Interview: Mark Lynas, author, Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet

Mark Lynas is an author, journalist and environmental campaigner, and in 2007 he wrote his first book Six Degrees: Our Future on a hotter planet.

However, in 2015 we surpassed one degree of global warming and so the first chapter of his book became instantly outdated.

This has led Mark Lynas to re-write a newer version of his book which was published in April 2020. In his book, Mark outlines what life will be like on a warmer planet based on what we know now. Environment Journal got in touch to find out more.

What led you to re-write the book? 

The original book was published in 2007, but people were still reading it and emailing me all the time and asking me if I was more optimistic or pessimistic with the passage of time and if things had changed.

I felt I had to give a meaningful answer and that involved repeating the whole process of going through the entire scientific literature and putting together a degree by degree picture of the future.

COVID-19 has highlighted our lack of control – what lessons can be learned for the climate crisis?

COVID has reminded us that no matter how advanced our technology is we are not supreme beings in absolute control of the planet and the ecosystem.

But our challenge isn’t to control the planet is to control ourselves – and to alter our own pollution and destruction which is certainly well within our abilities.

Do you think a ‘green recovery’ from COVID-19 is realistic? 

There’s a fortuitous aspect of COVID recovery, governments need to spend large amounts of money in stimulus programmes to get people back to work to avoid a prolonged depression.

This is an opportunity to invest in a sustainable recovery – building things with government subsidies that wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances and if you care about climate then that should be clean energy.

But I don’t think its realistic to think that all of our future power will come just from renewables.

I think nuclear energy is also important – it is an energy source that in my mind is more ecologically friendly than renewables because it uses far less land.

The insistence that only wind and solar can be clean energy is becoming a religion amongst the environmental movement – it’s almost like they don’t care about the climate they care about solar and wind panels.

We need to have a plan that adds up and if you’re going to reject arithmetic then I don’t think you have anything useful to add to the climate conversation.

In your book, you write about the rise of populist right-wing climate denying parties, do you think COVID-19 will change this? 

I do hope that the whole anti-science populist right movement will be laid low from COVID, some of the places where the virus is raging the worst like the U.S and Brazil is where right-wing populists are in power.

And tens maybe thousands of people will die as a result of their willful ignorance and maybe that is a lesson of what could happen later down the line with climate change, but the death toll could be in the millions.

Maybe people will turn away and look for a more evidence-based type of politics – I certainly hope so.

In the book, you write about the inequality of climate change, what can be done to tackle this? 

This is the central challenge of our time.

Developing countries look to the industrial world and quite rightly so say, ‘so you’re telling us you cant develop in the same way you did?’

But if Africa and other developing nations follow the same fossil intensive model that we in the West have used then we will be well on the way to four degrees plus.

It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that that doesn’t happen, but at the same time, we can’t constrain the ambitions of people to emerge from poverty.

I think everyone agrees that needs to happen, and if it is going to be more expensive to use cleaner energy then that has to be properly supported by the wealthier parts of the world.

What are the dangers of blaming climate change on overpopulation?

Blaming climate change on overpopulation has a big undercurrent of racism – at a time of Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements, I think it’s important that people really understand what they’re saying.

This view is morally abhorrent and flatly wrong with empirical reality.

If you want to limit the population then we need to eradicate poverty, it’s that simple.

Are you really optimistic about the future? 

Optimism isn’t about blind hope – it’s about the determination to carry on.

We need to use science and technology to address the problems – we need to focus on progress and we need to pull together the kind of responses that society needs and we need to do so globally.

An individualistic focus does not work – we need to have collective behaviour change.

The book is available here: 

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