Skip to main content

Climate Change Begins at Home – Dave Reay ****

There surely are fewer and fewer ordinary people who dismiss climate change, leaving the head-in-the-sand attitude largely to big business (and politicians under the business thumb), where short-termism is an inevitable consequence of focus on the share price. This wonderfully readable book by Dave Reay brings home just how real the problems of climate change are. But, as he points out, there’s no point waiting for governments to do something – we can, and should, take individual action to cut emissions. Much of the book then looks at the different ways we use energy, and gives simple suggestions on approaches to do something about it.
It would be easy for this turn into a knit-your-own-sandals-from-spare-beard-hair tract, but Reay manages to steer away from this as much as possible (even making jokes about people who wear sandals with socks). His language is down to earth, and easy to understand (at the start of the book he thanks his editor for steering him away from academic speak, and she’s done a great job). Instead Reay gives us a simple, frightening picture of the consequences of climate change, then pulls apart our lifestyle and looks at the practical possibilities of doing things differently.
Oddly, one of the few complaints here is that the style is just a bit too light. If there’s spectrum running from dull to flippant, this book comes somewhere between breezy and flippant. We’re always complaining about academic authors who can’t get away from jargon and dullness – there’s no sense of that, but if anything Reay has gone a bit too far the other way with his relentless jokiness.
The book also seems to occupy a strange land, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. This is reminiscent of something that has happened in a few children’s films over the years. We’re not talking simple biological ignorance, as when the live action 101 Dalmatians gives us racoons and skunks in the UK, or when the Mary Poppins designers clearly had no idea what a British robin looks like, but the strange hybrid USengland of The Borrowers or the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an intentional fantasy environment containing stereotypical elements of both cultures. In CCBaH, Reay makes a brave attempt to appeal to the US market by making his example family American, but the context usually reflects British lifestyle (for example in his description of a new housing estate).
Realistically despite Reay’s jokes, it’s impossible for a little worthiness not to creep into a book like this. Doing meaningful things for climate change is a bit like making careful decisions about pensions – very sensible, but not exactly thrilling. This is perhaps most obvious in the comments about cars, which a UK reader can imagine setting Jeremy Clarkson spinning in his chair – while Reay is right that a nice little hatchback is so much more sensible for most of us than a four wheel drive, cars really aren’t about being sensible for many people. And comments about the wonders of using LPG and similar fuels slickly avoid the practical difficulties and sometimes dangers of these alternative fuels. Reay’s solutions can be a bit too black and white – for example he suggests it’s better not to buy a new house due to the emissions that result from making materials, but if that new house was necessary to meet rising population, it would have been built anyway, so we can ignore that part of the equation.
BUT, whatever you do, don’t be put off. This is one of the most easily readable popular science books I’ve seen in several years, it’s practical rather than ridiculous, it puts the case without being preachy – it really is a wonderfully effective description of the realities of climate change, how it will effect us and our families, and what we as individuals can do about it. So go out and buy one. (In fact, buy two and send one to the world leader or large company CEO of your choice.)
Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Conjuring the Universe - Peter Atkins *****

It's rare that I'd use the term 'tour de force' when describing a popular science book, but it sprang to mind when I read Conjuring the Universe. It's not that the book's without flaws, but it does something truly original in a delightful way. What's more, the very British Peter Atkins hasn't fallen into the trap that particularly seems to influence US scientists when writing science books for the public of assuming that more is better. Instead of being an unwieldy brick of a book, this is a compact 168 pages that delivers splendidly on the question of where the natural laws came from.

The most obvious comparison is Richard Feynman's (equally compact) The Character of Physical Law - but despite being a great fan of Feynman's, this is the better book. Atkins begins by envisaging a universe emerging from absolutely nothing. While admitting he can't explain how that happened, his newly created universe still bears many resemblances to  nothing a…

Big Bang (Ladybird Expert) - Marcus Chown ****

As a starting point in assessing this book it's essential to know the cultural background of Ladybird books in the UK. These were a series of cheap, highly illustrated, very thin hardbacks for children, ranging from storybooks to educational non-fiction. They had become very old-fashioned, until new owners Penguin brought back the format with a series of ironic humorous books for adults, inspired by the idea created by the artist Miriam Elia. Now, the 'Ladybird Expert' series are taking on serious non-fiction topics for an adult audience.

Marcus Chown does a remarkable job at packing in information on the big bang, given only around 25 sides of small format paper to work with. He gives us the concepts, plenty about the cosmic microwave background, plus the likes of dark energy, dark matter, inflation and the multiverse. To be honest, the illustrations were largely pointless, apart from maintaining the format, and it might have been better to have had more text - but I felt …