Book Review: Six Degrees By Journalist Mark Lynas'

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By Henry Lutaaya
Editor Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda

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Rilla Norslund, the head of DANIDA's Agricultural Sector Programme Support (ASPS) in Uganda, recently found her child crying in the bedroom. As Rilla narrated to an audience of scientists and Journalists at the recent Open forum on Biotechnology in Africa, her child was angered by the fact that millions of people continue to live recklessly and in complete disregard of dire warnings about the future of their planet.

"Why should we suffer the consequences of global warming when we are not the ones who caused the problems in the first place?" the child reportedly asked Rilla.

It is possible this child had read Six Degrees, Our Future on a Hotter Planet. Six Degrees, written by Journalist and activist Mark Lynas, is a non-fiction mind-blowing interpretation of findings and predictions by climate scientists about the price humanity is likely to pay if we continue to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as we are doing today.

For starters, our planet is facing a serious imbalance whereby large quantities of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane have been released into the atmosphere and are acting as a greenhouse or blanket trapping heat and causing excess warming of the planet.

In Six Degrees, Lynas documents the ongoing as well as the expected loss of glaciers and polar ice sheets, the destruction of biodiversity, the sinking and disappearance of small island nations (atolls), the drying of lakes and burning of tropical forests, the loss of agricultural land and of marine life and the inundation of coastal cities as temperatures creep up degree by degree over the next 100 years.

You probably have heard of the ongoing melting of the arctic, and the grim prospects that poor countries continue to face as the planet continues to warm up. But probably have not read how life on land and in water will likely tumble as the warming takes hold and prospects turn into realities.

One Christian colleague of mine glanced at the cover of this book and immediately passed his judgement that it was an attempt to create a biblical apocalypse, something that would never happen again in real life. But I say; this is not the Nibiru hoax you've heard or read about in some media. The contents of this book have already convinced top scientists in this country and in other countries that indeed the world is treading on a terribly wrong path.

Suffice to say that Six Degrees will compete with five other non-fiction books for the Royal Society's Science Book Prize for 2008. The Royal Society is the Unite Kingdom's academy of science with a history of 350 years.

Having read Six Degrees, Prof. Elly Sabiiti, a Professor of crop science at Makerere University Uganda, revealed to fellow scientists who gathered at a review of the six short listed books for the prize, how the book had deepened his desire to undertake yet more research into the possible impact of climate change.

Over the past century, the expansion of industries has resulted into an unprecedented increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and methane which come from burning fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. At the same time, the rapid growth of the global population has resulted into a huge demand for wood fuel for cooking as well as agricultural land that has led to the destruction of forests, in the process releasing significant amounts of greenhouses gases into the air.

In a telling forecast of what is to happen over the next nine decades and more, Lynas has digested tough scientific reports and synthesized computer models into easily comprehensible literature about what the future holds for us. Basing on the temperature scale of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Lynas has studied thousands upon thousands of separate reports and presented it in a lively and consistent narrative punctuated with vivid examples and scenarios showing how the lives of various creatures on earth have disappeared or would perish, unless something drastic is done to reduce the emissions.

In 2002, Scientists from the University of Ohio in the US discovered that 80% of the Kilimanjaro Ice had already melted in the past 100 years. Their conclusion was that over the next 10 years, the remaining ice will melt. And yet the world has only experienced about 0.5 to 1 degree of global temperature rise.

The story is not much different for Uganda's Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzori mountain range) which have also lost half of its ice cover in a space of only 20 years. It would indeed require little effort to connect the dots and visualize how the lives of millions of people, animals and plants that depend on those glaciers and the surrounding ecosystem would be affected when the glaciers completely melt.

If the glaciers are crucial to the flow of the Nile, then they are of immense importance to the economies of over ten countries along its route through agriculture, power generation, fishing, tourism and water, among others. Dr. Yona Baguma, a scientist from Namulonge passed a warning at the biotechnology meeting that a mere one degree rise in global temperature would make coffee growing almost impossible.

Lynas notes that even with one degree of warming over the next few years, land surfaces will warm faster than the seas. As a result monsoon rains especially over East Africa will become stronger over the next couple of years, making the region greener. Incidentally however, as the planet warms further, even higher incidences of rainfall will come down in destructive episodes causing massive floods and the attendant diseases and destruction that accompanies it.

But as some parts of East and North Africa get greener in a three degree world, Southern Africa will be baking under intense heat as the Kalahari desert expands in all directions. Lynas shows that Botswana will be the epicenter of this catastrophe.

Quoting research by Eleanor Burke of the British Meteorological Office, Lynas concludes that the incidence of moderate drought on the African continent is likely to double, while extreme drought which now stands at 3% of the continent will rise ten fold to 30% by 2100.

As the world continues with its obsession with oil, the planet will get warmer resulting into more catastrophic events as more destructive Katrinas leave millions more homeless, until such a point when no amount of panic can bring the planet back into balance.

According to Lynas, getting past the tipping points of some of those sensitive regions, would be characterized by a situation where global warming begins to generate its own momentum and set the stage for an unstoppable and vicious cycle of warming.

The good news however is that the tipping points of some of those most sensitive but vital regions of the world's temperature such as the Arctic, the Amazon, are still far off. "All is not lost yet", according to NASA scientist Jim Hansen. That time is still on our side and we can afford to stop the fire is indeed the main message from Six Degrees.

That even if warming continues at the current pace, the arctic can only disappear earliest in 2040. Question is; Can the world afford to watch the Arctic melt away?

Lynas shows that most models suggest that we still have time to stabilize global temperatures within 2° and stop our match into the sixth circle of hell as painted in Dante in Inferno and thus avoid the 'mass extinction of all time.'

But even for a soul so concerned about the perilous planet we could create for ourselves, Lynas does not attempt to suggest an immediate freeze on the use of fossil fuels.

George Bush said last year that America must stop its addiction with oil. But while that warning sounds fantastic, it borders on the impossible. Indeed the world is addicted to oil. Life cannot go on without it. So while Lynas suggests that remaining in the 2° limits requires reducing emissions by 60% within the next decade, the world has to endure some sacrifice.

"What is needed is the change in our behaviour." Lynas notes. And to achieve that he has drawn up a list of seven alternatives that can help lower the world's emissions. These include building cars and homes that are more energy efficient, introducing carbon-capture and storage facilities. Strengthening efforts to reduce deforestation is an important factor since deforestation is said to have contributed 20% of the current warming.

An important highlight of Six Degrees is the thought that the much-touted Renewable energies do not actually look feasible in the global fight against global warming.

"The worst way of reducing CO2 is through bio-fuels - it is not clear whether any carbon is displaced since production, milling and transportation uses large amounts of fossil fuels." He adds: "Bio-fuels would need 250 million hectares to be effective - equivalent to a sixth of the world's cropland - It's insane."


I had like to see what her

I had like to see what her paper really says. Sometimes journalists end up distorting scientific information. Please tell me if you know where I can find it. As you can see in the Vostok data, Antarctica (for one) did not experience that same variation. But then again, what´s your point?

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Six Degrees Wins Top Book Award/ Film Coming OUt Soon

Patrick Luganda's picture

Bravo for Mark Lynas, the journalist/author whose book Six Degrees has scooped the prestigious award as reported by BBC today. We at NECJOGHA are pleased that one of our members made a book reviewof Six Degrees before the judges' verdict. Bravo Henry Lutaaya for your deep analytical feature. Follow the URL link below to read more.

Patrick Luganda