With the many catastrophes going on, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the midst of a critical climate emergency. In fact, the current pandemic can be seen as a harbinger of the global crises we can expect with regularity if we continue to ignore climate change, mainline fossil fuels, and pretend hard science is still a matter of subjectivity. The British environmental activist and climate journalist Mark Lynas has been sounding the alarm for more than two decades. In 2007, he published a bellwether book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, that told the story of Earth’s increasing hellscape, degree by degree, if global warming isn’t immediately addressed. Now, 13 years later—all of us much wiser about the dangers but hardly any more mobilized to address them—Lynas has put out a new and indispensable version, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, which takes us from the obliteration of the Arctic ice caps and coral reefs to mass extinction. It’s amazing that Lynas, with all of his dystopian awareness, can remain so hopeful and optimistic that we still have it in us to avert our own planecide. Lynas is currently spending the summer co-founding a new pro-science environmental group in the U.K. Let’s all join up.
INTERVIEW: Where are you and how long have you been isolating?
MARK LYNAS: We’re hunkered down at home in the Welsh borders. I’ve been isolating since late February. I was an early adopter—it seemed pretty clear to me in January which way things were headed.
INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?
LYNAS: We’re a brilliant species with moronic tendencies. On the one hand, you’ve got scientists who genetically sequenced the virus in a matter of hours and began vaccine programs in literally just a few days that could—indeed almost certainly will—end up saving millions of lives. Then on the other hand, you’ve got Trump and Bolsonaro, who appeal to our collective base stupidity and combine our worst human impulses into successful political programs.
INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic altered about your view of society?
LYNAS: I’m quite surprised that basic public health measures like mask-wearing have become politicized. I didn’t think the populists would be quite so crass as to kill their own supporters. Same with the anti-vaxxers. They’re basically transforming into a voluntary human extinction movement.
INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future?
LYNAS: Another pandemic. And a failure to learn the lessons and to plan long-term for a transition away from fossil fuels. Even a new Black Death isn’t as bad as climate breakdown could be this century.
INTERVIEW: What good can come out of this lockdown? Are there any reasons to hope?
LYNAS: There are always reasons to hope. Despair is as bad as denial. We’ve got all the tools we need to successfully defeat this pandemic and emerge on the other side fully equipped to enact a dramatic transformation toward a zero-carbon economy. We also have all the scientific knowledge necessary to understand what needs to be done and by when. We’re as smart as we need to be to fix this. We just need to find some way to deal with the dumb people.
INTERVIEW: What has been your daily routine during this time?
LYNAS: Coffee. The best thing we own is a proper barista-style espresso machine.
INTERVIEW: Describe the current state of your hair.
LYNAS: Messy, with a better excuse than normal.
INTERVIEW: On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your level of panic about the current state of the world?
INTERVIEW: Do you think there is hope for true racial equality in the United States? What do you think is the first step in that goal?
LYNAS: America is a nation founded in a blatant betrayal of its own stated ideals. It is a country built on theft and genocide—of native people and Black slaves—which pretends to be a world beacon of liberal democracy, freedom, and human rights. The U.S. has a profound reckoning to do with the past before I think racial justice can be likely achieved in the present.
INTERVIEW: How can America work to ensure more equality and justice on a day-to-day level?
LYNAS: Becoming fully democratic would be a good start. End all gerrymandering and efforts by Republicans to suppress Black voting.
INTERVIEW: Do you think protests are effective tools for changing the system? How does it make a difference in the long term?
LYNAS: Protests are essential because they focus attention on the urgent need for change. They mean it can no longer be put off till tomorrow. Justice postponed is justice denied. Both #BLM and #MeToo have already achieved transformational change, as have LGBTQ+ people earlier: they have bent the arc toward justice.
INTERVIEW: How do you personally channel your anger? Do you find anger to be a useful emotion?
LYNAS: I take a deep breath and try to stay off Twitter.
INTERVIEW: Which young leaders of the moment inspire you?
LYNAS: I won’t name names but there are some amazing leaders of a new pro-science generation now emerging from Extinction Rebellion here in the U.K.
INTERVIEW: What’s the next step after protests in the streets? Where does the righteous rage go?
LYNAS: Into political change, I hope. Let’s sweep the dinosaurs at the top of the Republican party into history. They’re an embarrassment to the present.
INTERVIEW: Do you work best alone or in a group? Can you protest from home?
LYNAS: I write best alone, but I like to think about strategy in a small group. Sure, you can protest from home, which is fortunate in a pandemic.
INTERVIEW: Americans tend to find the topic of race uncomfortable. How do we start the conversation and address it directly?
LYNAS: By recognizing the injustice that is all around us. It has to be acknowledged openly to be challenged.
INTERVIEW: What thinker have you taken comfort in of late and why?
LYNAS: Jonathan Haidt. He’s a de-polarizer, which I think is supremely valuable.
INTERVIEW: If 2020 were a song, which song would it be?
LYNAS: “American Idiot,” by Green Day. Sorry about that, folks.
INTERVIEW: Where did we go wrong? Like, what was the exact moment?
LYNAS: For me, it was the morning of the Brexit referendum. It was literally an instant when the news came through that the vote was lost and Britain would be leaving the E.U. That’s when I realized that Trump would also be elected and the whole world would turn to shit.
INTERVIEW: Which (admittedly totally unqualified) celebrity would you trust with the planet’s future?
LYNAS: Dua Lipa. Trust me on that one.
INTERVIEW: If you could stop time at one particular moment in your life, which moment would it be?
LYNAS: Just before I die.
INTERVIEW: What’s one skill we should all learn while in quarantine?
LYNAS: To slow down. And to do Zoom properly.
INTERVIEW: What does our future as a nation look like?
LYNAS: Whatever we want it to look like. It’s a cliché but it’s true.
INTERVIEW: What prevents you from giving up hope in the human race?
LYNAS: Looking forward to November 3.
INTERVIEW: Who should be the next president of the United States?
LYNAS: Kamala Harris, after a brief but necessary spell of Joe Biden. Then AOC. It is becoming increasingly obvious that she is perhaps the most gifted politician we have seen in decades. Watching her is simply thrilling.