books climate change

Book review: How are we going to explain this? by Jelmer Mommers

Jelmer Mommers is the climate reporter for The Correspondent, the Dutch reader-supported news outlet. (I’m a supporter of the English edition and would definitely recommend it). His book has already been a bestseller in the Netherlands. It’s been translated, updated, and lands in Britain as How are we going to explain this? Our future on a hot earth.

It’s a book written for people who haven’t read a lot about climate change and would rather not think about it. It explains the science and the current situation in engaging terms, describes the consequences of inaction and highlights useful movements for change.

The book is divided into three sections: What’s the problem? Where are we headed? and What can we do? It’s a straightforward structure “designed to help you think about how we might make our societies sustainable, to show how a revolution of sorts is already underway, and how you can help.”

The science of climate change is explained in broad terms, looking right back to the emergency of settled agriculture and forest clearance. The notes on early climate science, drawn from Lewis and Maslin’s The Human Planet, show that we’ve known about this for a long time. It’s that lack of excuses that gives the book its title, and it powerfully explains how we have become locked into high consumption rates and fossil fuel dependency.

Mommers has done a lot of investigative journalism around the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell, and he makes good use of that work to explain vested interests, and the bind that oil companies find themselves in. Climate change is an existential threat to oil companies, and I got a real sense of how complicated it is to unpick the fossil fuel energy system. Not that I have any sympathy for the Shell executives. The book highlights Danish Oil and Natural Gas, who sold off their fossil fuel investments and rebranded to Orsted. If they can do it, Shell shouldn’t be so quick to say its impossible.

As a Dutch journalist, the author also had a front row seat in the famous Urgenda case. It was the first time a government was sued for inaction on climate change, and an important inspiration for legal battles for a safer climate the world over. It’s one of a handful of solutions that are featured, with more of a focus on social responses than technologies.

Mommers has taken the opportunity of the English edition to add material about the coronavirus. That makes it bang up to the minute for summer 2020, though it may date it in future. I’d hesitate to put observations on corona and climate into print myself when it’s all so fast moving – but all the more reason to read it now.

This is not going to apply to most regular readers, but if you’ve yet to read a book on climate change, this is a good place to start. It’s clear, concise and compassionate. I can see why it’s been popular, and I hope it finds a wide audience of this side of the Channel too.

8 comments

  1. I went to Amazon to see if I could get a Kindle version. Well I can – but not for a few weeks. But in the meantime, I was interested to see this question on both the Amazon and Hive websites:

    If climate change is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced, then why are we doing so little?‘.

    As I’ve said here – https://earthbound.report/2020/06/01/book-review-the-future-we-choose/ – the answer is that most countries outside Western Europe, North America and Australasia are either unconcerned about the impact of GHGs on the climate or don’t regard the issue as a priority, focusing instead on economic growth and poverty eradication. It will be very interesting to see if Mommers recognises this and, if so, how he thinks the West should deal with it.

    1. Your dogged attachment to this argument is admirable, but not the argument itself.

      Have you noticed, incidentally, that you keep saying the “countries outside Western Europe, North America and Australasia” don’t take it seriously, as if North America and Australia do take it seriously? This in itself is reason to doubt your logic.

      1. Your dogged attachment to this argument is admirable, but not the argument itself.

        There are many good and understandable reasons why non-Western countries are not cutting their GHG emissions. But that doesn’t alter the fact that they’re not cutting them – nor seem likely to do so in the next few years. Therefore there is no prospect of the substantial and urgent global cuts called for by many scientists being achieved. And therefore, if the warnings of potentially catastrophic consequences of inaction are accurate, we face disaster – whatever we in the West are able to do.

        That’s the argument. What’s wrong with it?

          1. … do you think the USA and Australia are taking climate change seriously?

            An interesting question – but irrelevant. My argument is this: as non-Western countries (the source of 75 percent of global GHG emissions) are not cutting their emissions and are not likely to do so in the next few years, there’s no prospect of the substantial and urgent global cuts called for by many scientists being achieved. That’s the argument (valid if the US and Australia are taking CC seriously and equally valid if they are not). Now perhaps you’ll answer my question: what’s wrong with that argument?

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