Riders On The Storm – Review
Riders On The Storm, The climate crisis and the survival of being, by Alastair McIntosh, August 2020. Birlinn, ISBN 9 781780 276397, 256 pages. RRP £9.99
In his latest book Alastair McIntosh has much to offer the reader on three different levels. The first is a reliable introduction to current climate change science, referring to key reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The second looks at possible remedies being proposed in public, private and voluntary sectors. Thirdly, McIntosh sets these in the context of the psychology of responses to the crisis, with warnings of their dangers. But, as in his other books, the hard work of data analysis with philosophical and social critique is throughout leavened by a fourth level, that of personal story-telling.
Alastair McIntosh is one of the pioneers of land reform in Scotland, memorably having helped to bring the Isle of Eigg into community ownership. He guest lectures at UK Army staff colleges on nonviolence. Many of us will know his previous books, especially Soil and Soul (Aurum 2004) and Poacher’s Pilgrimage (Birlinn 2016). He is a fellow of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and a visiting professor at the College of Social Sciences, University of Glasgow.
McIntosh invites us, if we wish, to skip the chapters introducing the science. I was glad I resisted the temptation. We have heard so much from politicians recently about the importance of “following the science” in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. I found that improving my understanding of these IPCC reports lent clarity about the evidence which we need to follow in this even greater global crisis. McIntosh explains that these reports rest on the work of hundreds of teams of leading scientists, work which has been rigorously peer-reviewed; we can trust them as the gold standard of the settled science of climatology.
His sober appraisal of possible Green New Deals in the public, private and voluntary sectors was helpfully realistic if somewhat depressing. But it leads to a helpful focus on what he suggests may be the blind spots which do offer new openings: population, consumption and sustainable development. His stories then show how these can emerge from the ground upwards and in so doing cultivate new attitudes towards the challenges which we face.
What I most took away from this fine book were his psychological critique of both alarmism and denialism – and his pointers towards a more authentic spirituality on which to base our environmental engagement. Being myself very supportive of Extinction Rebellion I found what McIntosh had to say about alarmism hard to read. Yet, while acknowledging that it is not symmetrical with denialism, he showed how it too has its dangers. McIntosh believes in telling the truth, which is why he wants us to look hard at the science. He sees that this is itself prayer, letting go into a space where we do not so much demand from others as seek them out. “Then with dignity preserved we have a coupling point from which to build conciliation.” If only COP26 and the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill could start from that point.
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