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Riders on the Storm, by Alastair McIntosh

23 July 2021

David Atkinson admires a hope-filled response to the climate crisis

PERHAPS the coronavirus could provoke us towards a new politics, a new economics, a new sense of the common good, which is healthier and more resilient, with less inequality and less poverty? How much more is that needed if we are to respond appropriately to climate change?

Alastair McIntosh, a Scottish writer and campaigner, known from his two acclaimed books Soil and Soul (2001) and Hell and High Water (2009), returns now to climate change, asking such questions. In Riders on the Storm, we find the same accessible, conversational style; the same mixing of personal anecdotes from his beloved Hebrides; theology and spirituality; journalism and philosophy; the same joyous celebration of human possibilities and hopes; the same anger at injustice — but now a harder-hitting political agenda, arguing that our present direction of travel is destroying our humanity.

McIntosh wants to go beyond science and politics into deeper questions of being itself. Climate change, our greatest human challenge, becomes a wake-up call to the human condition. In our materialist-dominated world, we urgently need to recover the wisdom of spiritual values, the joy of life, the interdependence of soil, soul, and society.

Summarising current science from the latest IPCC Reports, McIntosh insists on the importance of “consensus science”. His reaction to “climate deniers” is therefore harsh, especially to those who have been maximising profits by selling doubt about science: they are “primarily motivated by selfishness in order to sustain opulence”.

He is also concerned by the alarmists. He admires Greta Thunberg’s courage and prophetic words, but “panic”, which she calls for, leads to counter-productive self-protection and withdrawal. He has much stronger criticism of Extinction Rebellion. Yes, it effectively changed public opinion, and its motivations are mostly altruistic. But the assumptions of some of its leaders are unprincipled and anarchic. Most seriously, it plays on people’s fears with its narrow focus on supposed “Near Term Human Extinction” — which is not based on reputable science.

So, where do we stand, if not with the deniers or the alarmists? McIntosh looks at green new deals, “technofixes”, corporate responsibility. He points to two of the primary drivers of climate change: population and over-consumption, and to the nonsense of living as though there were no planetary limits. But we need something deeper.

McIntosh closes this wonderfully wide-ranging and ultimately hope-filled book, drawing on psychology and spirituality, with a narrative of experiences in the Hebrides of resilience and the recovery of human values. He wants to reframe the climate debate, away from materialist factors and towards sustainable community, towards the spiritual, the deeper wisdom of an altruistic spirit, towards love of life and compassion.

The Rt Revd Dr David Atkinson is an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark.


Riders on the Storm: The climate crisis and the survival of being
Alastair McIntosh
Birlinn £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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