Climate Change: “Not the End of the World” Book Review 

Written by Julie Wright

Every day, news headlines on climate change warn us of the negative direction the world is headed. So much so, I’ve become hesitant to open the articles, often finishing them feeling depressed and as if my actions won’t make a difference. This is what drew me to Hannah Ritchie’s new book, Not The End of the World. The book offers an optimistic view on climate change, highlighting the progress we’ve made and a path to “be the first generation to build a sustainable planet.” As a data nerd, I appreciated the author’s approach, leveraging her role as Deputy Editor at Our World in Data to provide insight into our current situation and progress, while also empowering us to make a difference for our future.  

The book begins by detailing how humanity has never lived sustainably, having access to a high quality of life without causing environmental degradation. Despite past challenges of short life expectancy, maternal and child deaths, and lack of access to sanitation and clean water, we’ve made progress in many parts of the world. While developed countries have caused harm to the environment during their growth, countries now have sustainable options as they undergo development. Kenya, for example, generates 80% of their electricity from renewable sources. Globally, low-carbon energy options are becoming increasingly available and affordable. 

Ritchie uses evidence-based research to highlight seven environmental threats we are facing globally: air pollution, biodiversity loss, climate change, deforestation, food, ocean plastics and overfishing. Within each area, she highlights where we should turn our focus to combat the effects of a warming planet.  

Ritchie mentions that there are times when acting in favor of the environment may seem contradictory. As someone who values living an environmentally aware life, I was surprised by the counterintuitive approaches related to food. Globally, one-third of all food is wasted (rots without being consumed), mostly in the supply chain process. When plastics are used for packaging, such as carrots in a plastic bag, “losses are reduced by up to 87%” due to prolonged shelf-life. While I used to prioritize less plastic by buying bulk, I am now focusing on supporting companies that reduce food waste. 

While reading Not the End of the World, I also learned that local food systems don’t necessarily contribute to a lower carbon footprint. Transportation is such a small part of food-related carbon emissions, that it’s less carbon-intensive to buy food from countries with high crop yields and optimal growing climates. Despite my love for supporting local farmers’ markets, I realize it’s not always better for the climate. Another surprising find is the efficiency of palm oil. Palm oil is seen as a large contributor to deforestation. Although palm oil comes from high yield crops (10x that of other seed oils grown in tropical conditions) and was a driver of deforestation in the early 21st century, it is no longer a major contributor. Replacement of palm oil, due to environmental concerns, has occurred with lower yield crops that require more acreage and deforestation. This suggests that palm oil is one of the most efficient types of vegetable oil. 

Ritchie motivates us to tackle challenges by highlighting the areas we have made the most progress. For example, between 2013 and 2020, Beijing’s air pollution decreased by 55%. In more developed countries, carbon emissions per person are falling as well. Ritchie notes that her carbon footprint is half of her grandparents, while gross domestic product (GDP) and quality of life have increased. Although we are consuming more, our generation is generating and disposing goods in a smarter way. I find Ritchie’s ability to analyze trends refreshing. She uses data to counter localized trends and dispel panic-inducing headlines.  

Driving substantial change at a necessary pace requires collective effort. Collaborating with supporting companies that are driving change is important. I am proud to work for a company that prioritizes sustainability in its decision-making process. Lantana is leading with an eye towards low carbon energy. We have decreased our carbon footprint through remote work options and energy savings in office space. All employee travel for conferences and the Annual Company Meeting is offset through Cool Effect, a streamlined method to submit expenses. We also use Web Neutral Project to offset website emissions for multiple websites, with yearly audits. The greenLantana program encourages employee involvement in furthering green initiatives company-wide and at home.  

Although there will always be skeptics, we need people to inspire hope and continue the progress already made. Not the End of the World outlines urgent areas for focus, providing a foundation of past achievements to build on. I am motivated by the vision of what we can achieve to make a difference for our future.