Jelmer Mommers’ book starts with two aims: 1) to explain the principal parts of the climate emergency, and 2) to offer a less depressing perspective on how we can resolve it. This is ambitious, but Mommers does, mostly, manage it.
He tackles the issue from several angles, starting with the historical explanation for how humanity has treated nature in general, and the planet in particular. It is interesting to note here that Mommers, and/or his translators, consistently use ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ instead of gender-neutral options. We could, of course, take this literally and conclude that we can blame men and not women for both the conceptual and practical problems behind the climate emergency – which, in historical terms, would be an accurate assumption.
Another question the book asks is about the current state of research regarding climate change – how reliable is it, and how have governments and industries responded to it? Mommers also reflects on what we can do about the emergency. What happens if we do nothing? Are there any options that do not leave us with horrifying despair and depression? (Yes.)
This last question is a key concern for Mommers, and he is able to find reasonable grounds for his reply, which are spread throughout the text. Depending on what you knew, or thought you knew, before you picked it up, you finish the book with a better understanding of some key questions, such as ‘what actually are fossil fuels and why we should absolutely not use them for energy’, as well as a good grasp of what strategies can be used to fight climate change. This in itself is enough for me to want to buy copies for all my friends and family.
One final point worth highlighting is that Mommers makes an effort to examine the obstacles that prevent us switching to more environmentally sustainable habits rather than simply blaming evil corporations. In addition to the scientific problems – how can we make plastic sustainably from plants rather than from gas or petroleum? for example – there are problems of implementation, such as those raised by the gilets jaunes in France last year. Mommers considers in a serious way how such obstacles might be overcome, and suggests several promising ways to do this, which are based on currently active plans advocated by various environmental groups.
How Are We Going To Explain This? is an informative, readable guide to the climate crisis for laypeople, and ultimately is much less depressing than such a book could be.
Reviewed by Jennifer Sarha
HOW ARE WE GOING TO EXPLAIN THIS?
Written by Jelmer Mommers
Translated by Laura Vroomen and Anna Asbury
Published by Profile Books (2020)
Buy this title through the European Literature Network’s The Dutch Riveter bookshop.org page.
Jennifer Sarha leads an exciting double life: she’s a researcher of obscure European history by night, a wrangler of research funding applications by day. In her remaining free time she is attempting to learn all the languages in the world. Her Twitter handle is @necverbum and she blogs on https://necverbumverbo.blogspot.co.uk/
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