High Tide

News from a warming world

Posted: 9 March 2004

Author: Mark Lynas
Flamingo/HarperCollins, London, 2004, £16.99 (hb)

Climate change is no longer a concern for the future or a phenomenon whose presence is still up for debate. It's happening right now and the environmental evidence is everywhere, warns Mark Lynas in his compelling and eloquent new book, High Tide.

Cover of 'High Tide' by Mark Lynas

More of travelogue than a forensic, scientific study of climate change, Lynas has spent the past three years travelling to five continents across the world in search of the "fingerprints" of global warming.

Documenting its tangible effects on people's lives, Lynas reports on encroaching deserts sweeping over farmland in China, the thawing permafrost of the Alaskan Arctic and melting glaciers of Peru. He joins a flood watch in Yorkshire, England, and visits the submerging Pacific island of Tuvalu.

These events might seem unrelated but, argues Lynas, they are part of the bigger picture of global warming and provide first-hand evidence of its devastating effects.

But this book isn't simply a catalogue of disaster, it's Lynas' mission to take us on a global journey to reveal how people from all corners of the world are coping with changing weather patterns and the resulting ruination of their environment, from flooding, desertification, icemelt, erosion, drought and fires.

And, as he describes so vividly, it is often those people who live in remote areas far from the source of pollution or its creation, who have suffered terribly.

Unless radical action is taken to reverse the trend of rising temperatures, the author paints a pessimistic future for Planet Earth. Although sceptical of the efficacy of the Kyoto protocol in combatting climate change, Lynas argues that it is at least "a process which may in the end yield the kind of radical action which is clearly becoming necessary." In addition to Kyoto, he supports the fairer 'contraction and convergence' solution proposed by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute in which the international community agrees on a emissions target divided out on an equal per-capita basis among all countries and phased in over an agreed convergence period.

He also urges a worldwide cessation of the exploration and development of new oil, coal and gas reserves, arguing that anything less would lead to a catastrophic destabilisation of the world's climate. And, finally, he argues we all can play a part in reducing emissions, from switching to green electricity, insulating our homes properly, avoiding short haul flights, to lobbying our MPs and literally getting on our bikes.

This book is an important wake up call to us all and offers a warning about the catastrophe facing our planet if politicians and industry continue to adopt a 'business-as-usual' policy. As Lynas points out in his epilogue, according to geological research, the end-Permian mass extinctions which occured 251 million years ago were a result of global temperatures rising to six degrees celsius. Today, the world is warming faster than ever before and the global authority on this issue, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warns that if greenhouse gase emissions continue to rise at present rates, global temperatures in the next hundred years could indeed reach up to six degrees.

Just how far the earth will warm within the IPCC forecast of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees celsius has yet to be discovered, but this author at least, is in no doubt that global warming represents "the biggest crisis that humankind has ever faced" and has ever brought about.

Reviewer: Maya Pastakia

Reviewer Info: Maya Pastakia is Assistant Editor of this website.