The Climate Book, which was “created” by Greta Thunberg, weighs in at a hefty 1.4kg so you might need to reinforce that coffee table.  It has 5 sections:

  1. How climate works
  2. How our planet is changing
  3. How it affects us
  4. What we’ve done about it
  5. What we must do now

Each of these is sub-divided into short contributions, which typically, are around 3 to 5 pages long.  There are 102 of these and some have multiple authors.  18 have been written by Thunberg herself, and each section begins with one of her contributions.  There is no Introduction, Foreword, Preface or Acknowledgements, so anyone picking up the book is left to guess at who it is aimed at and what it’s trying to achieve.  What there is, however, is three pages of data and comment which set serve to the scene: graphics on average global temperatures over time, greenhouse gas / COemissions since the industrial revolution / historical emissions data by country, and an unreferenced warning that “based on current policies, the IPCC estimates that global warming will reach 3.2°C by 2100.”  NB, that “will” embodies a certainty that not everyone thinks is reasonable.

The publisher’s website is more informative about what this “essential handbook” is attempting to do while “we still have time to change the world.”  

It says this:

“You might think it’s an impossible task: secure a safe future for life on Earth, at a scale and speed never seen, against all the odds.  There is hope – but only if we listen to the science before it’s too late.

In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts – geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders – to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster.  Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark.  This is one of our biggest challenges, she shows, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act?  And if a schoolchild’s strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried?

We are alive at the most decisive time in the history of humanity.  Together, we can do the seemingly impossible.  But it has to be us, and it has to be now.”

This makes the book’s ambition clear, even if it does embody the naïve notion that all will be well once scales fall from eyes and we all can finally see the problem for what it is, and see it clearly enough to act selflessly in the common interest.  Here, the ‘we’ is not some elite or select class, but everyone; including you and me.

The other contributors to the book are, typically, established academics, authors and activists.  Some names may well be very familiar: Johan Rockström, Bill McKibben, Mike Berners-Lee, Nicholas Stern, Kate Raworth, George Monbiot, Margaret Atwood, Michael Mann, Naomi Klein, Wanjira Mathai, and Thomas Picketty.  Many others are eminent, but little known outwith their specialist fields.  It must have been quite a task for whoever did it to assemble this cast list.

The logic presented by the 5 section headings is persuasive, and it reminded me of a similar 5 heading list, this time from NAEE.  In its thinking about what a coherent climate education for schools would look like, NAEE came up with these sequential foci:

  1. What is climate?
  2. What’s the evidence for global heating and the changing climate?
  3. Looking ahead: what might happen if we carry on as we are?
  4. Looking around: what are we already doing?
  5. Looking forward: what might (or should) we be doing?

This was followed by a rationale for the sequence, and an exploration of what each part might cover.

The two lists are quite similar, almost exactly so in relation to the opening and closing sections.  I say ‘almost’ because there is a crucial difference between the 5th section of each list.  NAEE asks: what might / should we be doing?  The Climate Book just says: what we must do.  One is posed as a question in order to open up discussion and explore ideas with young people in ways that good educational programmes favour; the other isn’t because it is obviously far too late for mere questions and only prescribed actions will do.  To some this might illustrate how useless formal education is in handling of existential questions; to others, however, it will confirm the importance of pedagogic safeguards against mis-placed certainty, bias and prejudice.  It’s probably best to keep this distinction in mind as you read the book, particularly the later sections. 

After I’d read the opening section (How climate works), I wondered about its title as none of the eight contributions had anything to do with how climate works.  Indeed, the first three expert inputs had little to do with climate change either.  They concern the role of carbon dioxide in the creation and sustaining of life, the impact of humans on the evolving planet, and the relation between civilisation and extinction.  These inputs reminded me of what environmental education used to be like before climate change elbowed other topics out of the way.  Of course, they were informative and pertinent, but anyone picking up the book to learn about the climate would likely have been puzzled and then rather disappointed.

Thunberg’s first contribution, ‘To solve this problem, we need to understand it’, looks to me (in editor mode) to be the Introduction that the book lacks and it is odd that it was not presented as such.  As you read through the other contributions she makes, anyone familiar with her writing and oratory will recognise her core message and the conviction with which her preferred perspectives are expressed.  These include the insight that it’s an error to think “that we can solve this [problem] within our current systems” (p. 424).  I suspect that how well you react to these contributions will be influenced by what you think of her message and its usual mode of expression.  I am not her greatest fan as maybe this review will come to show, or perhaps has shown already.

In her first contribution (the one that shouts ‘Introduction’ at you), she makes the book’s focus plain: it is a “book that covers the climate, ecological and sustainability crisis holistically” (p. 3).  This has to be the focus, she goes on to write, as “the climate crisis is … only a symptom of a much larger sustainability crisis”.  Just so, but all the more reason to get titles right you might think.

There is much to appreciate in this book, as you’d hope in 400+ pages written by experts from across the planet who are well versed in communicating about the existential problems we face.  Although it’s crammed with information and ideas – almost a whole planet’s worth – I don’t think it is something to read from front to back; better to dip into and sample as and when you need to explore something.  Reading a chapter a day might be a good challenge to set yourself, beginning with your favourite contributors or topics.  Michael Clark on food systems, perhaps, Alice Larkin on transport, Thomas Pickerty on redistribution, Dave Goulson on insects, Kate Raworth on lifestyles, Johan Rockström on feedback loops, or Jennifer Soong on soil.  There’s a lot to choose from and it’s a good £25 worth.

However, it’s a puzzling book in a number of ways; indeed, it reads as if there are two books here intertwined.  One is written by Thunberg in her preferred polemical style with others with a tendency for an excess of rhetorical indulgence; the other is writtem by the rest of the contributors who adopt a more sober, analytical tone about the world we find ourselves in, and what we might do.  But the book feels limited as you’ll read in vain, for example, to find anything very much about innovation and technological development; for example, about the possibility of nuclear fusion.  This view is reinforced at the very end of the book where there is a section titled: Some of us can do more than others.  Here, the ‘some of us’ are: politicians, media and TV producers, journalists, and celebrities and influencers.  Fair enough.  But what about business and industry, farmers, banks and capital markets?  And what about universities, colleges, schools and teachers?  It’s an odd selection for a book that has such huge ambitions.

My final point to say thank you for a really good index, but why did the print have to be so small?


The Climate Book

Created by Greta Thunberg *

Allen Lane, Dublin




* I did ask the publisher what “created” meant, but no one bothered to reply.


Review by Bill Scott; University of Bath

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment