The God Species – Review

Review: The God Species by Mark Lynas

The God Species by Mark LynasThe Mark Lynas who wrote this book has travelled a long way from the environmental activist who once threw a custard pie in the face of a climate denialist who annoyed him. The dramatic appeal of his second book, ‘Six Degrees’ – presented as a series of increasingly alarming horror movies – thrust him into the environmental limelight.  Now this book – his third – sees him staking his claim as a deep thinker and solver of problems rather than just another climate alarmist.

‘The God Species’ is a tale of the Anthopocene age – the age of man, where humanity is the primary force shaping the future environment. Its subtitle – ‘How the planet can survive the age of humans’ – is an early indication that this may be a more optimistic Lynas than the author of Six Degrees.  The book travels far beyond the basic climatic remit of his previous works, examining nine ‘planetary boundaries’ we need to consciously manage in order to keep the Earth a comfortable place to live.

Climate change is one obvious boundary. Another well know and widely discussed boundary is biodiversity loss –  avoiding the ‘sixth extinction’ that many believe we are heading for. The other limitations –  in no particular order –  are water use, reactive nitrogen in the biosphere, land use, aerosols, toxins, ocean acidification and the ozone layer. Many of these are shown to be intertwined. Ocean acidification, for example, is a product of increased atmospheric CO2, and thus inextricably linked to climate change. Some of these boundaries have been allocated well-defined values while others – such as aerosols – are much harder to arrive at a value for. (Aerosols in particular play both a black hat and a white hat role in global temperature regulation).

The science and arithmetic behind these boundaries is delivered in a straightforward and entertaining way. The book is extremely easy to read in spite of the huge sweep of scientific ground it covers. Sprinkled throughout are the ‘magic bullets’ that the author is currently promoting as key tools in our planetary management armoury. These include lots of nuclear power, genetically modified crops, the privatisation of water management and the continuing movement of population from the country to the city. ‘Conventional’  environmental groups such as Greenpeace come in for some pretty harsh criticism for their opposition to some of these remedies, and are presented almost as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

We have already crossed three of the planetary boundaries, but overall the tone is upbeat and optimistic. Retaking the ozone boundary was our first dramatic success, and can be seen as a good omen.  Lynas belives we can now claw our way back below the 350ppm CO2 boundary – and that we can do it without cutting consumption or radically changing our habits. Nuclear-charged electric cars, biofuelled jets and continuing economic growth mean it will be business as usual in the low carbon future he envisages. The optimism is  counterpointed somewhat by the author’s  brief review of the international process so far at Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun – the despair of the final sterile hours of Copenhagen comes across particularly well – but overall this is an upbeat book.

Where the author’s tone  grates a little is in his apparent determination at times to be controversial for its own sake, to rub low-carbon nuclear power in the faces of ‘traditional’ environmentalists and to ostentatiously court the right wing with his rosy promises of continued growth in a zero carbon free market. I am not saying that there is no merit in his ideas –  there is, in most of them – and I am sure that many of a ‘dark green’ persuasion will lighten up a little after reading this book. The worry is that perhaps he has the scent of personal success in his nostrils and could be tempted  to say anything controversial for column inches or media time. A recent personal blog entry criticising the IPCC had climate deniers welcoming him to the dark side, but I think (and hope) that they will be disappointed.

As I said at the beginning of this review, Mark Lynas has come a long way from the green (in every sense) environmentalist of ten years ago. I look forward to seeing where his journey takes him next. This book is thought provoking, challenging to both camps in the climate war and well worth its purchase price – get the Kindle version for the best environmental bang for your buck.


‘The God Species’ by Mark Lynas was published by Fourth Estate on July 7th and is available  from Amazon UK.


4 Responses to “The God Species – Review”

  • […] The God Species – Review | Scotland’s Renewable Energy Blog – A mostly positive review of a more positive book from Mark Lynas.  Mark's previous book, 6 Degrees, still sits on my shelf unread and this is a reminder for me to read it. […]

  • […] the book was not currently being offered because it was under review/investigation. Since Lynas had taken some aggressively controversial positions in the book, several of his fans offered conspiratorial explanations for Amazon’s decision to pull the […]

  • Avito:

    Mark Lynas is just the latest in a short list of self-proclaimed environmentalists who advocate actions and policies that will continue the destruction of the environment that they claim to care about. Lynas’s rhetoric and recommendations makes him look little different to Bjorn Lomborg – all the world’s problems will be solved by allowing corporations to sell us more of their (claimed) technology. And like Lomborg, Lynas is in love with his ‘celebrity’ – and the coinage it brings in.

    Mark Lynas is just another techno-utopian who has been fooled by the lies of the GMO + nuclear lobbies and is in denial of reality when it conflicts with his dream of ever-increasing wealth and consumption.

    If you want sensational soundbites and a sales pitch for Monsanto and Areva, read Mark Lynas. If you want scientifically accurate, inciteful analysis and opinion, read someone else.

    • Alan:

      Come on. Mark Lynas has very little in common with Bjorn Lomborg. He strongly pushes the line that climate change is (probably the most) serious challenge for humanity and that no time should be lost in tackling it. He doesn’t push growth as a countermeasure in itself (as Lomborg does) but just accepts (realistically I think) that a solution that relies on downscaling people’s lifestyles is not likely to work.

      He does construct an argument in favour of nuclear as a key component in transitioning away from carbon and I can see no real fault in it. I’ve read widely and independently and have come to much the same conclusions myself. Basically nuclear is nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be and is the only way that we can reasonably quickly bring online terawatts of non-carbon power.

      I’d be interested to know exactly what “lies” you are talking about so that I can investigate them and possibly revise my opinion. If you can’t specifically identify these, and refer to sources, then your criticism is not constructive.

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