Mary Robinson’s short, poignant book feels different to most written about climate change. Fundamentally, she puts stories ahead of statistics.
As the former president of Ireland, Robinson was familiar with environmental policy. However, it was the arrival of her first grandchild that caused her to look forward to 2050 with concern. By then, her grandchild would be in his forties. ‘What would the world be like?’ she asked. ‘The abstract data that I had skirted around for so long suddenly became deeply personal.’ In a similarly personal way, she highlights the realities of global warming through the stories of individuals living and working at its many fronts.
In each story, the unfairness of global warming is laid bare. From drought-stricken Uganda, melting Alaska and deforested Vietnam, experiences show how the impact of climate change is already unevenly spread. In the Arctic, the average winter temperature is already 6.3°C higher than 50 years ago, more than four times the global target of a 1.5°C increase. She describes how Anote Tong, former president of the island nation of Kiribati, must prepare for rising sea-levels, and that ‘migrating with dignity’ is a real, everyday concern. She demonstrates how unfairness occurs in unexpected places. Blue-collar oil worker Ken Smith represents thousands who want to be part of the energy transition but are met with little support from corporates.
Many of the book’s main characters take the stage at major climate meetings, where they have previously been made to feel outsiders or even physically excluded. There is victory in these moments. They help Robinson tread the fine line between celebrating acts of resilience and action, while underscoring the need for more. Her outlook is hopeful – pointing to rising literacy rates and life expectancy, saying that ‘this is proof we can succeed in tackling enormous developmental and existential challenges’.
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