Montclair Climate Action

The cover of Elizabeth Colbert's book H is for Hope

Book review: H is for Hope

This is a strange time to be a climate activist. On the one hand, the signs of cascading climate change crisis are all around us. Just in the past week, as I write this review, there have been terrible floods in Germany and deadly heatwaves in South Asia–not to mention the flooding in Brazil and the violent storms that swept across the US in the month of May.

At the same time, the signs of transition to a cleaner, saner system of energy have never been clearer. Last year renewable electricity made up 30% of world electricity generation, and it is being installed faster than any system of electricity in the history of the world. Serious climate experts are even suggesting that global CO2 emissions may have peaked in 2023.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s H is for Hope is the perfect book for this moment. The name notwithstanding, it is not just a book about hope. Instead, Kolbert takes her readers from hope to despair and back again. Hopeful chapters on electric airplanes, green concrete, and new kinds of batteries are followed by a chapter starting with Vaclav Smil’s trenchant observation that, “The gap between wishful thinking and reality is vast.” Kolbert then proceeds to call into question all her hopeful observations from the chapters she has just written.

And so the pendulum continues, from hope to despair, and back to hope again, with the cycle continuing.

In the end, she lands on neither hope nor despair, but something like determination. “There are good reasons for optimism,” she says in the penultimate chapter, before concluding the book with this eloquent passage:

“Climate change isn’t a problem that can be solved by summoning the ‘will.’ It isn’t a problem that can be ‘fixed’ or ‘conquered,’ though these words are often used. It isn’t going to have a happy ending, or a win-win ending, or, on a human timescale, any ending at all. Whatever we might want to believe about our future, there are limits, and we are up against them.”

Despairing? I don’t think so. Instead, for my part I came out of reading the book, not as optimistic or pessimistic, but with a realistic take which recognizes reasons for hope even as it sees troubles pile up.

Overall, H is for Hope is a bracing, beautifully written book — short, accessible, and also, I should add, beautifully illustrated. It will help you navigate the latest developments in climate science and Green technology, and leave you hopeful, despairing, and above all, clear-eyed as we contemplate our future and what we can do to leave a more beautiful planet for future generations.

Review written by David Korfhage, MCA president