By Gord Stewart
I rarely escape from a bookstore unscathed. When time and the mood permit, I’m an addicted browser. It’s a good thing. All but one of the books noted here I discovered on the shelves of my favourite local bookshop. I special ordered Hope in Hell: A decade to confront the climate emergency and received it the day it was released in New Zealand.
In the Foreword to Hope in Hell, written last March just before his death, Sir Rob Fenwick said, “Jonathon Porritt’s thought-leadership on sustainability has been like a beacon of hope in a swirling storm of uncertainty. His determination to look beyond the problems and design workable solutions has been the hallmark of a lifetime’s work.”
Porritt himself writes in the book’s Introduction: “The Climate Emergency poses an infinitely graver risk to humankind than COVID-19, but has warranted very little political engagement over the years. That’s the tragedy of the horizon: today always trumps tomorrow.”
We must now act with urgency, says Porritt: “We need to shift from today’s wholly inadequate incrementalism to a full-on emergency response.” He lauds the efforts of young protesters, noting that political action and civil disobedience will continue to be crucial prods for politicians and business leaders.
There is no end of practical solutions. Chapter 4, ‘The Power of Technology’, for example, covers the role of solar, wind, electric vehicles and energy efficiency. Chapter 13, ‘Peak Meat’, should be of particular interest to readers here. With the significant contribution of agriculture – particularly livestock farming – to our greenhouse gas emissions, we have work to do.
Jonathan Safran Foer picks up on this theme in We are the Weather. It’s a good read, a philosophical ramble in parts, and should interest those keen on dietary change as one avenue to address the growing climate crisis.
For a change of pace and a thoughtful look at farming, James Rebanks’ English Pastoral: An Inheritance will do the trick. It caught my eye when browsing and right beside it was his first book The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District, published in 2015. Bought them both.
Ranging over 2000 square kilometres in North West England, the Lake District’s stunning scenery attracted some 16 million visitors a year pre-Covid. A bit of an onslaught, really, for its 43,000 permanent residents.
In The Shepherd’s Life, Rebanks takes the reader through four seasons as he works the land passed down and farmed by his family for over 600 years. Particularly heartening is their system for grazing sheep on common land in the fells above the valley farms.
Each farmer holds ancient legal rights to graze a certain number of sheep. These rights can be bought, sold and rented to others. With stock numbers controlled, overgrazing is avoided and the land protected. Some of the common grazing land is held by the National Trust. Rebanks’ sheep graze on land bequeathed to the Trust by one Beatrix Potter.
In English Pastoral, Rebanks ruminates further in three long sections: Nostalgia, Progress and Utopia. In ‘Progress’ he writes about “a new breed of bigger, faster and more intensive farmers”, laments the increasing use of synthetic fertilisers, and worries about the supermarkets’ relentless efforts to drive down food prices.
In ‘Utopia’, he reports on efforts to return farm water courses to their natural state and the planting of trees to improve health of the waterways and slow down floodwaters. He revels in the return of voles and owls to the property and in becoming “a guardian of half-wild places.”
Good news, for sure, and there is more of it in Solved!, aptly subtitled ‘How other countries have cracked the world’s biggest problems and we can too’.
On Denmark’s Samso Island, the author visits a world-leading green energy community. All the electricity for its 3700 residents comes from community-owned wind turbines. Biomass boilers burn local straw, meeting 70 percent of the island’s heating needs. The island is better than carbon neutral, selling its excess to others.
Phoenix, Arizona provides urban revival stories and practical strategies for creating smart cities. Other countries contribute insights on the likes of education, successful manufacturing, gender equality, immigration strategies, reducing inequality and raising living standards.
Note to Members of Parliament: When choosing your holiday reading, please consider Hope in Hell for inspiration and motivation and Solved! for great ideas. Relax with James Rebanks.
To anyone interested in these sorts of books as much as I am: Enjoy.
- Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics