Review: Hope in Hell, by Jonathon Porritt

Jonathon Porritt is one of Britain’s most respected environmentalists, as well as being a patron of Green Christian and a recent contributor to the ‘Re-imagining the Promised Land‘ festival. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is this one, Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency.

The book provides a kind of ‘state of the movement’ overview, and a summary of the latest science. That includes the IPCC’s 1.5 degrees report from 2018 that starkly set out the importance of the next decade as a make or break period, something that forms a key theme for the book. Porritt also summarises the unfolding consequences of the climate emergency, a variety of promising solutions and some thorny questions.

Porritt does not write from a faith perspective, but recognises that “in many ways, the climate crisis is a spiritual crisis, laying bare the cumulative consequences of allowing ourselves to have become so completely disconnected from each other, from the world around us, and from our basic responsibility for all those who come after us.”

The title Hope in Hell captures one of the book’s main messages, which is that it is not too late to prevent climate catastrophe, but the window for meaningful action is closing. While feelings of grief are entirely legitimate at what has already been lost, it’s no time for despair or for despondency about what can be saved. Porritt looks honestly at tipping points and the urgency of the moment, while concluding that ultimately “it will never be really too late, as there will always be serious campaigning work to be done to prevent things getting even worse in the future than they might otherwise be.”

The right response to this crisis should be to act, and it is in action that hope will emerge. That’s where the book lands, ultimately – with a call to more radical action. While Porritt is best known for his environmental advocacy in political and business circles, the urgency of the moment brings him to the conclusion that “without mass civil disobedience, at this very late stage, I cannot see any other way of avoiding that threat of runaway climate change.”

This is an echo of the ‘climate kairos’ that has been identified by other campaigners, including Christian Climate Action, the Christians within Extinction Rebellion. Churches and denominations have acknowledged this urgency by declaring a climate emergency. And of course the school strikes have sounded a powerful alarm and brought a new moral clarity about climate justice.

While participation in radical action is going to look different for everybody, Hope in Hell is another call to action, echoing again the decisive moment that the church finds itself in. Previous generations of Christians needed to respond to the injustices of their own time, such as slavery, civil rights or apartheid. The challenge to us today is the climate and ecological crisis, and the multiple injustices that follow from it. What will our response be?

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