HAYDENVILLE — A Google search of “50 books that changed the world” provides a fascinating list that includes many volumes I would never have thought of. I knew the Bible, the Qur’an, the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita would be on the list, but I had not thought of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” the “I Ching,” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Of course “The Republic” by Plato, “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe are there.
But the Google list also contains a few surprises — at least to me — including “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by JK Rowling.
If it was up to me, another book would be on that list. Having spent the past week reading — and being totally shaken by — “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas, I want to make a case for why this book should be read by every adult alive on Earth. I also want to ask these questions: Where was I when this book was published in 2008, and why did I not know about it? Why didn’t the publication of this book make two-inch high bold headlines in the New York Times? How can we get President Obama and every elected official in America to read this book — and weep?
“Six Degrees” is a meticulously researched, totally sobering and extremely upsetting book that makes you want to buy two dozen copies and stand in front of Stop & Shop handing them out.
Troubled is a good word for my reaction. Depressed is another. Activated is yet another.
Lynas discusses how — in the not-so-distant future — the ocean will swallow the island of Tuvalu and the snows of Kilimanjaro will be gone. There are countless other examples of what will happen to the Amazon forest, the Queensland Wet Tropics, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Kalahari Dunefield, the Nile delta, the Greenland Icecap and the Gobi Desert.
The models and predictions about future disasters are terrifying. But the evidence of the effects of climate change that are already happening globally is staggering.
I had no idea that the permafrost holding rocks together on the Matterhorn had already melted and in 2003 the formation shook as gigantic rocks fell, changing the mountain forever.
I had forgotten that a heat wave in Europe in 2003 killed 15,000 people in France alone. I did not know that the Yellow River in China was already depleted and toxic along much of its lower reaches.
The extreme storms, hurricanes and droughts that seem to befall us with increasing frequency are a sampling of what is to come. Lynas offers story after story, example after example, of what lies ahead until you want to throw the book in the fireplace and retreat to a place of air-tight denial.
In fact, in the closing chapter, Lynas discusses the forms of denial he encounters regularly (“I protect the environment in other ways, like recycling,” “I am not the main cause of this problem,” “You have no right to challenge me,” “I don’t know the consequences of my actions,” “Nothing I do makes much difference” and “There are too many impediments.”) But, thankfully, Lynas also discusses a “low-carbon” society that “remembers that our planet is a unique gift” and discusses what we need to do to stop and reverse climate change.
There is much we can still do to rescue our planet and Lynas offers glimmers of hope. But only if we act now.
Although active in the environmental movement since 2001, when I was part of a group of clergy who blocked the entrance to the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., to protest drilling in the Arctic and was hauled off to jail, my commitment to this work needed a jumpstart. My focus had wandered and I needed to be recharged and reignited. “Six Degrees” was a painful but necessary wake-up call. I am a less happy, better informed and more agitated person having read this stunning book. This is my pledge to get busy. Again.
The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics.