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Sixty Days and Counting review

Everyone complains about the weather, nobody does anything

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Publisher: HarperCollins

505 pages • £18.99

ISBN: 978-0-00-714892-9

Rating:

Can the powerless US National Science Foundation rescue Earth from climate change? Kim Stanley Robinson's carefully researched saga of science, government and personalities tracked global warming to a tipping point in Forty Signs of Rain. Next came wild reverberations of physical and political weather in Fifty Degrees Below.

Now there's a new President whose first sixty days show the will to tackle Earth's problems – maybe too late. Though last-ditch efforts restarted the stalled Gulf Stream, the coral reefs are gone and the Antarctic is still melting, threatening coastal lowlands worldwide.

Meanwhile, an ultra-black intelligence agency from the Bush era works against the elected US government, and there's always some gun nut who fancies a shot at the President...

Robinson creates memorable characters, avoids the disaster-novel cliché of introducing new ones just to kill them off, and never loses track of everyday life. The United States learns to cope with regular power blackouts and small tragedies like walking the High Sierras trails to find a once beautiful landscape dying. The nearest thing to a magic science fiction solution you get from Robinson is an engineered carbon-fixing lichen whose release in Siberian forests may turn out to be a massive mistake.

Elsewhere, the fight to keep Earth habitable means hard work, serious spending and redefined priorities. But can China be persuaded to reduce its eco-exploitation?

“Think globally, act locally.” The worldwide picture is counterpointed by individual love affairs, family problems, moments of outright humour, and unexpected alternative viewpoints like the Dalai Lama's. Sixty Days is finely written and persuasively paints what may be – if climate change happens the way so many scientists fear – the best of all possible futures. Read it and worry.

David Langford

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