Not the End of the World by Hannah Ritchie [9/10]

One of the talented geeks (that’s a compliment, by the way) enumerating the details of the climate crisis at website Our World in Data, Hannah Ritchie has done us all a service by addressing the big picture of the challenges of our future. Taking inspiration from one of the heroes of “the data shows us our world has improved over the last century” school of thought, the late Hans Rosling, Ritchie’s thesis is crystal clear and explicated by her new book’s title: Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet. Yes, humanity faces enormous perils studded with prospects of disaster, but one can readily see a happy future fed by all the decarbonization and technological efforts so far. Examples jostle for the reader’s attention: ““It took countries like the UK and the US two centuries to go through the rise and fall of air pollution. With new technologies, countries are going through this transition four times as quickly. Better yet, some of the poorest countries might be able to skip the curve entirely.” Are cities bad? “It’s a romantic idea, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Our cities and urban areas take up just 1% of the world’s habitable land. Agriculture takes up 50%. Our biggest footprint on the world’s land is not the space that we ourselves take up, and build our houses on; it’s the land that’s used to grow our food. This is the biggest driver of deforestation, not the rise of urbanisation. In fact, the migration of people from rural areas to cities has mostly been good for protecting our forests.” Ever since publication, controversy has ranged over a number of Ritchie’s assertions, often on more minor issues, but at least she presents data that can be analyzed. For me, the crowning achievement of Not the End of the World is the way it pivots over the second essential task for humanity (after electrifying everything), which is to cut meat production and consumption markedly. On that our future depends and the reader’s congruence with the author’s optimism will depend on how credible this prospect is.

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