Jonathon Porritt’s Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency shows why, despite all the bad news, we still may just have a chance
Author: Jonathon Porritt
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
What is hope? Merriam-Webster defines it as “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true/to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment/ to expect with confidence.” And right below it: “hope against hope: to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment”.
That last one made me pause. It defined what I felt about the climate crisis, a hope for decisive changes that may stay unfulfilled, but which we still anticipate, expect, wish. In the face of the loss of Arctic sea ice, erratic monsoons, forest fires, and chalking up the warmest months globally every year, we keep our fingers and toes crossed.
Which is why when Jonathon Porritt’s Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency came my way, I had that same feeling – hope and despair, the two sides of the climate coin. “Runaway climate change is undoubtedly a hellish prospect,” Porritt writes in the section titled, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’. “Despair often beckons. But I’m also – strangely, and rather wonderfully – brimful of hope in a way that I haven’t been for a long time.” He illustrates the problems and their urgency, and, also, the improbable hope that he has because of the growing social and political transformation, new technologies and innovation,the activism of young adults.
A British environmentalist and writer, Porritt has been a member of the Green Party since 1974, and in 2000, he received a CBE for services to environmental protection. He brings together his experience and observations in this latest book. From breaking down the science of climate change to explaining why it is a Climate Emergency (with a capital ‘C’ and ‘E’) to looking back at history and towards the future with politics, social inequalities, technology and science, Porritt builds a comprehensive narrative for the reader. Even his arguments about alternative bio-geoengineering as part of a “mutually reinforcing global rescue programme” are compelling and reasonable. A lot of the book is centred around UK policies and governance, but it gives a clear sense of world politics, UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP) negotiations, and policies.
What I loved were the snippets he tosses in from different books, enhancing my already bulging to-read list. He calls a spade a spade when it comes to climate consequences and the outside perceptions of environmentalists and the green movements. In a chapter where he discusses energy efficiency, Porritt writes, “…I’ve never understood why environmentalists find themselves so regularly accused of being ‘anti-technology’. We’re not ‘anti-technology’. But we’re certainly ‘anti-fantasy’.”
Towards the end, Porritt reminds us that “an environmental framing of climate change is entirely unhelpful anyway, and has contributed significantly to almost three decades of political indifference and neglect. Climate change is better seen as a decadal, system-wide market failure, which comprehensively corrupted both the way we create wealth and the way we measure it.” It is a matter of human rights and social justice. It underscores what he says in the Introduction about the Climate Emergency posing “an infinitely graver risk to humankind that COVID-19 but has warranted very little political engagement over the years.”
But, possibly, the pandemic may get people thinking differently about their future. It’s already evident in the rising voices of the young people. It’s inspiring but sad that the younger generation had to speak up about their anger for the world to acknowledge the climate crisis.
Porritt says that all of us have a different role to play in the Climate Emergency — and that the 2020s will be the “decisive decade” in addressing it. He spends a bit of time in illustrating the how, but without laying down the law, with the hope that people will put into practice simple things that can reduce their carbon footprints. Hope, as he points out, “can’t be built on the back of someone else’s actions… the best way of earning hope is rolling up our sleeves.” If we have a hope in hell, it’s in this decade.