The Last Generation, by Fred Pearce

Not worried about global warming? Read this book and you will be
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The Independent Culture

This is the most frightening book that I have ever read. Its message is essentially the same as in James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia - that human disruption of environmental processes is reaching a series of tipping points, beyond which there is no escape from a global catastrophe affecting all life, and in which billions will die.

The two books complement each other nicely. Lovelock, the scientist, presents his case thoughtfully and appeals to the brain; Pearce, the journalist, hits the reader in the gut. The double whammy from both is likely to leave you despairing at the insanity of humankind in general and politicians in particular.

This is not to say that Pearce goes over the top in red-top style. You can see him trying not to overdramatise, which only makes what he does say more worrying. Perhaps he is too cautious, but his even-handed discussion of the extremists who claim, for example, that global warming is all due to changes in the sun, lends more weight to his case that human activities are primarily to blame.

The scariest part concerns the melting of the icecaps, and consequent rise in sea level. When I wrote about climate change 25 years ago (when the case for human-induced global warming was already clear), it was thought that icecaps took hundreds or thousands of years to melt. Pearce's discussion of the new understanding of how meltwater penetrates cracks to get beneath the glaciers, hastening their slide into the sea, is enough to frighten anyone near sea level who expects to live more than another couple of decades.

If the tipping-point is passed, as it may have been already, we can say goodbye to cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong on that sort of timescale. Global warming isn't just about providing aid for tiny Pacific nations as they disappear beneath the waves.

There are two problems with the book. It is too long by about 25 per cent, and loses some of its impact; and there is no list of references or guide to further reading. Even so, everyone should read this book to find out what is going wrong with the world; read Lovelock's to find out what to do about it; and then despair that, relative to the scale of the problem, politicians are doing nothing more effective than a child who builds a wall of sand to hold back the tide.