate models show its likely reversion to a more drought-stricken regime that has also existed in the ancient past. The result will be the death of the plants, and blowing away of the topsoil--just as happened with the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma in the 1930s. This new Dust Bowl will be much larger and more enduring--and where will all the people go?
That's only one heading in the 1-degree chapter; there are nine more, including the slowing or stopping of the Gulf Stream, the melting of the Arctic icecap, and the die-off of coral reefs. Then it's on to chapter 2, with 11 headings of its own. The effects he looks at are diverse, sometimes smaller, such as the extinctions of individual species, but mostly much larger, such as the severe droughts and mass migrations we can expect when the world's mountain glaciers--source of much of our drinking-water--finally disappear, as they are rapidly doing right now.
By the time we get to 6 degrees, the point is abundantly clear: we must not let this happen. At that point our planet will be ice-free, largely desert, and whipped by "hypercanes" vastly more powerful than today's strongest storms. In Lynas's personal opinion, the human species will likely survive, but it will be a small remnant, and one of only a few survivors of this great extinction event.
Still relatively buried in the scientific literature are discussions of positive-feedback loops that may--indeed likely will--lie ahead: mechanisms that will accelerate warming beyond our ability to stop or control it. One such is the melting of tundra permafrost, which will likely release methane in large quantities, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2. Another is the awesome storehouse of methane as hydrates on the continental shelves, which may be released as the oceans warm.
Based on his survey, Lynas finds that our window of opportunity to head off the worst of it is very small indeed. We have almost certainly already crossed the threshold of 2 degrees of global warming, so the first two chapters are a snapshot of how our world will look just a few years from now. Indeed, the current droughts in Atlanta, California, Portugal, Australia, and elsewhere are themselves the manifestation of the process unfolding.
Lynas sums up with a discussion of what's stopping us from acting more vigorously, as well a look at the magnitude of the task. It makes for mighty sobering reading.
His prose is vigorous, vivid, and confident. Lynas has studied the climate for years, and visited remote spots of the globe. To be sure, I found the message depressing. It's all the scarier because it's not hysterical--it's lifted right out of peer-reviewed papers. But it has woken me from my own torpor of denial. Whatever decisions we each make, we should be informed. And this book provides an especially crucial kind of information.
The disappearance of arctic summer ice, the eventual flooding of coastal communities from sea level rise, the prospects of widespread droughts including the western USA, are all exptremely disturbing ideas held by a majority of climatologists.
This is a good summary of where we are with climate science right now, as Lynas bases his book on up to date searching of the science literature. The only outdated thing I could find was his failure to mention the political defeat of the Howard government in Australia partly due to public concern there about drought caused by climate change. Climate science has advanced greatly in the past few years, so do not base your views on something five years old!
My only criticism of this book is that the structure Lynas imposes is barely able to handle the massive amount of material. But I still rate it a firm four stars because of the timeliness and breadth of coverage. Too many of us are ill informed on this topic in an election year that may determine our approach to the problem for the next eight years. Too many of us fail to accept the basic concept explored by Lynas- that climate change is cumulative. Too many of us murmur smugly that we are not going to devote any energy or money to a problem that will kick in mostly after we die of old age.
Do you plan to have grandkids? I do. Read this.
The IPCC says that in the 21st century global warming could bring temperatures anywhere from 1 to 6 degrees hotter. Lynas uses peer-reviewed scientific literature to show what these temperature rises could mean. In 6 chapters he outlines 6 degrees. Once temps get past 2 or 3 degrees, like a wild fire burning out of control, the planet could continue to heat up no matter we do because nature starts releasing massive stores of CO2 from burning forests, melting tundra, warming oceans etc..
This is the first comprehensive attempt I have seen that outlines what a warmer world could be like, relying entirely on the most recent peer reviewed scientific literature. No one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, these are not things that will happen exactly as describes, but they have already happened in the past when temperatures reached this high, therefore there is a percentage-possibility of them happening again in similar ways - not something to be discounted - in the same way we buy fire insurance or flood insurance, even if the chance of a fire or flood is very small, we know from history they do happen.
Lynas' book is one part in the learning curve of global warming, it could be read in conjunction with a couple other books out of England recently, such as George Monbiot's Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, which offers practical solutions to keep temps below 2 or 3 degrees, and With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, which discusses the nature of runaway tipping points and why a rise above 2 or 3 degrees is so potentially dangerous.
See also the National Geographic documentary of the same name based on the book.
Most of the public likes things in black and white: short sound/video bites are preferred to longer articles with whys and wherefores and maybes. "An Inconvenient Truth", as Al Gore called it. The book talks about a large number of models: some of these contradict each other in some of the details, but most seem to agree on the basics. The book makes the point that fixes to global warming will be painful, and too much of the public would rather believe one of the small minority of scientists or perhaps a large majority of politicians who say that there is not sufficient evidence and we need to study things longer. All of this reminds me of my younger days in the late 1950s when scientists started warning about smoking and cancer. The tobacco industry trotted out scientists of their own and planted news stories deriding the notion. Some of these news articles said "The evidence is only statistical", and we're hearing that same argument nowadays. When the book shows how a glacier melting has caused a rise in ocean levels of 3 millimeters, we should worry--but we don't.
You'll read a lot about "feedback" in the book--polar ice, for example, reflects sunlight, but as the ice melts, the open ocean absorbs that same sunlight and warms even further. There are tipping points, and they may be irreversible. You'll read a lot about the effect of climate changes on various parts of the world--flora, fauna, food crops, etc. There's a lot to ponder on. One problem I began to have is that I would have liked to see maps: areas of the world that would be much drier, much wetter, etc. We see seasonal predictions by the US Weather Bureau: for spring 2008 the Southeast will be warmer and drier than normal, the Northeast will be..etc. Maps showing changing coastlines for, say, a 1 meter rise in the ocean level would be welcome. At times it felt like I was reading about a litany of impending disasters--there will be such things, but a different approach might have helped avoid the litany or doom-and-gloom sense. Finally, what I didn't like, and which I think hurts the book, is social speculation: the rise of fascist regimes, the US invading Canada, and the like. These detract from the scientific emphasis of the book. This is a fine book, but it's also depressing, since you get the sense that the public is not going to take the painful steps that need to be taken.
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