books climate change

Book review: Race for Tomorrow, by Simon Mundy

Climate change “will remain the biggest and most important story that I, or any journalist of my generation, will get the chance to cover” says Simon Mundy, environment and sustainability reporter for the Financial Times.

As a journalist married to a journalist, this is a familiar conversation, and Mundy has invested more in the story than most. His book covers the climate crisis from multiple angles, taking in 26 different countries across six continents. It’s the result of a two year journey to understand the effects of climate change, and the response to it. And, I have to say, it’s a formidable piece of work.

Race for Tomorrow is classic gumshoe reportage, by which I mean that Mundy has really put in the miles to track down the right people, see for himself and get the story. Each chapter is set in a different location, from Siberia to the Solomon Islands, Bangladesh to Brazil. We get fleeting notes of travel writing, setting the scene, and then it’s over to relevant locals to relate their experiences or describe their ideas.

The ‘front lines’ mentioned in the subtitle is broadly interpreted. The book opens on places that are suffering the immediate impacts of climate breakdown. We meet communities in Nepal where the ice is melting, property developers in coastal Nigeria building behind sea walls, farmers struggling with locusts in Ethiopia, Chilean wine growers adapting to changing conditions. One of the most striking chapters describes a family caught by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and a survivor who made the connection between her personal loss and the work of the fossil fuel companies.

Front lines also includes those fighting back, and so Mundy’s global tour takes in renewable energy companies, pioneers of cultured meats, people developing new technologies or working out how to scale up their solutions. There are scientists and CEOs, and some impressive access to key people.

One thing I really liked about the book is that the author talks to both sides of critical local and global issues. We hear from a fisherman in Manila who faces his house being bulldozed and his family forceably relocated away from the shore, in the name of hurricane resilience. Then we hear from the mayor overseeing the move. The chapter from India opens in a high-tech lab working on genetically modified crops, and then Mundy talks to Vandana Shiva, who is committed to blocking that work. In Brazil we meet a farmer burning the land, and the rangers trying to protect the forests. We meet electric car battery engineers, and cobalt miners in the Congo. The book doesn’t take sides. It just presents people’s perspectives on often very difficult situations where win-win outcomes are impossible.

Another thing that came across powerfully from the book is how the struggle against climate change takes everybody. If, in 100 years’ time, we can look back on how climate change was stopped and reversed, it won’t be because of heroic environmentalists. Nor will it be because of visionary CEOs or philanthropic billionaires. Or dogged scientists, or civil servants resisting corruption. It will be all of those people and so many more besides, a true collective effort.

There are similar books to Race for Tomorrow, such as Alister Doyle’s The Great Melt, or The Water Will Come, by Jeff Goodell. But in terms of its scope, its ambition, and its commitment to tell all sides of the grand story of the climate crisis, I can’t think of a climate book that’s in quite the same league as this one.

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