Book Review: Our Biggest Experiment – A History of the Climate Crisis by Alice Bell

by @edent | # # # # | 1 comment

Book cover featuring electricity pylons receding into the sunset.

Maybe it’s the weirdness of the weather. Maybe it’s another way to pour scorn on politicians. Maybe the steady stream of headlines about fires, floods and droughts is finally starting to get to us. Whatever it is, for more and more of us, climate change is shifting from a shadowy fear in the backs of our minds to something we feel we need to get a handle on.
Our exploration of the Earth’s fluctuating environment is an extraordinary story of human perception and scientific endeavour. It also began much earlier than we might think. This book takes us back to climate change science’s earliest steps in the 18th and 19th centuries, through the point when concern started to rise in the 1950s and right up to today, where the ‘debate’ is over and the world is finally starting to face up to the reality that things are going to get a lot hotter, a lot drier (in some places) and a lot wetter (in others), with catastrophic consequences for most of Earth’s biomes.

Wow! This is the ultimate zeitgeist book! I thought this was going to be a plain history of climate change. Instead, it is a righteous polemic against colonialism, sexism, and the corrupting influence of megacorporations. The book neatly takes us through the history of modern energy production – stopping along the way to point out all the various inventions which were funded from the profits of slavery, the historical figures who ignored the women sounding the alarm about greenhouse gases, and the inherent racism in exporting pollution to poorer countries.

It’s a fun book to read – full of fascinating anecdotes and little diversions – sort of like an entertaining ramble from a professor. But it carries with it a deadly serious message. We’ve known for centuries that pollution is a existential threat to our life on this planet. We are conducting a massive geo-engineering experiment with no “control planet” to move to when catastrophe strikes.

We’ve mostly survived by placing the burden on developing countries – but that’s not sustainable, and thoroughly immoral.

Equal parts entertaining, enlightening, and infuriating. It will leave you better informed, and full of zeal to help fix things. The only downside is that it is lacking a detailed look at Nuclear power – the author acknowledges this flaw and does point to some excellent resources.

I thoroughly recommend this book. It casts a new light on everything you were taught in school about the industrial revolution, the development of electricity, and the future of our species.

Thanks to NetGalley for the preview copy. The book is released later this year and can be pre-ordered from the following links:

One thought on “Book Review: Our Biggest Experiment – A History of the Climate Crisis by Alice Bell

  1. Useful review – thanks for that.

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