Customer Reviews: Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition
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on July 16, 2009
I assume Alastair McIntosh must receive hundreds of emails appreciating his books. But maybe not so many from climate change scientists. I am of that tribe, sent him one, and feel compelled to provide this appreciation more publicly.

I read Hell and High Water in a day, and it IS - simply - the best on the topic of climate change. As a scientist, I appreciate the author's faithfulness to the science, his straight talk on the technological options, the clearer-eyed perspective on the politics surrounding energy and climate change, and Mr. McIntosh's analysis of our violent consumer culture. I also honor his utter honesty, his own story of loss and pain woven subtly throughout the book, the lack of pretense about how "clean" and green we all are (and can be) in this messy world. Maybe most of all, I appreciate his call for a return to soul. Maybe that won't save our skin - but it will save our humanity.

Read it! Then give it to your friend, your parents, your children, your boss and colleagues. Give it to everyone for Christmas and their birthdays. Give it to someone who needs to be reminded of their soul - come Hell or High Water!
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on December 15, 2008
The author adds a unique perspective to the growing publications on climate change. He begins with a summary of climate science and then moves on to a psychoanalysis of western culture and its consumptive ways. His work on interconnecting hubris, spirituality, hospice, and mythos are a fresh take on why we seem to be unable to stop emitting ghgs. Well written, poetic, full of interesting quotes (from the author and from cited sources), this is a different take on a subject that will only see more books in the coming years. Worth the read, as it opens new doors and charts new paths for trying to deal with what is coming our way.
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on January 28, 2016
McIntosh uses the first third of the book to explain the many faceted threats of global warming and ecosystem collapse. With warm, brilliant graphic prose he lays out a believable spiritual pathway for renewal of our consumptive/destructive habits, changing us in the direction of a deeply fulfilling life with a sustainable beautiful, fruitful planet.
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on April 5, 2009
For those who can digest the truth about climate change if it is served on a platter of hope, here is a book which stands in a league of its own on the mountaintop. In a remarkable synthesis of science, humanitarianism and spirituality, Alastair McIntosh's Hell and High Water may well be the most holistic presentation to date on the challenges rapidly converging on our doorstep.

Knowing at least some of Alastair's activist work, in his native Scotland as well as internationally, he brings to mind a combination of Wendell Berry, Ivan Illich and Mahatma Gandhi. In addition, while writing Hell and High Water, he seems like a mad archaeologist with an oversized shovel digging for clues to help him better understand our present predicament; in the process he churned up an impressive amount of ground. The roadmap he draws for the future is a refreshing addition to other writers' proposed solutions.
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on March 26, 2012
Alastair McIntosh rose to prominence with his thought provoking Soil and Soul. In his latest offering, commissioned by an editor at Birlinn publishing, the aim was to stimulate debate, for an up and coming Scottish parliamentary election, in relation to Climate Change. It is a pity that McIntosh didn't stick to his brief.

"Hell and High Water" is a book of two parts. The first section is a concise summary of the effects of Climate Change that uses the IPCC's 2007 report as its basis and relates the issues primarily to Scotland. He also contemplates the tentative evidence that suggests that climate change will eventually reach a tipping point when the magnitude of its effects will (apologies) snowball, and provides a reasonable critique of those who are sceptical of the science of climate change as a phenomena related to human activity, including the infamous Channel 4 "documentary" by Michael Durkin.

So far so good, but then things seem to go seriously astray in the second part where McIntosh, to quote the blurb, goes on "a breath-taking journey through myth, philosophy and literature, ... [revealing] the psychohistory of modernity . . . To address what has become of the human condition we must learn to see beyond despair and death." Sounds nice, but in effect it is a melange of ideas, spiced with quotes from Plato, scriptures, the epic of Gilgamesh, the lyrics of the Beatles, Leonard Cohen and Deep Purple, his accounts of cosy chats he's had with industry at Green-Business get togethers, or lectures he has given at "Britain's foremost military staff college" (presumably a euphemism for Sandhurst?). It made little sense. The writing is flecked with platitudes, and the ideas get so woolly that it would seem that this section wasn't written but knitted, with a good many dropped stitches and loose ends to boot.

Overall this isn't a book, unlike Soil and Soul, which I'd be happy recommending anyone to read. While the first section is a workmanlike summary of the threat of Climate Change its hardly brilliant; the second part is a mess of ideas, few of which make sense, and the majority seem lazy, ill defined and frankly irritate. A disappointing book.
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on July 12, 2012
Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, by Alastair McIntosh, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2008, 304 ff

Survival into the next century?

This would be a good book for study in schools because it offers scientific and technical information about ecology, sociology and psychology at a level that is very accessible. The author, a Scottish environmentalist, relates this to the inner life and thence the outward actions of all of us. Essentially, it's a book about climate change and the human mind-set that has brought it about but continues to deny any responsibility. It also gives us constructive suggestions for a way forward.

The first part of the book on Climate Change focuses on the science and politics responsible for our current situation, with supporting data. It is balanced in approach but speaks honestly about the potential dangers of ignoring the facts that are now available to us about the effects the human species has had on the Earth, especially since the Industrial Revolution. It is informative and thought-provoking.

Part 2 of the book on The Human Condition looks at how we are living currently, our perceptions of life and the absence of thought for much of the population about their inner lives. If our only purpose is to pursue a hedonistic existence, any sensitivity or concern for the planet that supports and nurtures us seems irrelevant - at least for now! As this is the way of life of the majority of us, it is not surprising that we now find ourselves in a situation where that life support system on which our very existence depends is being systematically destroyed. This part of the book is illustrated with poetry and psychology.

Although at first impact this book seems rather pessimistic and despairing, in fact, its message is inspiring, for it shows us that allowing ourselves to appreciate and love the wonder and diversity of the natural world around us will lead inexorably to our taking greater care of it. Seeking to experience the creativity and spirituality of the arts in a world whose delicate intricacies have been illuminated by scientific rationalism is another way of appreciating our surroundings and engendering love for all that is.

The author offers us a sensitive approach to climate change that should also lead to our seeking peace rather than war. Perhaps we could even change our school history syllabus so that it emphasises the benefits and joys of peace and the wonders of human achievements rather than the strategies and destruction of war.

This should be essential reading for everyone - for those who ignore the possibility of an inner life as well as those who already nurture their inner selves. The book ends with a list of References and a detailed Index.

Howard Jones is the author of The Tao of Holism

Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning by George Monbiot
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Revised and Updated: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late by Thom Hartmann
The Great Work: Our Way into the Future by Thomas Berry
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on November 1, 2014
There are by now quite a few books on climate change. What sets Alistair McIntosh apart from the rest is his personal almost autobiographical touch. Not only is Alistair a fine writer but also a deeply humane and caring human being. He has provided his own unique interpretation of how we have gotten into our present situation with regard to climate change. By his interpretation, the roots of the problem go back hundreds of years. This is not a scholarly analysis but a deeply idiosyncratic personal interpretation. I found it to be wise and thought-provoking. Highly recommended along with David Orr's 'Down to the Wire' for a thorough treatment.
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on September 15, 2009
Please don't get me wrong--I am in no way a climate-change 'skeptic' or denier. In fact I consider climate change to be the greatest global problem in the current world, beyond the persistence of mass material poverty and the development, proliferation, and use of nuclear weapons. It is for this reason, though, that I find McIntosh's take on the problem to be rather underwhelming.

To begin with, McIntosh grounds most of his argument in this book in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, which he concedes at points as being too conservative in its conclusions. This is undoubtedly true, for a number of reasons. First off, as Mark Lynas tells us in Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, the IPCC's reports exclude from consideration the number of 'positive' feedback loops that an increase in average global temperatures will set in motion that in turn stand to make the projected consequences of climate change far more dire--think of the reduced albedo effect, whereby the melting of polar/glacial ice causes substantially less solar radiation from being reflected back out into space; increased frequency and intensity of forest-fires; the acidification and concomitant death of carbon-consuming plankton and phytoplankton in the world's oceans; as well as the enormous amounts of carbon and methane that will likely be released as permafrost layers in Siberia and the Arctic more generally are dismantled by increased temperatures. That's the first problem with McIntosh's analysis. The second is that, according to Gwynne Dyer in Climate Wars, the IPCC's 2007 report is horribly outdated: due to the time-consuming nature of the information-gathering and peer-review processes, such data likely dates back to 2002 or earlier! This is a major problem, since the 7 years that have passed since then have seen far more terrifying reports than those offered in the 2007 report--e.g., the dramatically revised projections for the future date of Arctic ice-free summers and so on.

As a committed atheist (though one much more in the line of Terry Eagleton in his Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate than that promoted by, for example, Richard Dawkins), I'm also highly uncomfortable with much of the presentation McIntosh makes of religion and spirituality in this book. He cites 'the divine' and 'God' several times uncritically, and has this somewhat hippie-ish take on the 'commonality' of the world's major religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism). I'm sorry, but I highly doubt that the repressive, anti-human maxims of these religions are something that should be tapped into with regard to the struggle against climate change; a far more legitimate alternative would in my view be something along the lines of the liberation of eros along the lines advocated by Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization (Ark Paperbacks). McIntosh also discusses paranormal experiences and other bizarre occurrences here... The combination of this all leads me to believe he's something more of a mystic than a rational philosopher, or that he at least has more faith in 'the soul' than strictly in reason.

This is not to say that I disagree with his critique of mainstream Western culture; I surely do share much of it, even if I think his argument was a bit light and not hard-hitting enough--I mean, Western capitalism is essentially murdering the peoples of the 'Third World,' both those who live and those who are to be expected will in the future be born, in a horrifying repetition of what Mike Davis called Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. This lifestyle (which, against McIntosh, I would say has been imposed by dominant, rapacious elites--ie, the materially wealthy and their defenders in government) is also essentially condemning much of life itself to extinction. As with many other books written by white Westerners on the topic of climate change that I've read (with Davis's book being a major exception), there is really very little reflection or discussion on this problem in McIntosh's book--which seems rather maddening, considering the book nominally concerns itself with the HUMAN condition. I don't know of a more serious crime that is being committed in the current world than what one Bangladeshi cited in Dyer's Climate Wars calls 'climatic genocide,' so forgive me for being disillusioned by yet another work that decries any alternative to a policy of 'incremental change' as being nothing short of "revolutionary green totalitarianism."
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