Hannah Ritchie’s first book, Not The End Of The World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet, was announced in March 2022 with a different title: The First Generation. Anyone who has followed developments in climate activism will recognise the earlier title as a gentle riposte to the perceived apocalypticism of groups like The Last Generation, a movement Thomas Schnee discussed in Voxeurop and Alternatives Economiques in last January 2023. Ritchie, a Scottish data scientist and head of research at Our World in Data, argues that the data supports an optimistic outlook for climate action. The Guardian has published a long extract from Ritchie’s book, as well as an interview.   

In the interview conducted by Killian Fox, Ritchie explains her dissatisfaction with the “doomsday predictions” of some well-meaning climate scientists and activists. “We need to get across a sense of urgency, because there is a lot at stake,” Ritchie acknowledges. “But there’s often this message coming through that there’s nothing we can do about it: it’s too late, we’re doomed, so just enjoy life. That’s a very damaging message – because it’s not true, and there’s no way that it drives action. The other thing about doomsday predictions is that they’re a dream for climate deniers, who weaponise poor forecasts and say: ‘Look, you can’t trust the scientists, they’ve got this wrong before, why should we listen to them now?’”

In the extract from her book, Ritchie describes her path from pessimism to optimism. Curiously enough, Ritchie’s initially gloomy perspective was fueled by the gradual increase in the availability of reporting. “My obsession for environmental sciences was growing in tandem with the uptick in the frequency of reporting. The more determined I became to stay informed, the quicker the stories came at me, often accompanied by streams of recorded videos.” This is a process that is familiar across the social and political spectrum: without access to the appropriate data, it is all too easy to confuse an increase in the reporting of some phenomenon with increased prevalence of that phenomenon.

As is so often the case, Ritchie’s perspective “flipped” when she examined the data. The author mentions the Climate Action Tracker, which tracks the climate policies, targets and pledges of every country, as a particular inspiration. While Ritchie admits that current policies will lead to a “terrible” 2.5 °C to 2.9 °C warming, if each country implements and fulfills their updated and legally-binding climate pledges, this estimate will drop to 2.1 °C by 2100. 

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Ritchie also highlights an economic reason for optimism: the increasing affordability of renewable energy sources. “In just a decade between 2009 and 2019, solar photovoltaic and wind energy went from the most to the least expensive source. The price of electricity from solar has declined by 89%, and the price of onshore wind has declined by 70%. They are now cheaper than coal. […] [Leaders no longer have to make the difficult choice between climate action and providing energy for their people. The low-carbon choice has suddenly become the economic one. It’s staggering how quickly this change has happened.”

While Ritchie’s optimism is salutary, there is no reason to be complacent. Céline Schoen in Alter Échos reports on the rightward drift of the European Parliament’s largest political group, the European People’s Party (EPP), particularly when it comes to climate policy. Schoen begins her report with the closely fought July 12 vote on the nature restoration law, which will require member states to restore a fifth of their natural ecosystems on land and sea. The EPP had joined forces with the political groups to their right, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), to oppose the law, on the disputed grounds that it would harm farmers and food security. 

While climate scepticism and even denial is to be expected from the parliament’s smaller political groups, the EPP’s flirtation with it is especially troubling, given their size. 

On the same topic

Antoine de Ravignan | Alternatives Economiques | 2 January | FR

In France, 2024 marks the beginning of Emmanuel Macron government’s plan to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by one third by 2030. The plan, as Antoine de Ravignan explains, entails reducing emissions over the next seven years by the same amount as the reduction over the last thirty years, and to maintain that rate of reduction. No small undertaking.

Among (many) other goals, 15% of cars will be 100% electric by 2030, compared to 1% in 2022. The network of cycling lanes will increase from 57,000 to 150,000 kilometers. The share of primary residences heated with oil will drop from 9.5 to 3.6%,

and organic farms will double from 11 to 21% of total agricultural land. 

The journalist talks with analysts about the prospects of the plan, and finds that not everything adds up: challenges in deploying wind and solar installations, doubts about increasing nuclear power production, and the underinvestment in renewable heat, biomethane, and second-generation biofuels, are some of the issues that could cause the plan to miss its optimistic target.

Ella McSweeney | The Irish Times | 16 December | EN

Freshwater pearl mussels are considered a bellwether for the local environment, indicating the state of the river water quality. The life-cycle of these creatures requires clean, well-oxygenated waters in healthy, free-flowing rivers. However, factors such as land drainage, agricultural intensification, siltation, water pollution, and changes in upland bog ecosystems have led to a 90 percent decline in mussel numbers across Europe since the 1980s. “In Ireland,” Ella McSweeney writes, “they are now in free-fall.”

Despite the legal protection of these mussels under Irish and European law, conservation efforts face challenges. Plans drafted in 2009 for Special Areas of Conservation remain unsigned, and a 2020 review of the species’ overall status in Ireland, with recommendations for immediate action, is yet to be published. McSweeney also highlights the country’s loss in a June 2023 case at the European Union’s Court of Justice, for failing to implement laws on protected habitats. If the government fails to demonstrate plans to remedy the situation, the country will face daily fines.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.


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