Bill McGuire. Hothouse Earth. An Inhabitant’s Guide.

Bill McGuire. Hothouse Earth. An Inhabitant’s Guide. London: Icon Books, 2022

We shall soon be on the wrong side of the 1.5°C climate change guardrail: climate breakdown is imminent. Blistering heatwaves, fierce storms, disastrous fires, ruin and drought will be increasingly common features of our everyday lives. The battles we are facing cannot, and must not be lost.

Our grandparents would not recognise the Earth as it is today, explains McGuire. Our children and grandchildren face a truly hostile world. Who will suffer most? The answer, ‘all ages’, is terrifying and is no exaggeration.

The older you are, McGuire argues, the luckier you are to have experienced a world in balance – at least for some years. That world is now severely threatened and already changing faster than we could ever have anticipated. We should no longer be talking about ‘global warming’ but ‘global heating’ or ‘climate breakdown’. Nothing less will describe the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves in 2022.

What will it be like to live on a planet that will have an average temperature of 2.7°C by 2100? And why aren’t we doing anything about this? Dangerous climate breakdown is imminent and inescapable, McGuire warns us. And most of the countries that profess an interest in reducing the global temperature as fast as possible have, in McGuire’s words, ‘no road map to show how they will get there’.

We need a road map, and now. The coming decade is crucial, and every move we shall make must answer the question, ‘is this good for the climate?’ If not, it must be abandoned. The coming decade, argues McGuire, ‘is very likely the most critical in human history. We can either choose a calamitous and unsustainable future, or we can choose to radically reduce emissions, slow down the rate of heating and produce a healthier and more resilient planet. We can run away from the disaster or we can face it. The choice is ours.’

We must feel fear and use it to generate effective action. As McGuire claims, ‘No one ever won a war while knowing no fear, and make no mistakes, this is a war . . . The fact that the future looks dismal is not an excuse to do nothing, to imagine it’s all too late. On the contrary, it’s a call to arms.’ Our goal must cease to be profit, the driving force behind the impending disaster.

McGuire finishes his short but immensely powerful presentation of the urgency of the present crisis with the following words based on the well-known and very apt expression ‘clutching at straws’: ‘we have used up an entire bale in prevarication and inertia, so all we are left to clutch at is the last straw. We cannot fail to grasp it.’

Hothouse Earth is not about fear but mobilisation around the most important task of the century: to save our planet. If we fail, we fail our planet, and we fail ourselves. We are all inhabitants of the Earth; we are all responsible for its future; and we can all do something.

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